In a city where studying curses was legal, it was easier to develop anti-curse specialists. After all, there were plenty of opportunities to practice, either on willing subjects in the city or on those who were cursed in a conflict outside of the jurisdiction of Ogloni.
Master Hykel and Barrett took a few days looking around for the best options to cure Barrett’s curse. They wanted to find someone skilled with reasonable prices, which took time. They also didn’t want to look desperate, so taking a few days to scope things out made it seem like they didn’t need urgent help.
Perhaps they didn’t, but Barrett wasn’t exactly safe either. He wasn’t fully recovering from every attack by the curse, and he was just barely able to keep up with the constant internal bleeding and healing required. The fight at the Lightning Mountains hadn’t left him any better off than the curse, it just confirmed that it was indeed possible to use other methods to attack it than just his own stamina. He was saving up his berserk energy, which he could only recover very slowly without exhausting himself and becoming vulnerable.
In their searching, they decided that Master Kevian sounded like the best option. He was a proficient anti-curse master and had a good reputation for charging reasonable prices- reasonable here being still quite expensive, because curses weren’t as easy to deal with as normal wounds. Even outside of the Immortal Berserker Sect, it was more practical to grow back an eye than to remove a potent curse.
Even if the price was reasonable, Barrett still expected to need most of the wealth he had currently- including the price of his equipment. Master Hykel would likely be paying the price, since selling equipment was a good way to waste money, but the idea was still there. Almost nobody under third tier would be able to afford the price of removing a curse on their own- unless it was a weaker one, in which case they could likely handle it themselves or it might even fade away naturally.
Barrett was glad the section of the city they were heading to was opposite the one that smelled like formaldehyde. He’d already seen far too many zombies, and in fact even one was too much. He was quite certain that not all of the zombies had been willing participants who gave up their bodies after death, and while Ogloni restricted killing inside of it, unlike Stredo they didn’t even pretend to care what people did outside of the city. Barrett shuddered when he thought about one of his friends being turned into a lifeless automaton, looking much like them but with soulless dead eyes.
There were still occasional undead in other parts of the city- Barrett saw at least a few on the busy city streets. They continued to pass by those and various other people, mostly cultivators with a few non-cultivators mixed in.
Finally, they went down a narrow side street and entered a door that only had a small label above it- Kevian. Inside, Barrett and Master Hykel found a young man in long robes sitting behind a desk, poring over a tome. As they came in, he looked up. “Oh, welcome! You have a curse that needs removing, correct?”
Master Hykel nodded, “That’s right. We need Master Kevian to look at-”
“Oh, Master Kevian is out of town right now. He won’t be back for a few months I’m afraid.”
Master Hykel nodded, “Very well then, we shall look elsewhere.” With that he turned to leave, and Barrett with him.
The young man behind the desk jumped up, “Wait! Are you sure you don’t want me to diagnose your disciple there? I am Master Kevian’s apprentice, and quite capable myself… no charge for just the diagnosis.”
Master Hykel turned around, “What if I want you to diagnose me?”
The young man waved his hand, his long sleeve flipping. “You’re not cursed. He’s the one,” the young man pointed towards Barrett. “I see the shadow of the curse peering out from inside him. It’s quite… sharp.”
Master Hykel looked to Barrett, who shrugged, “If it’s free and you can watch to make sure he doesn’t get up to anything funny, it won’t hurt to let him try.” Master Hykel nodded.
“Great!” The young man clapped his hands together, “I’m Crenthor. If the two of you would come to the back room…” Crenthor slipped a bookmark into the tome he was reading and directed them towards the only other door, stepping through first himself.
Inside the room was a table with a crystal orb on it, flanked by a pair of large cushions on the floor. There were long strings of beads hanging from the ceiling, woven tapestries on the walls, and various strange trinkets that Barrett couldn’t imagine the use for, like a circular frame with something like a spiderweb attached to it, with feathers hanging down.
Crenthor stepped into the room and shoved the table with the glass orb out of the way, then dragged the two large cushions next to each other. “We don’t need any of this junk. Just sit right here,” he patted one of the cushions, while sitting on the other one. Barrett sat down. “Now, just open yourself up. Try to relax.” Crenthor reached his hand onto Barrett’s head, his wide sleeve dropping down in front of Barrett’s face. Barrett immediately started the process of meditating, like he had to do instead of sleeping. “Good,” Crenthor nodded, “Now hold on for just one moment.”
Barrett felt something reaching into him… gently stepping inside through some sort of magic, like a careful guest trying not to scuff up the carpet. Inside, Barrett felt everything twisting and turning, and suddenly the curse was revealed. Upon being spotted, it suddenly moved to attack, but before Barrett could react Crenthor reached out and restrained it.
“Hmm… I see. A life-consuming curse. Not something easy to live with, for sure. If you had a weaker constitution, I’m sure you would not have made it here.” Crenthor paused, “So, did it suddenly get stronger when the caster died?”
“No. Yes. Well…” Barrett avoided shaking his head and disrupting the contact, “Maybe. It did suddenly get stronger, but it shouldn’t have been when the caster died… she should have been executed the next day.”
“Did you see the execution?”
Barrett shook his head, “I was busy dealing with the curse strengthening…”
Crenthor nodded slightly, “Did the caster harbor a grudge with you… more than anyone else?” Upon Barrett’s affirmation, Crenthor continued, “Alright, then it’s safe to assume they died at the moment the curse strengthened. Either through natural causes or self inflicted just to get some sort of revenge. That makes it a bit harder to deal with… but it’s nothing that I can’t handle.” Crenthor retracted his magic from Barrett, “I can cure you. It won’t be cheap, but here’s the thing… I need a unicorn horn. There’s been one spotted in the forests nearby but…” Crenthor shrugged, “I’m just a single third tier cultivator. I’m not even specialized in fighting. I can tell you are and…” he looked over at Master Hykel, “There is you as well. You should be able to handle it. You’ll have to act quickly though… I heard about the unicorn yesterday, which means there are probably other people looking for it already.” Crenthor pulled out a map, “There’s a hidden glade in the Forest of Nightmares over here… you can’t just walk straight to it. If it hasn’t already been found, it should be there. So, if you can go get that horn for me… I’ll cure… umm…”
“Right, I can cure Barrett here,” Crenthor looked up at Master Hykel, “We can write out a contract if you like. I can guarantee my ability to remove the curse upon him with limited harm.”
Master Hykel nodded, “Fine, but what if we get into conflict with others? We’re not the most adept at dealing with curses.”
“Well,” Crenthor scratched his chin, “People who can cast significant curses aren’t that common, even in Ogloni… but I can provide you with a couple charms.” He moved back to a corner of the room and opened up a drawer, “Just wear these around your necks and most curses will have a significantly harder time getting a hold on you. Just be aware these only work for a day after I activate them. If you still get cursed somehow… then I can also help you deal with any such problems at no extra charge, but I doubt that will be necessary.”
“Very well,” Master Hykel nodded. “We have an agreement.”