Lesser Evil

Title: Lesser Evil
Series: Lesser Evil Trilogy #1
Release Date: September 19, 2015
Pages: 326
ISBN13: 9781517363482

Kester is one of the last surviving defenders of the Church of True Light. With the Serpentine Empire closing in, Kester finds himself on a desperate mission to recruit the aid of one of the Church's greatest enemies: a man who is often called a demon. When his ideologies are tested, Kester must choose between upholding the tenants of the Church and completing his mission. 

There is nothing Reis wants more than to be left alone to his research. But when the Empire comes knocking, Reis is left with no choice but to fight back. Knowing the imperials will not stop coming for him, Reis is left with one path. If his research is to continue, Marcus Serpentine must die. 

Together, the two may have a chance to cripple the greatest military force the world has ever known…if their conflicting ideals don't make them kill each other first.

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Excerpt From The Book:

Why did his research always seem to take two steps back for every step forward?

Reis sighed and leaned back in his chair. He tried in vain to wipe the sleepiness out of his eyes with his hands. He had worked straight through the night, as he often did, and had been positive, as he often was, that he was on the verge of a major breakthrough.

Well, I suppose a result is a result. Now if I could just figure out what it means.

He could feel himself getting frustrated, a familiar anger rising up inside him. It would not do. Anger had its uses. It could drive you in combat, it could motivate you to press on against rough conditions and impossible odds, it could blind you to pain and sorrow. But alchemy requires a cool, logical mind. Reis closed his eyes and forced himself to take a few deep breaths.

Green and red, saved from the dead. Blue and black, a life you now lack.

The annoying little rhyme played over and over again in his head. With his eyes closed he could even see the thick spectacles of his alchemy teacher staring over him as he was forced to repeat the rhyme until it was burned into his mind. Elixirs should all turn one of those four colors.

So why the hell is it purple?

Reis opened his eyes and resumed gazing at his unusual concoction. It was not the strangest result his experiments ever yielded, but it was certainly among the most puzzling. The color told him nothing. At least when a failed experiment turned blue or black he could get an idea of what went wrong based on the shade. But purple? That told him nothing. For all he knew, the experiment was a resounding success and he had just discovered a new type of elixir.

He raised the vial up to his nose and took a deep sniff. The smell turned out to be just as useless as the color. It smelled sour at first, but then he began to notice a distinctly salty scent. None of that made sense.

Was one of my ingredients contaminated?

He had no choice but to check all his ingredients for purity. He grumbled to himself when he thought about the amount of tedious work that would require. There was no getting around it, though. Alchemy has zero room for error. Even the smallest contaminants would cause a concoction to take on unwanted properties. Any future experiments could be compromised if he did not ensure his stock was up to quality.

Reis got up slowly from his chair behind the lab desk and stretched his legs. It was good to move around again after being cramped in the lab for so long.

He stepped out of the lab into the second floor hallway. He was greeted as always by the strong smell of sulfur from one of the rooms down the hall. For all the advances he made, he had yet to come up with a solution to stench. Fragrant candles, perfumes, even scented cloths held to his nose failed to alleviate the stench. He had grown mostly used to it by now, and fortunately it saw no use in his recent elixirs so he had no need to smell it up close.

The doctors who had built this mansion had the clever idea to do so in two layers. There was the outer layer, which encompassed the hospital and other public areas. To separate their home from the hospital they built another layer inside it, almost a house within a house. It makes sense; it helped keep their personal and business life separate. Plus, in the winter it was easier to warm just the living area as opposed to the whole mansion. When Reis had found the mansion the outer layer had already fallen to disrepair, the roof rotting, the hospital leaking, the walls seemingly near collapse. The inner layer had fared much better against the elements and Reis had been able to perform some basic repairs to get it into livable condition. He also spent quite a bit of coin procuring quality furnishings so he could continue to live the lifestyle to which he was accustomed. As Reis walked down the hall he passed several comfortable chairs, their cushions plump and ready for him should he desire a break.

It had seemed like the perfect arrangement to him. The mansion's outwards appearance of rot and disrepair discouraged visitors and enemies alike while inside he had all the comforts he desired. At least, until the Empire decided to pay a visit.

The pushy colonel had left Reis little choice. He would have preferred not making such a powerful enemy, but he was not about to be pressed into the Empire's service either. There would undoubtedly be consequences; the Empire knew where he lived and had surely learned of the colonel's demise by now. Reis wondered how long he would have before they came marching in force towards his home.

He would have to move on before then. It would be a pity abandoning the place he had lived in so long, but Reis was not one for sentimentality. The worse part would be abandoning his massive stock of alchemical components. Even if he hired a cart to assist him, his stock was too large to take with him and many of the ingredients would become contaminated in the process. Which is why it was so crucial for him to make some progress in what time he had left.

The first store room came up on the left. The occupants before Reis had likely used this room as a child's bedroom. Now it was filled with shelves containing jars of powders, oils, plants, preserved animal parts and insects, dried leaves and grass, solid crystal fragments. All the common alchemical ingredients, as well as some that where not so common, such as blood and gemstones.

Reis checked each container in turn. He checked the seals, smelled the contents, ran the powders through his fingers. He found no signs of contamination. He checked the next store room, and the last one down the hall. In none of his inspections did he find anything that suggested contamination.

No closer to solving this mystery.

Reis was running out of options. At this rate the only way forward would be to test the elixir, and he sure wasn't going to drink it with no idea of what it would do. He was going to need to find a 'willing' test subject.

And he knew just where to find one.

