“I say no,” Aidan told them. “They were probably offering their goods to Jakan and the other thieves so that they wouldn’t have to go through the turmoil of an actual robbery. If you visit Baile Daonna, it would do more harm than good.”
Yasmina pointed out, “Jakan said they were starving. If they were going hungry, why would they offer all of their food?”
“They probably knew they couldn’t fight against a bunch of people who could do magic,” Ardeshir figured.
Aidan joked, “I guess I’m the only one crazy enough to do that!”
That remark sparked a new train of thought for Yasmina. “You just told us that they were defensive, defensive enough that you would avoid going there. That doesn’t sound like a group of people that would see a threat and just buckle. People give away food for two reasons- either they want to help you or they don’t want a surplus to go to waste. Since they’re defensive, I don’t think they would try to feed a group of strangers. But if they’re starving, why would the food be extra?”
Aidan caught on to where she was heading with that logic. “They can’t eat the food! They’re plagued with Comeheistear!”
“Then we definitely should avoid the area!” Ardeshir remarked. Aidan and Ardeshir were prepared to leave, but Yasmina hesitated, so Ardeshir asked, “What’s wrong?”
Yasmina probed, “Would a healing potion cure them?”
“No,” Ardeshir answered, “The only cure is to swallow poison.” Both Aidan and Yasmina looked surprised to hear that, so he explained, “The Comeheistear eats whatever you try to eat, so if you ate or drank something poisonous…”
“I never thought of that!” Aidan reacted. “But we don’t have time to find and give away enough poison for everyone. Plus, how would we convince them to take…” He trailed off as they saw, in the distance, a windstorm that didn’t like anything created by nature! “Oh no, not again!”
Yasmina observed, “There aren’t any trees nearby except for the patch over there on the right.”
“That’s Baile Daonna,” Aidan informed them.
Ardeshir noted, “There’s no way around the Banshee Wind except through the village, with infested with Comeheistear. So, what monster do we want to take our chances with?”
The three of them mulled it over for a moment, and then Yasmina declared, “I have an idea!”
By a dirt road that ran perpendicularly to the Shadow Path, two peasants sat by baskets of fruits and vegetables with barely enough strength to keep themselves propped upright. One of them weakly suggested, “It’s almost sunset. Maybe we should pick up and go inside.”
“Let the animals eat them!” the other responded. “I can’t lift a basket anymore, can you?”
The first villager shook his head. They were slightly surprised to see a lizard-like creature appear out of nowhere and dash off to somewhere in the distance. They watched it feverishly run up to a woman on the Shadow Path, and it ran ravenously up her dress. Under normal circumstances, its speed would have made it too late for a victim to fight it off, but this time, it crashed into a piece of cloth. The villagers saw that Yasmina and Aidan had veils over their mouths that they had apparently made from the hoods on their cloaks. Try as it might, the Comeheistear couldn’t penetrate the tight hold of their concealment. Yasmina said in relief, “It works!” She swatted it away and Ardeshir pounced on it.
The villagers gazed at their strange visage with some apprehension, but the first one still asked, “Would you guys care for some food?”
Yasmina answered, “NO, but I bet you do. Take a sip of this.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out the vial she put the healing potion in, only this time the liquid inside was a dark green color.
The second villager lamented, “There’s no point. Food and drink don’t ever reach our stomachs.”
“Trust us, this won’t either,” Aidan told them, “But it’ll make you feel better. Don’t believe us? Try it!”
The two villagers shrugged, and then each of them took a drink. Instantly, the Comeheistears crawled out of their mouths, curled over, and moved no more! It took a moment for the villagers to process what happened, and when they did, they still remained somewhat skeptical. One villager picked up and apple and gingerly took a bite. When he felt it reach his stomach, he rapturously devoured the rest of it. The other joyously followed suit, and although their mouths were still covered, Ardeshir saw that Aidan and Yasmina were beaming at each other.
Inside of a wooden yurt with canvas walls, Yasmina, who still wore the mask, wiped the sweat off of her forehead as she stirred a bubbling cauldron over a roaring fire. Aidan, also masked, laid exhaustively over some pillows on the floor. Ardeshir came limping in, and he breathily stated, “I’ve gone through the area extensively, and I haven’t seen any more signs of them. It’s safe to take your masks off.”
