|Guild Master Rothmon|
As the Adventurers exited into the corridor from the cave-chamber, Ishcandar went to retrieve his dagger from the body of the yellow spotted toad that he had pinned to the floor with an artful throw. He considered that the slimy substance clinging to the blade would likely contain the poison that had so adversely effected Hermel’s arm, turning it a shade of pale blue and rendered it entirely paralyzed up to the shoulder. Without hesitation he cut a cloth strip from Herme’s shirt, and carefully wrapped the dagger in it, on the hopes that the poison would dry and become useful later, saying unabashedly, “Don’t worry, Hermel, you won’t be needing that shirt for much longer it seems,” in his usual playful tone. Hermel glared at him for a moment and then turned toward the door that lead into the corridor from whence they came, sweat beginning to pour from his face, neck and aching limbs. The discoloration of his arm was beginning to spread. He was short of breath and staggering as he made his way into the dimly lit corridor. Lido had taken the torch and was leading the way back toward the laboratory. Ishcandar helped Hermel to hobble along, noting to himself the sounds of croaking toads emanating from the archway that lead into a dark corridor out of the cave-chamber about twenty feet away on the opposite side of the room from where they were exiting.
“Sounds like the yellow spotted toad has plenty of friends back there,” he commented with a shudder as he closed the door behind them, listening for the metal click that indicated that the door’s lock had set in place. As they made their way slowly down the corridor toward the lab, Lido noticed that a light was shining from beneath the door. He stopped. That should not have been the case as they had instructed Jeremy to stay at the top of the stairs to back up Bernie and ensure that the huge metal door that lead into the lab would not close, and to shout in the event anyone was approaching. Holding his breath Lido quietly pulled the door open. There they saw Jeremy standing next to the metal table in the center of the laboratory. Having pulled the canvas sheet away he was looking with horror at the body of the boy lying there.
A Surprising Second
“We have to go,” said Hermel. He paused, despite the terrible numbness of his arm, to consider Jeremy’s fixation of horror. One of the reasons he had wanted Jeremy to stay behind was to spare him from seeing the dead boy.
“Did you know him?” he asked. Jeremy’s eyes were fixed on the blue bloated face of the boy lying there.
“It’s me,” he said with a combination of terror and bewilderment.
Hermel looked at the body very carefully though his vision was blurred and his head was aching. Despite the blue discoloration, and the bloating, he could tell that it did actually look like Jeremy. In fact, the wispy blondish hair, the shape of the eyebrows, the split between the teeth, even the odd cleft in the chin… his features were exactly the same as Jeremy’s. He got a shooting numbness down to his little finger.
“Let’s go,” he said and began making is way to the stairs that lead up to the second metal door.
“Jeremy,” asked Lido as they began walking, “did Doctor Lobe take any blood from your body when he healed your wound?”
“Yes, I think so,” answered Jeremy vaguely, still staring at the boy’s face as he backed away toward the stairs.
As he passed the body on the table, Ischandar noticed the arm twitch. He was startled.
“It moved,” he shouted as he jumped away from it.
“Take it,” said Hermel still shuffling toward the stairs.
“Take it?” asked Ischandar incredulously.
“Yes, take the body,” answered Hermel firmly, taking the torch from Lido in his good hand and continued toward the stairs. And so Lido and Ischandar, the two Hobbits, lifted the body from the table, and carried it between them while Jeremy followed behind. When they got to the stop of the stairs they heard Bernie talking.
“You’re a very clever rat, aren’t you?” he was saying. Hermel entered the room to find Bernie talking to his pet rat whom he was holding in his arm. Everyone followed Hermel into the room. Bernie looked up and seeing Hermel’s arm looking blue and bloated, and the two Hobbits carrying a body between them that had begun twitching, raised an eyebrow and put his rat into his vest pocket.
“Oh my. We should probably be making our way home, eh?” he asked.
“Is there anything you can do for my arm? I think I’ve been poisoned by a toad,” asked Hermel.
“No, I can’t do anything for that here, I’m sorry,” replied Bernie after looking over the blue welts on Herme’s now entirely numb arm.
“What about this guy?” asked Lido turning himself so that Bernie could see the boy on his back. Bernie came over and took a quick look. The boy was twitching, and one eye half-opened, and his color was pale blue on his torso, neck and arms.
“I’m not too sure what’s wrong with him, so no, I don’t think I can help this guy either. In fact, if I don’t miss my guess, you both have the same ailment, whatever the hell it is,” he said. No one said more about that, but instead discussed whether or not it was wiser to wait and see if the boy and Hermel would both recover, and then continue their exploration than it would be to leave and seek help back at the Guild. Hermel had already noticed that the numbness had stopped growing any worse. Seeing as how the boy was recovering, he estimated that the yellow spotted toad’s poison was not fatal. But he could not be sure.
“You know,” said Hermel, “I only have one mark on me from the toad, but this boy has several and he’s already coming out of it.”
“But we don’t know if he was treated,” remarked Ishcandar, “After all he was on the table.”
“But there is also the strange fact that both the boy and Jeremy appear to be the same person,” said Lido. “I mean, it would be a rather startling coincidence if it just so happens that we found Jeremy’s twin brother that he didn’t know he has in the basement laboratory of a mad scientist, don't you think?”
“Well according to folklore in my home village changelings switched at birth. It's a fact that that happens sometimes,” replied Hermel thoughtfully.
