Completed writings from a class and piece of flash fiction Apr 23, 2017 3:48:57 GMT
Post by conumbra on Apr 23, 2017 3:48:57 GMT
Magic was an addiction. A horrible, wasting disease, breathed in through smoke, snorted with powder, or dripped into blood. And Frederico Alighieri, a chemist with barely any gold bits to his name, felt confident that he had just discovered the cure. He’d toiled for years, spent many sleepless nights trying concoction after concoction, gotten sick nearly dozens of times from self-testing them, nearly died twice. But now all that effort, all those wasted hours, would finally bear fruit.
He was sitting in a chair, peering over the notebook on the table, the open pages filled with formulas, theories, and hypotheses. The flickering light of a dying candle revealed his failures. He’d tried oh so many different ideas over the years. Basilisk spit, to perhaps slow the process; fire snake embers to burn away the addictive impurities; star petals to counteract the addiction entirely. This though was something else entirely. Difficult to manufacture certainly, but worth the effort in the end. His eyes focused on what he hoped to be the final formula; 40 millilitres of pure elemental water for a liquid base, the drug to be purified, a drop of ambrosia to cleanse the solution, a small cord of dream fibre for the magical properties to hold onto and escape the cleansing, and finally an intact gemheart from a stone dragonfly to protect the solution from returning to its previously addictive state. Now he only had to procure the ingredients.
Excited, he leapt from his chair, back letting out sharp stabs of pain from having been in that position for hours. He looked out the window, dreary eyes seeing the morning light. Had he really spent the entire night working on this? Wouldn’t have been the first time but hopefully it would be the last. All his bones were stiff and his eyes ached, but he couldn’t sleep now, not while this discovery was waiting to be realized. Perhaps a new change of clothes though; his current attire smelled rather…musty would be the delicate term. So he stretched his arms and walked back into the bedroom of his small wooden shanty.
Catalina was still sleeping in their mattress barely an inch off the wooden floor. His heart quickened and his eyes seemed to ache less as he stared at her form, even under the woolen blanket. She was slender but curbed with a long line of silky black hair that went halfway past her shoulders. Her face was turned away from him, but he could still remember those gorgeous blue eyes, those full red lips. She was a woman to rival the Goddess Herself; quite why she’d chosen him was still a mystery to this day. He wasn’t half the man a woman like that deserved, all long-limbed and gangly.
She stirred as he crept into the room, the wood creaking under his footsteps despite his attempts to keep silent. He winced, but continued over to where his other set of clothes was piled. He could feel Catalina’s slowly opening eyes on him as he got dressed, brown vest, woolen beige shirt and a pair of brown trousers replacing his old clothes.
“Hey.” She said, and yawned. Her voice was elegant and soft, refined like she was used to living in some palace rather than in this hovel. “Did you stay up all night again?”
He turned to face her, and she put a delicate hand over her mouth. “I can see the bags under your eyes from here. You’ve got to stop pushing yourself, you’ll collapse one of these days.”
He knelt down beside her and took her hand in his. “I’m so sorry for making you worry so much, but I think I’ve finally got it. This one is different, I’ve finally figured it out. There’s not one simple solution to the addiction, it’s more a combination of factors that will work. And I think I can even preserve the magic too! Oh, once I refine this, we’ll be rich!”
Her eyes lit up at that, and her gaze grew more focused. “Do you really think so? We’ll be rich, enough to get a better house?”
“Better house, better clothes, whatever you want. If I’m right, and I think I am, I can give you the life such a beautiful creature like you deserves.” He leaned in to kiss her hand, then gently put down her hand and headed out the door. “Just got to get a small loan from the Guild for the ingredients, and some food of course. Mark this day Catalina; today is when your new life starts!”
“A loan, again? We just got done paying off the last one.” Her voice was laced with concern.
“I know my darling, but it’s only temporary, and I’ll get more than enough in the long run to cover it. No more courier runs, I promise. Now don’t worry, I should be back in a few hours, if the market’s got what I need.” He made a circle over his heart, asking the Eternal Goddess for just a splash of her luck with a brief prayer. If there was ever a day to ask for it, here it was. Then he opened the door and stepped out into the morning light, the warmth of the sun’s heat bathing him, invigorating him.
