My routine: Wake up first thing in the morning. Cook breakfast for myself, mom, and dad. Go to work. I work in the family business with my dad; I am to take over the business when he can no longer work. I am the first one there with just me and dad, work all day, lock up shop, and last to leave. Mom cooks dinner, I bathe, sleep, repeat.
My weirdest day: Wake up last, mom already cooked breakfast, go to work, just barely get to work on time somehow, dad actually lets me do something instead of running errands, doing deliveries, or just watching as he makes things and conducts experiments, dad has to stay late for something, I leave first; I have to cook dinner because mom already cooked breakfast. Forgot to bathe, I sleep. The next day I stink but, overall, normal again.
That day: I woke up with a harsh yawn; my dreams weren't kind to me. Realizing that I was on the floor, I picked myself up. Rushing to get dressed, I made my way to the kitchen. There was a bowl of porridge and a piece of bread on the table for me. I ate it in a hurry and rushed to work. It wasn't far, only a minute's walk away. I ran and was there in less than thirty seconds. There was a short line in front of the locked entrance to the shop. A couple of them were people around my age and the rest were much older.
"Hey, boy! Took you long enough to get here," called a man in brown overalls and rubber boots with a rifle as I approached.
"Where's my dad? Is he not here?" I asked.
"He's not and we've been waiting for a while."
"Okay, please be patient and I'll be with you shortly." I unlocked the door and entered.
Immediately, I was greeted with a familiar aroma of chemicals and raw materials. I made my way to the back and found a note on my desk. It read: "Out on an errand. Won't be back until afternoon. Dad." Next to it was a list of things to take care of while he was away. The list wasn't short and requests started piling up not long after I opened up shop.
Eventually, the line outside dwindled down to zero and I had only one delivery to make to end the day. The sun had begun to set some time ago and dad was nowhere in sight. I loaded a basket with bags of sulfur, charcoal, and saltpeter to be delivered to the Smiths. The Smiths were blacksmiths that lived on the outskirts of town by a large apple tree. The only thing farther out than them was an abandoned horse stable. It was a thirty-minute walk. I was stopped more than halfway there by a girl in a brown traveler's cloak and carrying an empty potato sack.
"Excuse me, do you happen to know where the alchemist's shop is?" she asked.
"Yeah, fifteen minutes back that way," I said, pointing back down my route. "Why?"
"Thank you." She hurried off towards the shop. I made my way, completed the delivery, and hurried back myself. She was waiting patiently against the door when I returned.
"Waiting for the alchemist?" I asked.
"Do you happen to know where they are?" She sounded hopeful.
"You're looking at him," I said, proudly.
"You look a little young to be the alchemist I've heard of." It wasn't uncommon for travelers to come to the shop looking for my dad. He was somewhat famous.
"I'm his son. He's out on an errand so I'm filling in for him."
"Then, might your name be Murdoc?" Her head tilted slightly to one side.
"That's right. I guess word got out about me too, huh?" I smiled.
"I need you to come with me." She jumped at me and grabbed my arm with a brown-gloved hand. She had an iron grip and wouldn't let me pull away.
"Is it an emergency? Does someone need help? Let me leave a note to let my dad know what's going on so that I can help." Panicking, I reached toward the door of the shop and was stopped by a familiar voice.
"No need for that." My father was walking towards the shop with a serious expression on his face. Usually, he's very laid back except when he was deep in philosophical concentration or conducting dangerous experiments. He was dressed for business in a brown suit and tie with a pale button-up underneath. His dark eyes darted between us two. "Would you mind telling me what's going on here?"
"Are you Erin Reiner, the alchemist of this town?" asked the girl.
"That is I. What business have you with mine?" This was serious. He only spoke that way when dealing with customers of nobility.
"I am here on the orders of his majesty Relius Flaherty of Settentrione. Do you know what that means?" She asked.
"I knew this day would come eventually," he responded, staring me straight in the eye. He looked back at her and continued, "I will not try to convince you of his innocence nor righteousness. I only ask that he be returned home regardless of the outcome."
"I cannot promise that." She shook her head.
"Very well. Take care, my son," he said.
