“F-father! Surely you can cancel the engagement. I mean, it’s so sudden! At the very least we can postpone it,” I exclaim as I support my father’s weight. Aged as he is, he’s no longer able to walk by himself unless the situation absolutely demands it.
“I’ve made my decision and you will follow it,” father says. The bastard. Here I am, helping him walk through the narrow corridors of the castle. Helping him save face by keeping him away from prying eyes. Helping him just as I have all these years and now he drops this on me and refuses to even listen to me.
Two guards flanking the large double doors to my father’s bedroom salute us and open the doors. They look straight ahead as we pass. Showing that they are good, hardened men, that know to keep their mouths shut. Otherwise they would have dissapeared a long time ago, just like Taoul. Gods, I miss Taoul.
Gently, I lay my father down unto his bed. He is enveloped As soon as the doors are shut tight does my father finally look at me.
“Matty. I am only doing what is best for you and the kingdom. You know this,” father says. The same thing he says every time he makes a decision that I disapprove of.
Already I can see that no matter what I say, he will not change his mind. So I do the only option available to me. I nod accepting his command, pretending to understand.
“Now, leave me. It’s time for your studies. Old Heinzworth will cause another ruckus if you’re late,”
“Yes father,” I say as I squeeze his hand. A dark chill cascades down my back at the mention of Heinzworth’s name. An old man but a powerful one.
In the past, whenever something scared me, I would run to my father. Now, theres nobody I can run to. The frailty of my father’s hand is just a painful reminder. The once great King, renowned for his Bear-like strength, now reduced to a feeble old man. Not even a shadow of his former self.
The soft snores of my father signal that my time here is over. Silently I bid my father farewell. I reach for the doors but they open before I get a chance. A large gust of perfume burns my eyes. Behind it, a woman in a gaudy dress made of Griffin feathers and Wyvern scales smiles.
With a pained smiled I say, “Hello step-mother.”
“Dear Matty. Must you continue to refer to me as such? I may not have birthed you personally, but I am your mother,” she replies. The hurt on her face almost looks genuine.
I smile again and nod, “Apologies, but I must be going,” I leave without giving her a chance to respond. Already I can feel my head pounding. Dealing with that woman, that pampered leech, is just another struggle that I must face each day. Besides, have to make it to Heinzworth’s class before he tests another of his concoctions on me.
I practically sprint through the narrow hallways, taking the servants passage on the left and taking tge second right. Underneath the giant porcelain pot – a gift from the island country of Tora – I open the trapdoor revealing the dark passage to the underground. Several flights of stairs later in near darkness, the large wooden door to Heinzworth’s lab greets me.
I push the stone wall on the right of the door. It moves away with ease, revealing the true passage to Heinzworth’s lab. A slight draft passes by me carrying the burning stench of alchemical gas.
A smoldering warmth in my chest erupts as I step into the lab. Two years ago, when I first started learning under Heinzworth, the gasses from his alchemical creations would cause me to be sick for days on end. Now, I don’t even flinch from the worst of the gasses.
The lab always stays the same though. Lightly lit with torches hanging and crudely made hooks forced onto the walls. I grab my Alchemist uniform, completely black robes signifying me as a mere apprentice but someday, I will gain the golden stripes of a senior Alchemist.
“Late,” a booming voice echoes from deeper into the room. Damn. Quickly I put on my robes as I make my way towards the deptha of Heinzworth’s lab. In the distance I hear the stone wall shut itself. Some kind of magic Heinzworth poached off a dying mage.
The usual racks of various ingredients greet me as I pass by. Ogre toes, frog legs – a delicacy in some far off country – harpy claws, and many more ingredients, some of which are banned in the Alchemist Society.
I hear a hissing sound and I see Heinzworth covering himself with his Alchemist robes. Hot liquid spew from Heinzworth’s cauldron. Quickly I do the same, just in time too, as I feel liquid bounce against my robes.
“Good reflexes. In the beginning that would have scalded you and you would be crying for days,” Heinzworth chuckles. Heinzworth’s robes fall back to the ground revealing his aged bald head and pointed nose. He stares at me with a smirk, as if he is examining a possible ingredient for his next potion, rather than speaking to his student.
To many, his white eyes betray blindness but not once have I ever seen Heinzworth trip or struggle to walk or find anything.
“Still trying to discover my secret, eh? Understandable, most people with my particular… predicament struggle just to live. How does this old man see without his eyes?” Heinzworth’s know smile pierces right through me.
“Apologies for my lateness Master Heinzworth. I was held up by my father,” I bow deeply to Heinzworth, simultaneously sending Moraleket- The God of Protection – a silent prayer. I hear Heinzworth’s small footsteps as he paces around me.
Moraleket, guard your pawn. I dare not move until Heinzworth finishes whatever he’s doing. An icy hand grasps my shoulder. This is it. I’m going to end up as an ingredient. My only consolation is that I won’t have to marry that Imperial woman.
“Rise,” Heinzworth commands. It takes me a moment to comply. Perhaps I’m not going to die. Or Heinzworth will just kill me later. I stand, rising to my full height. I always stood a bit taller than those of my age, but I am forced to look down at Heinzworth due to his small size. He doesn’t make it any easier by always hunching over the way he does.
Heinzworth steps around me with careful, calculated steps, “You have grown well my pupil. At the rate you are progressing, you will become a True Alchemist. When your father first approached me to become your teacher, I couldn’t help but laugh. Now… you are one of my better pupils. Recite to me the True Alchemist’s Creed.
“A True Alchemist does not hesitate. Your family, your loved ones, yourself. Nothing is forbidden, everything is an ingredient ready to be used,” A bit morbid and… lame. These creeds that organizations use all the time just roll off the tongue badly.
“Very good. I wish to also inform you that Cauldron has sent a reply regarding your recognition. Before you may be granted the Bronze Stripes of a certified Alchemist you must complete a Tier Three potion.”
Tier three? Ingredients for tier three potions are always a pain to retrieve. Though I can always request for them. Just one quick call out and I’ll have the ingredients prepared in a day. This should be easy.
“However you must gather these ingredients personally,” Heinzworth says.
Damn it all.
“Now go. You must have these ingredients prepared before the end of the week. I do not need to remind you the price of failure… my prince.”