A Grave Bargain, Part I

The sun was setting over the large city of Heavingbrook, a powerful and influential city in the nation of Sinma. It was a city which was large and busy, night and day, and this night was no exception- however, the only difference was that the noise that filled the air in Heavingbrook during this evening was even louder as the city was celebrating the fiftieth birthday of Heavingbrook's very own nobility. His name was Baron Edward Willd.

As the Baron of the southern region of Sinma, Edward Willd's word on any matter in the land was law. There was no King in the nation of Sinma, instead, the country was run by four Baron's, each one controlling a part of the region of Sinma- north, south, east and west. Each Baron lived in a castle in the capital city of their respective region, and once every year, the four Barons would meet in the central part of the country to discuss the laws and issues to better the country. If any one of these four powerful men were to die, a certain part of Sinma would be left lost until a suitable leader could be found and because of this, each Baron lived in a heavily protected castle with a small army of guards.

Baron Willd sat in his own personal chambers, which was complete with a large king sized, four post bed for he and his young wife. Sitting on the bed, Willd rose his head slowly and looked across the room to see his reflection in the mirror, where his once long, flowing black hair had been replaced with chin length silver hair and a face encrusted with wrinkles. He placed his fingertips on his cheek and slowly caressed the skin, frowning in disgust at what the ravages of time had done to him as the once young, virile and handsome Baron was not so enchanting anymore.

A knock on the large, oak door which led to his bedroom took his attention away from his mirror and over to the door. With no answer, the large, golden doorknob turned, and with an echoing creak, a man dressed in a fine suit entered the room. A tall, thin man, with a short, tidy head of dark hair walked over to The Baron, before he stood over him, looking down at his master with narrow, blue eyes. Placing a hand on The Baron's shoulder, the finely dressed man spoke in a low voice.

"I beg your pardon, sire, but your party requests your entrance."

The Baron Willd cocked his head back, looking around the back of his servant towards the noise of music and excited chatter which filtered through the open door. He then looked back to his servant and blinked.

"Hm, it can wait..." The Baron replied before he looked back to the mirror.

"Beg pardon, sire, but it IS your party," the servant answered. "We're here in merriment to celebrate your reaching of the landmark age of-..."

"Landmark age of fifty!" Baron Willd snapped, cutting off his servant. "I know, and that is what troubles me. Robert, I am no spring chicken anymore...I fear my best years are behind me."

"But with age comes wisdom!" Robert replied with a hearty voice to try and rally his master into a more cheerful mood. "You are as mighty now as you were ten years ago."

"When you get to fifty, perhaps we shall see how merry you feel. If I may live that long."

"I am forty, sire." Robert answered. "I can hardly see you in your deathbed before then."

"Remember on my forty fifth birthday?" Willd began. "You, I and some of my finest soldiers left on that expedition to find what that crackpot wizard told us was a vial of youth? We had to turn back before we reached the summit of the black mountains because my legs were too weak to carry me! Now, it is five years later, and I feel even weaker. Robert, I fear my time will soon come."

"As I recall, you broke your leg after trying to fight a Troll." Robert recalled. "You will come to view that as an easy escape if you keep the Baroness waiting much longer."

"Watch your tongue, Robert!" The Baron snapped in a warning tone. "Do not address The Baroness in such a tone...Is her ire raised?"

"Forgive me, sire." Robert replied with a bow of his head. "But yes, she is getting rather irritated by your reluctance to attend your own party in the hall. Any longer, and I feel she may be insulted as she spent the last six weeks planning this for you."

"Very well." The Baron finally answered after a sigh. He stood from his bed, allowing his purple cape to flow once he stood, with his golden attire fluttering on his frame with his movements. He then looked to Robert before he said, "my people are waiting. I shall keep them no longer."

Baron Willd walked down the long, winding corridors of his castle, with his own personal servant, Robert just a step behind him. Over the many years Robert had served him, The Baron had come to trust Robert to the point he had become The Baron's sole confidant. He had known Robert before his own chief knight had been appointed, and he had known his servant before he had married his wife- The Baroness, Selia Willd.

Finally, the two men stood in front of the large doors which stood in their way to the great hall. The Baron rose a hand to push the door open, but hesitated slightly as he looked at the back of his aging right hand while Robert raised an eyebrow to The Baron's reluctance.

"Sire?" Robert began, "what is the matter?"

