Accidental Alchemy

A Mordecai The Black Story

Alchemy Graphic.jpg

"Which finger should I take first, eh?"

Mordecai felt his captor's rotten breath on his face. The man had something of a lisp. His words echoed through the hollow tunnel like a snake pit. Mordecai examined his interrogator with one eye; the other having been swollen shut during the scuffle that resulted in his current predicament.

A plain black cloak hung from the torturer's wiry frame. The skin on his face looked like it had been drawn too tight over his skull and his bright green eyes somehow added to his overall unhinged appearance. The man looked like a serpent almost as much as he sounded like one. For Mordecai, that decided his name.

"The index fingers are important. Or how about the thumbs? One's hands aren't much use without those?" Snake hissed as he ran his shear blades across Mordecai's crotch.

Mordecai was considered tall by most people’s standards, but Snake stood a good head taller. Nevertheless, Mordecai was at eye level with the torturer on account of being suspended from heavy chains. He lingered just above the cave floor; the iron links shackled to his wrists stretching off into the murk above. His legs were free, not that it did him much good between the pain and exhaustion. Moving only caused the iron restraints to bite into his blistering wrists anyway. It was a struggle to remain still, especially with a madman prodding at him with a sharp implement.

"Or why don't we start with your nose?" He tapped the side of Mordecai's nose with the cold edge of the tool. "That'll make the ladies think twice about looking at you. Not that any decent woman would want a wizard anyway." He spat in Mordecai's face.

Snake was wrong on two accounts. First, had Mordecai been inclined to list his achievements in order of the greatest, he would have placed his feats in the field of romance near the top. It was for this reason that he wished his face to stay as it was. Well, that, and there was the matter of facial flesh removal by rusty old shears resulting in a pain of the excruciating variety.

Second, Mordecai was no wizard; at least not in the strict sense of the word. He had some knowledge of the arcane arts, but he didn't belong to any order. He could call fire from the air, cause small items to move of their own accord and even heal certain injuries by means of energy exchange. Where he really excelled was potion making. But neither of those things made him a wizard. Wizards belonged to an order and Mordecai didn’t believe in orders. Orders had a tendency to exert control over their members. Mordecai didn’t like control. On learning of his knack with potion making, a prior associate had formally invited him to join the Potion Masters Guild of Akroth. He cordially declined and said associate never spoke to him again.

Mordecai enjoyed potion making. But he wanted to decide for himself why and how and when he dealt with potions, even if it meant taking the often-difficult path of going at it alone.

He had tried to concoct a quick strength potion--known as the Veil of Vigor--when the three perpetrators first entered his camp. He only managed to consume two of the three essential ingredients before being subdued. He was sure a real wizard wouldn't have gotten into such a sorry situation. Real wizards called independents in Mordecai's line of work, Ayonara. It meant 'individual' or 'outcast' in the old tongue. It wasn't the only time a word had been borrowed from the language of the forerunners for the purpose of denigration.

"Can't you at least tell me what it is you want?" The words felt like coarse sand on Mordecai's lips.

Snake's hand lashed at Mordecai's chest like a whip, knocking free what little wind was left in him.

Mordecai gasped for air, but none came. It didn't help that his struggle caused the shackles to sink further into his seething flesh.

"I ask the questions!" Snake screamed. "This is the last time I'll ask. Where is it?"

"I already told you. I don't know what it-"

Mordecai didn’t think he could be in any more pain. Snake proved him wrong by punching him again in the same area as before.

Mordecai choked and wheezed; the dark tunnel spinning about his head. Eventually, he managed to catch his breath. Sweat ran into his good eye and he blinked it away, only for another bead to replace it. Everything was a blur, but from what he could make out, Snake was rummaging at his table for something. On finding whatever it was he was looking for, he returned with what appeared to be a bowl.

Poison no doubt.

"Open your mouth!"

Mordecai refused; a decision he regretted the instant his little finger snapped into an unnatural position. The contents of Snake's bowl were forgotten in the ensuing wave of agony. The pain was such that Mordecai barely noticed the soaking cloth on the end of a stick being shoved into his mouth. Snake pinched his nostrils closed and Mordecai gulped the bitter liquid as he fought for breath.

"You'll have no choice but to tell the truth once this takes effect. The boss said no one can lie after drinking it."

The cloth was pulled from his mouth and he gasped, relieved at being able to breathe again despite his bruised chest. He was still reeling from his broken finger but managed to gather his thoughts.

Truth juice. He thought he'd recognized the taste. It used similar ingredients to the Veil of Vigor. It dawned that he had consumed two of the required ingredients not too long ago. Excitement flared, but it was short lived when he remembered the third ingredient was powder of orange. It wasn’t a truth juice ingredient and there wasn't a hope of finding any south of the Karaki mountains let alone in an abandoned wood mill tunnel.

