■ My submissions
■ Partner’s submissions
The alchemist sat himself upon the throne once belonging to King Xarele, now forcibly removed from power and imprisoned. The side of his face rested meditatively against his palm as he stared out upon the grand hallway before him, flanked by marble statues of what he assumed to be former majesties and equestrian champions. There were towering archways adorned with gold embellishments and colorful frescoes, exquisite paintings of queens and princesses whose alluring features had traveled generations… delusions of ostentatious grandeur, as far as the alchemist was concerned. His new world would do away with such archaic traditions and usher in a new societal construct, the natural consequence of his life’s ambitions.
Charles the Alchemist, the enlightened ruler to end all rulers. A sententious smirk played along the corner of his mouth.
In actuality, Charles didn’t like thrones. They were cold to the touch and often sent unpleasant ripples of gooseflesh across the length of his limbs. He also didn’t view himself as any sort of monarch, meant to bear the weight and wonders of a crown. In his own eyes he was instead a messiah, the chosen Godhand delivering to the world its deepest unspoken desire: a riddance of magic in all its manifestations. By the grace of the Maker he had discovered the means to achieve this goal, and its implementation had been remarkably swift… driven by the relentless antimanna, the substance that reversed, rejected and nullified magic’s influence upon all of Great Earth’s creations, far and wide.
Those beyond his soldiers and dignitaries, however, saw Charles the Alchemist as a monster. Healers were robbed of their ability to heal, their white magics nullified after ages of sacred practice, subjecting them to illnesses once thought abolished. Dark mages lost their mastery of the elements and could no longer mount a resistance, their sputtering spellcasts fizzling like a boot upon a fallen match’s flame. Dragons and other masters of the skies could no longer soar… more often than not, they simply withered and died. A world full of magic and wonder was now being tamed, for better or worse, by a tidal force the likes of which the world had never seen… or could ever prepare for.
All things considered, there had been remarkably little bloodshed, at least from the cold objectivity of the great Alchemist. Those who were willingly subjugated were cleansed and rehabilitated. Maidens were given opportunities to marry soldiers of the Great Army… soon afterward, they were promptly reinstated in their villages. There were, of course, the stubborn lots who would never, could never see the need for magic’s abolishment…. and they were dealt with appropriately. This great cleansing needn’t be a struggle, the Great Alchemist thought, if only the world would understand magic’s futility.
Even then, despite the momentum of his crusade that seemed sanctioned by the Fates themselves, there still existed those who somehow bubbled magic to the surface of the river that was drowning it…
“Commander Charles,” came a voice from the throne’s hallway, startling him from his heavy contemplations.
“Hmm… yes?” The Great Alcehmist’s eyes squinted through a nearby window’s beam of morning light, speckled with bright dots of dancing dust. His chief advisor, lieutenant Aldridge, revealed himself with a salute and a clap of his boots.
“My apologies in disturbing you, sir, but I wanted to share news of the captured sorceress…” The advisor paused to swallow before continuing. “She’s had another one of her… outbursts.”
“Truly?” Charles’ voice was colored with a faint fascination. “Was it… dealt with, like the others?”
“Our elite sentries managed to contain her, yes. But it was quite the struggle.”
“I see…” Charles’ voice trailed, as if swallowed by thought. “Very well, then,” he proclaimed loudly, as if settling upon some grand revelation. “Bring her to me.”
The lieutenant’s eyes widened slightly. “Commander, I don’t believe that to be…”
Charles held up a finger to close the matter. “I shall speak with her myself and subsequently determine what course will be taken to ensure that her stubbornness is… appropriately harnessed.”
“Of course, Commander. Right away, sir.” Lieutenant Aldridge noded and bowed, still with an uncertain gaze, before he excused himself from the Great Alchemist’s presence.
She came escorted by a contingent of troops, her wrists and ankles shackled, nudged along from the small of her back by the butt of a rifle. The ‘sorceress’ was guided through a massive, egressed doorway carved from sacred oak and onto the lengthy scarlet rug that led to Xarele’s former throne, which was seated upon a small, circular staircase. Charles kept his keen, calculating glare upon her until she was presented before him, standing tall as if ready to be sentenced by a judge.