“Well maybe, but if I find somebody who looks exactly like me in the basement laboratory of a mad scientist, I’m going to blame the mad scientist,” said Lido.
“Why don’t we ask him when he wakes up?” suggested Hermel.
“Well, yes, but what I’m saying is that if he is somehow the basement creation of the mad scientist then maybe he has abilities that you don’t. Such as would allow him to be healed of the toad poison.”
“Here’s the thing,” replied Hermel with a long pause. “If we go upstairs, … I don’t think we’re going to come back. This is probably our only chance to explore this place. Once we leave then our presence here will be obvious, if for no other reason than the broken desk drawer and the mess we made down here,” he concluded looking around the elegant library with the rifled cabinets and broken desk that they’d slid in front of the double wooden doors through which they had not ventured.
“I think I'm going to recover from this since I have one blue-tinged injury but the boy here has the same kind injuries all over him and he’s coming out of it. The only thing is - I may save my life, but I may wind up unconscious in the process, in which case you’ll have two unconscious bodies to carry out of here.”
“We have no choice but to get out of here. The only problem is going to get the kid up the ladder out of the sewer tunnel to the street,” said Ischandar watching the boy twitching his arms and legs and lolling his head around.
“Oh we’ll get him up the ladder”, said Hermel.
Awakening Jeremy II
At that moment the boy moaned. Everyone looked at him. One eye was open and slowly rolling. After a few moments his other eye opened. Hermel, who had heard frightening stories about the living dead wished to know if the boy was in fact alive, and so he bent his head to his chest and listened. Indeed he heard the thum-thum-thum of a beating heart within.
Ischandar, thinking quickly, went to the cabinet and took out a bottle of brandy and uncorked it. He gave the kid a swig of the brandy, himself another swig, and corked the bottle back up. Somehow the decanter landed in his pocket but later he could not recall putting it there. The brandy tasted very warm and soothing going down. In a few minutes the boy was able to speak a few words, though faltering with heavy moans, and Ishcandar in a fine mood began smiling to himself.
“Who are you?” asked Lido.
“Jeremy,” replied the boy.
“And who is this,” asked Hermel pointing to the real Jeremy.
“Ohh… I don’t know,” replied the boy with a moan, now bewildered.
Jeremy stood flabbergasted. He could not for the life of him think of what to say. Turning toward the boy, Lido asked what the last thing he remembered was.
“Ohhh… I must have left the lab door open… the frogs came in…”, he said moaning again.
“Were you working for the Doctor?” asked Lido.
“I’m his assistant,” replied the boy sticking out his little chest proudly, and then falling back into a slump.
“Whaaat?!” cried out Jeremy in dismay. “His assistant?! I’m supposed to be his assistant! Who are YOU!?”
Bernie raised an eyebrow.
“Bernie, can you explain this?” asked Ishcandar.
“No,” said Bernie.
“How long have you known Jeremy,” Ishcandar continued.
“Oh about two years or so,” replied Bernie.
“And you don’t know if he has a twin? How about his parents? Where are they?”
“Um… You don’t know this, but Jeremy’s parents died when he was a baby. He’s an orphan,” said Bernie quietly, looking at the two boys, mirror images of each other. Everyone was silent for a few moments.
Ishcandar then walked to the large metal door, perhaps to distract from the awkward topic, closed it and bolted it shut.
“Well, at least we know why they had to bolt the doors from the inside. To keep the damn toads out,” he concluded. It did seem like they were rather enormous metal doors for that purpose, nor did it explain the air tight rubber seals around the doors, thought Bernie, but he declined to mention it.
“So we’re going to get blue Jeremy out of here and hope he has some sort of insight and then come back again later? I think we’re pushing our luck,” said Hermel.
“We’ll have to find another way in,” said Ishcandar.
“Now they know. We’ve made too much of a mess,” commented Hermel looking around the small elegant room that they’d disheveled earlier. “We won’t have a second chance.”
“We have a potential in now, though,” said Lido. “We have Blue Jeremy, whom we can return.”
“And as the assistant of Doctor Lobe, he should have intimate knowledge of the layout of this place,” added Ishcandar.
“We can try a con game on them. We tried before and they wouldn’t talk with us. But now that we have the Doctor’s assistant, perhaps they will,” said Lido.
Hermel then turned to Blue Jeremy and asked him, “Where are the Hagglesmiths?”
The boy looked confused for a few moments, but then seemed to recall something and replied that the Doctor had spoken about some “guests”, and perhaps those were the Hagglesmiths, but he had not seen them himself. Hermel noticed that the boy had come around quite a bit, and his color was better, and he seemed as though he might soon be able to walk.
Ischcandar, seeing as how the boy was only clothed from the waste down with pants and was shivering, gave him his cloak.
“What’s beyond the double doors?” they asked pointing to the ornately carved locked double doors that they had not yet opened.
“They go upstairs into the tower,” replied the boy.
“What day is it?” asked Hermel.
“I don’t know,” the boy replied.
“What happened on the day that you became the Doctor’s assistant?” asked Lido.
“I don’t remember very well. He asked me to do some work for him, and so I did,” came the boy’s reply.
As they were talking Ishcandar went to the double doors to see if he might hear anyone coming. As it happened he did. There were footsteps approaching from beyond the doors.
“We gotta get out of here. Someone’s coming,” he whispered loudly.
