Even before he turned the corner, Jedd could sense that his manhunt was coming to an end, at long last. He had spent the better part of the waning moon in seedy taverns and unfamiliar inns, with nothing to show for it but a newly acquired aversion to chirashizushi. And now here he was in the quiet, dimly lit libraries of Brigobaen. He would've been angry if it wasn't so laughable. But indeed, there at the far side of the room sat Ryen himself, nose buried in a book. To his side was a nearly empty glass of milk, and a plate of what appeared to be gingerbread cookies.
Jedd approached the table. "Hello there!"
Ryen's eyes flashed up at the fighter for a brief moment, before falling back to the page. A second later, they shot right back up and his mouth fell open, lips moving ever so slightly as if trying to form words.
"I've got to hand it to you," Jedd said, reaching for a cookie. "Of all the places where I thought I might find you, this was last on the list."
Ryen finally let out a sharp laugh. "I'm surprised it was even on the list."
"To be fair, the list was quite long. But the hour is late – allow me to get straight to the point. I need your help with something. Recently, I've had some unfortunate encounters, of the vampiric sort."
"No wonder you look paler than usual."
"Ha-ha, very funny." Jedd strolled over to a nearby bookshelf and pretended to thumb through the volumes. "Now," he said, looking back at Ryen, "it's no secret that you're a close friend of the vampires, and tha—"
"Close friend of the vampires? Me?" Ryen rolled his eyes. "You must've gotten me mixed up with Drac. I just helped him out with some babysitting chores here and there."
"Well, I'm not at all surprised to hear that Dracilus is involved in this, but I'm no fool. There's more to this story than meets the eye." Jedd swung his pack over his shoulder and unearthed a parcel, setting it firmly on the table.
His brother stared at the parcel with a blank face. "What is...?"
"It's for you."
Ryen tore through the packaging, tossing the scraps of paper to the floor. Suddenly he was motionless. There on the table was a dusty old robe that had once been bright green, but was now a drab olive. And sitting on top of it was a wizard hat of the same hue, wrinkled beyond repair.
"These...are mine." Ryen continued to stare at the pile of clothing. "Were mine. When did you..." The wizard trailed off.
"It was in Vandrovic's last days," Jedd said, pulling up a chair. "Siegal and I had come down to the city to help repel another invasion. The dragons were badly outnumbered right from the start, and had no chance of winning. But they still fought, and they fought hard. Of course, it was all a ruse. While we were occupied at the west gate, Vandrovic entered the city unchallenged. He had launched that entire invasion just to distract us, so that he could kidnap the city's most esteemed guest. And that guest would be none other than the little vampire girl, Charlotte herself."
Ryen sat up straight. "No one ever told me about this."
"You were probably just not listening."
"Unfortunately for Vandrovic," Jedd went on, "Charlotte had fled the city some time before. The dragons left empty-handed, and the girl resurfaced later that day. That was when I first met her. And, well..."
Jedd paused to take a bite out of the last cookie sitting on the table, and to buy himself some time. Careful phrasing would be key, especially at this critical juncture in the tale.
"Well?" Ryen said, crossing his arms. "C'mon already!"
"Well, we told Charlotte that she was no longer safe within the walls of Mirith. She took this as a, um, command for her to leave the city, and so off she ran, quick as a pixie."
"And you just let her go?"
"Of course not! We spent some ridiculous amount of time walking all over the continent – and beyond – trying to find her. Eventually, we found her hiding in a pixie commune, not far from this temple. If it wasn't for Siegal and his bond with pixiekind, we might not have ever been able to convince the girl to return."
"Great. Just great." Ryen breathed a heavy sigh. "I didn't realize you were skilled at spooking children."
Jedd removed himself from his chair and took a few steps toward the door. Doubtless, Ry had been out running with pirates or other folk of ill repute, instead of watching over his ward on that day. But the fighter restrained himself from calling his brother out.
It was beginning to be quite the familiar refrain. So many of his friends and family had gone down the path of least resistance, forsaken their integrity, become outlaws. But Jedd could never renounce them, even though every fiber of his being cried out for him to do so. No, he was weak in this regard. In any case, today he had a mission to accomplish.
Jedd turned back around. "Before she ran away, she left a package at the bank, saying it belonged to you. Now, it has made its way back to the original owner." He gestured toward the clothing.
"Sure took you long enough."
"Hmm. It has been almost three years now. To be perfectly honest, I had forgotten about it until just recently." That is, he'd forgotten about it until that witch Elphina had returned, and with her, all of his misgivings about the vampires.
"Right," Ryen said, his voice subdued. "But the package...I wonder why."
"I couldn't tell you. I don't pretend to understand a thing about her."
A silence descended upon the room. After a few moments, Ryen coughed and began to twirl a piece of chalk between his fingers.
"Well then." Jedd made his way back to the table and took a seat facing the wall. "There is one more thing to tell. I was staying in Andris, not too long ago, when I had my second encounter with Charlotte. Nothing much came of the meeting, but there was one curiosity: she was wearing robes of green."
"Indeed. And oh, she had a matching hat on, too. From what I understand, she's been forcing her uncle to buy her everything the tailors have to offer." Jedd stole a glance at his brother, whose face was starting to light up. "Ry, I fear you've created a monster!"
At this, Ryen burst out laughing and hurled his piece of chalk at Jedd, hitting him right between the eyes. "Bloody right I have!"
Jedd laughed quietly to himself, rubbing his forehead. "In any case," he said, "It seems you are closer to the vampires than you might think. And so here is what I ask of you. Surely you must know of the Blood Crusade, and the threat they continue to pose to us all. We are poorly equipped to fight them, as we are lacking in one crucial commodity: knowledge. You, however, are well-positioned to mitigate this deficit."
"Okay, okay, I'll help. But I still say you've got the wrong guy. Drac's the one for the job."
"Believe me, if I ever find him, you'll be the first to know."
"I better be." Suddenly, Ryen jumped to his feet, dusted off his robes, and grabbed Jedd's shoulder. "And you. You owe me one, big time."
"That, I can abide."
"Lovely. Anyways, I've got a lot of sleep to catch up on."
"Yes, and I had best be on my way."
"Right." Ryen snatched the pile of clothing up from the table and marched towards the door. "Later, brother."