The woman would see a tall man with a sturdy build, his legs casually crossed as he sat. Eyes of greenish amber complemented waves of mahogany hair that swept across his forehead and just above his eyebrows. His soft olive skin presented its imperfections shamelessly, with moles and freckles likely obtained from the sun’s persistent touch across many years of outdoor work. His attire was almost shockingly simple, especially when contrasted with the royal throne upon which he was seated… a plain, white button shirt with beige slacks and suspenders attempted no extravagance whatsoever.
“Well met, my dear,” Charles offered as greeting to the woman standing before him. “I suppose you’ve already deduced the reason you were brought to me.” The pursed smile across his lips exhibited an aloof, almost patronizing quality.
“It seems as though your tantrums have been… problematic.” There was an arrogance in his eyes, however, that relayed their own words. But we managed to reign you in, just the same.
The pause in the air hung for a few moments before Charles audibly drew in a breath. “I place no hope in my attempts to have you understand the necessity of my conquest,” he declared through a reconciliatory sigh. “However, I can make arrangements for your transition to be as… painless as possible. For example, I can free your friends and family from my dungeons… if you would only ensure your cooperation henceforth.”
The smile that followed appeared more genuine on the Great Alchemist’s face. “Before you answer, my dear, may I know your name?” he asked affably.
Anyone present could easily deduce the identity of the woman brought before the false messiah. She had eyes that glowed like sunstruck marbles, the unmistakable mark of a magical being. The woman’s hair resembled woven gold, tightly braided to length, and slung over her shoulder. She wore the clothes of a rider… breeches, leather half-chaps encasing her lower legs, soldiers boots and a cotton tank top, all the shade of midnight. She bore the impressive muscle tone of her profession, and fair skin that didn’t seem to know war.
What a big room and a thorough display of power for one woman. One had to wonder what exactly transpired to evoke such tension and so many uneasy glances. Like a finch in a safe, she stood seemingly unphased where the steps below the throne began. She resembled the marble figures… poised, beautiful, unafflicted.
“I thought I was being quite clever.”
Her moon colored eyes fixed themselves on her adversary, unwavering, unwilling to move. The hall resonated the spoken words, every breath was acknowledged by the desecrated hall. Her stillness was uncanny, her voice held no sentiment, but if you could only hear her blood.
“Riddle me this, commander..” She ignored his request. “How would we assure each other of anything, given the circumstances.” This was not a question, but rather an observation about the imbalance of power between the two. There was no way either could be sure that the other would do as they said they would. Why sacrifice something with no guarantee that it would not be in vain? Her people had lost enough, meaninglessly.
Only allowing a small pause, she continued. “And surely, if you have taken something so sacred from me, what could you possibly want with my name?”
The Great Alchemist leaned back upon his throne, his clefted chin still tucked upon the meat of his palm. A steady visage betrayed no emotion upon hearing the snaps of the sorceress, with eyes that maintained their studious gaze. When she was finished, he allowed a lingering moment of quiet between them, preparing a response in his mind.
“My word is my bond, but I don’t expect you take that as face value.” Charles then leaned forward while clasping both hands and interlocking his fingers, discarding his prior nonchalance. “Your loved ones would be freed, and thus a means of correspondence subsequently established. In such manner they would be connected to you, and you to them.” An odd smile then curled into his cheek. “I assume you know them well enough to detect any forgeries, or sense any coercion.”
Did I just inadvertently plant a seed of distrust? The thought crossed the alchemist’s mind, but he wouldn’t dwell on his potential fault.
“There’s something else I’d like to share with you as well,” Charles continued. He was beginning to find the woman before him charming, in her own stalwart way. She didn’t fear him in the least, he sensed, and would accept death before any number of discourtesies. It was in his best interest, then, to keep her temperament as even-keel as possible, if he was to solve the mystery stewing within her.
“My scientists have continued to observe and analyze my… influence upon the world. There appears to be a consensus amongst their conclusions… magical abilities can be restored after their initial expulsion, albeit with the aid of a comprehensive, rehabilitative program.” An apprehensive murmur rose amongst the troops surrounding the sorceress, which was quickly dissipated with a piercing glare.
