Chapter Six: Lin
"Francesca, I gave you one job!" Lin pinched the bridge of his nose. "All I asked of you was to get me some rotwood, not a guest!"
The boy was hiding himself behind the knight, but that didn't stop him from looking around in awe of the study he was in. Everyone surface available was covered in spell books, bottles, glass instruments, herbs, roots, graphs, paper, and all sorts of things he had never seen before. Hanging off the walls were bright red banners that read "Victory to the Merian Knights." He tugged nervously at the hood of his cloak when his eyes landed upon the slender man in red robes amidst the sea of instruments.
"I'm sorry, Lin," Francesca said insincerely. "But this boy needs your help."
"I don't do public miracles, assassinations, randomly hand out Stones of Life, brew any potions that take longer than three months, acrobatics, anything to do with elves, overthrow kings, and birthday parties," he droned.
The boy gave him a puzzled look while Francesca shook her head. "It's nothing of the sort, Lin."
Lin raised a slim eyebrow. "Oh? What does he need help with then?"
"He needs-" Francesca began.
Lin waved a hand. "No, no. Let him speak. You said it was his problem." He bent down to the boy's level despite it being only a head's difference.
The boy froze up when Lin started staring at him expectantly. He tugged the hood further over his face. "U-Um..."
"What is it? Speak up, boy," Lin said impatiently.
He swallowed and said "I... I-I want... t-to find my master."
Lin straightened himself up, looked up to Francesca, and pointed to the boy. "Did you kidnap someone's slave?"
"No," Francesca said uncertainly.
"You sound so confident with that answer," Lin deadpanned. He looked back to the boy. "Now, unless you brought something that belonged to your master, I'm afraid that I can't."
The boy was about to offer the cloak that he was wearing but then stopped himself. He hid further behind Francesca. "Frankie..."
"Frankie?" Lin asked in amused tone.
"Yeah, you see, he has another... problem," Francesca said hesitantly. "Do you know any good illusion spells? Because he kinda needs to hide something."
Lin frowned and locked his eyes onto the boy's cloaked figure. The boy let out a squeak of fear when the man swiftly made his way toward him. Lin stopped right in front of Francesca and held out his hand.
"If I am to hide something," Lin said solemnly, "I'd like to know what it is. Understand?"
The boy's grip on the hood grew tighter. He glanced up urgently at Francesca, as if asking whether he should show Lin or not.
Francesca patted his shoulder. "It's fine. Lin's a weirdo, so he won't get scared."
"Excuse you," Lin deadpanned. "I'm right here."
"O-Okay..." the boy answered.
With shaky hands, he lowered the hood. Lin's eyes widened in fascination as he examined the boy. It reminded Francesca of the look the man had whenever he made a discovery with his potions. Lin closed the gap between them and gingerly grabbed the boy's face. Long fingers were passing over the stitches.
"Odd..." Lin said with a smile. "Very very odd!"
The boy let out a whimper when he felt Lin's nails gently pick at the skin around his stitches. The sorcerer withdrew his hands in surprise.
"I'm sorry. Did that hurt?" His voice sounded genuinely concerned, Francesca noted. She figured that it was because the boy had finally peaked his interest.
The boy nodded slowly. He brought up a hand to his cheek to soothe the sting.
"Now," Lin said calmly. Francesca could feel that he was trying not to scare the boy anymore, but the trembling at her side told her it wasn't working yet. "I'm going to ask you a few questions. I need you to answer honestly. Okay?"
The boy nodded.
"How long have you had those stitches?" was the first question.
"I don't know," he answered.
"What's your earliest memory?"
"Um..." The boy furrowed his brow. "Master hugging me."
"Is that all?"
"Yes..." the boy said disappointingly. "I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize. It's fine. Did you have these back then?"
"I'm... not sure."
Lin tried to examine closer but the boy inched away from him. "Do you recall if these were magically inflicted or not?"
The boy shook his head.
Lin let out a hum. "Could you take off that cloak so I can have a better look?"
The boy obediently, if hesitantly, slipped the cloak off. He wore nothing but a worn grey tunic and shorts. Now Francesca and Lin could see that the stitches stretched to his arms, his feet, down his collar.
Francesca frowned. What could have happened to him?
"Well, they're clearly magical," Lin observed. "If they were ordinary, they probably would have broken by now." Lin raised an eyebrow at the boy's horrified expression and Francesca's subtle glare. "What? I said 'if!'"
"So..." Francesca said. "Can you help?"
"I dunno," Lin said in teasing tone. He pulled back one of the boy's locks. "He is an elf."
"Lin!" Francesca scolded. "Could you leave your grudge against elves out of it for five minutes and try?"
"Of course, I'll try!" Lin responded. "This is too interesting to ignore!"
He turned around and grabbed a bowl of sparkling purple gel from one of the tables. He covered the tips of his fingers in the substance.
"It's to isolate the spell," Lin explained when the boy leaned away. "Since it's on your skin, I need to be careful. Casting a spell on one's body takes precision."
Lin was about to smear the gel onto the stitches of the boy's face when a tanned hand grabbed his wrist.