Then it struck him. He could make powder of orange where he was; or at least the part of it required to complete the Veil of Vigour potion. He recalled the wedding ring Snake had removed before getting to work on him.

"You're right you know. Women love this face. Your wife… well perhaps it’s better I don’t say."

Snake spun on Mordecai and punched him square in the jaw sending stars shooting through his head.

"One more word from you before that truth potion works and I will shear more than your nose off." Snake spat in his face again then turned back to his table.

Mordecai rolled his tongue around in his mouth. Two teeth had been partially dislodged and he tasted blood.

Perfect.

He swished what little saliva he could summon about the loosened teeth and swallowed. It wasn't exactly the ingredient he needed, but oxidized blood contained an element that, when mixed with the truth juice, created one of the primary compounds found in powder of orange. It was a gamble, but it was the only toss of the dice he had, so long as his stomach hadn't already processed the other ingredients beyond usefulness.

While Snake worked at his table, Mordecai waited long past the usual duration for the Veil of Vigor to take effect.

Finally, he sighed in defeat. It seemed like his luck was out; not that he had any to begin with.

He was about to face reality when ringing started in his ears. It was barely audible, but it was there. It seemed like his plan was working after all. He wouldn’t have long. Suddenly, his nostrils flared and the pain wracking his body dwindled to a dull ache. He pulled at the shackles and screeched as the pain flared again. But all the pain in the world couldn’t stop him now.

"What are you up to-" Snake was cut off as the chains above Mordecai snapped from their anchors and fell to the floor before him. Mordecai pulled at the rope binding his feet. It tore into his skin, but it too snapped.

Snake swiftly retrieved a long knife from his table and charged at him. Mordecai deflected the attack with one shekel and struck Snake up the side of the head with the other. The serpent-like man crashed to the ground.

Mordecai searched through the sodden heap for his keys. He had minutes before the Veil of Vigour wore off, perhaps less. On a good day, he would barely have been capable of dragging those heavy chains. After the day he just had, he wouldn’t stand a chance. And that wasn’t even the worst of it. The price one paid for using the Veil of Vigour was a temporary paralysis. If he was going to survive, he would have to exit the caves and find somewhere to hide before that happened.

He found the keys, removed the fetters and wasted no time working his way through the network tunnels as fast as his broken body would allow. It wasn't long before he found the exit. It was the only route marked by torchlight.

He was just clear of the tunnel and out in the open when his cheek started to twitch. All he needed was to get to the tree line, twenty strides ahead. There he could hide long enough to recover some strength. He willed his body forward but the distance between his steps lessened. Willpower was not enough. He slowed to a stop, tumbled to the ground and curled into himself. All feeling fled him and he lost command of all bodily functions save for sight and sound. He looked at the trees just ahead. If only the potion had lasted a little longer, he would have been free. The gods had a cruel sense of humor. All because he decided to travel the Golden Road alone. He knew it had been a bad idea, but there was no time to hire help. Not that it mattered anymore.

Under normal circumstances, the paralysis wore off in minutes. In Mordecai's weakened, bloodied state, he lay beyond the tunnel entrance for what seemed like an age. It occurred to him that the others might not find him after all.

Maybe they’ve travelled to the city for supplies. The pain started to return. It was a good sign. He tried to move his hand. One of his fingers trembled a little. The paralysis was finally wearing off. There was still hope.

Or at least there had been until he heard the approach of hurried footsteps.

A moment later, two men peered down at him. Whereas Snake was tall and thin, these two were thick and broad. The closest one was bald. The other wore his hair in long beaded braids. Both had a cruel glint in their eyes.

"You killed our brother, you wizarding worm." The one with Braids snorted and spat on him. People were being very generous with their mucus lately.

Mordecai tried to explain that he hadn't meant to kill anyone, but his tongue just rolled around uselessly in his mouth and he drooled.

The bald man lifted him off the ground, pinning him up under the arms.

"Our employer wanted you shook up a bit and brought in alive, you know. But now we can't let that happen," he whispered in his ear.

The braided one swung his fist at Mordecai's head.

***

There was a horrible, high pitched shriek.

Mordecai's head was pounding but he was able to move again. Unfortunately, that meant he was also able to feel pain again. When the fog in his head cleared, he realized he was tied to a log. He lifted his head and looked in the direction of the hissing scream. A mechanical saw spun between his feet.

"It's slowing Adul," the bald man called to his brother.

"I’m on it, Kurk," Adul spat, shoveling coal into a fiery chamber.

The saw shrieked louder and quickly made its way up between Mordecai's legs, cutting the log like cloth as it went.

"Not too much. We don't want it going too fast when it reaches him," Kurk shouted above the noise.

Adul pulled a lever and there was a loud hiss as hot steam poured into the tunnel. The saw slowed down between Mordecai's knees, but it kept coming.

