Chapter Four from Alchemy of a Witch: Part One What I'm Writing Wednesday July 22nd Update!
Alistair stood in his draping robe, holding a lantern before him and casting light over the stone balcony rail--the only barrier keeping him from succumbing to his vertigo, and toppling out of his tower laboratory to his death. He scrunched his brows in concentration and slowly moved the lamp, left to right then back again. What am I looking for? He asked himself, then shrugged. He would know when he found it.
The alchemist had been working on receiving messages from other realms in the warped glass - a painstaking process requiring hours of meditation and concentration, for just one symbol or letter. His pets were quite active in the mirror all day, convincing him that something--or someone--would come. The wispy entities appeared in the corners of the glass, slithering about, twining together before they were sucked into the mirror’s center vortex, only to return again later—without so much as a single symbol to deliver.
“I am the master of you—not the other way around!” he said to the shadows, perturbed enough to knock them in the mirror with his wand. Upon contact with the glass, the creatures seized the opportunity to transition, slithering out of the mirror and onto the wand. Alistair dropped the stick, preferring to let them loose in the tower rather than feel their touch if they crept all the way up to his hand. They were so cold - so impossibly cold. “You have no free will until the onset of The First Great Trial.”
The shadows chittered between themselves, then slithered across the floor, coalescing up around him, whispering indiscernible secrets into his ear. He didn’t understand much, but he understood enough. “No!” he said firmly, collecting his wand and waving them away.
He inspected the hourglass on a nearby worktable, noting that the sands in the upper chamber were nearly gone. He blinked one eye, then the other, certain there must be a mistake. “This land is protected,” he whispered, nodding his head with certainty as he briskly went about closing the shutters and door. “The forest protects us, always.” Us? He laughed at the absurdity. There was no us to protect in this tower, just himself, his memories, and the now unloosened shadow wisps.
Even with everything battened down, he felt a stiff draft coming from the rafters. He looked up at the angled slats serving as windows, positioned to keep rain out but still let wind and birds in. His eyes swung to the birdcage hanging directly above him – empty, normal for early morning. To combat the draft, Alistair donned a heavy velvet robe—a gift from The Earl--back when he had been in his favor. But, one bad premonition, and you’re on the run forever.
The shadow wisps continued to explore the tower, slithering along the angles of the floor, walls, and the furniture legs. When they moved too near Alistair, he skirted to avoid them, liking them better from the other side of the mirror. They had delivered their message of a diminishing timeline; so why weren’t they leaving?
“I’m not going to avoid this, am I?” he asked, his temples throbbing. Through his magick and studies, he knew that The First Great Trial would come--a test for humanity that, if passed, would allow for a time of peace before the next Trial. But if it were failed, humanity would perish. It had been predicted since The Great Deluge receded and time reset, and he hoped it wouldn’t come within his lifetime. Alistair assumed his part in the story would be to decode the old writings on the nature of The Three Great Trials, document what he learned, and leave the findings for another generation to apply.
“How much time is left?” He asked the shadows. “At lease, answer me that!”
The shadows rejoined one another and returned to the mirror, swirling around and around until they disappeared, opening a portal for him to scry through.
“Thank you,” he said. He didn’t like humbling himself to the creatures; it made him feel weak. But he was clearly not in control anymore. At the same time, he couldn’t let them think he was frightened, either. The wisps thrived on fear and doubt, and would provoke more of it, if their presence elicited a reaction. “Be at the ready to assist me,” he added, a declaration that he was still in charge.
Alistair cleared his throat, thinking through his question before asking the mirror. Mirrors were unpredictable, in both message and temperament, and he had to phrase everything exactly right. Red
“Is it the sickness that heralds this hour of doom? Is it that much worse than I assumed?” he asked, already feeling the grim answer in his belly even before the mirror turned blood-red. He had sequestered himself up in the tower back when the plague was just a rumor, in order to escape The Earl and his wrath, and devote himself to his research. In those years, he hadn’t heard anything of The Great Sickness, and had hardly gave it another thought, but now he could feel it’s power and reach flowing in through the mirror. It hadn’t left the world when he disappeared—it had run rampant.
He remembered words his one true love once said, when he was lamenting leaving her: Alistair, you can’t stop change; change will always come. She had been right, of course. Change was the only certainty of life. You could even seal yourself off in the middle of an enchanted forest to stave back time and space, but time and space were still going to find you. Even so, he didn’t like it.
“Damn it!” He spat through his clenched teeth, tapping his wand into the stone floor. He cleared his throat again, carefully formulating his next question. The serpents would only stay so long before they were either pulled back into their realm or grew bored with their game. “What has this to do with me?”
It was a broad question, he knew, and the wisps spent considerable time conferring, before arranging themselves into the shape of a heart. Alistair clutched his chest, fearing they warned that his own heart would stop, or worse, that they meant to kill him, but he felt no physical pain.
“Is it something yet to come?” he asked, to clarify.