Yasmina and Aidan gratefully took them off, and Aidan opinionated, “Good! We can stop making potions now! I had no idea how exhausting it was until now! Total new respect for you, Yasmina!” She grinned, and then he asked her, “With how much I helped you, does this make me part warlock?”
“I could call you an apprentice, but it hardly seems like an appropriate title for the future king,” Yasmina chuckled, and Aidan did too. “Actually, I think the majority of our weariness didn’t come from gathering ingredients but rather from the journey itself. We got tossed around a lot! That’s why after I replenish my healing potion…” She pulled up her newly cleaned vial and scooped up some more of her crimson potion. “…I don’t think the people of Baile Daonna will mind if we take a little from their stash.” She took a spoonful of the potion and invited him to take it.
“Save it for the villagers,” Aidan told her, “I feel a little tired but otherwise I…” As he tried to stand, he had trouble propping himself up. After he did, he groaned from pure fatigue. “On the other hand, one little sip couldn’t hurt!” He walked over to the cauldron and sat in front of it. Yasmina handed him the spoon, and he raised it as if he were giving a toast. “Cheers!” He merrily drank it, and Yasmina watched as his muscles slowly relaxed all over. “Amazing!”
“It’s a good potion!” Yasmina remarked.
“Oh yeah, the potion is good too,” Aidan said with a smile. It took her a moment to realize he had complimented her, which made her blush furiously. No one really had given her praise before, so she wasn’t completely sure how to handle it.
Before Yasmina could properly react, a villager popped his head into the yurt and noticed their masks were off. “Oh, is it safe now?”
Yasmina answered, “Yes it is! We were just about to tell you, but we-”
She didn’t finish her sentence as he gleefully took his mask off. “Great! That means the feast can begin! You’re more than welcome to join us!”
He zipped away, undoubtedly to share the good news with his neighbors, and Yasmina, Aidan, and Ardeshir shifted guiltily. Aidan commented, “I don’t have the heart to tell them we planned to leave right away.”
Ardeshir put in, “Well, don’t look at me! I have to pretend that I’m a normal cat to mortals.”
Yasmina took a moment to mull it over. “Hmm…we do need to eat something. We could stay for a little while.”
“I am hungry,” Aidan admitted. “Though I highly doubt this will be a quick be a quick meal!” Musical instruments began to play, and they heard people celebrating, which made the three of them smile. Yasmina had Ardeshir take a sip of potion before she took one of her own, and then they headed out.
Aidan, Yasmina, and Ardeshir ate from large plates on blanket as the villagers danced in a circle around a bonfire. As they started to get full and slowed down on their eating, a woman noticed them and invited them to dance. They refused, but she didn’t take no for an answer and pulled them up to the dance floor. Other villagers grabbed their hands, and they couldn’t help but join in on the festivities. It felt strange to be enjoying themselves so much, but they relented and let themselves have a bit of fun.
Suddenly, a horn bellowed, which made everyone still and silent. A chill went down Yasmina’s spine, and she could tell something was approaching that made everyone sober up fast. She whispered, “What’s happening?”
One person replied, “It’s Makkedah, our soothsayer.”
Ardeshir, Yasmina, and Aidan all had the same hunch, and they hid among the crowd just in case this Makkedah person had an alliance with Daeva. Yasmina accidentally knocked over a basket, and some dead Comeheistears fell out. She looked at Ardeshir quizzically, who softly said, “They’re dead.” She gave him another funny look, so he added, “I wasn’t going to eat them! I thought they would enjoy throwing them into the fire!” Yasmina didn’t seem totally convinced, but she let it go since the visitor was approaching.
An old man in a raggedy black cloak limped towards them. His face didn’t appear totally threatening, but he did have a conniving glint in his eyes. He addressed the crowd, “Good news! I procured an antidote, and it will only cost you…” He noticed the plates of food, and so he inferred, “You’ve eaten? Wait, why are you celebrating?” The villagers didn’t say a word to him. After a moment, he unexpectedly shuddered. His body grew stiff, and he growled, “There’s a witch here!”