Flight from the Secret Chambers
They quickly left through the secret door, and Bernie clicked the mechanism locked behind them. They were back in the dank and foul smelling sewer tunnel looking through the darkness toward the ladder that led up to the street. Lido listened for any sounds that might present an obstacle, in particular any croaking sounds. The sewer was empty.
“You know, we still don’t know for sure that the Doctor is up to no good,” said Lido. “For sure, he’s up to something, but still we don’t know what really.”
“Well, I think we should go back right away to Hagen,” said Ishcandar thinking that they could get help and provisions there, and that Hagen might know more about Jeremy. Meanwhile Hermel was inspecting his arm and felt that the numbness was going away and his natural color returning slowly.
Once they got up the ladder and into the alleyway next to the Five Crows Tavern, the group decided to head first to Hermel’s apartment so that the boys could rest. Down the alley they went, across a small cobblestone street, down some worn stone stairs, through a tunnel streaked with mud and down another street, and finally came to the apartment building. His flat was on the third floor. They sent the two boys up with Lido and Hermel to his room. Lido was to stay outside the door to listen at their conversation, just in case there was foul play between them. The flat was just a single room, with no particular amenities, a broken mirror, a straw on the floor for a bed, and a narrow window overlooking an alleyway.
The rest met downstairs outside and waited for a few minutes. Bernie had been left behind to watch the street to make sure they weren’t being followed, as they had some concern that Doctor Lobe might have sent someone after them somehow. It appeared their apprehension was unjustified.
Upstairs Lido listened at the door, and caught the boy’s conversation.
“You look much better now,” said one.
“I feel much better, thanks,” replied the other.
“I’m going to call you … um .. .Jeremeze,” said the other. It was now clear to Lido that this was Jeremy speaking. “And you call me Jeremy. That way others will be able to call is by our right names.”
“But I’m Jeremy,” said the other.
“No, you’re not. I am.”
“I’m tired. I want to go to sleep,” replied Jeremeze weakly.
“Ok well you rest,” replied Jeremy, and the conversation ended.
Downstairs the others conversed with Bernie and filled him in on all the details of their adventure down into Doctor Lobe’s laboratory, and the tunnel beyond. Bernie listened to the story impassively. He seemed little impressed. Ishcandar took a swig of the brandy he found in his pocket and put the bottle back. Brandy never failed to bring a smile to his face.
Lido went downstairs and related to the group that the conversation between the two Jeremys indicated that they were not trying to deceive the group, but that they sincerely didn’t know of each other’s existence until introduced in the laboratory. He also wondered that there should be two exact likenesses of the same boy, and supposed that it might be some kind of black magic, or strange science. Everyone agreed that there was definitely something strange about it all.
“For all we know the Doctor could be a mad scientist and the new Jeremy a human-toad,” said Ishcandar.
“Is there anyone in the town who would be against black magic that we know of?”
“The Temple of Divine Harmony, of course... everyone knows the golden Elkron of the Sun hates black magic, for sure,” said Ishcandar.
“Maybe we should go there and ask them for help,” said Hermel.
“Maybe we should go to the Guild first,” countered Ishcandar.
“Yeah, going to the Guild would be a good idea,” answered Hereml.
They decided to go the Guild first, and then pay a visit to Hagen at the Rats Den afterwards. And so they collected themselves together, sent Hermel to wake the boys up, and headed to the Guild Hall, which was not too far through the winding alleys of the Old Quarter.
Hermel returned to his apartment to fetch the boys, now that they decided that they’d learned enough. Jeremy was sitting on the floor looking out the window, while the other Jeremy was lying on the straw mat sleeping.
“What did he say?” asked Hermel Jeremy.
“Not much, really,” replied Jeremy. “I named him Jeremeze so you can call him that and we’ll know whose who. I think I’ll get myself a red cap so it will be easy to tell which of us is the REAL Jeremy,” he concluded with a smile
“I’m smarter than he is,” commented Jeremy matter of factly.
“How long have you been on your own, Jeremy?” asked Hermel.
“All my life,” the boy replied proudly.
Ishcandar poked his head into the room and looked around. “I say we wake the boy up and tell him we’re bringing him to a doctor. Let’s not mention the Guild to him. We don’t know who he is, we don’t know what he is… Frankly, I don’t trust him," he said whispering. "The Guild has healers there, and we should show him to Rothmon, I think.”
Hermel woke up Jeremeze and gave him his one extra shirt to wear (the one with the hole), as the boy, who now had a much better color, awoke slowly and sat up with his back against the cracked and stained wood paneled wall next to the straw mat. A fly buzzed around from behind Hermel’s head and landed somewhere in his hair. He swatted at it unconsciously and forgot about it as a crow flew past the window casting a shadow across the floorboards. Jeremeze yawned and stretched slowly. Gray clouds moved gloomily across the sky, and the wind outside howled eerily through the branches of the tree in the courtyard. Time seemed to move very slowly just then.
“I should go back to Doctor Lobe,” said Jeremeze listlessly. “I have work to do.”
“Sure sure, no problem. We’ll get you there. Just get up and come with us,” said Ishcandar to the boy. “We’re gonna take another way though. A better way.”
“Ok,” said Jeremeze drowsily.
They left the apartment and headed down the winding streets and through the alleys toward the Guild Hall. All the way Jeremeze trundled along half asleep.
“Maybe he needs something to eat,” offered Lido. They passed a man selling rat-sticks from a stall. Hermel ordered three. Bernie, holding his pet rat in a fold of his vest stepped away across to the other side of the alley and stood in a shaded doorway scowling at the vendor.