"I wish my friends and family could see me in a different light. Not to mention the other dignitaries here."

"The other Barons are older than you are, none of them have aged as gracefully as yourself. As for your family and friends, well we are only human. One can not weather the storm of time, not even you, my old friend. Aside from the children, the youngest lady in there is twenty five and each and every one of them revere you. Today is a day of celebration that you have lived for fifty years, remember that. Try not to look at it as a slope towards oblivion."

"You're right." The Baron said with a nod. "Robert, as always your words make sense. Let us celebrate."

With a defiant gleam in his eye, The Baron finally pushesd the two large doors to his own hall open. As they opened, the sound of music and chatter flew from the large hall, which was draped in royal colours and decorations. The Baron stepped forward to meet a silence while all eyes divert their attention to the figure before them, before the crowd then ignited into a thunderous applause. Cheers filled the air, while the band at the head of the hall began to play once more while The Baron walked into the hall with a smile on his face. The cheers and music continued on The Baron's entrance until a young lady, with shoulder length blond hair, and striking blue eyes walked towards The Baron in a long, flowing white dress- so long that a maid walked behind her, holding the tail of it.

The young woman walked over to The Baron with a large golden goblet of wine in her hand before she gave him a soft peck on the cheek, then she turned to address the audience.

"Ladies and gentlemen, if I can have your attention, let us have a toast- to Baron Edward Willd's fiftieth birthday! I can only hope to look as striking as my husband when I reach his age!"

"Aye, but that is another twenty five years away, Selia." The Baron replied with a reluctant chuckle. "My friends, welcome to my castle and to tonight's celebration. It is a pleasure to share this day with friends, family, and my loved ones." The Baron placed an arm around his wife, Selia before he looked back to his audience. "I hope the food nourishes you, and the drink quenches your thirst. Let us dance, be merry and celebrate long into the night!"

Another cheer roared through the hall, before the music continued and chatter filled the room once more. Selia shared another soft kiss with her husband before the two began to chat for the first time that day.

"My love, you are late to your own party." She announced with a grin, trying to mask a frown. "You would be late to your own funeral."

"That would be preferable," The Baron said with a grimace. "This day is a grim reminder of one's mortality."

"That again?" Selia asked with a lowering brow of annoyance. "Honestly Edward, can we not go five minutes without hearing of your eventual death?!" Selia's voice lowered to a hiss as a couple close to them turned their attention to the couple. Once their gaze turns back from the couple, Selia continued. "This has been the case for five years, and it won't stop. I tire of it, Edward. You should enjoy the time left in this world while you still can... Now please, enjoy your evening. It is all for you."

The Baron nodded with a gruff sigh as Selia kissed him on the cheek once more. The two looked to each other for a moment before Selia moved through the hall once again, her maid in tow. The Baron watched her until she reached a small group of her friends who attended the festivities before he looked back to Robert.

"Am I that bad?" The Baron asked.

Robert said nothing, instead he lowered his head before looking away. A set of approaching footsteps took The Baron's gaze away from his servant where he saw the captain of his own personal guard, dressed in full armour and a red cape. He had long brown hair, tied neatly into a pony tail while his hazel eyes looked towards The Baron with a smile as he carried a plate of food in his hands.

"My lord," the knight announced, "many happy returns."

"Thank you, Guyn but it is not necessary. I would rather forget this day existed."

"But it's the day of your birth, m'lord." Guyn said with a polite smile as he lifted the plate towards The Baron. "Care for a grape? Perhaps some boar?"

"Hm, thank you, Guyn." The Baron replied before he grabbed the boar meat before he took a large bite of it. Guyn took a handful of grapes as Robert wandered off to find his master a plate of food for him.

"So tell me," The Baron finally began through bites of his food. "Any news on the developments on the coast?"

"Our forces continue to hold off the Orc armies, but we have yet to send them retreating back to Wormsmoor. It will take time to find a weakness in their ranks as they are a formidable force."

"Damn Orcs," The Baron hissed. "They turned that country into an Orc and Goblin cesspool, and now they turn their attention to Sinma. I will be stone cold in my grave before I allow that to happen to our country!"

"Well...I shall attend to those matters with the utmost attention, m'lord." Guyn said. "We shall drive the Orcs and Goblins back to Wormsmoor, I promise you."