"Lin, I think it would be a better idea to try it somewhere that usually isn't visible," Francesca warned. "After all, cosmetic magic isn't really your forte," she added teasingly.
Lin rolled his eyes. "I mess up a cosmetic spell one time...!"
"It took a year for my eyebrows to grow back."
"Well, at least they grew back at all!"
The boy let out a small giggle at the irritated look on Francesca's face. Lin smirked while Francesca glared.
"What are you laughing about?" Francesca snapped.
The boy looked away, holding a hand over his smile. "Nothing, nothing!"
They eventually agreed to test the spell on his stomach. Soon Lin was muttering the spell while the boy stared in amazement at the small glow coming from his body.
After several minutes, the glowing finally stopped. Lin nearly collapsed. The small man was taking deep, staggering breaths. Francesca put Lin's arm over her shoulder so that she could hold him up.
"Did it..." Lin said between pants. "Did it... work...?"
The boy lifted up his shirt. His amethyst eyes filled with disappointment when he saw the black stitches still snaking around his torso. The gel had vanished without a trace of it left on his skin, being completely used up after the spell was finished.
Lin's eyes only filled up with frustration. "Are you sh... kidding me?!" he shouted. He managed to push himself off of Francesca and took a shaky step forward. "Do you know how much energy that took out of me? And it didn't even do anything?"
The boy looked down to the floor. His face was scrunched up as if holding back tears. "I-I'm sorry..."
"No! Don't apologize! It's not your fault!" Francesca blurted out. She ran to the boy's side and put a hand on his back. "There's no need to be sorry, kid! Lin was never very good at these kinds of spells anyways."
Lin slumped into a stool. "Well... Whoever put those there used a very powerful spell." He looked the boy up and down. "What's... What's your name, boy?"
"My... name?" he asked. He frowned and looked to the floor. "I... Master just called me 'boy' and 'you.'"
Lin gave Francesca a look that very obviously read "Are you sure you didn't kidnap a slave?"
"Don't worry, we can give you one now, kid," she assured him. "How about..." She glanced around the room. Her eyes lingered on the victory banners. "Victor. How do you like 'Victor?'"
Lin's eyes darted to the banner for a moment before it clicked. "Are you seri-"
"I love it, Frankie!" the boy said excitedly. "Victor, it is!"
Lin ignored 'Victor' and Francesca's small celebration to get up and grab a scrap of paper. He took the nearest quill to scribble something down in an uneven scrawl. He hobbled over and shoved the paper into Francesca's hand. "I know I wasn't able to help much, but here's the address of an acquaintance of mine who might be able to. He lives in a city west of here, Shift. Do you know it?"
"Yes," Francesca answered. "But why are you handing it to me?"
"Because I expect you to go, of course."
"What? You do know I have knightly duties to do later, right?"
Lin shrugged. "Not my problem. You found him, so you take care of him."
"Fine..." Francesca then smirked at him. "Are you sure you can handle not having an apprentice to boss around for a while?"
Lin waved a hand. "I'll get by somehow. I could fetch my own ingredients anyways." He smirked back. "The apprentice I have now couldn't even fetch me a plant."
"W-Wait!" Victor interrupted. He shrunk back once their gazes fixed upon him. "Um... You said you needed something that belonged to Master to find him, right?" He picked up his cloak off the floor and handed it to Lin. "So... here."
"Ah, right," he said. "Hold on for a moment."
Lin went to the shelves, pulling out a map and a bottle of clear liquid. He spread the map onto the floor and crouched over it. He held the cloak over their location on the map and spilled a drop of potion onto the middle of it. The potion seeped into the cloth, then appeared as an acid green drop at the edge of it. It dropped onto the location of Lin's home, however, it didn't move.
"What...?" Lin gasped.
"Seems your potion didn't work, Lin," Francesca stated.
"No, my potions always work," he insisted.
Francesca patted his shoulder. "Well, there's a first time for everything. Come on, Victor, let's go to bed. We have to go tomorrow."
"Right!" Victor said brightly.
"Oh... Okay..." Lin said numbly. He stood up and followed them to the door. "You know where the guest room is, Francesca. Goodnight."
"Goodnight," she said.
"Goodnight," Victor said with a smile. "Thank you for helping me!"
Lin shut the door behind the two of them and let out a sigh.
He had a feeling it would be a long time until Francesca would be back.
In his entire fifty years of studying magic... He'd never seen anything like that. That sort of magic seemed centuries old. As old as the discovery of Stones of Life.
He turned around. His eyes scanned the room. He only saw his usual equipment and work, but he knew there was something off.
When there was no change in his surroundings, Lin stepped forward. His eyes started searching for the slightest change in atmosphere.
"I know you're there. My potions never fail. That tracking potion can find anyone. Even if I can't see them." When he still received no answer, he said, "I won't tell them, if that's what you want. Just give me a sign that you're there."
Suddenly, a flask started to rise off of his desk. It lowered itself when Lin approached it.
"Ah. So that's what it was. Now it's your turn. May I ask you some questions, 'Master?'"
A pen started levitating over a sheet of paper. Soon a message was shining in black ink on the paper.
"First question, what are you doing here?"I'm guarding something.