There was a small village not far north of Alleways. He sent a message to it the way he always did when he needed something, by pigeon to the village's head. He did not like traveling when he could avoid it and preferred to use pigeons to keep in touch with the outside world.

The message was short and simple:

Send one man good for cleaning. -Reis

The villages around here were all terrified of him, something Reis appreciated. A lot can be accomplished when those around you either respect or fear you. He had no doubt they would send someone immediately.

Though even he was surprised when the knock on his door came just hours later. He must have pushed his horse hard. It's nice to have such an effect on people.

Reis took his time to answer the door. He did a quick check to make sure his clothes were unsoiled. He did not want his reputation soiled by something as petty as a stained tunic. He also made sure to grab his sword. He doubted he would need it but had learned long ago it always paid to err on the side of caution.

He answered the door and found a short but powerfully built man waiting for him. Must be the bravest of their bunch, to agree to come here alone. Brave or not, the man's courage seemed to be failing him now. His eyes were wide with worry and his mouth was stupidly agape. His ugly pink flesh was covered in sweat that soaked through his clothing. Overall, he reminded Reis of a farm pig, covered in its own filth, waiting for slaughter.

“Reis … er … Mr. Beldaken,” the pig-man stammered, “I came as you asked … I mean, I'm here to clean.” He gestured to the bucket filled with water and rags he was carrying.

“You often do women's work?” Reis asked.

“Well, no,” the pig-man muttered, his face impossibly turning an even brighter shade of pink, “I'm a carpenter by trade. But, well, I figure I can clean well enough. Just tell me what needs doing.”

“Fair enough. Did you happen to notice the dead bodies on the lawn?” You must be blind if you didn't. Reis had dragged the bodies of the colonel and his men out into his mess of a yard but had decided that concealing them was a waste of time. His superiors had probably assumed the worst when he did not report back.

The pig-man nodded meekly. “I did. If that's the kind of cleaning you meant, er, that is, if you need me to bury the bodies, I'll need to go get a shovel. But I'll be back real quick, work through the night if I have to.”

“That won't be necessary. They were the Empire's dogs, if the Emperor wants them buried he can come bring his own damn shovel. No, you were right to bring a bucket. Those dogs had the nerve to bleed all over my floors. I need you to scrub that mess up.”

“That's it?” the pig-man asked, relief on his face.

“That's it,” Reis lied.

Reis let him in and showed him where the colonel and his men met their ends. The pig-man went to work immediately, scrubbing vigorously, his pink face straining with the effort. No doubt he was eager to be finished and gone. Reis was actually slightly impressed. This one missed his true calling when he took up carpentry.

The work was done quickly and the pig-man was immediately on his feet and ready to go. “If that is all, Mr. Beldaken, I'll be on my way.”

“Actually, I have one more thing I need from you.”

The pig-man suddenly became very still. His pink face went pale and his eyes went wide.

Reis produced a vial of his purple mystery elixir. The pig-man's eyes became fixed on it. “I need you to drink this.”

“What … what is it?” the pig-man stammered, lips quivering.

“Does that matter?”

The man looked at the vial, dumbstruck. To Reis's frustration he did not move to take it. He just stood there, still and silent. Just a pig standing before the butcher's knife.

“Fine,” Reis conceded. “It's an elixir, alright? One of my own design. It's good for your health.”

“I … well, I feel pretty well already,” the pig-man said desperately. “Never felt better.”

“Can never be too healthy.”

“Well … still … it, it's mighty generous of you, really it is. But I don't think -”

“I don't care what you think!” Reis barked. His patience was expended. “This is not a request! You will drink it!”

The pig-man glared at Reis with hard eyes. Defiance? So this one does have some courage. Reis tapped the sword at his side a few times, just to remind his test-subject that it was there. The look of defiance quickly faded and was replaced with the fear that Reis was accustomed to. Slowly, the pig-man reached out his hand for the vial.

He held the vial in his hand for a while, staring at it disbelief. He looked to Reis pleadingly but there was no mercy to be found there. Reis just tapped his foot impatiently and willed him to get on with it. Finally, after what seemed like ages, the pig-man removed the stopper from the vial and brought it to his lips. He closed his eyes tight and muttered something that was either a prayer or a curse before tilting the vial back and swallowing the elixir.

The man took shallow, panicked breaths as he waited for something to happen to him. Reis wished he would not panic so much. If he had a heart attack right now he would not be able to tell whether it was from the elixir or nerves.

For a moment Reis began to wonder if the elixir was having any effect at all. Suddenly his test-subject lurched over and began vomiting heavily all over the freshly cleaned floors. He clutched his stomach in pain and let out several moans.

So the body is still rejecting it. I thought for sure I had figured out the adaptation.

“Am I going to die?”

“We'll know shortly. My elixirs are quite fast-acting.”

A few minutes later his test-subject seemed to be recovering. He was still breathing heavily but he had stopped moaning and was standing upright again.

“Well, looks like you're not dead, in any case,” Reis said. He took a closer look at his test-subject's face. The color had not yet returned, but there was something about it that seemed different. The skin seemed slightly tighter, the bags around the eyes seemed less pronounced. He looks a bit younger, doesn't he? Perhaps I was not so far off as I thought.

Fresh enthusiasm coursing through him, he turned away from his test-subject, eager to get back to his experiments. “Clean up the mess you made all over my floor. Afterwards, you have my permission to leave.”

Reis glanced back at the pig-man. He was glaring at him, hatred lurking in his eyes. Ungrateful bastard. I probably just added two years to your worthless life.

Ignorant commoners would never understand the importance of his work.

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