"I have no doubt you will, Guyn as you are my mightiest warrior!" The Baron answered before he patted his knight on the shoulder. "But I feel I should discuss this with the Council before our next scheduled meeting. The Orc armies trouble me."

"We shan't fail you, m'lord." Guyn replied before he lifted his plate once more. "Here, have some more. It is your party, after all. The Baroness has certainly put on a delightful spread in your honour."

"Why, thank you." The Baron gracefully replied before taking a handful of grapes. "But here comes my share now, I assume."

Sure enough, Robert returned with a golden plate of food for The Baron. He nodded and took the plate from his servant as he then began to mingle with the large crowd, leaving his knight to chat with his servant.

The Baron Willd continued to mingle with his guests into the evening as the band continued to play. Some couples danced, and while many people looked to The Baron to join in with a dance, he and his wife were on separate ends of the great hall- he was happy eating the delicious food on his large golden plate while he talked to old friends and dignitaries who came to wish him well. Finally, the band playing at the top of the hall ceased their playing as Robert took to the stage. All including The Baron turned towards Robert, who looked back down towards The Baron with a smile on his face.

"Ladies and gentlemen, during this evening, I've noticed that the man that we're here for has yet to take to the dance floor, and his wife seems eager for a dance. Sire, perhaps you would like to show us some of the moves that wowed your wife ten years ago?"

The gathering collectively laughed, including The Baron, who raised his glass of wine into the air.

"A fine idea, Robert! Get the band to play me my favourite song, eh?"

Robert nodded, and with a wink, the band behind him began to play an old, but familiar melody with their instruments. The Baron placed his food and wine down on the buffet table while the crowd parted like an ocean as Selia shyly walked over to him, her hands placed on her chest. Her long flowing dress had now been refitted by her maid into a dress with no train behind it so that she could dance with her husband.

The Baron took his wife by the hands and the two walked into the center of the dance floor, while the crowd surrounded them with smiles on their faces. The Baron looked into his wife's eyes and smiled as he began to forget the problems which had troubled him throughout most of the day.

"You still haven't forgotten how to dance." Selia whispered to him as they danced. "You also seem jollier now."

"Holding you close to me in a dance always lifts my spirits," The Baron replied with a smile. "Despite my old age, I can still dance a step or two."

"Age is just a number to you, darling husband." Selia replied. "I'm sure your life has much in store for you yet."

"Yes..." The Baron replied as he looked around at the familiar faces in the crowd- Robert, The other Barons and Guyn, his Knight, before his gaze settled back on the beautiful maiden in his arms. "I should stop this-..."

A cough deep from within The Baron's throat cut off his sentence. He frowned slightly as the colour began to rush from his cheeks, and immediately sweat began to pour from his brown. Guyn and Robert looked on in concern as Selia frowned. Before Selia could ask The Baron if he was alright, The Baron's body began to go limp as he snapped his head forwards, vomiting violently over his wife's shoulder, who let out a scream of shock as The Baron fainted, falling limp into her arms.

"Darling?!" She cried in alarm. "Oh my Lord. Edward!"

Just before she fell under his larger frame, Guyn and Robert rushed to The Baron and Selia, grabbing their master between them before they gently lay him on the floor of the hall.

"Call a doctor immediately!" Guyn roared through the crowd, who now closed in on The Baron with shocked expressions and mumbles of concern. "Don't just stand there, find a doctor, damn you!"

The Castle was evacuated immediately, and the party was called to an abrupt end that night. With no doctor at the party, Guyn personally rode out into the city to call on their local doctor while Robert and some of the other knights of the castle carried The Baron and rushed him to his bed as Selia followed behind them, wailing with every step. When the doctor arrived, he carried out an immediate and elaborate examination of The Baron, which lasted well into the night and until the morning.

Selia, Guyn and Robert all remained outside The Baron's bedchamber during the course of the night. Guyn sat next to Selia, trying to comfort her as Robert simply stood, his hands folded behind his back, his fingers tapping his hand rapidly as his anxiousness was apparent. Finally, as the sun rose, the doctor, tired and weary from a full night of work emerged from The Baron's chambers.

"Edward?!" Selia called from her seat with a makeup stained face. "Doctor, please tell me he's safe..."

"Baroness, calm yourself." The doctor announced after shining his glasses with his handkerchief. "The Baron is resting comfortably."

