Now that “The Diviner” is completed (and in its final stages of editing and formatting for publication), I am free to work on two of its parallels, “The Alchemist” and “The Mechanist”. It takes a while to really get a feel for how a book should look and feel to its reader, and I only really have so much control over that; but they both have been working out beautifully so far.
I present you here with the first chapter of “The Alchemist”. It was very late when I wrote it, so it’s of course still under scrutiny; but I believe it sets up the kind of mystery necessary to entourage the reader through the book. “The Mechanist” is much further along. Enjoy; when I’m done, not a single word will be a red herring.
© Michael Eric Oberlin, April 15, 2014
Starlight filtered in through an icy glass window, onto the planks of an old and lived-in room. A woman’s bare hands lit a candle on the wall and a lamp on the cluttered table. She cleared it with a sweep of her arms, waving her hands to deter the effluent dust.
She wore a skullcap over her shaved head, and a dark wool overcoat. Skin like an apple petal and eyes hazel, trembling hands pulling out an ornate box full of something precious, and expensive.
She undid its string with as much caution as she could manage, took a deep breath, and lifted its lid. A deep green glow burned from the bottle inside, something magical and hidden, something living and rare.
The woman’s name, for the time being, is rather irrelevant; but the important thing to remember about her is that she is a material. She bleeds when she’s cut, she diligently follows all of the laws of physics that pertain to her, she eats material food and drinks material drink. But in this world, there is another kind of thing. There are materials, and then there are sprites.
This sprite was not what you might imagine. It was a worm, luminescent and greener than grass. It was a lesser sprite, but still. The great difference in sprites is that they were a manifestation of an elementary magical principle, occasionally two of them, embodied in a living creature. They were happy in the element that they manifested, understanding on instinct things that a material man might take decades of study to comprehend. Many of them were as full of mind and soul as any human. This one was full of endless potential, a creature in its youth, not yet entirely manifested.
What she would do with it was not easy, and was generally frowned upon. Her hands trembled for a reason beyond the simple cold. She struggled with the lid, attempting to unscrew it, then stopping and warming her hands on the lamp.
When a mere mortal, or at least an ordinary mortal, managed to acquire a monastic understanding of one of the principles, they became mages. They became the engineers of the natural world, which would fold on itself under their guided will. They developed powers that astonished and impressed other materials, but often did not phase them. To them, it was simple, even obvious as they looked back upon their training. They saw as the sprites see, sometimes better; they felt and saw the underpinnings of their magic around them.
The young woman inhaled deeply, and allowed her hands to come to a stillness. She removed the lid, and, very carefully, reached inside it to pick up its occupant. It was larval, incomplete, as young in its life as she was in hers. She had to trade a great deal away to acquire it. The grub-like sprite wiggled in her fingers, making her gasp.
“It’s alright, it’s alright,” she said. “I’m here.” She held it closer to the heat of the lamp for a moment, then realized what it really needed. It was the same reason that she had decided that she needed it.
“Okay.” Of course the worm didn’t really understand her, not yet. She brought it closer to her face, warmed it a little with her breath, and got its attention. It raised its forelimbs, looking straight at her now, and she brought it closer like child.
The sprite wormed its way onto her upper lip, and began to crawl along her face. She hyperventilated briefly, then took deep, slow breaths to calm herself down as the magical creature moved past her nose.
She saw it in the corner of her eye, then over her eye, and did her best to stay amicable and still. It crawled over the white, then under her eyelid, and back into the socket. After that, the world seemed to stretch and warp before her.
She teared up as the creature began to integrate itself with her flesh, a magical symbiote, and she began to see the world as it might. Butterflies riddled her stomach as the world became liquid, and she collapsed out of her chair onto the small carpet below.
She huffed in a fetal position, drooling onto the floor, her world contorted into a half-reality. The candle would burn out before she was able to stand again, but slowly she would see the light of the half-formed sprites of gestalts. Her eye would change color, and in a few days, memories of the symbiote would dance with her own. In a couple of weeks, the distinction would no longer be appropriate.
Her mind was tormented by growing pains as two worlds became a third, as she became the rarity of a delicate fusion of magic and matter. As for the sort of desperation that would lead her to make this sacrifice, that’s a much larger story.