“Here you go, boys” said the grizzly old coot holding out three sticks with roasted rats stuck on them, “Rat Sticks! You’ll like em!” They got them with the sauce, which looked a bit like browned blood with seeds in it. The kids ate them greedily. Hermel enjoyed his with a leering smile toward Bernie, who gave him a nastier than usual glare.
Off through the back streets and alleys they tromped and finally came to the ivy and moss-covered Guild Hall and stood on the three steps where they first met Jeremy. It was about six thirty at night, and the sky was beginning to grow dark. Lido looked around to see if anyone had taken any particular note of them, or the two Jeremys, but no one at all took any notice of the little band of ragamuffins, so common a site was it around Hobbington.
A Wondrous Dinner at the Guild Hall
They walked up the short stairway, knocked, and the Guild Secretary met them at the door.
“Ahh, if it isn’t Group AAA, returned at last,” he said amiably. “Welcome back, … Jeremy… and … um… Jeremy…” he said with a raised eyebrow.
“That’s why we’re here,” said Ishcandar.
“I see. Please wait here, and I will let Rothmon know you have something interesting to show him,” he said and ushered them into the foyer. He went upstairs, while the boys sat on chairs lining the narrow hallway. Rothmon soon came down.
“Gentlemen, you’ve returned,” he greeted the boys with is usual warm yet sober tone. He asked them to join him in the study. It was only then that Hermel and the others noticed that they’d lost Bernie somewhere along the way to the Guild Hall. Ishcandar guessed that he had headed back to the Rat’s Den to confer with Hagen.
“We made our way down to the tunnel beneath Dunn’s Bridge with our friend Bernie’s help, and once inside we made a startling discovery,” began Lido.
“Did you make a map?” asked Rothmon, interrupting gently. At this Lido stopped. He looked down at the floor, and then hit his forehead with his palm. “No, I completely forgot in the excitement!” he said with great embarrassment. “I can make one for you now from memory,” he added hastily, and quickly sketched what he could recall on a piece of paper. It was only vaguely accurate, and Ishcandar made several corrections to Lido’s draft, which also happen to be incorrect, and so the map turned out to be quite inaccurate in many details, but was still somewhat serviceable as a starting point. Nevertheless Rothmon took the map, wrote something across the top, and explained that he could only offer them a “Grade D Rating” on it, since it was from memory, and those had proven over time to be not so very accurate usually. He would provide them with a small payment later.
They then explained everything that happened in great detail. Ishcandar gave Rothmon the letter he had pilfered from the ornate desk in the secret room. The old gentleman read it with great interest, and said that it was an important find, even though he didn’t quite understand the implications as yet. He put the letter in his desk drawer and they went back to discussing the two Jeremys. Lido then gave Rothmon a thorough accounting of the details within the laboratory, and the corridor that lead to the cave-chamber where they encountered the yellow spotted toad that had attacked Hermel. Ishcandar made a point of mentioning that there was a drain in the ceiling of the laboratory, which they all considered rather strange. They described the yellow spotted toad with the gray-green skin and red eyes, and Ishcandar handed Rothmon the dagger that had slain the toad which he thought may still have the poison on it, wrapped in the cloth he had torn from Hermel’s sleeve. Rothmon inspected it carefully as they continued the story. They described exactly how they met Jeremeze, and how they rescued him, and everything that was said. Lido conjectured that the boy may be a duplication of the original Jeremy that the Doctor must have somehow have created.
“It certainly bears further investigation,” commented Rothmon after a short silence. “Were you able to locate the Hagglesmiths?” he asked pointedly.
“No, we only got so far before we had to return due to Hermel’s injuries. Thank goodness Hermel’s paralysis has worn off. We were quite worried about it at the time,” said Ishcandar.
Meanwhile, as Ishcandar and Lido explained what happened in the secret chambers, Hermel thought it a good idea to take the two Jeremys to the famous Adventure Guild Bar and Grill they had heard so much about. Ishcandar gave him ten iron pieces, which he thought should cover the cost for Hermel and the two boys meals. That was very generous of him indeed, and so Hermel headed off to the Bar and Grill. It was an utterly beautiful setting, with deep dark woods, candles and glass lanterns, and a deep plush red carpet covering the blue-gray granite stonework in long luxurious strips throughout the restaurant. Off on one side was the bar itself, an enormous affair lined with a bronze railing, and around which were booths and tables, some large and some very private and cozy. And the aroma as one walked in was mouth watering with the scents of herbs, breads, sizzling meats, and spiced drinks. They were seated in a semi-enclosed booth and a lovely young lady came with a menu and crystal glasses of water. Since he could not read the menu, Hermel simply looked at the menu for a moment, and then asked the attractive waitress to order for them.
“I trust your judgement,” he said. She smiled and hurried off taking the menus with her.
Soon the lovely waitress brought them plates of bread with three flavored butters, a bowl of shelled walnuts with honey glaze, and then perfectly cooked char grilled steaks sizzling in butter and herbs, with crunchy-crusted baked potatoes and sides of broccoli and caramelized onions. She also brought them drinks of orange-tangerine juice and milk for he boys and a tall mug of fine ale for Hermel. Everything looked and smelled delicious!