"Thank the Lord." Guyn announced.

"Hrm, I'm afraid now isn't the time to rejoice, Commander." The doctor replied with a frown of concern. "I have administered a drug that has calmed The Baron's state, but while he rests comfortably, I fear his condition is deteriorating."

"Oh no..." Robert said in shock under his breath. "Is he...dying?"

"It doesn't look good." The doctor finally replied as he shook his head. "I have no idea what his ailment is, but it has taken hold of him, and severely. His vital signs have dropped at an alarming rate overnight, and I fear there is nothing I can do to stop it. No medicine in my books can cure what is wrong with him."

"Just what IS his condition?" Guyn asked.

"His body is slowly dying," the doctor replied. "Each of his vital organs are slowly failing- his kidneys, the liver, his lungs and heart...The brain will degenerate also in time, I imagine. I'm afraid we must fear the worst."

The three looked to each other, before they then all looked back towards the doctor.

"If you can't cure him, then we'll find someone who can!" Robert suddenly explained. "A doctor, somewhere must be able to save him, even if you are unable to."

"Robert, please," Selia softly spoke. "This doctor is the best in our land. If he says he cannot be saved, then we should make preparations for the worst..."

"I refuse to believe that!" Robert cried. "I won't allow Edward to die!"

"I understand your upset, sir," the doctor began. "But no doctor, anywhere can cure this ailment. I have never seen anything like it before, and I am a leading person in the field of medicine. Perhaps magic can save his life, but I wouldn't put much faith in such things unproven by science."

Guyn bowed his head as a silent Selia rushed past the doctor and into her bedchamber to be with her husband, not able to cope with the situation any longer, leaving Robert to stand in the hallway, his balled up fists shaking slightly in anguish.

"We can't let him die..." Robert said.

"I am truly sorry." The doctor finally said to break the silence as he picked up his briefcase. "I wish I could do more, but there is nothing more that can be done. You should make him as comfortable as possible, and I shall return with a bigger bottle of a medicine that will at least help him feel more at ease."

"Doctor, I'm curious," Guyn began, "how long does he have?"

"It could be as long as a few weeks, or as short as a few days. It is up to him, really and how long he can hold on for."

"I see," Guyn replied. "Well...Thank you, doctor. Allow me to escort you out of the castle."

The doctor looked to Robert sadly one last time and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, before he then nodded to Guyn and the two left the corridor to make their way to the castle gates. Robert looked out of the window behind him, seeing the sun rising over the city as his fists shook once again. Finally, raising his one fist, he let out a small cry as he slammed his fist into the strong window pane, which clanged and shook under his strike.

"I refuse to accept this..." Robert finally sighed as he rested his forehead against the glass. "The Baron cannot die, I won't allow it!"

Conditions were put in place upon the doctor's return to make The Baron's last days as comfortable as possible. As The Baroness, Selia was charged with The Baron's daily duties in the castle and in the city, and as such, she was unable to always stay at The Baron's bedside, with Guyn much the same as the chief of The Baron's guard. This left Robert to remain at The Baron's side, and he did so night and day, despite the pain in brought him.

The Baron lasted days, and those days slowly turned to a week, followed by another and then another. Robert awoke from another nightly watch on his master. He sat in a simple wooden chair, right beside The Baron's bedside table, where a large jug of water and his medicine was always on standby. A bowl of fruit also remained beside his bed, as The Baron was only able to force down a few bites of fruit here and there.

Robert looked to The Baron in the morning sun and grimaced to see The Baron looked no better. His skin was a dreadful grey, while his hair had all but fallen out, leaving some silver tufts of hair here and there. His weight had dropped severely, leaving The Baron a small, frail figure, who was once a mighty looking ruler, but was now a sickly old man who was grateful to see a new day. The Baron slowly shifted under his covers, and after a groan, The Baron's eyes opened, his bloodshot eyes adjusting to the light, before he slowly turned his head to see Robert, now looking over him with concern.

"Robert..." The Baron weakly said with a small smile. "A new day is beginning..."

"Yes, sire," Robert replied eagerly. "Another day towards your recovery. I shall give you your medicine now."

"Thank you..." The Baron weakly and slowly said as he accepted the spoonful of green liquid, which he gagged on slightly before Robert held a glass of water to his lips, to allow him a drink.