"Let me go," Mordecai choked. His words were drowned out by the saw but he caught Kurk’s attention.

"Ah, good. I was starting to think you would sleep through the whole thing, wizard."

The spinning blade slid closer. Mordecai's mind fought frantically for a way out, but there was nothing. He was out of tricks. If only he'd joined an order when he was offered, maybe he wouldn't have ended up being where he was.

The blade's progress slowed.

"More coal, Adul, but only a little."

Adul opened the fire chamber door and bent to shovel more coal when there was a sound of fluttering and a breeze blew through the tunnel.

"What was that?" Kurk seemed startled all of a sudden. He turned to the dark end of the tunnel where the sound had come from, cutlass ready.

Something dark flashed from the shadows and Kurk crumbled to the ground twitching as a dark pool widened beneath him.

The creature moved faster than Mordecai's eyes could register, but he knew it was a pixie. It swept past Mordecai, slicing his ropes as it went. Mordecai rolled out of the way, just as the spinning blade reached his breeches. He tried to get his footing when something knocked him sidewise into the coal heap.

It was Adul. The cruel look in his eyes had been replaced with unbridled terror.

"I knew this place was haunted. They didn’t listen. May the gods have mercy on our souls!" He screamed, swiping at the air with his cutlass.

There was another flutter and a blur. Adul stumbled back. His braids brushed the spinning blade. There was a howl, a gurgle, a crunch and then nothing. The saw hummed, having run out of steam, then stopped in the bloodied mess of meat and bone.

Mordecai lifted a lump of coal and looked around for the pixie.

Where did it come from? He recalled passing a ring fort in wild country, long before joining the Golden Road. But the place seemed uninhabited, at least from a distance. Maybe it hadn’t been after all. Pixies were mysterious and devious little creatures, and deadly as was obvious. There was no telling what the pixie was after, but chances were it would come for him next. There was a potion for such situations called the Path of Perception. After taking it, the speed of one’s perception of things increased for a time. He cursed the three brothers for burning his sack of ingredients. They had taken years to accumulate.

Something flickered out of the corner of his eye and the lump of coal was knocked from his hand.

He scrambled to his feet and limped through the tunnels, all the while listening for that horrible flutter. He followed the torchlight back to the same tunnel he exited from before. He stumbled over the threshold, feeling the cool night grass under his bare feet. He reached the trees and kept going, his chest burning and heart heaving, until his body refused to go any further and collapsed in a copse of twisted oak. 

***

He lay on his back, his breath rising like mist into the black canopy above.

Then came that flutter.

Even as the pixie stood looking down on him it was a blur. There was a sudden pop and it became solid. It was the size of a small child with spindly arms and legs. It was dressed in colors that melded with the forest about them. Its features were narrow and pointed. Mordecai had dealt with pixies once before and it wasn't a pleasant experience.

"What do you want from me?" He said.

"I will have my revenge!" Its voice seemed unusually deep for such a small creature. It produced and ether blade, its black metal curving down from a golden hilt toward Mordecai. They were fabled weapons, even among the faefolk. It was said they could cut through any form of matter.

Mordecai scrambled back against the bough of a particularly gnarled oak.

"What do you mean revenge? I didn't do anything." He tried to recall the details of his last encounter with faefolk. It was so long ago and unlike humans, the fae had very long and focussed memories.

"You and I, Ayonara. We travel the same path." It held the blade to Mordecai's throat. "Swear to me you will help me get revenge."

“Revenge?” The blade pressed harder into his skin. "I swear! I swear!"

"Say the words, Ayonara."

The tip of the ether blade grew hot against his neck.

“Okay, okay! I’m saying the words!”

He placed his left hand over his heart gingerly. It was the hand with the broken finger, but the ritual called for it. He tried to remember the words he needed in the old tongue.

"I, Mordecai of the Ayonara, do swear an oath. I swear to assist you on your path to revenge. I swear to fulfill this oath and that it may only be broken on pain of death. I swear with the heavens and trees as my witnesses."

He looked the pixie in its ice-gray eyes. If he was about to meet his maker, he may as well do it with whatever pride he could muster.

"Well spoken, Ayonara." The ether blade disappeared. Where it went, Mordecai did not know. "My name is Galwind. We require food."

There was a flutter and a blast of air and Galwind was gone.

Mordecai sighed relief. It was only at the mention of food that he realized how hungry he was. Hunger pangs was another side effect of the Veil of Vigour. Of course, it didn't help that he hadn't eaten since morning.

Mordecai looked into the canopy above. A few stars glimmered through the leaves and branches. He didn’t believe in the gods. He didn’t know if life had any real meaning or purpose. But he did know that he was alive and, if the universe did have plans, they didn’t include him dying. At least, not yet.

"Thank you," he whispered into the night.