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Mystery

An earthy aroma of hibiscus and chamomile filled Kodiak’s lungs. The insight civil servant observed the cafe and the peculiar characters within. Mango and Leif’s was a simple tea cafe, aligned in trinkets and an abundance of teacups. There was a quaint warmth within the walls, as if the whole room were a blanket. Everything seems too at peace, Kodiak despised, folding his arms. Mango and Leif’s would be the last place Kodiak, House of Caspian, imagined to be. But nevertheless, Kodiak arrived. He sat down. 

The cafe was timid and reserved. Aside from a few priests and adventurers, there were very few customers. However, surprisingly enough, there was an abundance of unique creatures to find. A barn owl sat on the highest shelf, eight or nine squirrels scurried across the floor, and a tamed fox perched itself on the front desk. Not to mention, a hedgehog plopped onto Kodiak’s table and began to lick his hand. 

“Leif you damn bastard, how the hell did you end up ‘ere?” muttered the mercenary before hastily brushing the hedgehog away. His eyes scanned for Leif Itzirelli. Kodiak was on a mission. It had been a strenuous journey that stretched for many miles and nights; however, sitting in the most peculiar cafe, Kodiak was at his final destination. 

All Kodiak needed to do was get Leif Itzirelli--willingly or by force. 

Kodiak knew of Leif since Leif was born. Leif was a sprightly young man who once served under the House of Caspian. At the bright age of 25, Leif was the greatest minds the House of Caspian, the House of Donner, and the House of Gaul knew of. Most people speculated that Leif was a dark wizard or an alchemist. However, Leif rejected all things magical or alchemy. He was a simple man of science and that’s all he claimed to know. Yet nevertheless, Leif Itzirelli was the desire of every government. Bargaining and fighting would break out as to who would flourish with Leif on their side. The fighting was extremely childish, but necessary. Leif’s brilliance proved to be like none other.

But more than three years ago, as Houses began to wage money for the young scientist, Leif vanished. Taking his sister and a few belongings with him, Leif was never to be seen again. That was, until then. Kodiak, the wisest mercenary the Caspian’s had, took months to trace Leif. The journey led him to a forest, labeled by the locals as “haunted”. Within the forest was a tight-knit community. It was a quaint place that prohibits all weaponry. Kodiak, to his disdain, had to leave his weapons at the gates. However, at least Kodiak made it to the residence of young Leif Itzirelli. 

Satisfied with pinpointing the wayward scientist’s location, Kodiak relaxed. There wasn’t a thing to worry about! Happily, Kodiak closed his eyes. Then, the door swayed behind him. Kodiak, optimistically hoping to see Leif and whisk him away, turned around. But immediately, Kodiak’s smile cracked. 

“Great.”

Standing flamboyantly in the doorway was another mercenary, but he wore a different family crest. This man’s skin was black as the night sky, his eyes bright blue. Standing firm and proud was West, House of Donner. Kodiak couldn’t help but gag. Kodiak could pick up on a Donner from a mile away. The Donners were the gaudiest of the three rivaling families. West was in pristine attire. The crest, a two-headed lion, illuminated boldly on his coat. From his appearance and cleanliness, Kodiak assumed that West had been there before him. The thought flustered into Kodiak’s mind, is he here to take Leif, too? What else could it be? Certainly this mercenary isn’t here for over-priced, flavored hot water and a fairy tale. 

Upon entering, the two mercenaries made contact. When their eyes met, both immediately reached for their sides. Any normal encounter, the two opposing mercenaries would break out in fights. However, with neither having a blade, their hands twitched. The two mercenaries were defenseless against the other. But West, with a trick up his sleeve, smirked mischievously and walked to Kodiak. 

“I thought I smelt shit around ‘ere,” hollered Kodiak from across the room, tensely. West came closer. 

“I’d be careful, son of Caspian,” replied West in a thick accent, “The priests and forestfolk are not fond of cursing. Let’s be civil now, shall we?” 

Kodiak didn’t respond. West pulled up a chair in front of Kodiak, to which Kodiak retorted, “Did I ask for your company?” 

West replied, “Not in the slightest, no.” 

But West did not move. Kodiak stared intensely at West, full of suspension. However, the black mercenary carried a content smile on his face. It annoyed the hell out of Kodiak, who was beginning to think of all sorts of reasons why West was there. With no hesitation, Kodiak asked, “What do you think you’re doing ‘ere?”

“Funny,” laughed West, full of mischief, “I was going to ask you the same thing. Perhaps we like the same tea. Although I could have sworn your family’s land was a week’s distance away. You must really enjoy this tea! Tell me, comrade, what’s your favorite drink?”

“Tell me, you little shit, what’s your favorite way to die?”

“Well,” West pointed to his empty pockets, “Without our weapons, it looks like there’s not many options for me to choose from.”