The streets in Frederico’s neighbourhood –the Shipyard- weren’t as confining as the ones in Wizard’s Row, but they weren’t much better. The cobble was cracked and pitted in places, and the stone was messy and uneven. He had to watch his step not to trip. The buildings were mostly wooden shanties, like his own, one or two-floor houses pushed almost right next to one another. Most of the houses had been built from the cast-off parts of wooden ships, hence the name. Still, the people here were generally well-mannered, in clothing that didn’t look like it had come from a trash pile. Only some of the light sprites, hanging in their little glass gloves from poles down the street, were dead. He could easily pick them out, the black fuzzy balls remaining still, unlike their more lively glowing yellow counterparts.
Down the hill from his house, the ocean beckoned to him, the wooden docks sticking out, a human intrusion upon the natural waves. The docks in the Shipyard weren’t as busy as the main harbour but there were still a few enterprising small sailing vessels with captains who didn’t want to pay the main harbour’s exorbitant fees and were willing to give up access to the prosperous Merchant’s Tree. And it was towards there he would be headed, for the Guild’s headquarters was on the first level.
The Merchant’s Tree stood high above him, the great plant’s leaves spanning out for almost a mile into the sky. Its great crown and branches blotted out the sun directly under it, which was why light sprites of every colour in the rainbow adorned the pathways cut into the bark, shining on the catwalks built to spiral around the tree’s massive trunk, the different colour signifying the various sections where different goods could be purchased.
The Guild’s headquarters were through a modest-sized wooden door with a set of scales carved into it and filled with gold. Two guards clad in chainmail stood guard, but as Frederico passed them he could see vials of ingestible magic, the liquid sparkling purple in the dawn light. It was probably Temperature; setting others on fire tended to deter intruders.
Passing through the door, Frederico was greeted with a sight that never failed to take his breath away with the sheer wealth it implied. The room was easily 4 stories high, divided into various floor devoted to different purposes. His floor was the one for requesting loans and advances. Marble flagstones were under his feet with golden threads weaved through the stone, placed there by Stepthrough users. The golden threads weaved together, creating intricate patterns of scales, golden animals and an image of the Eternal Goddess in the center of the floor, eyes cast in rubies. Wooden desks were all over the room, but all of them left the Goddess’s figure alone, as did the scores of visitors. He had to quickly step out of the way lest he get trampled.
He walked up to his favourite desk, staffed by his favourite lender, Antonio. As soon as the fat, balding man saw him, he grinned and waved over a nearby Temperature, user a well-built bald man wearing a vest and some trousers. Instantly the summer morning heat near them was dulled into the coolness of a spring day. Antonio grinned and wiped away lingering sweat from his brow with a silk handkerchief, then reached his hand over to grasp Frederico’s. “Ah, my favourite customer!” he said, “Welcome, welcome, please have a seat.” He motioned for Frederico to take a seat in a dark wooden chair with golden patterns traced into the wood. The chair was worth more than his entire house, so he even though this was routine for him by now, he sat gingerly on it, afraid of breaking it. “I’m so glad to see you’ve returned Frederico. Now tell me, what can the Guild do for you?” He clasped his hands together, the jeweled stones glittering in the light cast from the light sprite canisters on the wall.
Antonio knew full well why Frederico was here; they went through this same routine every time Frederico came in here, but it was probably the man’s job to act polite and unaware. Either that, or he got some pleasure forcing Frederico to spit it out every time. So Frederico sighed and said it again. “You know what I need Antonio. I’d like another loan please, same amount as before. Don’t suppose interest rates have gone down since last time?”
“Congratulations sir, by my count this has been your tenth loan from us. Here, have our reward.” He reached into a drawer in his desk and pulled out a small paper slip. “Show this to any Guild-sponsored merchant in the city of Pizcare,” which was all of them, “and he’ll give you a 5% discount on your purchases. We at the Guild are always happy to provide for our faithful customers,“ He handed the slip to Frederico. “Now, unfortunately the interest has remained about the same. You sure you wouldn’t like the loan amount to increase? I think I can get you a deal where you can lock in your interest if you ask for more.”
Frederico shook his head politely. “No thanks, I don’t think I’ll need much more. I think today, I’ve finally cracked the formula.”
Antonio’s eyes seemed to light up. “You’re sure?”
“Well, I obviously won’t know for a fact until I test it out, but I think so. I’ve exhausted all avenues of possibility besides this one. Nothing else would be able to accomplish this.”
“I see. Well, best of luck to your endeavours Frederico. Now, just fill in your name, address and the amount you wish, in Guildcoin of course, and then we can get the letter of transfer sorted out.”
