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Category Archives: The Alchemist

Chapter Unknown (Mercury)

Mercury

© Michael Eric Oberlin, Dec. 24, 2014

 

“You claim to be one of them, material. You do so with your mind and intellect; but had you consulted with your wisdom, and your heart, you would know that you are one of us.”

Her voice moved like oil over water, a drizzling cascade of color and feeling. There was conviction and power in it, a contagious form of conviction, which made one wonder if the sheer sound of it could compel the sky to fall and the ocean to part.

A man with long dark hair and a thin and pointed patch of beard turned in the darkness, hands outstretched. He was shirtless and barefoot, watching, feeling, and knowing. “Either the mind is wrong or the heart is wrong; they can’t both be correct in a deterministic universe. If my spirit bets on my mind, what good could come of listening to the heart?” He spoke with poetry and rhythm, every syllable a self-solving riddle that rolled off of his tongue.

 

Fire and smoke send some creatures running, and others rummaging to investigate. So it was, with the village now called Dust.

The town was riverside amidst jungle and brush, inaccessible save by water. A drought had lowered the river and dried the structures to the point of being brittle and flammable. Uncontrolled fires were a low risk, so close to the water, but one day the compulsion to expel flames was countered by a greater compulsion to set them.

By the time the local sprite princes, the dragons, went to investigate, it seemed that everyone was gone or dead. Homes lay broken, cracked, and smoldering. The smell of ash and soot was unmistakable and overpowering, along with a very vague malignance. Cerdwyn walked among the ruins, fearing no heat against her dragon feet, but worrisome of the loss of all evidence to entropy.

It could have been an accident, she supposed.

 

“Yet you, young Raven, remain indeterminate in your deterministic universe. Your heart strays one way, your mind the other. Trust, now and then, in what you do not know. You may rely on more than what your experience alone tells you.”

The man grinned for a moment, almost snickered, then exhaled. This cavern was as black as ink, but he knew the voice so well he welcomed it more than sunlight. He would find her. “Then that is the real riddle; the one that doesn’t resolve itself. What may I rely on, which I cannot yet know?”

 

She moved like silk through one broken home, scanning for signs of struggle and strife. Her tail coiled and a ball of raw force formed in her palm, bending the light with its tensile vibrations. The broken town made her angry.

She had never made any effort to reveal herself to the people of the village, and never imagined that she would gain any interest. Dragons are reclusive spirits, more prone to melting into rocky dens and insurmountable peaks than roaming socially among materials. Still, there was a peace to this town. If a raider was responsible for this, then her bones ached to fight it.

As she turned a corner, a vision, in the corner of her eye, gave her the most extraordinary start. The ball of force burst in her hand; her left claw raised up to shield herself; but the interloper in her universe was not a threat. So small, yet so still.

 

“If you only rely on what you have seen before, then you are living entirely in the past.” The voice was in his ear now. He slowed to a stop. “And if you speculate too much, you are living only in the future; a future which very much depends upon your heart. This is the wisdom I have for you, your own solution is yours to find.”

Of course it was. She didn’t know, she couldn’t; unfortunately, neither did he. At least not yet. “I always appreciate your advice, Cerdwyn; but whatever you think of my heart, you my body is not a sprite’s, let alone a dragon’s.”

 

A boy, perhaps no older than two, in a cradle of a bed. There was the deepest sadness on the child’s face, and yet, even before the enrapturing eyes of a dragon, so much courage. He was the only living person left, hopeless against the wilderness, and yet, so resolved. She felt the air, felt for movement and intrusion of others amidst the home, and satisfied, knelt before him.

He met her eyes so easily. His eyes were red from crying, but long since dried. He had the strangest of hopes behind them, the kind that one only felt when so much horror had passed, he could only hope for dawn to break, and even the slightest good to come down upon him.

Something else caught Cerdwyn off guard. The nameless boy ran forward, suddenly, off of the bed, and hugged her legs. Protect me, save me, take me. Maybe it was the moment of recognition that she wasn’t here to hurt anyone, wasn’t here to hurt him, that did it. Maybe it was just a plea to get on with it.