Kodiak warned, “Not if you’re a creative bastard.” To which, West only laughed in response. This enraged Kodiak. Kodiak was done with these games. Leaning in towards West, Kodiak hissed, “I’ve been patient with you. If you’re not going to tell me who you’re here for, we can take this discussion outside.”

Who?” asked West, before heartedly chuckling, “Oh, I see. If you think I am here for your pet, you’re mistaken. Although I am sure the boy would make a great asset to the Donner’s, he’s yours to tame, not mine.” 

Kodiak did not believe him. “Then why are you here?”

West smiled and said, “This place serves oolong tea like none other.”

Instinctively, Kodiak abruptly stood. Towering over West, Kodiak’s voice boomed across the cafe, “If you’re not going to answer me straight, I will slit your throat!”

The cafe immediately went silent. The few patrons looked towards the two mercenaries, anticipating another eruption. However, West did not give into the aggression. West, on the other hand, whispered, “Would you mind sitting down before you’re kicked out?” 

Kodiak, still unaware of the quietness, yelled, “Are you telling me what to do?!” 

“All I’m saying,” hushed West, glaring around to avoid speaking too loud, “Is that if you’re here to get back your pet, I wouldn’t start by yelling in his store.” 

Kodiak then peered around, finding many eyes on him. Immediately, Kodiak’s face went white. Kodiak sat down immediately, full of embarrassment and rage. West, on the other hand, grinned. He spoke, “You’re making things far too easy for me, son of Caspian. By the time I’m through with my tea and my main mission here, then perhaps I can sweep your pet away, too. That would mean more tea and more scientific achievements for us.” 

Kodiak began to lose his temper again, “I swear to the gods of my father, if you lay a single hand on him…”

“Then that would be your fault. I have much better things to do than kidnap a wayward dog of yours. I’ve been hired to hunt down a very special creature. I’ve been told by the locals that this monster has been wreaking havoc for years. I bet it will only take me days to kill it. But once I am done with that, you’ll probably be passed out drunk. So I might as well drag your dog along with me for the journey home.”

Kodiak slammed his fist against the table. 

“You son of a...” yelled Kodiak, but immediately, Kodiak restrained himself. A figure appeared. Kodiak glared over West’s head and squinted. At the opposite side of the cafe entered Leif Itzirelli.

Short and fragile, young Leif Itzirelli was a handsome lad of 25. As always, the boy was clean, tempt, and well trimmed. His skin was dark olive, which the deathly pale House of Caspian envied. But Leif, being very scrawny and disillusioned, was nothing exciting to see. More often than not, Leif’s eyes were elsewhere and disconnected from life. Surely, something must have been wrong inside the boy’s head. 

“Showtime,” whispered Kodiak. Without delay, Kodiak took off his coat (which had his family crest) and walked towards Leif. Leif was standing behind the bar, staring elsewhere. A gentle, but forced smile grew on Kodiak’s face as he greeted, “Good morrow. The gods be with you, sir.”

Leif, daydreaming, was not aware of Kodiak until those words. Leif jumped.

“Oh! Oh, yes, yes. G-good morning to you, s-sir. What could I serve you today?” quickly asked Leif, his eyes staring towards the assortment of herbs and leaves. Leif began poking at a pile rolled oolong tea leaves. This kid’s more strange than I remembered, thought Kodiak, perplexed by Leif’s complete disengagement. No matter odd, Kodiak concluded, this will be a quick and easy job. 

Still smiling, Kodiak spoke up, “I’ve had a tiresome journey. A drink would be…”

“Earl Grey, piping hot, if you wouldn’t mind,” interrupted West. West walked toward, pulling up a chair at the bar. 

“Yes, sir,” said Leif, then turning away to grab a mug.

Smirking from ear to ear, West whispered to Kodiak, “Precious boy,” to which Kodiak stomped on West’s foot.

Leif, completely oblivious, then asked Kodiak, “And for you, sir?” 

Kodiak didn’t have a clue. Flavored bath water wasn’t Kodiak’s kind of drink; he much preferred hard liquor. However, seeing no evidence of liquor around, Kodiak did his best to impress Leif, “What’s your most expensive drink?”

“Expensive, you say?” asked Leif, then muttered to himself, “Fascinating.”

Silence. 

Leif continued, “You are a traveler, yes? I hate to make conclusions, but I suppose you traveled here because of our tea. And I hate to be so proud to ask, but you’re probably well aware of Mango’s Elixir?” 

“No, I’m afraid. I’ve never tried a mango before. It sounds delightful.”

Then, oddly, Leif giggled. Leif, controlling his laughter, corrected Kodiak, “You have it all wrong. Mango is my little sister. It’s her specialty tea.”

Although slightly embarrassed, Kodiak nodded, “Then that will do.”