"Dad, what's going on?" I tried to move my arm only for it to be gripped harder. "Ow!"
"You'll find out soon enough." His eyes softened and he gave a miserable smile while crossing his arms.
"Don't struggle. Things will only get harder if you do." The girl threw the sack over me and let go of my arm. I immediately grew too weak to stand and fell over. She closed the opening and picked me up over her shoulder. "Thank you for your cooperation. You will be handsomely rewarded," She said.
He responded, "No need for that. I won't accept any apologies in the worst case either."
"I will keep that in mind." She walked to the edge of town and past the Smiths with me hanging over her shoulder the whole time. I decided not to struggle and I couldn't even if I wanted to. "He was right. This was easier than I thought," she said, just before stopping dead in her tracks. "God damn it!" She was suddenly very angry. "Where the hell is my horse?! This is the third time! It's like I never learn my damn lesson." after running for a bit, she stopped. I heard the ruffling of parchment. "Parchment huh?" She continued walking. "This is going to be a pain in the ass. Sea pirates this far inland? Give me a break."
"It was probably the Deadeye Pirates," I said, deciding that was the time to talk. She jumped and then gave a heavy sigh.
"I almost forgot you were there."
"Did I scare you?" She brought her foot up behind her and kicked me in the head. The impact was soft but It still stung.
"Tell me everything you know about them," she demanded.
"Do you really expect answers from someone you just kidnapped and kicked in the head?"
"I didn't kidnap you. You're going to be imprisoned and then executed for your crimes."
"You mean, it's really a crime to throw knives at scarecrows!? I only did it a couple of times when I was a kid and it still caught up with me?" I never believed what the old farmers told me until then. It would have also explained what my dad meant when he said that he knew it would happen eventually. She kicked me again, this time, breaking her stride and causing my head to hit her backside.
"Stop playing dumb. You know what you did." She sounded very astute to her conviction.
"I wasn't joking. If that's not what I did then, what did I do? Could you also stop kicking me? My head just hit your butt." She dropped me on the ground and began dragging me from there. "This isn't much better."
"Stop complaining or it'll get worse." She swung me from behind to the front and I slammed into the ground.
"Oh!" I was immediately winded. The ground was hard and sparsely covered in grass.
"Now, tell me about those pirates," she demanded again.
"I have a feeling that this is a simple case of mistaken identity. If you let me out of this bag, I'll be glad to come with you and help clear this entire mess up." She swung me again. "Oww! What was that one for?"
"Pirates, tell me now."
"Maybe I shouldn't have said anything." She swung me directly into a tree. We had reached the forest.
"I won't ask again."
"Don't you have some kind of cuffs that you can put on me instead of this bag? I'll still come with you if-." She swung me into three more trees. They didn't hurt as much as the ground. I decided to stop talking in case she found a rock. Eventually, she stopped and let me go. What came next was about thirty minutes of the sound of branches breaking followed by the sound of a fire.
"I heard those bandits steal pets and any unattended animal they can as long as they were domesticated." I heard a series of sharp movements nearby as I was talking before she responded.
"Can you stop suddenly speaking at full volume?" I had definitely startled her.
"What else do you know about them?"
"They all wear eyepatches and speak with weird accents. That's all I know for sure. They were also blamed for the disappearance of a few people who are known to avidly study magic." She seemed satisfied with that information and didn't ask any more questions. More time passed and the sound of gentle snoring came from close by.
I began trying to wriggle out of the sack but, it was enchanted as I thought. It wouldn't allow for sudden movements, I could barely move as it was, and it was pitch black. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my emergency light source. It was a clear and flexible artificial compound casing filled with fluorophore on one side and alcohol on the other side that mixed together to create light via a chemical reaction.
I squeezed the center, breaking the seal keeping the two liquids separate, and turned it between my fingers to mix them. Using the dim light, I examine the inside of the bag. Many symbols were drawn and some, I recognized. I fell asleep studying any unfamiliar ones and piecing together how to dismantle the enchantment if necessary. More dragging across the ground woke me up. After what felt like hours, she stopped and kicked my legs a couple of times.