Hermel let the boys attack the food first, and they grabbed at the steaks with both hands and immediately began gnawing on them greedily slobbering and making all kinds of loud sucking, slavering and chewing noises.
“Gentlemen, Gentlemen!” Hermel interrupted them. “...One hand clean,” he said raising his left hand in the air demonstratively, “please… like Civilized people,” he concluded, and made an example of eating his steak politely with one hand, instead of two. The waitress happened to walk by staring at them out of the corner of her eye, and Hermel gave her his politest, though bespattered, smile and a big cheerful wink as he waved his clean hand at her. She hurried off to serve other customers. The boys were very impressed by this but ignored his gentlemanly advice completely as they continued to wolf down everything on the table to the bottom of the bowls with wild abandon. Hermel was at least gratified that they truly enjoyed the meal. It was surely the best that any of them had ever had.
Yet, despite all of the great food, it seemed to Hermel that Jeremeze was not really coming out of his stupor. The food was gone, and the poor boy seemed to be falling asleep. Perhaps he’d eaten too much, thought Hermel, though Jeremy was quite awake and eagerly looking to order more steaks. When it became clear that that was not going to happen Jeremy made a point of politely wiping his bespattered hands on his shirt and smiled proudly, looking to Hermel for approval. Hermel nodded with a smile and did the same, and they both sat grinning happily as the nice wide-eyed waitress walked by trying hard not to stare.
Meanwhile upstairs the whole story was told and so the group decided it would be a good idea to introduce Rothmon to the new Jeremy. The all came together down to the Bar and Grill. Rothmon was introduced to the boy and gave him a courteous greeting.
“Good evening, young man,” said Rothmon.
“Good … evening… sir,” replied Jeremeze drowsily, lolling his head against the tall dark wood of the booth.
The Good Doctor Sniloc
It was decided that Jeremeze should be taken to the Guild Doctor, whose office was on the third floor. His name was Doctor Sniloc, a known curmudgeon, quite cantankerous, yet with excellent eye for illnesses, and expert at setting bones, curing diseases, surgery and the like, and by some accounts the best doctor in the vicinity.
They settled up the bill, which unbeknown to Hermel came to a somewhat more than the 10 Iron he had, but Rothmon quietly picked up the remaining tab and added a rather handsome tip as well with a look and wave to the maitre de. The waitress smiled and prepared to head off to attend her other duties.
“Well, good bye,” said Hermel to the pretty young waitress. “That was good. Thanks. Real good. Thank you,” he half stammered. “My name is Hermel,” he added awkwardly.
“I’m glad you enjoyed your meal,” the girl answered politely.
“And I am Ishcandar, of High Ridge,” said Ishcandar cutting in-between them and taking her hand with a bow, and kissed it politely.
“Nice to meet you, Ishcandar,” she said with a smile as Hermel gave the little Hobbit a rather savage glare. “Are you a member here?” she asked.
“Not as of yet,” he replied, “but I could be persuaded to join soon,” he added with a slight bow. She was suitably flattered and walked off with a smile as Hermel cast all kinds of nasty looks at Ishcandar while they exited the lovely restaurant.
“Are you ok?” asked Rothmon of Jeremeze.
“I’m just sleepy, that’s all,” replied Jeremeze. “I think I need to get back to the doctor soon,” he continued.
“Well, we have a fine doctor here,” replied Rothmon reassuringly. “I’m sure he can help you if you need to see a doctor.”
“I don’t think he will do,” said Jeremeze, “but ok.” At that point poor Jeremeze collapsed on the floor.
And so they carried the boy up the flights of stairs and took him down the hall to the doctor’s office. There was a wooden door with a frosted glass pane that read “Doctor B. Sniloc, PhD, MD, MSON, BSc, DMD, OD, D.Pharm, MBBS”. Inside was a doctor’s office, very neat and clean and tidy, with lots degrees in frames on the white walls, large cabinets with labeled wooden draws, medical equipment, scales, a cloth covered table in the center, six wooden chairs on the side, and two frosted glass doors leading to other rooms. There was also a pretty secretary who greeted the party as they entered, and quietly summoned the doctor.
Doctor Sniloc entered the room from an inner doorway, his long white beard neatly combed, rubbing his bronze rimmed glasses with a white cloth. He put them on, and seeing who had come in, gave a gruff but efficient greeting to Rothmon, and the others.
“Good evening, Barnebus,” said Rothmon to the doctor politely.
“What happened to him?” he asked curtly as they laid Jeremeze on the table.
“Well, it seems that there are several mysteries involved with this young lad, actually,” said Rothmon. “The boy, for starters, appears to be a duplicate, not a twin, mind you, a duplicate, of this boy here, whose name is Jeremy.”
“His name is irrelevant, get on with it,” stated the doctor waving his hand in the air dismissively.
“Ah, yes, of course,” continued Rothmon without pausing, “and he seems to have been poisoned possibly by some unusual yellow spotted toads, from which he appears to have recovered, however he is now showing signs of extreme fatigue, bordering on narcolepsy. We thought you might have a look at him. Perhaps there is something you can do?”
Doctor Sniloc stroked his long white beard and then took the boy’s wrist in his hand and closed his eyes and counted under his breath. He took a long tube and put it to the boy’s chest and listened at the other end. He lifted each arm and leg, felt the boys’ forehead, looked at his skin all over, and then went back to holding his wrist. Never a word did he say until he was completely and thoroughly finished.
“I’m sorry to say, but this boy is dying,” he said matter of factly.