"The Baroness is attending a meeting with the council," Robert began. "They are taking steps to plan for your passing, but I feel it is too early to prepare for such things. I tried to tell her otherwise, but-..."

"They are right to plan..." The Baron croaked as he interrupted his loyal servant. "Robert, your hopeful attitude has given me strength since I was taken ill, but I feel my time in the light grows short now."

"No sire, I do not believe that." Robert stated before he leaned forward and mopped The Baron's brow with a moist towelette. "I have sent for another doctor, he should arrive into the country soon. He is a renowned doctor, I'm sure he will find a cure for you that these other crackpots haven't found!"

"Robert, please," The Baron croaked again, now with a frown. "Your hopefulness is bordering on childish fantasy. Every doctor you have sent for, from the different cities and towns have all told us the same thing- I am dying. There is nothing more that can be done. I am thankful just to see another morning in my region."

"We will find a cure," Robert sternly announced. "I swear to you, it is true."

"Robert," The Baron sighed. "nothing can save me, medicine, or magic." He scoffed for a moment before he looked to his servant. "You should act like Selia and Guyn...Prepare yourself for my passing as I fear it won't be long now. I have known you for so long, and it pains me to see you in such a state, but you must accept the fact I shall soon be gone. Shape up, man! You are my head servant, you do me no good, or Selia any good like this. She will need you when my time comes. Now please, if you don't mind...I need to be alone with my thoughts."

"As you wish, sire." Robert stated with a nod before he stood from his chair. Primly and properly, so as not to show bad form, Robert gracefully left The Baron's room, slowly closing the door behind him. He sighed for a moment.

"If medicine has failed you...Perhaps magic can save you..."

With that, Robert swiftly walked away from The Baron's chambers, and made all speed to his own personal room, where he grabbed his hat, his coat and his coin pouch.

As a large city, Heavingbrook could sometimes be overwhelming to one who was unfamiliar with the surroundings or rarely ventured away from the city center. Robert was no exception, as serving The Baron for many years since he moved to Heavingbrook meant he stayed usually in the castle, and the large castle grounds, only rarely venturing off with The Baron out of Heavingbrook and then sometimes to the market with some of the maids to help buy groceries. Apart from that, Robert had never payed attention to his surroundings as he always had a cab driver to guide the horse and carriage of The Baron to transport him out and about. Today however, Robert had skulked out of the castle without permission, something he had never done before. So, without The Baron's personal chauffeur, or any other of The Baron's servants as a guide, Robert ventured into the large concrete labyrinth to try and find what he was searching for. His search had taken to him to a more unsavory part of the city, and to a tavern where he hoped an answer could be found.

"As you know, The Baron is dreadfully ill." Robert announced to the bartender, who stood behind the bar, lending a sympathetic ear to his patron. "We fear it only a matter of days now before his passing...however, I have heard rumors of one who dabbles in sorcery. These rumors have led me here, to your tavern. Tell me, do you know of such a person?"

"Perhaps." The bartender replied in a gravely voice. "But people like that are outlawed in Heavingbrook, and I'm no snitch. IF there is a person like that here, I can't tell a member of The Baron's party. It could cost me my life."

Robert sighed and reached down to his belt, where he unclipped a heavy item. He lifted it to the bar, showing the bartender that it is a coin pouch, with the weight of the cloth bag showing it to be filled with gold coins. Robert let go of the pouch, which dropped like a heavy rock onto the bar as the bartender's eyes widened slightly to the sight before him.

"I don't care about the legalities of such a person living among us in Heavingbrook." Robert stated. "I, like many others, wish Baron Willd to recover from his illness. Science and medicine has failed me, perhaps sorcery and magic will succeed instead. I will allow you this bag of gold, IF you can tell me where I might find the sorcerer I have heard about."

"...Victoria," The bartender finally said, looking towards an Elf who stood on the other side of the bar. "Look after the place, I've got some places to go, and people to see."

The Elf smiled towards the bartender, and gave a slight nod in response to his announcement. With that, the bartender removed his white apron before he walked through the worker's sider of the bar and exited through a curtain covered doorway, only to return now wearing a long leather jacket and stetson like hat. He walked across the bar once more, before he stopped at the far right hand side of the bar, where he lifted up a section of it, revealing it to be a hinged form of a gate. Now on the patrons side of the tavern, the bartender walked up to Robert with his hands in his pockets.