"Are you alive?" she asked. "Something as soft as what I've done couldn't have killed you, could it? You talking to me last night couldn't have been a dream, right?" I felt her put her fist on my chest and it slowly sank into me. It hurt but I was content. She could've done worse. "So, you're alive, just not talking. Maybe I should kill you. It's not like it would be any different after your trial. You murdered nearly a hundred people in cold blood and they sent just me to take you in apart from any of the militias. Just one girl. Your death would be my freedom but, there's no way they'd let me leave again after returning with you. Here's the deal." She let go of the bag, stepped over me, and grabbed my shoulders. "You help me and I consider letting you run off. You'll get a three-day head start. If not, I can kill you now and be done with it." She waited a few seconds for my response and continued without it. "You can take some time and ponder over it. I'm only giving you a choice because you might've helped me a little already." She began dragging me again.
More hours passed before we stopped again. There were three distinct knocks at what sounded like a large, wooden door. It was followed by the sound of the door painfully creaking open and a sword being unsheathed. "Where's your boss? I'm here for my horse." The door creaked some more and she dragged me up wooden stairs and onto a wooden floor.
"Took you long enough." A grizzled voice came from somewhere in the room.
"Where is she?" asked the girl.
"Before I answer that, might I ask what that is that you're holding? It looks oddly human-shaped to be dragged across the ground." The sound of someone standing resonated through the floorboards as he spoke.
"This'll be you if you don't hand over my horse right now." She was pissed, to say the least.
"Tough talk coming from an outcast. Let me guess, you were sent out on a suicide mission from the king himself in exchange for your freedom? Trust me, they won't let you go without chains. As far as they're concerned; you're more useful dead than free."
"So, I'm guessing you share the same mark as I?" She began speaking more cautiously.
"Indeed. My men saw it on your horse and saw fit to bring it to me. We share the same fate. I was sent here more than twenty years ago and my mission was to rid this very forest of a new spriggan infestation. As it turned out, the 'infestation' was false. The spriggans in this forest were always here and messing with them cost me an eye. What will your mission be costing you?"
"Here it is." She tossed me forward. "I was sent after the legendary 'Hell's Passion'. He was a-"
"Was?" He cut her off. "I know of who you speak and I must say; they sent you after an impossible target, to say the least. If this were him, why we'd all be dead."
"I already killed him. All that's left is hardly what could be called a body. You're welcome to see for yourself but, might I warn you that it's still fresh, and who knows the kind of things that might befall someone who sets sights on his corpse." Someone began poking me with a stick.
"When did you say you killed him?" He asked.
"Yesterday, but he seems to take much longer than us mortals to completely die."
A blade entered my chest and was left there. Any sharp movements I had were stifled and I gritted my teeth.The only reason I was still alive despite the rushing blood was that the blade didn't hit anywhere vital.
"So, it seems." He sounded more intrigued than anything.
"Now, would you kindly return my horse? I intend on continuing where I left off." Her words exuded confidence.
"You know; I thought we could see eye to eye but I guess I was wrong. There's no point in keeping you around here." The heavy footsteps sounded close by again and began going away. "Your horse is this way."
The ground shifted to stone as I was dragged across the ground again and a heavy door closed behind us.
"Damn it, I don't have time for illusions. What's going on?" She kicked and banged on what sounded like multiple stone surfaces to no avail.
"That room was created with a powerful anti-magic enchantment on it and the walls are made of solid stone. It was well worth how long it took to make. Not even the king himself could get out of there. If you want out, remove all of your weapons and put on those cuffs near the far wall." His muffled voice was followed closely by the sound of metal on stone.
"Damn it, magical weapons don't work either and all I wanted was my horse back!" Yelled the girl.
"Don't worry, you'll get it back just after you do what I've asked."
"Alright, I'm trusting you to help me out. Not that I have any choice." In the middle of her sentence, she kicked me and I slid until my feet hit a solid surface. I heard her footsteps in the distance and the sound of many small blades being removed and placed on a solid surface. Closely after, I heard two loud clicks.