“Of what?” asked Lido.
The doctor gave a long and elaborate diagnosis with many words that had far too many syllables for the boys to follow. Needless to say none of them had any idea what he had said, but they believed every word of it just the same.
“Perhaps we should bring him back to Doctor Lobe?” said Lido.
“Do you happen to have a cart we could borrow?” asked Hermel.
“Why yes, there is one downstairs in the barn next to the Guild Hall,” said Rothmon with a doubtful tone in his voice.
“Very good. Now, is there anyone who could help us with this dabbling in nasty magic?” asked Hermel.
“Perhaps we could go to the Temple of Divine Harmony and find a cleric there who could heal him.” suggested Lido.
“His condition is hardly spiritual malaise,” replied Doctor Sniloc with a condescending huff. “I’m reasonably certain his ailment is entirely physiological. A round or two of hocus pokus from some cloud-minded wizard uttering peeps and whistles will not do very much for him, or anyone else for that matter, I dare say,” he said with a harsh laugh.
“There is nothing you can do Doctor?” asked Ishcandar.
“I don’t believe his condition is necessarily hopeless. I could certainly try, but I could not guarantee anything,” he replied.
The Deepening Mystery of Doctor Lobe
“Well, somehow I begin to believe that his condition is tied to Doctor Lobe, and so perhaps we should…”, said Lido before being interrupted by Doctor Sniloc.
“Doctor Lobe?!” the doctor interjected. “Did you say Doctor Lobe?”
“Why yes, you see we found the boy in Doctor Lobe’s secret underground laboratory. Incidentally, this boy is identical to this other boy here,” answered Lido pointing to Jeremy.
“Why that’s quite impossible,” replied Doctor Sniloc. “Doctor Lobe is dead,” he said with grave finality.
There was a long silence in the room as everyone stared at the Doctor incredulously.
“I did the autopsy on him myself. He died a year ago,” he said finally.
“Of what?” several of them asked at the same time.
“He drowned. They found his body in Dunn’s Brook.”
Again there was a long silence.
Hermel watched Jeremy, who stood staring in utter disbelief. Ishcandar felt his own pulse.
Lido was the first to speak again and asked Rothmon if he had known of Doctor Lobe’s demise. Rothmon was taken aback at this news as well. He stammered and said that when he received the information regarding the capture of the Hagglesmiths from Jeremy he failed to recognize the connection between his somewhat garbled description of the events, and the Doctor Lobe of former fame. He’d rather passed over that point of detail, and this is why, he explained, the Guild does not allow uncharted missions.
“Improper analysis can often lead to just this sort of mistake,” he concluded, looking a bit annoyed.
“What kind of man was he?” asked Hermel of doctor Sniloc.
“He was very dedicated,” replied the doctor. “One of the best and brightest, really,” he added somewhat wistfully.
“Was he a good citizen?” asked Hermel.
“That’s difficult to say," he replied after a pause. "He was a very private man. Few new him personally. His practice was in the more esoteric realms of medicine. An experimental scientist, more than a doctor, really, though his medical skills were quite advanced.”
“Not only are we talking about a mad scientist, but we’re talking about the Ghost of a mad scientist!” thought Lido to himself
“I suppose it is possible that someone is masquerading as Doctor Lobe,” offered Doctor Sniloc. “Perhaps someone who wished to gain access to his research, and resources.”
“That’s possible,” agreed Rothmon. “And perhaps makes some sense. Whomever might be masquerading as him, also might happen to be the murderer,” he went on thoughtfully.
“Jeremy, could you please describe what the Doctor Lobe you met looked like? Be as detailed as you can,” suggested Lido. Jeremy described the Doctor as a tall man, with a narrow face, straight nose, cheeks peppered with pot marks, long black hair which he let fall over his shoulders, and added that he wore white gloves, a white lab coat, and carried a gold rimmed monocle on a gold chain. Doctor Sniloc confirmed that this sounded quite precisely like the Doctor Lobe he had known.
“So either Doctor Lobe’s twin brother took up residence in the tower, or it’s magic,” concluded Lido.
“Perhaps. Either way, we need to help Jeremeze, and so far the best guess we have is that he needs to be taken back to Doctor Lobe for help of some sort. After all, as far as we know, Jeremeze is Doctor Lobe’s creation, and maybe he needs to attend to it,” said Hermel growing impatient.
“What do you think of all this Rothmon?” asked Ishcandar.
“Well… it’s quite complex really. I need time … to consider.”
“That’s Rothmon’s failing,” thought Hermel. “He needs time to consider everything… but we need action – now.”
“Lets get the boy on the cart and get him to Doctor Lobe. It’s his best chance,” Hermel was saying as he left the room to go prepare the cart.
“If we go back there, what are we going to do? Lat him outside the door of the tower and leave him there?”
“We could have Jeremy take Jeremeze inside to Doctor Lobe,” suggested Hermel.
“Rothmon, by chance would there be anyone here who happens to be a holy person, someone who might be inclined to help us against black magic, if that is indeed what is going on here… would there be somebody like that here?” asked Lido.
“Why yes, there is a priest of the Temple of Divine Harmony training at the moment in the chambers on the third level," replied Rothmon.
“Might we ask him to join our A.A.A. Group and thereby to requisition this person on our unofficial mission?” asked Lido.