The Alchemist then stood from his throne and descended the series of stairs onto the wide scarlet rug, his steps controlled and composed. He would move to within a ruler’s length of the sorceress woman, his gaze firmly affixed upon her.
“I’d like for you to be involved in such a program,” Charles stated, his voice a shade more subdued. “We can learn much with your cooperation, and your former abilities could be returned to you.”
Those large amber eyes kept on the woman, equally fierce and calculated. Somewhere within them, a spark of attraction may have been observed.
“Before that possibility, however…” Charles turned away, his arms folded behind his back, and walked toward the large, marbled sculpture of some ageless, nameless hero, riding a rearing horse with rapier in hand, stretching to the domed ceiling above. “Your name, my dear.” He pulled his eyes again onto the woman with a turn of his head, and smiled. “You may call me Charles, if you wish.”
The sorceress didn’t move. If the Alchemist was trying to provoke a response from her, he did nothing of the sort. It only provided him more stagnant context… a sweet vanilla scent, an incredibly warm pocket of air around her, and breath that was almost mechanical. She shamelessly observed, as if she had claim to the whereabouts of every bit of movement he made. No amount of subtlety in change went unnoticed. She expected less composure, less care, less carefully constructed behavior. Instead her enemy was a disciplined man, pulled into posture by his intention. Everyone had something admirable about them, at least.
A sea of considerations sorted themselves in the woman’s mind… potential consequences, actions and their mounted responses, what was to be gained. There was only one outcome that she was interested in, and like a good game of chess, there was no room to stumble.
To dwell too long on the question without answering would paint an air of ill confidence. Hesitation wasn’t an option.
She bought herself a few more brief moments of thought. “You seem like a Charles.”
She only had one blood relative. What else had he failed to know? Though nonetheless, her brothers at arms were as good as blood. She was the greatest defense they had against the conquest of the alchemist who now stood before her. Surely he didn’t intend to leave her unleashed, imbued with the force to topple his reign.
She took a deep inhale, a breath that was just a few marks short of a sigh, and she let the heavy chains stack her shoulders down onto her frame as the breath flowed out. It was the most human thing she had done since being escorted before the Commander.
“Lyra is my name. Make good on your word, and I will humor your bullshit.”
Her eyes stayed right where he had left them, staring straight through him. She had questions, compartmentalizing and rearranging in her thoughts, but she couldn’t be certain they’d be answered at all, let alone truthfully. For now she would play the game, hold her tongue, and give him plenty of rope.
“Lyra.” The name was tasted on the alchemist’s tongue, and a look of satisfaction sifted to the surface of his face. He was finally making headway, it seemed, albeit grudgingly. Perhaps she was biding time to maximize the hand she held, but Charles would allow a certain amount of leeway and uncertainty towards accomplishing his ends. In the end, you’ll find my spread to be a royal flush, my dear.
“I imagine a bull is too common an animal for our purposes… dragonshit?” The joke didn’t land even with the soldiers around Lyra, but there was a good-natured smile spread across Charles’ lips. There was a brief moment before he pulled his gaze away from his new ‘acquaintance’… does she ever blink? he wondered to himself.
“You’ve had enough of me today, I’m sure,” the alchemist stated magnanimously, clapping his hands together as if to seal the matter. “Let’s reconvene tomorrow in our chief laboratory. No hands will be placed upon your body, that will be my promise to you. I would simply like the opportunity to utilize my alchemist’s eye… after all, our power stems itself from keen observation.” Another smile presented itself, this one a bit mischievous.
“Your relatives will be released immediately,” he declared reassuringly, and motioned to the lead soldier to relay the communication to the appropriate channels. “If there’s anything within reason that we can provide you to aid your sleep tonight, please do not hesitate to request it. I would like you well-rested for our get-together tomorrow.”
The alchemist then refocused his gaze to the statue before him, looking up towards the horse kicking its front legs ahead, casting a bluish shadow across his face. “A pleasant day for you, Lyra. We shall see each other tomorrow.”
With that, the soldiers escorted her out of the royal chambers, leaving Charles to his thoughts once more.