After the letter of transfer was sorted, it only took a few quick trips to get his currency and then get the ingredients he needed. All of the merchants in the Merchant’s Tree would only take Guildcoin, and even outside it a majority of them still only sold through it. No wonder, the currency was one of the most stable in the world; why bother trading in money backed by foreign states that would fall when the next war happened? Investing in the Guild ensured stability.
As he walked the wooden catwalks of the Merchant’s Tree, Frederico kept seeing posters and leaflets advertising for next month’s mayoral voting. All of them promised many things, yet he never once saw them promise to protect local industries from foreign incursions or stifling trade in any fashion. Frederico tended not to care about elections; no politician had ever benefited him, and he doubted they’d ever will.
After most of the ingredients were gotten, all that was left was the drug to be tested on. He headed to Wizard’s Row; the beginning of the street was mostly ok with Guild-sponsored shops selling Guild-sponsored drugs and accepting Guild-sponsored coin. But even with the loan they were often fantastically expensive, which is why he headed to the eastern end of Wizard’s Row, where the addicts hanged out. The dealers there were less reputable and more dangerous, but they were also far less expensive and Frederico was willing to take some risks if it secured a better future for him and Catalina. Hopefully he’d never have to run packages again.
As he got further down, the crowds began to thin, and the pavement grew cracked and uneven. Some of the paving stones even crumbled under his feet when he stepped on them. Garbage and litter started to appear, first in small pockets, then in massive rubbish piles littering the alleys. Nightsoil piled up under windows where nobody bothered to remove it. The stench was unbearable, a mixture of rotting flesh, fecal matter and urine that seemed to pervade the entire area. That scent was nothing to the horrors that greeted his eyes though.
As he went, he started seeing more and more addicts, people who were hooked on the various types of magic. He had to stop and steady himself on buildings at point, as he grew woozy from the sights. He saw Temperature users, their bodies half-frostbitten and half-burned to a crisp, skin sloughing off their arms or black fingers falling away when they tripped. Stepthrough users looked normal but at points part of them would sink into a nearby wall or the ground and they’d let out a horrifying shriek before managing to pull themselves out, bits of stone woven into their flesh. Transport users were missing limbs, eyes and noses that had been transported away in a puff of smoke; he even saw it happen when some poor woman’s eyes disappeared and blood started to spout from the now-empty sockets. She tried to cover it up with her hands, but the blood dripped out regardless.
Along the sides of the road there the corpses, the remains of people who hadn’t been able to secure their next fix and had succumbed to their injuries. This was what he’d been trying to prevent for so long. Ironic that one of the victims would provide the key to all of their salvations. Eventually he came to his regular supplier, Louisa. A Fleshcraft user, her body was dotted with bulging tumours, flesh expanding in disgusting growths. He saw teeth growing from some and one on her right arm had a large blood red eye that stared at him. Her dress long faded to beige and her hair was thing and stringy. She stared at him with a hungry gaze, one of her eyes being compound, like an insect’s. She raised an arm at him and waved, the ending hand having fused into a thick, bony club. “Hey there, good to see you again Freddy!” she said.
He tried not to get close to her, but she closed the distance and got within inches of him. She put her normal hand on his shoulder, and Frederico was suddenly reminded of the fact that he didn’t have a knife on him. Normally he didn’t worry, because he looked destitute enough that no thief would bother with him, but when it came to Louisa, he should have been more careful. “H-hey there Louisa. Listen, I’ve been working on that project of mine, and I’m going to need a drug. Doesn’t matter which, Temperature, Stepthrough, Transport, Vanish, I only need one vial. I can pay you.” He reached into his coinpurse and pulled out a few gold bits to show her. Her eyes focused on the money, and he could feel her hand tightening on his shoulder.
“Heh heh, you’re lucky; I just scavenged a vial off some poor Transporter, had his legs transported away and he bled out before he could get a vial.” She smiled, and a forked tongue flicked out. She let go of him for a moment and Frederico gave a sigh of relief as she dug her hand into an alcove she’d made in an alley wall. Then she pulled out a glass vial, filled with dark sparkling purple liquid. He reached for the vial but she danced away with it. “Ah ah ah, first payment.”
“Fine” he sighed and tosses her the money, which she let land on the cobblestone. She smiled and got very close to him, so close he could feel the breath on his face.