“Most certainly.” And with that, Leif spun around and headed to the nearby room. The two mercenaries refused to look at one another, but the silent spite grew and grew as they awaited for the young man. 


***

The crowds dwindled in Mango and Leif’s, patrons naturally leaving as the sun grew down. As the sun reached the treeline, only Kodiak and West were left. Once his tea was finished, Kodiak was approached by Leif.

With a gentle smile, Leif said, “Y-you understand, sir, that you ought to be on your way. It isn’t safe to travel the forest at night.”

“Is that so?” 

“The forest is filled with hideous creatures,” replied Leif, “Once nightfall comes, they reign wild.”

Kodiak was not a man of superstition. When it came to fairy tales, Kodiak would scoff. As it came to religion, he rolled his eyes. Every phenomenon had an explanation, according to Kodiak. So at this, Kodiak laughed and told Leif, “I am not afraid of the unreal.”

There was a flicker in Leif’s eyes. Was he… nervous?

Before Leif could utter a word, West came towards them. There was a sweet smile against his face. He asked, “If I may ask, are you talking about the Vampire Hound?” 

It was at this point that Leif’s face turned red. Both West and Kodiak took note of this, the two beginning to close in on Leif.

“That is the one, y-yes…” Leif then, looking towards the window, insisted again, “I have to urge you both to leave. Our tea shop is now closed. I-if you may pay and be on your way…”

West interrupted, “I have questions for you first, Leif.” 

“As do I,” stated Kodiak.

The two surrounded Leif. West’s hand reached out, pulling Leif tightly to his side. Immediately, at impulse, Kodiak took a hold of Leif’s hand, drawing him towards him. 

Petrified, Leif cried out, “I really must insist that you both would leave!”

“Leif Itzirelli,” West demanded, “The House of Donner requests cooperation as we look into the murders within this forest--”

“Murders? Dear man, my hands are innocent!”

West smirked, “Perhaps your hands are clean, but your monster’s hands aren’t.”

"Monster? I never created a monster!"

Kodiak rose an eyebrow and with brute force, pulled Leif into his arms. He shouted, “Git your ‘ands off ‘em, West! Leif ain’t made nothin’ of evil intent, and you know that well!”

Gently, Kodiak released Leif and put his hand out, “Kodiak, House of Caspian. From the looks of it, you’re better off with me, alright?”

But Leif did not look happy at the slightest.

The backdoor swayed open. From the door came a small girl, adorned in pigtails and a satin dress. She looked to be no older than six. When she saw Kodiak and West, she was terrified. She began to rush towards Leif, but he stopped her.

“Mango, stop!” yelled Leif, “Go back to your room!” 

She tilted her head, “Leif, who are these men…?”

“I said go back. You need to go back, do you understand me?” 

Mango stumbled back. She shook her head, tears forming in her eyes. She cried aloud, “I won’t leave you, Leif!”

“Mango, you’re running out of time! It's almost night!” 

It was with those words that West’s mind flickered. West knew, and Kodiak shortly learned. West stepped forward, his eyes looming at the little girl. He hushed, “No, my dear Mango, stay.”

“Damn it, Mango! Run!” 

But Mango, terrified, stayed frozen. 

“How adorable. They warned us to never enter the woods at night,” West reached into his pockets and muttered, “Locals called this devil a Vampire Hound. But who would have guessed that all along… We were searching for you.”

Without a weapon at hand, West wielded the dinner knife in his hand. It wasn't sharp enough, but it would get the job done. In that instance, Leif bolted to him. West was quick, but Leif lunged first. Leif jumped onto his back, trying to steal the knife. But in one swift move, Leif was thrown to the ground. West pinned him, wielding his dagger to Leif’s neck.

“Dr. Itzirelli. You created this monster, didn't you?”

"You have it all wrong! I have no idea what you're talking about, leave my sister alone!"

It was then that Kodiak, despite having every doubt, sprang into action. He darted towards the two. Being of greater strength, Kodiak knocked West off. Kodiak gathered Leif into his arms.

“Leif, are you alright?”

Yet before Leif could respond, there was a piercing cry.

Mango, who was standing at the doorway, fell to her knees. As she cried out, her skin drew dark. Her limbs and skin grew, taking shape into a hideous creature. It stood on its hind legs at around eight feet, its fur matted and its veins pulsing. West looked towards her and grinned.

West immediately got off of Leif. He then approached the Vampire Hound. Tilting his head, he uttered, “The locals weren’t lying when they warned me against you. They said I ought to really--”

The Vampire Hound cried out. Without notice, its sharp claws struck West, thrusting him to the ground. Pierced, West screamed. With a second claw to the chest, West was silent.

The Vampire Hound then turned, its eyes looming at Kodiak. She squinted her eyes; she had found her next victim.

November 23, 2019 00:27

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