The young woman was escorted to The Great Alchemist’s chambers by three soldiers wearing olive green fatigues; a pair guarded her flanks while another trailed behind. Her skin was a rich flawless bronze, accentuating a callipygian figure which glowed through a translucent night gown, and sensuous silk clung against her curves. Her eyes were a burning sapphire, striking in their intensity, though they were now expressing a mixture of despondency and desperation. Occasional glances from those in her convoy seemed to flare with infatuation and jealousy.
They finally arrived at the tall, wooden slab door within Xarele’s former castle, where his royal quarters once-upon-a-time resided. The soldier to the left of the ravishing woman took the brass ring into his hand and firmly delivered a series of knocks. A few moments passed before a klik-klak was heard; the door slowly opened with groaning hinges until it was fully swung open, bringing with it the smell of incense and contours of candlelight. There stood the Great Alchemist, wearing an embellished maroon robe with a tasseled cincture the color of gold. A warm smile welcomed his guests, and his arms were stretched outward from his sides, palm open and welcoming.
“Good evening, my dear,” he stated with grateful cheer. His eyes settled upon the young woman’s sapphire orbs, and their gazes locked for a moment before the woman bit her lip and pulled hers away.
“Messiah,” she lifted from her lips, rather reluctantly. Her arms were now folded and hugging her sides in a guarded gesture.
“Come in, come in,” Charles invited with a gesture of his arm. “A pleasure for us to meet once again. Please, make yourself at home.”
There was a hesitancy before the women entered the beckoning confines with measured footsteps. Once she was fully inside, the Alchemist spoke a few hushed sentences to the waiting guards before they nodded their collective understanding, and departed back towards the main castle hall.
“Well then, Andrea,” Charles began through an exhale, his palms rubbing together as if eagerly waiting to descend upon a plate of food. A lingering glance upon the guest now locked within his bedroom elicited a laugh. “You needn’t have worn such an… exotic gown,” he stated alongside gaze that betrayed no seduction, at least not yet.
Andrea’s profile faced the Alchemist while she forced a nod of acknowledgment, before then sitting upon the foot of his bed. It was a spacious, canopied bed, with layers of silk blankets and curtains in shades of green and red, the colors of the Great Army. A wide, wooden headboard faced them with an artisan’s relief carving of three nearly identical, leering faces.
Exquisite paintings on adjacent walls presented portraits of religious figures: Jesus the Man-God, a large-bellied, laughing Buddha, Zeus with thunderous eyes and a beard like flowing water… Several nameless figures with saintly robes rounded off the gallery, whose identities were perhaps known only to the Alchemist himself. A pair of black marble busts on columns flanking the doorway only pressed the point further. It was a crowded room, with watchful faces and peering eyes from all vantage points.
Andrea sat quietly, her eyes fixed upon the floor at Charles’ feet, until her gaze lifted to meet his. “I was thinking… perhaps this time we could instead…” Her hands rested upon her lap, thumb nestled within her palm, hopeful and tentative, tinged with creeping fear.
“You… were thinking.” The Alchemist’s voice considered the words with a sense of preparation and reluctance. “Thinking what?”
“That we could… I could bear your children… as many as you desire…” Andrea’s right hand found itself within her jet black hair, twirling tendrils of hair absentmindedly.
“Bear… my children.” The disappointment was unmistakable now, and the Alchemist pursed his lips. He ambled towards the seated beauty, resting his palm against her elegant jawline, his eyes bearing an irrefutable message.
“I’ve nullified my own virility, my dear. Such is the sacrifice I’ve imposed upon myself to further my noble conquest.”
“Then I offer my body to do with as you please,” Andrea pleaded, her hands reaching for his robe’s cincture. “Any time… any thing you wish!”
“Andrea…” The Alchemist’s voice was firm and cold now, and his hand quickly clamped itself upon the bronze beauty’s attempts to find her way underneath his robe. “You know what I need.”
“Please… my liege, my Messiah…”
“You. Know. What. I. Need.” Impatience now, and frigid determination.
The look of somber dejection descended upon Andrea’s face. With a shuddery sigh, she retracted her hands from the Alchemist’s waist and cupped them together, all while closing her eyes to recite a prayer. A lingering moment passed before a white flame came to life upon her pressed palms… flickering with the essence of magic… holy magic.