“That’s not all, I’d like…a taste.” Her eyes were wild, frantic, and she licked her lips.
“I’m sorry, I…I don’t have any food on me.” He said, looking around nervously. But no one would come to help him.
“Oh, but you do.” She grinned and grabbed his hand. Before he could react, she’d raised it up to her mouth, and bitten down, hard on one of his fingers. Pain, blinding, seared through his body. His muscles spasmed as he tried to remove his finger, but he couldn’t; she held it fast as her teeth sawed through muscle and bone. He screamed out, but of course no one came; the residents of this area were used to terrified screaming. He felt his blood leak out and spill away, until the pain got too intense and his vision turned to black.
He woke lying down on the ground. He looked at his hand, and the wound had been sealed, sans finger. She’d probably healed it with magic, strange after she’d eaten part of him but Louisa was a very strange woman. He gulped and tried to hold down some sick as he thought about her eating it whole. He got up off the ground, noticing the vial of liquid beside him. She smiled up at him from a few feet away, like nothing he ever happened. He suppressed a shudder and quickly headed out of there. Sacrifices had to be made if his work was to be completed after all.
He placed all the ingredients together and got down to work. First the elemental water, pure as glass, almost invisible in the glass beaker. He opened up the vial and poured out the dark, sparkling liquid, tainting the crystal clear water. With a pair of tweezers he picked up a large green spider and held it over the beaker, then squeezed its thorax to milk out the dream fibre, the ethereal string dropping into the mixture, shimmering and half-real. He put the spider down and grabbed the stone dragonfly, crushing it with his hands and extracting the pebble-sized gemheart from the remains. He dropped the tiny ruby into the liquid, then oh so carefully dipped the drop of ambrosia, the golden liquid flowing slowly like honey. Seconds seemed to take forever as it dropped into the solution.
He’d hoped Catalina would be here to see the result, but strangely he couldn’t find her. She was likely off doing her shopping or looking for work as a servant girl. It didn’t matter, she’d see the fruits of his labour soon enough. The drop of ambrosia hit the solution.
The fluid bubbled and hissed, steam escaping in a constant hiss. The colour in the beaker shifted to all hues of the rainbow, from purple to red to yellow to green and everything in between. Then, it flashed, blinding him for a few seconds. He managed to get his sight back, but the liquid still crackled and hissed, settling down to its new, light green colour. Had it worked? Only way to find out was to test. He dripped one drop onto his finger, then stuck it in his mouth. Something so small, the magic should only last a few seconds.
For just a few moments, his mind expanded as he grew used to the new power he wielded. His hand reached towards the table, and with a simple act of will, reached through it. He quickly removed it as the drug’s effects subsided. He shot out from his seat in triumph, as his system didn’t feel any lingering desire for the drug. No need for more, no bodily drive urging him to take it. He’d have those before, consistently; this was different. He, and many others, were free!
“Yes! I’ve done it, I’ve finally done it! Catalina will jump for joy when she hears the news! I’ll buy her a house, no a castle, and then-“
That was when the armed and armoured men busted down his flimsy door. They came suddenly, so suddenly he fell out of his chair in surprise. They wore mail armour with the symbol of the Fire Snakes, a local mercenary company. Coming behind him was a lithe man with close-cut hair, with a deep blue shirt inlaid with golden thread, He had the Guild’s insignia emblazoned on his shoulder.
He tried to run, but they were faster, stronger than he was and they easily subdued him. He was restrained and brought before the man. “Hmmm…” he pondered.
“W-what are you doing?”
“Just figuring out the way to position your body to make the right message. I’m thinking tongue and fingers removed would work, a gold coin stuffed in each eye maybe. Something to hint at our involvement but dissuade other curious people from this avenue of approach again.”
His stomach lurched and he struggled to escape, but they held him fast without expending any effort. “Well, if I’m going to die, at least tell me what you did with Catalina?”
“Oh, her? She’ll be paid quite well to keep silent about this whole mess. Last I checked, she’s been very receptive of the offer.”
And now it was his heart’s turn to sink. He’d thought she’d be there for him, that she’d stick with him until the end. But he supposed he couldn’t fault her. Maybe she was just abandoning him for money, but if she’d been threatened, she’d want to protect her own life. And besides, he wasn’t that important anyway, she could have found a dozen men like him. So he slumped in the mercenary’s arms, and awaited his fate, which came a few seconds later as he felt a blade pierce his broken heart.