The estate of Lord Bathory was plain as the nose on anyone's face. Nothing stood out, his guards wore plain surcoats without the Lord's coat of arms on them. The practice field in the front yard turned out to be the only area the lord kept neat, otherwise, the weeds and offensive fauna ruled the area.
"Does not believe in keeping a tidy estate?" Aurelia lopped off a willow bush with her blade.
Mashek shook his head and chuckled, "Wait until you see the inside, you'll think differently about the man. I thought the same when I first approached this modest household." He gestured to the area around him, "You'll notice the lack of guards on patrol."
"Why does he not have men stationed near his home?" Zinjo stopped to examine a bizarre-looking flower, "What kind of plant is this one?"
Mashek kicked his hand out of the way, in a panic, "Don't touch it, the blooms secret a deadly poison. While I don't think it's lethal, you'll be laid up for a day or two."
A hand gripped the sore appendage, and shot a grateful expression at the thief, "I don't think I want to experience being poisoned again. I had my fill with the widow of the woods."
"They say some of the rarest plants exist here in the Cherish Empire. Lord Bathory wants the empire to become the center of Medical Advancements. He is tired of the other nations being terrified of the empire's military might," Mashek smiled as he tiptoed up the steps.
Aurelia wrapped her arm around Zinjo's, "You were such a pathetic wretch when we first met, what is with the change?"
"When I stole the bottle, Lord Bathory, proclaimed me a hero, me," Mashek stood taller and strode with confidence through the grey wooden doors, "Anyway, the bottle used to be a prison for Lebende Dunkelheit."
Both Aurelia's and Zinjo's faces fell, for them, it meant one thing, it meant their quarry had already split into seven parts. Aurelia paused at the door, and took a deep breath, "That means we have to replicate the bottle."
Confusion found Masheks face in record time, "What are you two going about. There is only one Lebende Dunkelheit...."
"Yeah, the same Lebende Dunkelheit who tricked Redford into taking the bottle," Zinjo's voice sounded tired and weary. He embraced his future wife and sighed, "Looks like we have a choice, dark princess, get married or chase down the remaining Kivuli."
"Did I miss something?" Mashek had a worried look on his face.
"Since we have been through it too many times already, we'll explain everything to Lord Bathory," Aurelia thumbed the bridge of her nose in frustration. "Once I ascend the throne I will put together a special group who will watch out for creatures such as Kivuli."
The inside of Lord Bathory's home resembled a great library. Shelves of musty books reached the ceiling. People dressed in plain brown robes walked back and forth with carts of books to be shelved, while others took large stacks down the hall.
"Wow, Lord Bathory sure loves his Knowledge," Aurelia remarked as a robed individual scowled at her, "Sorry," She quickly stepped out of the cart's way.
"Lord Bathory has ten scribes copying the books and placing them in a special vault hidden on the estate somewhere. The location is known only to our gracious host," Mashek smiled and urged them to follow him down a hall.
The halls themselves were devoid of the usual pictures, tapestries, and suits of armor, "Is Lord Bathory averse to earthly possessions?" Zinjo watched another cart full of books and its driver speed past him.
"You'll have to ask him yourself. I don't spend too much time thinking about his preferences," Mashek opened the door with scribes carved into it.
"Do it again, the penmanship is sloppy," A man behind a large desk said. "And you misspelled the creature's name. Read the passage again more carefully next time. He looked up and saw Mashek, "I see you brought friends, you know how I feel about that," The Lord pushed his spectacles up, his face serious and filled with contempt.
Mashek bowed before the Lord, "These are friends from Shadowfen, they have a new creature for you to archive, and can shed some light on the Lebende Dunkelheit situation."
Lord Bathory's demeanor went from displeased to something more welcome and warm, "Understand, I still don't trust you, but I'd relish the chance to hear about a new creature," He stepped out behind the desk and pointed to a door to his right, "We'll talk in my office."
Organized chaos held Lord Bathory's office in its iron grip. The only thing remotely organized was the Drink cart, and it only had three items on it. He took a seat, "Mashek please find some chairs for my guests, I keep meaning to clean...Oooh the latest paper on the medicinal plants of Shadowfen," He stopped and stared at Aurelia and Zinjo and laughed weakly, "Ha, ha, I guess it can wait."
"Mashek named our creature, the Widow of the Woods," Aurelia said.
"I already like the name, please proceed," The green eyes of Bathory were aglow with excitement.
Zinjo and Aurelia took turns telling the story. Lord Bathory rested his hands on his chin and nodded occasionally. "Anyway, she used this weapon," Aurelia handed the parasol blade to the lord who examined the weapon from every angle.
"What a brilliant concept, and what an extraordinary creature encountered red. Were there more?" Bathory cried.
Zinjo shook his head, "The only other unique creatures there were Mshindi and I..."
The mouth of Lord Bathory Dropped to the floor, "Excuse me you are a unique creature?"
Both Zinjo and Aurelia went lion in front of the lord, who clapped excitedly, "Oh what a magnificent display. This is why I got into the knowledge business for discoveries such as this one."
"Lord Bathory, might I remind you I am the Princess of Shadowfen and Zinjo is my future husband. We are not things for you to study and catalog, although if you asked Zinjo he'd be more than happy to tell you about Kiazangi when we have time."
"I suppose with Lebende Dunkelheit running around we should focus on putting him back in the bottle."
"There is more than one Dunkelheit running around," Zinjo said.
"Impossible, the only one welcomed came from a bottle stolen by Redford, head of the royal guard," Lord Bathory scoffed.
"According to him, another man named Dunkelheit put him up to it."
The bibliophile lord poured a glass of amber liquid and downed it, "That means someone killed the original before it was sealed."
"And we seek to put it back," Zinjo growled fiercely.