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Matthaus rummaged through the small basket of metal bars. His fingers ran across the raised letters, seeking the right words. “Matthaus, is that plate ready?” The voice of his master, Hermann Lauritz, sounded irritated.
Matthaus put the final bar in place and locked everything in. “Yes Master Lauritz.”
“Then bring it here,” Hermann said, waving his hand.
“Yes Master,” Matthaus said. He stood and carried the heavy tray over to the printing press.
Hermann snatched it from his hands and set it in the machine. He tightened all the gears and secured it in place before slathering it with ink and slapping a large piece of parchment on top. He turned the great wheel and the heavy weight lowered on top of the parchment. He continued turning the wheel until it couldn’t move anymore. He let it sit for a few seconds before lifting it back up.
He pulled the parchment off of the press and scanned it. “At least you didn’t misspell any words this time,” Hermann said with a grunt. “Take this to Journeyman Benedikt for copying. Tell him we need one hundred copies.” He gestured to the leather pouch on the side table. “That’s his payment.”
“Yes Master Lauritz.” Matthaus set the parchment down well away from everything as he took off his apron and hung it up. He tucked the scroll in an oiled leather case, pulled on his winter gear, and headed out. He was at the citadel housing the Mage Guild within the hour.
He tapped lightly on the gatekeeper’s door. A wizened old fellow with one eye and gnarled hands opened the top half of the green split door. “What do you want?” he rasped.
“I am an apprentice of Master Hermann Lauritz,” Matthaus said. “I’ve come to hire Journeyman Benedikt for a particular job.”
The old man wheezed. “He’s Inquisitor Geiszler now. But he might be willing to do the work, since your master has long been a good client of his. I’ll send him the message.”
It took almost an hour for a blond muscular man in the crimson robes of an Inquisitor appeared. “Matthaus, how are you?” Benedikt asked.
“I’ve been better,” Matthaus said, shivering beneath the cloak.
Benedikt frowned. “Didn’t Gottfried invite you into the gatehouse?”
“No he didn’t,” Matthaus said.
“I’ll have a word with him about that. If someone is waiting for one of us they’re supposed to be treated as a guest,” Benedikt said. “I suppose he still considers me a journeyman at times.” He smiled and motioned with his hand. “Please, come inside out of the cold and we’ll talk about what that bastard master of yours wants from me this time.”
Matthaus followed the mage into the citadel and made his way to what appeared to be a newly furnished study. Benedikt pointed and Matthaus sat down. “Master Lauritz needs a hundred copies made of this broadsheet,” Matthaus said.
“I’m sure he does. What is it, another one of his political diatribes?” Benedikt asked, taking the scroll case from Matthaus. As he skimmed it, he frowned. “Matthaus, do you know what this says?”
Matthaus shook his head. “I can’t read.”
“How can you work in a print shop without knowing how to read?” Benedikt asked sharply.
“By touch and general appearance. Master Lauritz showed me the shapes and taught me what certain things feel like so I could help him but I never learned what any of it all meant,” Matthaus said.
“Did he send my payment?” Benedikt asked. Matthaus nodded and handed the mage the pouch Hermann had given him. Benedikt opened it. He stared at its contents for several moments before setting it to the side. “Matthaus, I’m going to be honest with you here. This document is a request for me to kill you, and what’s in the pouch is enough money to cover your execution.”
“Why would he do that? What have I done?” Matthaus’ voice cracked and he noticed it had gone up a few octaves.
“I don’t know. He doesn’t say,” Benedikt said. “I’m conflicted. As an Inquisitor, I should be looking into this. It’s illegal, after all. But as your master is a long time client, I am obligated to honor his wishes.”
Matthaus got up and bolted for the door. It slammed in his face. He started pounding on it. “Let me go,” he screamed.
“Be quiet. There are mages studying and I don’t want to listen to their complaints about noise from my rooms,” Benedikt said. A slow smile spread across his face. “I know how to resolve this. I’ll ask him for more information as to why he wants you dead, and still kill you anyway.”
“How are you going to do that without getting caught?” Matthaus asked, still looking for an escape.
Benedikt’s smile broadened. “I’ll make you into an experiment. You’ll die eventually, and I’ll get valuable information on how certain magics affect human flesh.” The mage made several gestures with his hands. Matthaus whimpered as he slowly fell to the ground, his world going dark.