Screaming winds howled down the street like hellish spectres, whipping the tree branches and driving the rain in near horizontal sheets. The brutal storm provided the perfect cover for Faux as he staggered along the streets, trying to control the pain and collect his thoughts about what to do next. He hobbled along the darkened roads, haphazardly crossing side streets and fumbling down alleys. The driving rains and heavy winds had extinguished all but the most determined street lanterns. The ferocious gale threatened to knock him over and leave him drowning in the rain choked gutters. He tried to let it push him along where possible, avoiding going against it.

He shambled up to a large, crooked oak, set in the middle of an intersection of two major thoroughfares. The tree creaked and groaned as its branches whipped around like massive fingers clawing at the sky. Tucked into the relative protection of the swaying trunk, he huddled and scanned his surroundings trying to figure out where he'd ended up.

An assortment of small shops lined one side of the street, their wooden signs flapping and banging in the wind. The other side looked to be made up of smaller dwellings, boarded up against the storm that battered the city. A large bang drew Faux's attention back to the shops. A sign was twisting and knocking against the building it was hanging in front of; one of its hinges having succumbed to the relentless wind. A flash of lightning briefly revealed the painted image of a bearded man with outstretched hands. One held a book while other grasped a vial. Another gust of wind snapped the remaining hinge, sending the sign rattling down the street, bouncing and clattering off the slick cobblestones.

Apothecary, thought Faux. He knew where he was now, and also knew that particular place; he was a frequent customer. Casting a quick glance each way along the deserted street, he took a deep breath and began the arduous walk to the darkened store.

The wind tore at him, threatening to knock him down in his weakened condition. Faux pulled his hood tight and fought back, his lips pressed together in a rictus of pain. Panting, he collapsed against apothecary's door. He jiggled the handle gently. Locked. Sighing, he reached into his cloak and pulled out his lock pick set, and went to work. It was a simple lock, and even in his condition he had it open in less than a minute.

Easing the door closed behind him, he staggered to the main counter and slumped against it, his breathing haggard and rasping. He slid to the floor, probing his wounds. The long, jagged gash along his ribs wasn't life threatening, but would need to be bandaged. The arrow through his shoulder was a little more concerning. The arm had become numb and cold, and was dangling, practically useless, at his side.

"H...hello? Is there anyone down there?"

The sudden voice jarred Faux. Caught up in his self-pity, he hadn't noticed the soft footfalls coming from the staircase on the far side of the room. Faint candlelight from the top of the stairs was slowly descending into the main room. Hesitant and fearful, but nevertheless, oncoming.

"It's me Ahanna." Faux balled his good hand into a fist. He didn't want to involve her in this. "It's been bit of a rough night. I just ducked in here out of the rain."

"The Blessed One's Mercy Faux, you scared me half to death. I thought I heard the door but couldn't be sure with all the noise from the storm. You'd think the Fallen One himself was out there."

A wisp of a girl who'd barely seen twenty summers, Ahanna finished coming down the stairs and picked her way through the cluttered shop. She wove around tables and benches covered in bottles, herbs, flowers, and different linens. Her pale blonde hair was tangled and stuck out at odd angles, she'd obviously been awoken from a restless sleep. Her features were soft and the thin night dress she wore was almost translucent. A crack of lightning lit the shop, outlining her thin, reedy form, seconds before a peal of thunder rolled over the city like a murderous tidal wave. As she drew closer to Faux, her large, dark brown eyes narrowed.

"You're hurt!" She knelt at his side and began picking at him like an overprotective parent trying to discern how badly, and where, the half-elf was injured. "Who did this to you?" she asked, indicating with a flick of her chin, the stump of arrow shaft jutting from his shoulder.

"It's nothing," Faux grunted as her hands passed over his ribs. "Job hazard is all. It looks worse than it is. I just need to pull the arrow and plug the hole. A few bandages to wrap it up and I'll be gone again."

Ahanna fixed him with a level stare that belied her years and her small stature. She was one of only a handful of people who knew what profession Faux partook in.

"You sir are full of hogwash. This needs tending to." She stood up in a flourish and cleared a space on the cluttered counter for a lantern.

"No!" Faux hissed, "you'll wake your father."

"There's no fear of that, I'm afraid," Ahanna spat, inclining her head towards what Faux assumed was an empty flagon lying sideways on a nearby table. "He's in one of his moods again and when he drinks that much the Blessed One herself couldn't wake him."

Ahanna's father was widely regarded as one of the more effective apothecaries in Estermont. His potions and solutions worked and the prices were fair. On top of that, he had some healing skill and was good with poultices and bandages. When his wife became sick with a strange illness a few years ago however, all the expert apothecary's skills became irrelevant. Potion after potion did nothing. Poultice after poultice had no effect and eventually Ahanna's mother passed on. The father turned to drink while the daughter turned to religion.

With the lantern burning, she turned back to Faux and began examining the arrow.

"This is probably going to hurt."

"Can't be much worse than what it is now," he grunted in reply.