“Ohhh… is that what you call yourselves? We had been calling you the 'Ahhhhh Group'. So it is ‘A’ ‘A’ ‘A’. I see,” said Rothmon with satisfaction. “A fine name then,” he added smiling. "And as for requisitioning him for an unofficial mission, it is irregular, so he would have to agree. But knowing him, I suspect he will."
Enter Johan of the Divine Harmony
“Might I go and fetch him?” asked Lido, annoyed now that they had not yet selected a better name for their Adventure Group.
“I think we had better call for him to come to us. It might be too perilous for you to venture down to the third level yourself. The things that they practice down on that level are potentially dangerous,” replied Rothmon. And so they sent for the Priest of Divine Harmony who came forthwith and arrived at the door to the Doctor’s office wearing his priestly robes of red, yellow and white. He and the Doctor exchanged glances, and Doctor Sniloc continued to work on his analysis of the test tube in which he had poured a bit of the poison that he’d swabbed from Jeremezes’ chest. The red liquid inside began to froth and he grunted to himself.
The elderly man at the door bowed to Rothman, and in turn the Guild Master greeted him warmly.
“Good evening, Johan,” said Rothmon.
“How may I be of service, Guild Master?” asked Johan.
The group conveyed the essesnse of the situation rapidly to Johan.
“Didn’t you conduct an autopsy on Doctor Lobe one year ago?” asked Johan of Doctor Sniloc.
“Indeed, your memory is as good as ever,” replied the doctor and turned to face him with frothing test tube in hand. There was a momentary war of gazes as the two men stared each other down. They both wore grim little smiles. It was a bit odd.
“Can you do anything to help the boy?” asked Hermel pointing to Jeremeze who was still lying on the table. Johan placed several artifacts from a bag around the boy’s head, passed his hand over his face and chest, and uttered a melodic incantation under his breath. Doctor Sniloc turned away muttering something about superstitious nonsense to himself, and went back to work.
“This is not a boy,” said Johan, to which Doctor Sniloc guffawed under his breath.
“What is he?” asked Hermel.
“I do not know. A creature of some kind,” he replied. “His aura is missing the essential elements of a human. There is definitely something not quite human about him.”
“So he’s a Hobbit?” asked Hermel, looking at Ishcandar, who returned a withering look.
“Is he dangerous?” asked Ishcandar as he slowly backed away from the table.
“Not in his present condition, to be sure,” said Johan. “Otherwise, I’m not sure.”
“We have an impression based on events thus far, that the boy is dying because of his separation from the Tower in which we found him. Do you think that is possible?” asked Lido.
“It is. However, I should add that I do not believe the creature is a mystical creation, but rather it is my opinion that he is a creation of some dark science. Doctor, I believe you will find if you conduct the proper study, that the boy is a Replicant,” said Johan firmly.
“What? That’s absurd! It’s never been done before! There’s no proof that it is even possible! Ridiculous! I won’t entertain this nonsense for a moment!” replied the doctor rasping at his rival. "Absurd!"
“No matter what he is,” said Lido, “he seemed capable of feeling… we have an obligation to try to save him. Will you come with us, Johan?”
“I would be willing, yes. I should be curious to see how things transpire,” replied the priest giving a sidelong glance at the doctor who was scowling as he worked at his test tubes.
And so the party left the Guild Hall and took the boy down to the cart and laid him on it. They moved as quickly as they could over the cobblestone streets, passing the shops, which by this time had lanterns in the windows, and tried to ignore the cold drizzle that had begun to rain down from the black sky. They got lost along the way, but managed to find the correct path again in the darkness. The Old Quarter was a twisting maze of back alleys and narrow streets, and tall archways shrouded in perpetual fogs. It was easy to get lost, especially at night, and most people traveling the by ways there wound up confused at some street corner or angled alley, or stairs.
Along the way, Hermel mentioned to Johan that he did not himself feel very strong, due to his struggles earlier and the poisoning he suffered, and Johan laid hands on him with a slow melodic chant. In a few moments Hermel came back into his strength again as a golden glow settled on his mind. He felt back to his normal self again. They hurried along their way and finally they found themselves facing Dunn’s Bridge looming in the darkness, barely visible in the fog and darkness. They thought it was still early, but they had not noticed that they’d gotten lost, nor how much time had been wasted seeking their way to the bridge.
Return to Dunn's Bridge
They then made a plan. It took them some time to contrive it, but eventually they settled on the idea that Jeremy should take Jeremeze on the cart around the side of the Tower to where the door was and knock. Meanwhile the two Hobbits would hide on the bridge in the shadows of another tower, while Hermel and Johan hid in the shadows along the street facing the bridge. If the door opened then Jeremy would shove the cart into the doorway to keep it from closing and give a whistle. The others would then come running to gain entrance to the tower. Having settled on the plan, they set it into motion.
It worked almost exactly as they had hoped. Jeremy took the creaking cart around the outer edge of the bridge tower, but found it was too large to fit onto the walkway. Undeterred the boy picked up Jeremeze and carried him in his arms along the iron girded walkway that hung over the dark swirling waters of Dunn’s Brook. He managed to shift his burden so that he could grab the iron lion-shaped knocker and banged it on the door three times, which made a great echo inside the tower. He was quite frightened, and thought of running away, but looking at his other-self lying in his arms so ill, he girded himself up and knocked again. A green light appeared in the window above the doorway. He heard a voice say, “Jeremy, its you. I am glad to see you,” and the door swung open, as Jeremy whistled. “Come in, come in,” said the voice.