“There we are…” The pleasantries had returned, as well as his smile. Charles reached underneath his robe and pulled out a small canvas bag, tied with a piece of twine. His index and middle fingers found their way within the bag, and revealed the coating of a sand-like substance upon his fingertips.
The fingertips then dangled themselves above the beating white flame. Andrea pulled her eyes away, not bearing to look, bracing herself with gritted teeth.
Finally, the fingers pressed firmly onto the flame, extinguishing its life in an instant. A spasm of pain coursed across Andrea’s body, and her breath momentarily caught itself within her throat.
“Antimanna… even the holiest magics cannot refute it.” The smile on Charles’ face was broad now, maniacal. He dipped his fingers into his canvas bag once more.
“Again,” her instructed. Andrea manifested another flame within her palms, which was promptly snuffed as before. Another convulsion, and a soft screech left Andrea’s lips. A tear was now trickling down her left eye.
By the time the Great Alchemist was satisfied, Andrea had collapsed on the bed behind her, twitching erratically. He looked upon his work with a sense of perverse pride, and then retired underneath his silk covers, drawing them over his guinea pig as well, and fell into a deep sleep.
Charles conferenced with his generals and advisors the following morning, seated at a large table in the war room that resided in the west wing of Xarele castle. He was the last to arrive and join the lively chatter about a variety of issues passed between a variety of temperaments, and often voices escalated to passionate exchanges.
“If it weren’t for your poorly trained men, we would have occupied the villages much earlier, and undercut the foothold of the resistance!”
“The Minister of Munitions is to blame for the campaign’s delay…”
“Get that cowardly rat out here, he has some damned explaining to do!”
“Gentlemen, please,” came the voice of the Great Alchemist as he sat upon a tall wooden chair, placing the bickering on an indefinite hold. “All things considered, we have established momentum towards our ultimate victory. Once my antimanna has been strategically dispersed, it will ensure our armies occupy the eastern territories and force the insurgents to surrender.”
“Not always,” came the voice of General Rolander, seated almost directly across the other side of the room.
Charles’ eyes narrowed slightly before leaned forward to interlock his hands and rest them on the table. “What news have you, General?” he inquired with equal amounts of interest and concern.
“More reports of incidents with black mages developing some sort of immunity,” the general stated. “Sporadic, but altogether too common for comfort. One village managed to drive back a platoon with calculated attacks, despite our miracle drug.”
“Drive back, you say?” Charles’ voice teetered on agitation, but he reigned it in well enough. Not waiting for Rolander to continue, he spoke to a plan of action. “This won’t do, this won’t do… we must study Lyra as thoroughly as possible, before this gets of hand.”
“Lyra?” Rolander’s question was answered by another nearby general. “The unstable sorceress we have imprisoned.”
“Truly?” Rolander leaned back into his chair and chewed on a thought. “She’ll hand you your own entrails given the first chance, sir. I would suggest conducting your observations from afar. Perhaps we’ll get lucky and…”
“I need to see it for myself,” Charles stated to aloud, talking to himself. “I need to see her explode before my very eyes.” Before the generals could intervene, he excused himself from the war room, making his way to the chief laboratory.
Lyra was waiting as expected in the testing yard of the chief laboratory, bordered by stone walls beset with tall windows of reinforced iron and glass. Spread across the yard were hanging industrial hooks, dummy mannequins made of straw and canvas, several brick walls with impact scars, and other instruments meant to assist with a variety of demonstrations. The ground was a finely manicured grass, and a windowed dome could be seen above, supported by interlocking steel girders and a staircase originating from outside the yard.
The crisp air of morning flowed freely throughout the yard, and beams of sunlight cast harsh, blue shadows in grid-like patterns from above. Hazed silhouettes could be seen in the overhead dome, occasionally moving to and fro, but mostly peering down upon the sorceress below them. The sound of methodical footsteps climbing the staircase towards the dome broke the morning’s serenity… crunk, crunk, crunk.
“What news, gentlemen?” Charles finally joined the small group of scientists in the observation dome, with lab coats and notebooks spread across a number of small tables.
“Just keeping a close eye on our sorceress,” came the report of the chief scientist Doctor Henley, a short, stout, serious man with a thin beard and spectacles.