She turned and rummaged around one of the tables before returning with a vial containing a thick, syrupy, dark purple liquid. "Drink this," she urged, pulling the cork and passing it to him.

"Should I ask what it'll do?" Faux grimaced as he smelled the vial.

"It'll numb the pain while I pull the arrow out," she replied, stacking bandages beside him on the floor. "Now drink!"

Faux tipped the vial back and let the viscous liquid roll down his throat. He immediately felt like he'd been kicked by a mule. His head spun and lurched, his stomach tightened and clenched as the room began spinning. He felt like one of the leaves he'd seen dancing and swirling in one of the massive gusts of wind that was still rocking the city. He tried to talk, but his tongue felt thick and heavy and didn't move the way he wanted it to. He could vaguely feel someone pulling at him but he wasn't sure why or who. He focused his eyes on the light from the burning lantern and watched as it faded and left everything black.

Faux's eyes fluttered. He squinted against the dim light shining somewhere to his left. His head felt like a slow swirling maelstrom. His limbs were unresponsive and numb. He lid on the floor, his eyes casting about, staring at the underside of a long wooden table.

The memories came flooding back in a rush. Ahanna handing him some sort of concoction and the violent and fast acting effects. He tried to call out to her but only a choking croak escaped his lips. She loomed over him almost instantly, a dark shadow blocking the lantern light.

"Shhh," she cooed. "I might have given you a bit too much, but the effects wear off quickly enough. Give it a minute or two. I'll be right back."

As Faux laid there he could feel life coming back to his extremities and his thoughts were settling, almost back to normal. He could wiggle his fingers and toes. He also noticed, as feeling returned to his body, the painful sting from the gash along his side was gone and he could shrug his shoulder without nearly fainting from the explosion of pain. Groaning from the effort, he willed his muscles to move, rolling onto his side and into a sitting position.

He was naked from the waist up, his shirt and cloak neatly folded on the floor next to where he'd been lying. Snowy white bandages were wrapped tightly around his shoulder and ribs. Faint rust coloured stains gave away where his injuries were hiding. A small wash basin rested on the floor, the water tainted a dark, pinkish hue, while a reddened cloth hung over the lip.

Ahanna slid around the corner of one of the tables with a mug in one hand and pitcher in the other.

"It's a special concoction father makes. He has some grand name put to it that I can never remember, since it makes no sense, but it works very well." She knelt beside him and poured water from the pitcher into the mug. "Here, drink this. With the right dose it numbs pain and allows father to do stitches or minor surgeries and the patient doesn't feel a thing. But too much and, well, you get the idea. I'm sorry. I kind of panicked looking at you and might have..."

He cut her off with a raised finger placed against her soft lips.

"Thank you," he managed to croak out after nearly gagging on the water. "You've done a wonderful bit of work." To emphasize his praise, Faux flexed his shoulder and patted his ribs. "Can hardly feel a thing."

"Yes, well, that's all good, but what in Jahlenea's name happened to you? I've seen you nicked up before, but you almost died tonight."

"I could die at any moment on most of my jobs. Tonight was a little closer than usual."

"You know what I mean," Ahanna huffed. She stood and stared down at him, her small arms crossed under her breasts, brown eyes flashing.

"I was set up," Faux sighed. "It seemed like a simple job, but it was a trap." He glanced at the bandages and bloodied wash bowl, "I escaped, obviously, but managed to collect some souvenirs along the way." He patted his shoulder, marveling at the small apothecary's skill. "Still, it could have been worse, I guess."

"I told you this wasn't a life the Blessed One would approve of." Ahanna lent him an arm as he struggled to stand. "This is Jahlenea telling you to find a new path. She sent you to me, to make sure you'd live to try again. It's a gift Faux, you can't go back to this line of work."

Faux leaned back against one of the cluttered tables, rubbing his jaw with one hand. Ahanna stared at him, her brown eyes pleading, not saying anything else. He closed his eyes and let his head hang forward.

Lydia had been saying the same thing for months now. Give up the life. Find something else to do. Take the money, and her, and start a new life somewhere far from here. He'd been stupid. Arrogant. Always taking one more job, solving one more problem, as he'd put it. His time was up now, whether he wanted it to be or not. He'd become someone else's problem to be solved.

He took a deep breath through his nose, noticing the various scents and pungent odours that floated around the cluttered apothecary shop. Exhaling, he looked at Ahanna's expectant face.

"You're probably right." He gave her a sheepish grin. "It's been on my mind for a while. Now seems like as good a time as any."

"Well, who knew? You can talk sense sometimes." She plucked his shirt from the floor. "I'm sorry I had to undress you. It was the easiest way to get at your wounds." She looked away as she held the shirt out to him. Faux wasn't sure if she was blushing or if the pale lantern light was playing a trick on her pale skin.

With a crashing boom, the apothecary's front door exploded inwards, its hinges rattling. Ahanna let out a shrill scream, dropping the shirt, as gusts of wind blew through the opening. Papers and fabrics swirled around the room like a flock of birds spooked from a tree. Three lumbering shadows crossed the threshold, transforming into armoured and armed soldiers.