Everyone ran as fast as they could from the shadows, and made it to the door as Jeremy stood in the doorway. Johan, being an elderly man, was not able to run, so he walked up at a less frenzied pace.
“Jeremy! And you! I want to talk to you!” shouted Hermel as he gained the entrance drawing his sword from its scabbard.
Inside was an octagonal room with a wooden floor about 20 feet across with walls covered by large hanging curtains of dark purple fabric. There was no furniture. It was lit by gas lanterns, and in the middle of the room there stood a large man with a white lab coat, black shoes and a piece of equipment hung around his neck. He had a wide broad brow, one eye was larger than the other, and he was hunched over on the left side.
“You there!” shouted Hermel. The man turned around and began to walk away toward a corner of the room.
“Jeremy, do you know this man?” asked Ishcandar, but Jeremy had never seen him before. At that moment, however, Jeremeze, who was still being held by Jeremy, opened his eyes and weakly called out, “Yokov, …help me…”
The large man stopped. He turned around. He looked at Jeremze, at Hermel, at Jeremeze, and he stepped backwards and said nothing. Jeremy had walked into the room, as had Hermel, but the two Hobbits remained on the stoop outside the tower door. They saw the green light in the window and calculated that this is where Doctor Lobe must be. Jakov was making his way around the side of the tower along the iron girded walkway. He looked down into the black waters below with a shudder and kept walking until he came to the two Hobbits.
“Shall we go in?” he inquired. And so they went into the room. There was a single wooden door that led from this room, other than the main doorway, and that door was to the right along the wall, below where the outside window would be located. The two Hobbits sidled along the purple tapestries until the came to the door, and checked it. The door was locked.
Meanwhile Jakov was backing away toward the rear wall of the room. Ishcandar slid along the wall toward Jakov, and managed to get behind him without his noticing by gliding behind the curtains. Jakov was focusing his attention on the sword in Hermel’s hand and ill-visioned on one side, did not notice the Hobbit's movements. In a lucky maneuver Ishcandar used his skill in acrobatics, and his picking pockets skill in combination to grab the key that hung on a small chain from his broad leather belt under Yakov's lab coat. Ishcandar thanked his lucky stars and ran off along the wall. Yakov turned around to see him running away, clutching at his belt where the key was. He was wroth, but did not lunge forward, as Hermel’s sword prevented him.
Ishcandar made his way back to the locked door, slid the the key into the lock, gave it a turn, and with a click the door opened. There was a small landing a long dark stairway going up to the right, and another stairway going down to the left.
Meanwhile Jakov had slowly backed his way to one of the tapestries and slipped behind it. Hermel, who was momentarily distracted by the fact that the Hobbits had opened the door, turned to see the curtain closing shut. Cursing, Hermal ran to the curtain and swung it partially out of the way to peer into the other side. There by the light of the lanterns he could dimly see a small room, but Yakov was not in the room. He’d vanished.
“Johan,” can you make a light appear? I have need of your power!” spoke Hermel reverently.
“Most certainly”, said Johan taking a torch out of his satchel and lighting it on the flame of a wall lamp. “Here you are, my brave friend," he said cheerfully.
“Um… that’s good,” said Hermel. “Thank you.” And drawing the curtain back a bit more and sliding the torch within he peered around the small room by the flickering light. Indeed, Yakov was gone. The only thing he saw in the room was a small three foot high column with a flat top and strange markings on the top, and on the floor a five sided metal plate with other similar markings engraved on it’s surface. Other than that the room was empty. And yet, as the Hobbits ascended the stairway on the other side of the tower, and Johan hovered behind him, Hermel began to feel a sense of dreadful danger lurking in the small room before him. He looked around. Nothing stirred. It was empty. He looked down. Nothing. He looked up. And there on the ceiling he saw an iron grating above which was silently sliding a stone panel very slowly open.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Hermel decided that discretion was indeed the better part of valor and backed way from the room, heading to the door where the Hobbits had ventured through. Johan followed closely behind him. As they made their way, looking all around them in every direction, they came to the main door of the tower, and Hermel swung the door open, and then continued on his way to the wooden door. It was still opened a bit, and so he and Johan gained entrance to the stairway and followed the Hobbits whose torch they could see flickering at the top of the landing upward to their right.
Meanwhile the two Jeremy’s and the two Hobbits had come to the top of the stairs, and met with another locked door. It was no problem. Lido had a torch lit, and with the key Ishcandar turned the lock and it clicked. He slowly and carefully slid the door open a crack and they peered inside. There was another room that looked identical to the one downstairs. There was no light in this room. It also had a door to the right. As there was nothing in the room, and nothing stirred, the floor was dusty, and so they decided to go to the other door and repeat the process again. Now they made their way up the stairs to the right to the third story landing, and again used the key to open the lock. They peered through the crack.
There they saw a room lit by a green lamp hanging from the ceiling. There were several other candles around the room, and a hand lantern lit on a desk toward the right and a table in the middle of the room. On the table were many books and papers. Beyond the table were tall bookcases set in rows, like a library. Just then, a tall man with a straight nose, pot-marked cheeks and long black hair flowing over his shoulders stepped out from one of the rows between the book cases carrying a large leather bound tome in his left arm, and a candle in his right hand. He was wearing a white lab coat, and seemed rather preoccupied with what he was reading.
At that moment they heard the tower bell ring twelve times.
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