In an empty basement room, Dason sat bound but not gagged in a cage. Marcin entered with a plate that had cooked meat and leafy greens on it and jovially announced, “Dinner!” Dason responded by giving him a cold look, and Marcin surmised, “You’re still mad, huh?” Dason continued to give him the same stare. “That’s a yes. You’d be less angry if you ate something. You must be starving! I mean, you’ve refused every meal I’ve tried to give you since you got here!” He took a small pinch of vegetables and held it up to Dason’s mouth, but Dason didn’t seem tempted to eat it. “If you don’t eat, you’ll be too frail to go home.”
Dason finally spoke,”How do I know you haven’t poisoned it?”
Marcin reasoned, “If Mercinon wanted to have you killed, he’d throw you into the pit of jackals. That’s kind of his thing.” He wiggled the bit of food he had in front of his mouth, and Dason reluctantly took it. “There you go!”
After he swallowed it, Dason surprised himself with his observance, “That’s not bad! I wasn’t expecting it to have any flavor.”
“Well, you weren’t eating, so I didn’t think you’d be tempted by bland food! Here, try the beef!” Marcin held the meat up to him, and Dason curiously took a bite. When Dason made a face that indicated he enjoyed it, Marcin remarked, “It’s good, isn’t it?” Dason nodded while he chewed. “It’s a special recipe my mother passed down to me.”
“I take it you don’t have the same issue with your mother as your friend upstairs.” Dason took another bite of food.
Marcin laughed, “Oh, no! His mother was a tyrant! She was brutal, really terrorized her kids.”
After Dason swallowed his food, he probed, “If his mother’s cruelty had such a traumatic effect on him, how could he, in good conscious, do the same to the people of Chaos?”
“He’s not taking over to torture the polis!” Marcin defended him. “He wishes to restore a dignity to the throne that he believed was lost through your family’s mismanagement. He thinks that passing off some of your power to the Senate makes you look weak.”
“I meant the monsters,” Dason argued, “People are losing their homes and their lives all for one man’s primitive political views!”
Marcin shrugged. “You sent your armies out to war knowing some of them will die in the process. It’s the same thing really!”
“No, it’s not! My soldiers chose to enlist, and their sacrifices helped defend Chaos from a dangerous regime. Mercinon isn’t giving them a choice, and he’s destroying the kingdom! Establishing power through fear is vile and barbaric!” He took another bite of food and couldn’t help but relish it. “You know, if it weren’t for the whole treasonous kidnapping thing, I’d hire you as a royal chef in an instant!”
“Marcin! For Hera’s sake, untie his hands and let him feed himself!” Mercinon stood at the doorway with his arms folded.
Mercinon’s sudden appearance made both Dason and Marcin jump. Marcin nervously reacted, “Sire! You’re here?”
Mercinon raised his eyebrows at him. “Uh, yeah! I don’t live in my office; I can go other places!”
Marcin peered at Dason and turned back to Mercinon. “If I untie him, he might find a way to escape. I don’t know how, but he seems crafty enough to figure something out.” Dason nodded to acknowledge the truth of that statement.
“Whatever.” Mercinon shook his head and moved on. “So, am I safe to assume that the superpower jerks killed the Catoblepas?”
“You’re so smart!” Marcin praised him. “How did you know?”
Mercinon replied, “Well, if we were successful, you’d tell me right away… I hope!”
Mercin rationalized, “Hear me out! It could only get defeated by moonlight, and I set it loose early in the morning! I didn’t think there’d be a way around that!”
“Did you find a replacement before you cooked up a gourmet dinner for our hostage?” Mercinon asked.
“After I went to the hill, my girlfriend and I waited at the ransom drop site for hours,” Marcin answered. “I now they have a few days, but I thought they’d pay it right away.”
Mercinon berated him, “Marcin, you idiot! Have your girlfriend deal with the money while you deal with the monsters!”
“Yes, sire!” As Mercinon started to leave, Marcin whispered to Dason, “I made some dessert too, but I’ll have to bring it-.” Mercinon turned around and stared at him quizzically. “I wasn’t saying anything!” He scurried to join Mercinon, who rolled his eyes before he shut the door.