 

Lips pecked his cheek, and an arm wrapped around him with a jovial love. Her scales seemed to shimmer even in the darkness, her nails almost glowing. Raven never knew his real parents, and if they were alive at all, didn’t have much of an interest in finding them at this point; he was found, in the ashes of Dust, by Cerdwyn.

Of course, the dragons had nothing to do with the calamity that befell the village. None of them ever found out, either; but a select few roamed down, off of the mountain side, to investigate. Cerdwyn was among them. He was rescued by her strong heart.

 

Cerdwyn almost spoke, but recognized the danger in it. The voice of a dragon was unparalleled, every breath a weapon. She didn’t speak to the child for quite some time. What she did do was lift it, above her head, grasping his torso with two of her strong hands. She looked up at the child, and she saw something familiar.

It was not unheard of for dragons to take part in the raising of a child, but to raise one themselves was a rarity. It might even be a unique occurrence. However, the light and life in the child, the shimmer of intelligence, was something that needed protection. Perhaps she didn’t find him at all, perhaps he found her.

 

Raven knew how fortunate he was to ever have witnessed a dragon at all, let alone to be raised by them. They remained at the edge of myth, yet very real. He remembered little or nothing before that moment, save for his first witnessing of Cerdwyn.

The stories of enormous fire-breathing and flying lizards were barely the shadow of the truth. Her skin shone like it was made of gemstones; her four slender arms moved like waves, each half-foot long finger and its magnificent claw extending gracefully from the end. Her wings were ten feet in span, every bone twisting the light ever-so-subtly like they were made of some golden damask.

Most enchanting of all were her eyes, not piercing or flaming as the stories said, but hypnotic. They seemed to glow with a soul of their own, tickling Raven’s skull with all of the possibilities that her mind contained.

In the end, it seemed that he had an affect on her as well; as for whatever the reason, she raised him, a material child of a much shorter lifespan than any dragon, as her own. He had no idea what his original name was, but for his intelligence, the dragons simply called him “Raven”.

Raven turned and hugged Cerdwyn back, careful not to prick himself on the row of spines along her back. Her golden tail swayed in the half-light, and beneath the many veils of her voice, of his mother’s voice, he found the slightest twitch of a certain kind of sadness. It used to be strong, but was lesser all the time, and this could only mean a single thing. “I’ll be leaving soon, won’t I.”

The same golden eyes looked into his. Raven already knew, she didn’t have to answer; but she did. “It’s in your heart. All dragons are itinerant. You will carry a mixed and unusual legacy with you.”

Dragons, elusive as they are, are manifestations of Mercury. The many legends say that they guard treasure, or they seek treasure, but the truth was so much simpler. With all the wisdom that they gathered throughout their long lives, they were treasure.

Through all of their travels, Raven had felt Mercury manifest itself within him, too; though only as it could for a material. He wasn’t made of the stuff, not like Cerdwyn was; but he had developed an enormous amount of power in it. He could conjure up the dragon’s breath in an instant; he could freeze water and throw ships to land.

“When?” said Raven. He thought that he might have something more sophisticated to say than that, but there were far too many possibilities to weed through. There were too many unknowns. He didn’t particularly want to go.

A tear streaked down Cerdwyn’s face, as she smiled, just a little. In what felt like the blink of an eye, she was across the room, snatching a small glass vial up from a table full of alembics and mortars. She brought it to her face, and captured the tear, then with the press of her hand, melted the vial shut, rounding it in her warm palm into a bead with the slightest of hoops over the top.

She slipped a silver chain through the hoop, and hung it on Raven’s neck, like an amulet. He’d never seen her cry before, he wasn’t sure it was even possible. She kissed him on the forehead. “Whenever your heart is in it, go.”

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2014 in Fiction, The Alchemist

 

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Chapter One (Sight)

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.

—Mick

Sight

© 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.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2014 in The Alchemist

 

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