In which Botchett and Aveena, in search of an amulet, venture deeper into the lair of Lady Mandrake...
As Botchett and Aveena made their way to the citadel it began to rain, a cold, hard rain that fell in sheets, swirled by the biting wind. They were almost upon the entrance when Aveena spotted a slight, unkempt figure lounging against the wall of the porch, trying to keep out of the weather. Layers of ragged, filthy clothing swathed the figure, giving it the appearance of a large hamster.
Sensing their approach, the figure snapped upright as Botchett stepped into the porch. Aveena caught sight of a much thinner man than she had at first thought, shoulder length greasy hair framing a narrow, weasely face. Twinkling brown eyes shone out above a narrow, pointed nose which, in turn, gave way to a set of protruding, yellow teeth as the face smiled in recognition.
'Pilgrim? What brings you here?'
'For a start that's Master Pilgrim to you, bonny lad, and it's none of your business why I'm here.' Botchett moved towards the door, the figure sidling round to put himself between Botchett and the entrance.
'Shift,' barked Botchett.
'I can't,' whined the man. 'I have my orders. Lady Mandrake said...'
'Listen, bonny lad, I am going in there to speak to your mistress whether I gave to go through you first or not.'
'But...but...I'll have to announce you...'
'Which will mean leaving your post, won't it? And we both know how the Lady feels about people leaving their post, don't we? Eh?' Botchett winked at Aveena.
The man was still spluttering as Botchett and Aveena pushed past him into the citadel.
'Thank you, Rat,' Botchett called back over his shoulder then, turning to Aveena, 'That bugger's well named. I wouldn't trust him as far as I could spit, like.'
Aveena was about to reply when the combined smells of overcooked vegetables, unwashed humanity and smoke from braziers fuelled with rubbish assaulted her nose and throat and she gagged, coughed, tears leaking down her cheeks. Botchett seemed unaffected by the stench.
Botchett glanced around the huge chamber they found themselves in. Moonlight filtered in through many windows set into a high, vaulted ceiling. Moonlight combined with flickering light from the braziers gave just enough light to reveal a community of ragged figures standing in the shadows around the perimeter of the room, the murmur of countless conversations slowly stilling as Botchett and Aveena made their way towards the dais at the far end of the room.
Lady Mandrake reclined on her throne as Botchett and Aveena approached. Dressed entirely in black leather, her shock of shoulder length blonde hair tipped with red seemed to shine out of the darkness of her ensemble, which was topped off by an old fashioned black top hat. Aveena shuddered as she realised the aura coming from the clothing was of human skin, not leather. Botchett seemed either unaware or he chose to ignore the fact.
Lady Mandrake glanced slowly up from the crystal goblet, the contents of which she had been contemplating.
'Master Pilgrim. What a pleasant surprise. It's been far too long.' Her honeyed tones made Aveena feel particularly uncomfortable. 'To what to we owe the pleasure of your company in our humble abode?' She punctuated the last sentence with an expansive gesture.
'My Lady,' Botchett bent his knee to her, Lady Mandrake laying a hand upon his head. Aveena could see from his aura that it took all of Botchett's self control to keep from cringing at her touch. 'We are in need of your unique expertise, like.'
'Oh,' Lady Mandrake's eyebrow rose into her hairline, 'How so?'
'I...we have need of an Amulet of Resurrection...'
'Vincent,' Lady Mandrake interrupted absently, 'Refreshments for our guests.'
The tall, thin faced man in the black suit standing just behind the throne nodded imperceptibly before disappearing into the shadows, returning shortly with a tray of crystal goblets and a matching jug of deep red liquid. He filled a glass for each of them, refilling Lady Mandrake's goblet as she held it out for him.
Lady Mandrake drank deeply, 'Ah, that's better. Now, what was that you were saying about an amulet, Master Pilgrim?'
Botchett lowered his voice and a whispered discussion took place to which Aveena was not privy. She could however, get a sense of the toing and froing of the negotiations from the periodic flares in Botchett's and Lady Mandrake's auras. By the time Botchett called her forward, Aveena had a sense the negotiations had concluded with each on an equal footing, though perhaps slightly in Lady Mandrake's favour, but only just.
'Allow me to present Miss Aveena Murphy,' Botchett said as Lady Mandrake held out her hand to Aveena. Aveena took the proffered hand and in an instant understood more about Lady Mandrake than she could ever have wished. She attempted to pull away, but Lady Mandrake held her fast, Aveena sensed her gazing deep into her eyes.
'Yes, Master Pilgrim,' purred Lady Mandrake, 'I think perhaps we can do business.' She turned her attention again to Aveena. 'There is much power within you, young one,' she said matter of factly.
Aveena finally managed to wriggle her hand free and turned to Botchett, her face a barely concealed mask of anger. She was still fighting to control herself when Lady Mandrake spoke again.
'You will of course stay and dine with us. I will have Vincent draw up the contract while we eat.' Lady Mandrake rose languidly to her feet and strolled towards a large mahogany table, loaded with dishes of fine foods.
As they followed at a distance, Aveena hissed at Botchett, 'Contract?'
'Well, you didn't expect her to give us the amulet for nothing, did you, bonny lass?'
This week also marks the release of the fourth episode in The Great Chocolate Conspiracy multi-part story. You can find episode 4 over at Crone's Cauldron Publications. Don't forget to follow the #GtChocCo hashtag on Twitter for more updates on this project. For more information, and to read from the beginning, please go here.