Before anything else could be done, Azzie needed a place from which to operate. The Inn of the Hanged Man possessed many fine features, but the space was too limited and the other customers too apt to be curious. And as Azzie and Frike gathered their specimens there was the problem of the smell. Azzie knew several master spells to keep human meat relatively fresh, but not even a magic spell could take away the odor of death and decay that hung over his work. Even hiring men to bring down ice from the Alps was insufficient, for keeping constant relays going would be a monumental enterprise. And the Powers of Darkness had vetoed his scheme in this regard, saying it didn’t warrant the expense, and it would call too much attention to him and his work.
The question, then, was where to locate the home and alchemical laboratory that would be needed. He needed to stay close to the heart of Europe because that was where the action was. He settled finally upon the town of Augsburg, in the Alps near Zurich. It was a fine small city, located on a trade route. This meant that he could purchase from passing vendors the spices and simples he needed for the work. Augsburg was also good because it was a well-known center for witchcraft. Since everyone there suspected everyone else of sorcery, no undue suspicion was likely to fall upon him.
He met with the burgomeister and arranged the long-term rental of the high-steepled Ch?teau des Artes on the northern edge of town. This noble old building, built over the ruins of a Roman villa which had been lived in by a praetor in the old days of the Roman empire, suited him admirably. Since the cellar was extensive there was no problem over where to keep his growing collection of body parts. And finally, he was near enough to Zurich and Basle to ensure a good supply of additional material from the medical schools in those areas.
But it was summer, and even his preserving spells were pushed to their limits. Finally, he had to resort to an additional remedy. It was known of old that when anything organic was put into a vat containing ichor, it kept for a long time. Indeed, ichor was the universal solution, good to drink, capable of miracles when used for other purposes.
Obtaining a sufficient quantity of ichor proved a problem, however. Supply tried to keep every drop of it for themselves. It was only after asking Hermes Trismegistus to intercede for him that Azzie received a quantity adequate for his purposes. And even then he had to counsel Frike, on pain of great torture and possible death, not to touch the precious supplies.
The breasts, haunches, kneecaps, and elbows were easy enough. Ribs and shoulders were in good supply. But Azzie wanted to know the antecedents of every piece of meat he bought, and this knowledge was often beyond the ken of the men he dealt with. Bit by bit, as the warm days wore on with a deepening of greens and the spread of summer flowers, he collected a goodly mess of pieces. But these were the least important parts. The heads, the faces, the hands-these were crucial, and hard to come by.
More days passed, summer storms rattled and rolled, and it seemed he was getting no closer to his goal. He assembled a sample human which stumbled about gibbering until he put it back in the rendering vat, a poor dottering idiot. The creature’s brain had evidently decayed before it could be preserved. Azzie began to wonder whether he hadn’t bitten off more than he could chew.
But the bright days of summer made the year’s-end deadline seem an eternity away, and he called in laborers to repair the ch?teau. He hired husbandmen from nearby villages to put in quick-growing crops. He found these chores an oddly satisfying way of passing the time while the head-hunt went on.
The Ch?teau des Artes was conveniently situated for journeys south to Italy, west to France, east toward Bohemia and Hungary. So while he filled his time with householder’s tasks, he sent Frike far and wide on a big gray horse, two pack animals trailing behind. While Frike turned up many curious and useful items, it seemed a slack season for heads. Heads…
He told the mayor of the town, Estel Castelbracht, that he was engaged in various researches to find cures for the plague, the ague, and the tertian fever, which had been sweeping these parts since Roman times. He explained that it was necessary to conduct his researches on human flesh, with methods learned from the great alchemists of the period. The mayor, and then the people, took him at his word, for he seemed a jolly sort, never reluctant to treat local sick, very often with good results.
While doing this, Azzie was also considering the props he would need for his Prince Charming game. He sent to Supply for lists of goods, but their replies were always vague, filled with stipulations such as “if still in stock” or “out of stock, more expected soon.” What was especially annoying was their response to his request for two castles, one for Prince Charming, the other for Princess Scarlet. The powers at Supply, speaking to him through an oracular owl, told him that they were clean out of castles at the moment. Azzie argued with them, explaining that this was a priority job which had the imprimatur of the High Demon Council. “Yes,” they said, “they are all priority jobs, and we can only do what we can. …”
He decided he’d better go to Supply, look over their stores himself, and set aside what he would need when his Prince and Princess were ready to be assembled. Yes, it was time to go to Limbo, that ill-defined region where are shaped the supernatural events that push and pull at the mixed destiny of mankind. And keep an eye out for the proper head …