"Come on, then." The bartender said with a grim face. "I'll take you to whom you need to see."

"Oh, thank you!" Robert quietly exclaimed with courtesy. "You are doing our country a great favour."

"Don't thank me." The bartender replied, his face still grim. "Just make sure I'm not arrested somewhere down the line for this...This had better not be a double cross."

"My master's life is at stake." Robert announced with a grim face of his own. "I assure you, this is no lie or joke."

"Then let's go." The bartender said as he began to make his way for the door. "You can keep your gold until I get you there. We need to actually make it to his place first. This part of the city isn't exactly the place for unfamiliar visitors who look like they have money."

With that, Robert and the bartender, who soon shared that his name was William, left the tavern and ventured through the grimy streets of Heavingbrook. Dark clouds had gathered over the city, and before long, the city was being pelted by the heavy raindrops of a violent rainstorm, and while most of the city's inhabitants sought shelter in buildings, or under market traders' tents, William and Robert continued their swift march through the city until, eventually, they came to a small alley, not too far from the end of the market traders' side of town.

The alley was strewn with garbage, and through the darkness of the passage, the pair could hear the squeaks and skittering of vermin over the continuing pitter-patter of raindrops that continued to fall over Heavingbrook. William looked to his right, noticing that Robert's face was one of disdain while the fingers of his right hand pinched his nostrils tightly, so as not to inhale or smell the foul stench that came wafting out of the dark, uninviting alley.

"This is it." William announced to Robert, waving his hand before him in presentation.

"Here?!" Robert asked in surprise. "Somebody lives down here?!"

"Sure." William said gruffly. "Sorcerer's aren't welcome, remember? The chap had to find somewhere out of the way to take shelter...What place better than a dark, filthy alleyway, where only the rats of the city dare to enter?"

Robert was silent for a moment, but he acknowledged to himself that William's words made sense. Fishing into the pocket of his coat once more, Robert retrieved the heavy looking pouch of gold and tossed it to William, who immediately snatched it out of the air and pocketed it for himself. It was unwise to reveal such spoils in the open, due to the risk of bandits or thieves lurking in the darkness and seeing such a prize.

"I thank you for your help, William." Robert announced. "You've been most helpful."

"You're going down there on your own?" William asked with a cocked eyebrow. "Are you sure you don't want somebody to watch your back?"

"No, that is all." Robert replied politely with a bow. "You have done more than enough for me, and I am very grateful, as the Baron will be."

"You just be careful." William announced. "See you around...Hopefully."

After exchanging their goodbyes, Robert watched as William bowed his head, placed his hands in his pockets and swiftly walked back through the market and the rain, swift and eager to return to his tavern to get out of the rain, and away from the potential risk of being attacked, due to the spoils he now carried. This left Robert to look before him towards the uninviting gloom of the alleyway, and while the servant wished he didn't have to enter such a place, the thought of his dying master compelled him to continue on with his journey, and so, Robert stepped over the pile of garbage that was piled before the entrance of the alleyway, and he made his way through it.

The tapping of Robert's shoes against the cobblestone ground of the alley broke the unnerving silence while he continued to walk on, still holding his nose so as not to inhale much of the nauseating stench. After a few moments of walking through the gloomy alley, Robert stopped, and his eyes widened slightly in disbelief at the sight before him. Standing up against a large brick wall on the other end of the alleyway, was a small red and green wheeled caravan. It's paintwork had faded due to being exposed to the elements, and the mechanisms in and around the wheels showed sighs of rust, and without a horse in sight, Robert ventured a guess that the caravan had been there for some years. There was no sign of movement from inside the caravan, and no sounds being made in the area, and Robert then wondered if William had conned him, sending him down the wrong path.

But suddenly, a sound forced Robert to put such thoughts aside. Feeling a slight weight on his shoe, Robert looked down to see a fat, brown rat looking up at him, just as he looked to the rat. There was a moment of silence, as if the world had paused for a brief second before, suddenly, Robert let out a scream of surprise and kicked his foot out, throwing the rat off his shoe and into a pile of garbage that rested against the wall to his left. Now with a wake up call, Robert darted for the caravan and quickly made his way up a small set of steps that led to the door of it. Raising his right fist, Robert prepared to knock on the old wooden door, to gain the attention of anyone living inside, when something once again unnerved him- just before his knuckles were to slam against the old wooden door, he found that the door suddenly swung open with a loud creak!