“A close eye,” Charles repeated, mulling on the words. He took a lingering look towards Lyra below through a curved window, before turning to address Henley again. “Has she been provoked?”
“Provoked?” Henley seemed genuinely surprised at the inquiry. “Her outbursts don’t seem to be correlated with aggressive stimuli… we’ve found that she’s more likely to—“
“Perhaps not the right kind of stimuli,” Charles interrupted, his voice contemplative. “Let’s see if I’m able to pull her out of her latency.”
“Sir… what?” Henley looked upon the Great Alchemist, stunned at his suggestion. Glances were exchanged between the scientists before Charles settled upon his own perceptions with a firm nod. “Keep a close eye, good fellows, and your notebooks handy. We shall see if Lyra’s eruptions respond to an ideal opportunity.”
“Great Alchemist… I highly recommend against such a dangerous approach—”
“I’m sure you do,” Charles acknowledged while returning towards the staircase platform. “But my life, and perhaps death, shall serve the greater good.” The sound of descending steps then reverberated across the dome. Crunk, crunk, crunk.
Lyra would hear an iron door open with hinges moaning their dismay. Within the doorframe stood the Great Alchemist, with his pretentiously humble attire.
“Good morning, dear Lyra,” he stated pleasantly. “I’m here for you to kill me.”
Charles wouldn’t wait for a response from the sorceress and instead stepped out into the yard, approaching a crumbling brick fixture a few yards away.
“Here’s your chance,” Charles explained, his voice now “Muster what powers you have left bubbling inside you, despite our best efforts to snuff it out. Strike me down and end a war, for magic’s sake.” His arms were outstretched and welcoming, and a strange smile lifted upon his face.
“A fool?” Charles seemed perplexed at the words as he repeated them. His arms still hung outward, bearing their sinister greeting.
“You would consider it a fool’s errand to end the life of your greatest enemy?” He posed the question with a slight tilt of his head. “You were rather curt with me yesterday in the castle hall… but perhaps your manner of speaking doesn’t reflect the nature of your fighting instincts.” A tinge of mockery colored this outward reflection.
“Very well then,” he settled upon aloud with a sigh. “I rescind your brother’s freedom.”
Charles smiled at Lyra’s response, despite himself. He let he arms hang down against his sides, and his hands found their way into his pant pockets.
“You don’t believe me… put another way, you trust me.” His smile grew wider, and he rocked back a bit on his heels.
“I’m flattered that you’ve taken me as honorable,” he continued, his eyes affixed upon the golden-haired woman seated upon the cool grass. “And an honorable man I am. However, my curiosity has shifted towards another question… do you hate me?” He presented the question with a look a genuine curiosity.
The Alchemist’s eyes studied Lyra closely. Her keen recognitions had dampened his initial strategy, but perhaps there was another approach.
“I may lack the leverage to rise you to anger… but perhaps you’d be motivated towards a mercy killing.”
Following his strange suggestion, Charles lifted his shirt and maneuvered his oblique towards Lyra’s line of sight. A thick, web-like scar could be seen traveling up from his waist towards the small of his back.
“This scar,” Charles explained, “I received from a sorcerer’s spell many years ago, when the Red Mage’s Order pushed outward to claim the western kingdoms. My mother was a healer and my father a guider of earth… I was born mute, and though they were as supportive as parents could be, I always sensed their quiet disappointment.”
“I suppose my… impediment forced me to discover my own ways of being… useful to the world. I spent many days and nights in my cramped basement laboratory, feigning myself as mute of mind as well as magic. I found work as a groundsman at a temple… a perfect cover.” A soft smile pulled across the Alchemist’s lips. “I made humble acquaintances with several prominent mages… if only they knew what stewed at night beneath their feet.”
“It took me four years… though thinking back, they felt like four decades. And finally, with luck and determination, I discovered antimanna.”
“From there, after many discreet meetings with the floundering mute resistance, I earned my loyal following. Momentum continued to build. I remember our first victory like it was yesterday… we had raided a village for supplies. A little firedrake boy lifted his hands toward me, expecting his spell to stop me in my tracks… the look of horror on his face as he gawked upon his useless palms was… enlightening.” There was no glee on the Alchemist’s face, however, only heartfelt recollection.