I saw her plan and got to work on weaving a contradictory pattern into the enchantment placed on the bag using my blood. Because the enchantment was self-contained, the walls did not affect it. I doubt she knew that and expected me to be able to burst out at a moment's notice. In a few minutes, I was nearly done. By that time, the man had entered the room and was examining her to see if she kept any weapons still on her.
"Nice armor. Mind If I remove it?" She stayed silent. "Oh, you're silent now but in a little while, I'll have you screaming," he said, before the sound of leather being unbuckled and moved reached my ears. A little bit longer and I was free of the bag's enchantment. I slowly and silently removed the dagger from my chest and cut through the bag to access the blue wall in front of me. The wall had white markings that constructed the entire enchantment. Assuming that all walls, as well as the floor and ceiling, were the same, it would only take reversing one to nullify the entire thing.
"Could you hurry up? I want to leave here as soon as possible." I was nearly done and blood loss had blurred my eyesight when she spoke.
"Oh, you don't seem to get it, you nieve little untouched doll." A sharp and distinct rattling of chains could be heard followed by the sound of a heavy impact of flesh. "You'll never leave here." His voice had become malicious. By then, I was done with the counter enchantment and I began rising to my feet, but I lost a lot more blood in the process.
"I wasn't talking to you," she said, as the dagger that was in my chest landed in his back. "I was talking to him." He turned around only to find her arms with the shackles around his neck, tightening until he stopped struggling. The exceptionally large man wore a black eyepatch, a worn grey vest, and a wide-brimmed hat over a pale belted tunic. His grey pants were slightly down, but the tunic covered him up and his pale blue face sported a wicked orange beard and mustache. This was a pirate. I got a good look at the girl for the first time as well. Her black hair was less than shoulder length and she had tan skin and green eyes, showing her mixed heritage. There was also a purple lump on the left side of her face. She never lost her blue shirt but was in the middle of pulling her tan underwear and black shorts back up after removing the black shackles.
"Uh... Did he-" I began to ask the first question on my mind before being cut off.
"He never got that far, but it's going to take a lot of alcohol to forget about this." I limped toward a wall on the far side of the medium-sized room and waited for her to get dressed. Her armor was brown leather inlaid with steel plates. "What are you standing around for? Aren't you leaving? Go. You have a three-day head start."
"I have a bad feeling that more people like you might be sent after me even if I do escape here. Besides, I'm bleeding out. I won't get far." I sat down next to the door, feeling lightheaded. "You can go. I lost too much blood as it is." I put my hand over the wound. "I think I nullified the walls and door. You should be able to get out with no effort."
"You can do that?" She was surprised.
"I'm an alchemist, remember? I deal with that kind of stuff for a living." I just noticed that my voice was leaving me and my breathing became ragged.
"Aries," she said, reaching for a sword on her hip and tossing it into the air.
"Yes, ma'am?" The sword became shrouded in darkness and released a blinding light before transfiguring into a man. The straight sword was marked with the sign of Aries and had a black handle with a studded guard. The man was about average height and had messy brown hair. He wore black climbers boots and gloves, a thick, black, long-sleeve shirt under a grey vest, and thick grey pants. "What can I do for you?"
"Heal this boy," she commanded.
"Very well." He held his hand out with his palm facing me "Black salve." Immediately, a black, foul-smelling, sludge-like liquid poured out of my wound. In seconds, the pain was gone and the liquid disappeared.
"So, is that your familiar?"
"No, he's a Zodiac Master." I heard of them before. They were known widely as just legend though. She grabbed his arm. "Return." He turned back into a sword and she resheathed him. "Are you good to go?" She asked.
"Don't worry about it. It just means that I'm strong." She smiled.
"Why'd you save me?" I began analyzing the closed wound and there was no sign of a scar.
"Maybe I believe you. There's always a chance that I attained false information. I was in so much of a hurry to be free that I might have ruined or ended an innocent life in the process and I couldn't live with myself if that happened." She reached out her hand. "And you're right. I'm sure I'm not the only one looking for you. I want to give you a chance to prove your innocence." I took her hand and she helped me up. "I also want a traveling partner that can do stuff like that but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it."