Robert's eyes widened while he swiftly placed his hand back into the pocket of his coat, a reaction of surprise and fear to the opening door. The smell of burning incense hit Robert's nostrils, replacing the nauseating smell of the filthy alleyway with the more pleasant smell of incense, but Robert couldn't help but find the smell somewhat unnerving, given the situation. He narrowed his eyes, and peered into the caravan, seeing that a small burning candle made part of the caravan visible. Directly in front of him was a shelf, filled with many books, jars containing various magical items, and some morbid looking skulls. Still filled with fear, especially after seeing the skulls perched on the shelf, Robert considered stepping back down the stairs and retreating, when a rasping voice echoed through the alley.

"Welcome to my humble abode..." The voice began. "As you have come so far, Robert, why do you not allow me the pleasure of seeing you face to face. Enter."

"Y-...You know my name?" Robert replied, mentally kicking himself after he noticed he was talking to thin air.

"Oh, I know much more than your name, good sir." The rasping voice answered. "I know all about you, and more interestingly, why you are here. Do not be shy, come in, and we can talk about what has brought you here. I may even be able to help you- if the price is right."

The Baron! Through his fear, Robert had almost forgotten why he had come to this strange caravan in the first place, and so, with renewed vigor, Robert entered the caravan. The wooden floor creaked under his steps while he tip toed into the caravan, and as he walked towards the shelf that stood before him, Robert turned to his left, and his eyes widened to see a cloaked figure, sitting on a pile of cushions that were strewn all around him. In front of the cloaked figure sat a small circular table, which held tarrot cards, viles of glowing liquid, and in the center of the table, Robert saw a skull that had been refashioned into a candle holder. The owner of the caravan, currently concealed by a thick, red cloak, motioned for Robert to approach a small stool which sat on the other side of the table.

"Sit, Robert." The rasping stranger announced. "Please, make yourself comfortable."

Robert found himself to be shaken, but despite a shaking exterior, Robert slowly walked towards the cloaked man and then softly sat on the small stool. Uncomfortably, Robert sat up as straight as he could and then removed his hat, before placing it in his lap as he looked to the cloaked stranger, who had since picked up a long pipe from the mouth of another skull on the floor beside him, which he began to smoke.

"So, Robert," the stranger began again. "Our beloved Baron is close to knocking on death's door, is he? Hm, surely the southern region of Sinma would be thrown into disarray if that were to occur, eh?"

"Yes," Robert nervously squeaked. "Which is why I have come to you, sire. You are my last hope to bring the Baron back from his death bed."

"Oh yes, I know." The sorcerer replied, after smoking his pipe once more. "You have it in your mind that I would perform such an act, but tell me this. Why should I help you? I know in the past, your master has treated my kind with contempt. I have been forced to hide in this little alley for many years due to my interest in the...darker arts, not being appreciated by the good Baron Willd. Perhaps I should let him die."

"No, you can't!" Robert replied. "Listen, I have come here with a proposition."

"Hrm. Go on."

"I know of how sorcerers aren't welcome here," Robert began, "but as I said, you are my last hope to save my master. If you can look into your heart and find it in yourself to save him, I promise you, not only shall I personally reward you with riches that any man would desire, but you shall be given your freedom. Baron Willd is a fair man. If you prove that you are good enough to save him, you will not have to live in such poor conditions out of fear that you shall meet harsh consequences."

The sorcerer laughed.

"Hahahaha! You assume that I hide away out of fear for my life? Oh, believe me, good sir, if I wished it, I would make this city, and indeed, all of this region bow before me! However, I enjoy sitting in the darkness and continuing with my research. I find it much more gratifying than engaging in the activities most of these simple peasants do to pass their time."

"Am I wasting my time?" Robert finally asked, surprising himself with how rude his question sounded. For a moment, he feared that he raised his host's ire, but to his surprise, the sorcerer continued to sit calmly before him.

"No, you have not wasted your time, Robert." The sorcerer replied. "I feel that certain events have transpired for a reason, yes... I shall help you. I will give your master the cure he needs."

"Excellent!" Robert exclaimed happily before he stood. "I shall take you to him."

"No," the sorcerer replied. "I have things to prepare. Go now, and I shall soon arrive to aid the Baron. Until then, do not speak a word to anyone that you were here."