Exelda studied a couple of maps while Narcius, Stocastin, Akintos, and Kefalia all thumbed through different books. Akintos exclaimed, “Oh no! I hope we don’t run into this monster!”
Narcius leaned over Akintos’s shoulder and furrowed his brow. “That doesn’t look so dangerous!”
“That’s what he wants you to think!” Akintos expounded. “It lulls you into a false sense of security so it can strike without warning! Just one bite can infuse venom in your body that will kill you in just seconds! There’s only one cure too, and I don’t think we’ll be able to find it!”
“What is it?” Kefalia inquired.
Akintos dramatically revealed, “The tears of a virgin! I mean, how would we find a virgin who would volunteer to potentially face a monster?”
They slowly craned their heads towards Stocastin, who took offense to that. “Why do you assume I haven’t yet performed the human reproductive act?”
“That!” Narcius said in response to his question.
“Just because I don’t talk about it doesn’t mean I haven’t participated in provocative activities!” Stocastin huffed. “I choose to spend time doing more intellectual pursuits because I enjoy the challenges it provides so much more than a temporary social engagement. I’ve been approached by many amorous women, but I don’t get the same thrill from them as I do by solving an academic mystery. Anyone could take those women to bed; it’s not like it’s hard!”
Kefalia pointed out, “Actually, if it’s not hard, it won’t work!” Narcius and Akintos snickered, and Stocastin pouted.
Exelda grinned but didn’t say anything on the subject. Instead, she brought up, “I’m not seeing anywhere in Chaos where someone could store a bunch of monsters without people noticing. They must be in a place just outside of the city-state! I’m going to need more maps!”
At that moment, someone came up to their table and informed them. “We’re closing now, so please return your materials. Feel free to come back in the morning.”
“Wow, we’ve been here all day!” Kefalia noted.
“With all of this research we’ve done, I feel prepared to face anything!” Narcius declared as he helped gather up books.
Exelda gently reminded him, “Don’t get overly confident! So many of the monsters on this list we made sound easy to defeat, but it’s one of those things that’s easier said than done. Plus, you never want to underestimate your enemies- they may end up surprising you!”
As they put their borrowed material back on their shelves, Akintos put in, “Plus, we don’t have all of these random things it takes to kill all of these things! Like silver, lots of things get killed by silver. I had no idea it was such a deadly object!”
“I bet the palace has lots of silver!” Kefalia stated.
“Excellent point!” Stocastin reacted.
Kefalia seemed shocked at the concept. “It is?”
Stocastin told her, “It was bound to happen sooner or later.” She made a happy gesture in celebration of this feat, and then Stocastin went on, “Princess Aleta did say to come to her if we needed anything to do our job.”
“That’s true.” Exelda rubbed her chin contemplatively as they finished putting everything away. “And they would have the maps we need to look at too. Alright, we’ll go to the palace in the morning.”
“How about the afternoon?” Akintos suggested as they made their way to the exit. “I’m so tired!”
Exelda queried, “How can you sleep at a time like this?”
Akintos responded, “Simple! I close my eyes and…” He pretended to snore as they walked onto the street. With his eyes shut, he didn’t see the camel in front of him and crashed into it. “Who takes their camel out at night?”
The other four laughed as he picked himself up, and then he joined them in their mirth. When they continued on their way, Narcius conversed, “I won’t have any trouble sleeping tonight! I simply have to have my beauty sleep or else I…”
Suddenly, the streets came to a sudden halt as the ground shook beneath them! People all stared in the direction that the shock came from, and from their high vantage of the hilltop that the town rested on, everyone could see people running away from a large mass in the ocean. The five heroes all knew what that meant, and Akintos and Narcius both wailed, “No!”
“No beauty rest tonight!” Narcius grumped.
“Pull it together, guys!” Exelda addressed them. “The sooner we kill this thing, the sooner we can rest!” They all agreed and headed out towards the seaside.