“From there, every person freed from the curse of magic lifts my spirits higher. My parents, upon seeing their mute boy’s weaponized obsession, actually joined the Red Mages against me. I could not fight against them myself, but…” The Alchemist’s voice trailed, but the implication was there, just the same.
And I must say… my obsession has affected me in ways even I couldn’t have foreseen.” The Alchemist’s sigh was heavy with regret.
“There is a woman who sees me almost every night… her name is Andrea… she is quite beautiful… stunningly so. We’ve never made love.” The curious detail seemed to take on a dour emphasis.
“She was once a master of white magic before she was captured, a year or so ago. Antimanna has all but extinguished her abilities… but a kernel stubbornly remains. A kernel which I insist on snuffing out repeatedly. Over and over and over. Her pain and discomfort is incidental to me.” There was another sigh, this one tempered with grim acceptance.
“So you see,” Charles continued was walking with measured steps towards Lyra, “my obsession has progressed into sickness. It consumes me as much as it drives me, showing little remorse in its wake.” He sat a feet few away from Lyra, cross-legged and calm, and locked his gaze upon her.
“For the firedrake boy… my parents… poor Andrea…” His lips pursed. “Pull your magic up from your core, and strike me down.”
The look in the Alchemist’s eyes wavered between confidence and disappointment. He sensed something stewing within Lyra, something potent, but the placidity on her face refused to betray any internal workings, and doubt settled again within his mind like dust. If only he’d have spotted the stewpot beneath the woman’s fingers on the grass, he might have pressed… pressed hard. But his gaze never wavered, never surrendered.
“If I had been… blessed with magic…” The way Charles said blessed, it might as well have been cursed. “I know not the course my life would have taken. Perhaps I would have joined the Red Mage’s Order, the same group of magic wielders which–“
“Commander,” came the voice of a shadowed soldier with the nearby iron door. “My apologies for interrupting, but I’m here to report.”
Charles pulled an impatient smile across his face, his eyes still trained on Lyra. “Speak,” he beckoned with an stiff exhale.
“The generals have convened again,” the soldier continued, “as there have been… developments on the battlefront.”
“Developments?” Charles’ voice was colored with curiosity, but a wave of his hand put the soldier’s explanation on hold. “I’ll wait to hear them from the horses mouths. Arrange an escort immediately. I’ll be there shortly.”
The soldier saluted at the Alchemist’s order before his boots marched away.
The Alchemist’s focus shifted towards Lyra once more. His smile had shifted towards embarrassment.
“You’ll be happy to know,” Charles began with a sigh, “that my armies have encountered more and more… hindrances during my conquest as of late. Our advances have been stifled across a number of fronts.” His teeth grinded in apparent regret before his brow furrowed, perhaps to entertain a fresh thought in his mind.
“If you’d care to participate,” the Alchemist posed with a lack of expectation, “I’d be happy to invite you along to my pending conference with the generals who push my grand vision outward. You can smirk and laugh at our deliberations, and speak as freely as you wish.”
Charles then offered a strange wink towards Lyra, as if a secret had been sealed between the pair. “Just save your scathing remarks until after I’ve been briefed of the situation. There will be plenty of time for them, I can assure you.”
Lyra let her hold on the heat slip away. She quit feeding it, and so as was its nature, it left her control. The heat would now dissipate and feed the grass.
She listened keenly, her eyes granting the alchemist her full attention. She had an innate respect for peoples inner thoughts, and gave him the silence to dwell. She liked how peoples voices changed and softened when they dug deep, and looked inward. In this case, she was less empathetic and more invasive, but the same sentiment existed.
She tilted her head, withdrawing her hand from the grass and looking into her hand. “If nothing else, I might be entertained.” She stood. Her hair charismatically spilled, lacing and cloaking all over her shoulders and down to her hips. It was laying about in the disciplined waves of a tight braid, undone. Some edge that had been there yesterday… perhaps even lingering around just minutes before, was now passivized. A cocky carelessness dressed her in soft lines.
“It’s funny you think I might have kept my mouth shut without your say.” She smirked, let the corner of her mouth drop and winked back at Charles.