We walked through the door to a room full of eyepatched pirates. It looked similar to a town bar with tables, chairs, and random assortments of alcohol behind a full counter. All eyes of the twenty-plus men were on us. After the initial shock of not seeing their boss come back, they all went up in arms. Guns were aimed and blades were drawn. She pulled me back into the room before a shot was fired.
"Will spells cast from inside this room still work on the outside?" she frantically asked.
"It should," I answered.
"Good." This time, she pulled out a wand made of the horn of a large creature encrusted with an emerald and raised it toward the ceiling. "Black tornado." the sound of a howling wind surrounded the room on the outside. This was followed by loud screaming for several seconds. Once the screaming stopped so too did the wind. She opened the door and all I could see was the forest. "Come on. Let's go." she walked over the mix of debris and bodies, picking up intact liquor bottles. "Want one?"
"No, thanks," I said, looking through the wreckage intently. They were pirates with the ability to make an inti-magic chamber. There had to be a book or artifact of knowledge somewhere. I found nothing on their boss and was unsure if I would find anything intact.
"More for me then," she said, gathering more bottles and any coins she found.
Eventually, she noticed me digging for something particular and threw an object to me. "That might be what you were looking for. It was on the captain." It was a cloudy yet, otherwise clear piece of obsidian. After a few seconds, I realized what it was.
"This is a holy bird scale."
"A what now?"
"You could summon a bird of wisdom known as the Scale Bird. These are hard to come by. It would explain how they were able to make that room. The problem with it is that it's clouded over. Someone who doesn't have the knowledge to use it properly would have to make a blood sacrifice to summon it." I looked up at her. "Your horse might be dead."
"I know. I see her body over there." I looked where she was pointing. A brown and white horse was hanging from a tree by multiple lengths of rope. It still had its saddle and bags on it. "Poor girl." She went over and cut it down. Underneath it was a blood-covered pendant shaped like a horse. She picked it up and showed it to me. "What does it do?" I took a close look at it.
"The runes on it suggest that it's meant to grant the wearer increased speed," I said.
"I'll drink some for you too," she said, looking into the object. Looking around, she found a shovel and began digging a hole. I helped. After burying her horse, she took out a match and set fire to the remains of the pirate hideout. Leaving the blaze behind, she turned to me. "My name's Trinity by the way." Her speech was slurred.
"I'm Murdoc, nice to meet you," I responded.
"I know who you are and I know you don't mean that," she said, finishing a bottle of liquor.
"You're right, I don't"
"You could've at least acted like you meant it." She was in the middle of uncorking her second bottle one-handedly and her other hand was squeezing tightly on the back of my neck.
"I don't think it's safe to drink that much all at once."
"Eh, who cares," she said, seconds before letting out the contents of her stomach into the nearby bushes and on an unlucky squirrel. I couldn't help but feel bad for her. She had just lost her companion and almost lost something else just as important. She also seemed to have a lot on her mind aside from that. My curiosity latched onto her and wouldn't let go but, before anything, I had to clear my name.
Despite her being the one that was leading the way, she followed behind me; belting swears to the sky and whispering the context behind them to the ground. We walked for nearly an hour before she threw up again and calmed down.
"Oh yeah, the three-day headstart I was gonna give you. Remember that?" Trinity spoke for the first time in at least four hours since she became docile.
"Yes, was there another meaning to that?"
"With that head start, where would you have gone?"
"Probably the way we're going now, the next town over."
"As I thought. It takes five days to reach the next town on foot. At the three-day mark, there's a soldier camp set up to catch you if you happen to escape me. That's where we're headed to reason your innocence." She sounded surprisingly sober for someone who was likely still drunk.
"Oh, I thought we'd have to go all the way to Settentrione for that."
"We still might. If they don't kill you immediately and then me later, there's going to be a trial in Settentrione."
Nightfall came eventually and we set up camp. Trinity started a fire and hunted a wild fox for dinner with just a throwing knife. She had a sleeping bag and I slept on a soft pile of leaves.
The next day, we walked for nearly half the day when Trinity pulled out her sword and called out Aries.
"You called?" he stood ready for a command.
"Carry me," she commanded.
"No. Is that all?"
"Of course, that's not all. Why won't you carry me? You're my servant."