This time, the snakes formed two hearts instead of one.
Two hearts? What does that mean? Waving his hand at the image, Alister swished the snakes away. “Leave me,” he grumbled, as they were swallowed back into the glass, evidence he still held some power in this world. “I am tired.”
He had been up all night and needed sleep, but there was too much to contemplate for his brain to rest. His looked at the hourglass again. More sands were lost.
“How old am I again?” he wondered, leaving the mirror and heading towards to his vertical bookshelf, with its ladder stretching to the rafters. He stopped counting springs years ago, and the mirror seemed to comply, not youthening him from his middle years, nor aging him, either. He was young enough to climb the steep ladder rails, all the way to the very top, yet old enough to squint at words on the book spines. His knees ached by the time he stepped off onto the uppermost platform nested amongst the wood ceiling beams. His elbows were stiff, and he dared not look down out of dizziness. Somehow, he sensed, the answers were up here.
Alistair lit the dusty lantern sitting on a small reading table and peered out the window portal. He searched the forest canopy stretching out as far as the eye could see, looking for trails of smoke wafting into the sky. He knew he could stay here in his tower a long while, for decades perhaps, with the forest guarding him before the disease touched his doors. These woods were primal and tribal, allowing few in, and it was only the blessing of his true love that allowed his initial venture into the forest. Without it, he surely would have perished. The blessing had saved his life… and cost him a blood-oath, an oath he destined to repay it, should the time ever come.
He raised the lamp higher, searching the sky. The stars were limited now, as night dissolved into morning, but the important stars were still visible - those that foretold of great events. Scanning the constellations, he bemoaned how little he knew of their placement without a map or chart handy. Briefly, he wished he was of the Order of Osiris, the masters of the stars, instead of the Order of Melchezdiek.
Still, he saw that something seemed wrong in the heavens--the stars a little out of focus, the energy of the moon both erratic and hedging. Alistair sighed, his eyes settling on one particular star teetering on the horizon. He’d stared at that same star for many nights, for many years, remembering a time when he shared the star with his love. It was the last time he saw her, and the night their oath was born. They were embracing, at the edge of the woods:
“You should never have shown me, Almara—I’m just a man. I am not strong enough yet to resist the book. It is ancient knowledge, forbidden. Thank the Sun-Gods I do not understand its language, or I fear what I might do to attain it for myself.”
“You are a good man, Alistair. I know your heart, despite your words. I never meant to tempt you, only to seek to understand what it is. I thought it an old recipe collection, but I now believe it is more. I have kept it hidden, as is the tradition of my ancestors, but I can’t keep it, forever. I fear it will be found.”
Alistair stared at this beautiful woman--a woman he had loved years ago, and whom he accidentally found again, while on the run. He had before because he couldn’t resist the temptation of being near her, yet not having her. He feared he would do no better with her book. He loathed breaking her heart, but knew his mortal limitations. “If I am found, they will take your book. At best, they will put it in some library where it will never be seen again. At worst, they may burn it, or even decipher the text, themselves.”
That last thought gave her pause. She took his hand, and kissed his cheek. “I give you my ancestral blessing of these ancient woods—may they protect you as long as their magick remains. But in return, you are Oath-bound to me. Someday, I will request a favor, and you must do it.” She looked at him, more serious than he had ever seen. “Do you agree?”
“Please go with me,” he begged. He took her hand and kissed it. “And I will do whatever you say.”
“I am bound to my people,” she said, sadly. “The time has come. Go now,” she said, kissing him on the lips—a kiss that would sustain him for years. “When the time is right, we will find you.”
Heartbroken, he left as she requested, stumbling upon the tower nearly as ‘accidentally’ as he had rediscovered Almara. The forest gave him all he needed, but he was lonely and often restless and he never forgot her words: When the time is right, we will find you.
In all his years in the tower, nothing had changed. But now the snakes were loose and the hourglass had suddenly moved.
Alistair had a sudden thought--a leap in his heart, an impossible hope. Was she still alive? Was she coming to the tower, right now? Was her arrival what he smelled in the air?
He looked out the window again, towards the hidden village where he spent two forbidden summers—one as a young man and one in his middling years. Movement at the edge of the glade caught his attention. The alchemist crinkled his brow and leaned forward, locking his eyes on a woman scrambling from the trees, a wave of black birds at her back. She stumbled and sputtered and staggered, all the way to his tower door.
Alistair watched, unable to move--her dark hair, her pale skin, her slim elbows—Almara?!
He fumbled back down the ladder, nearly falling in his hurry to open the door for his beloved. But as he lifted the latch and drew open the entry, he saw it was not the woman he loved. Though perhaps her ghost.
*** This four-part series set in the Middle Ages, features Dark Root lore and all new character. This is a four-part series released over the course of a year.
Part One is 50,000 words and will be released Sept 22, and part two available Dec 21. Get your inner witch or wizard on and Get ready for magick!
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