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Broken Melody – Excerpt (Chapter 19)

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“Look around,” Orrell said. “He’s usually here somewhere.” 

The room appeared deserted, but there was no telling what might hide behind the heaps of rubbish balanced on every surface. Selissa walked past a pile of old laundry on the floor and, on second thought, gave it a prod with her foot.

“Sod off!” it yelled angrily. 

“I think I found him,” she called to Orrell. 

The pile squirmed angrily and a head poked out from between the folds of the dirty clothes. It was small, scarred, blind in one eye, and probably human, but Selissa didn’t want to jump to conclusions. 

“What’s ya deal, ya great big lout, kicking sleeping people in their own home?” it said, untangling a set of scrawny arms from somewhere inside its robes. Selissa watched in fascination. 

“You the alchemist?” she asked.

More squirming, and a pair of legs in crumbled breeches appeared. “‘Course I’m the alchemist, ya idiot. Who else would I be?” 

Her first thought was ‘leprechaun’, but Selissa wisely kept that to herself. 

“Get up, Ebeus, you old kook,” Orrell said gruffly. “We need your help.” 

“What’s so important that ya burst in here at the crack of dawn?” the alchemist said, getting to his feet. Considering he wasn’t that much taller standing up, he might have saved himself the struggle. 

“It’s nearly dinner time,” Selissa said, slightly puzzled. 

“What’s ya rambling about, woman?” the man – Selissa was now pretty sure that it was, in fact, a man – said irritably. 

“Don’t even bother,” Orrell said tiredly. “All the fumes have melted his brain. I would be surprised if he knew what year it is. Hey, Ebeus—” he tapped the alchemist, who had wandered over to a table to inspect something simmering in a flagon, on the shoulder “—pay attention. We need you to identify some powder for us.” 

The stuff in the flagon made a loud hissing sound as it bubbled, and Selissa politely took a step back. 

“What powder?” Ebeus said distractedly, grabbing something from the vast pile of rubbish on the table and adding it to the flagon. 

“This powder,” Selissa said. She put the pouch down on the table, then hastily retreated as the mixture in the flagon released a puff of steam. 

“We think it’s some kind of explosive chemical,” Orrell said, watching the alchemist dispassionately. “How long do you need to figure it out?” 

Ebeus opened the pouch and held it up to his good eye for inspection. 

“Three days,” he said brusquely, then went back to his potion. 

Orrell bristled. “Three days? Half the city might be blown to pieces by that time! Can’t you do it faster?”

Ebeus glared at him as only a man with one eye can glare. “When I say three days, I mean three days, ya pansy! Ya just earned yourself the honor of paying an extra fee.” 

Selissa grabbed Orrell’s arm before the captain could strangle the smaller man. 

“It’s fine,” she said. “We’ll just have to make do.”  

Orrell clearly wasn’t happy about it, but he let the matter drop, even though he continued to glare at Ebeus as if he wanted to give him a good kick. 

“Anything you can tell us about the substance without testing it?” he asked through gritted teeth. 

“Smells explosive,” the alchemist said simply, not looking up from his work. 

“We already told you it’s an explosive!” Orrell said, clearly about to lose his temper again.  

“Good for ya!” Ebeus said sarcastically. “Since yar so smart, there’s no reason to stick around, is there?” 

He began hustling them toward the door with surprising ferocity, ignoring Orrell’s spluttered protests. Opening the screeching door, Ebeus quite literally kicked them out of the shop. 

“But—” Orrell started.

Ebeus wasn’t listening. “See ya in three days, ya bastards!” he said and slammed the door in their faces. 

Selissa blinked at the closed door, before turning to Orrell. 

“I sort of like him.” 

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