"Now what was the word my master used? Oh, yes, 'borrow'. You're 'borrowing' me until your mission is complete. You are not my master and I am not a horse.
"Oh yeah, tell me your name."
"My name is Daffodil."
"Not that one, your true name."
"That is the name my mother gave me."
"Why do you have to be so difficult?"
"I do not see what you mean."
"Well if that's the case, you're walking with us. The less weight I have to carry, the better."
"So be it." He began walking with us.
As the sun began setting, We happened upon a bridge over a shallow river just outside the forest.
"There's a small campsite nearby here." Trinity pointed up the river to the right. "There might not be much rest tomorrow." She reached her hand out to Daffodil. "You are no longer needed."
"If you say so." He reached his hand out to her as well.
"Wait, no!" My sudden outburst took Trinity by surprise but Daffodil only smiled and said,
"Might there be something you wish to say to me?" Trinity huffed and began walking by the river. Daffodil and I followed.
"Well, as an alchemist, I'm extremely curious as to how you exist and function. I mean you're a living weapon. I could only ever dream of creating something like you. Or were you a person first?"
He scrutinized me for a bit then responded, "I was human first, yes but I wasn't created. I inherited this ability. As you've heard, I am a Zodiac Master."
"Then is it true that the originals were created by a god?"
"I wouldn't know about that."
"Ok what about your biological processes? Do they continue or stop when you're a sword?"
"I want for nothing as a blade and I don't age either."
"How old are you?"
"I believe I'm in my fifties, although I've lost count."
"That's incredible! Are any of the other stories true? If I ask your name and you answer with your zodiac, does that really mean I'm worthy to wield you?"
"Do you want to try?" His smile became more of a smirk.
"We're here," said Trinity, stopping before a clearing in the brush housing a low tree on the side and a fire pit in the center "You've spent enough time out of my hands." She reached for Daffodil again and he reached for her.
"This is the end of our conversation," he said, as he began to glow and transform back into a sword.
Trinity sheathed him and asked, "Do you know how to fish?"
"Yes, it's easy."
"How about pail fishing?"
"Is it any harder?"
"Have you ever tried pailing for minerals?"
"So, it's like that except with fish?"
"You'll see." She pulled out a medium-sized basin from a backpack with a smile.
Easily more than an hour and a half passed where I almost caught the tail-end of a fish and she caught three. It was tricky but I learned. Once it became difficult to see below the water's surface, we called it a day.
I awoke with a start. I couldn't remember what I dreamt but whatever it was felt important. All I remember from it is a tower and that I was barreling through the air toward it.
"What's wrong? Nervous?" Trinity was just done smothering the fire and stood as I did.
"I guess? I might've also had a nightmare. I don't remember it much."
"To be honest, I'm a bit nervous myself." She began walking back to the path with an almost empty bottle at her side.
We walked for most of the day and finally saw the small cluster of tents that made up the soldier camp late into the afternoon. By then, Trinity had downed at least four bottles and regurgitated two.
I held my breath as we approached the camp. There was no sign of anyone despite far passing the distance where scouts would be able to spot us. The closer we got, the tenser we both became. After coming just within a stone's throw of the camp, Trinity stopped me.
"Wait here, something's wrong." She ducked low, holding tight onto Aries' hilt before slowly making her way forward.
"The only thing wrong here is that criminal being unrestrained." A man of considerable stature walked from between the tents. He wasn't especially large but the aura he produced put me on guard. His crimson hair draped down his red and black uniform and his burning eyes exuded dominance.
"Sir. Stone, I can explain-" began Trinity.
"No need." He raised his hand as if in attendance. "We can deal with this here and now." He created a fist with all but one finger and something flew through the air. It was tiny and cylindrical. Instinctively, I tried to catch it and instead ended up with a sharp pain in my shoulder and a hand reaching out to nothing. An arrow was sticking out where the pain originated.
"I don't think this is who we think he is. I believe we should follow through a just trial," she pleaded.
"You're drunk. Stand down or you'll follow him soon." He stared her down until she receded.
"I'm sorry, I tried." She stepped off to the side with her hands behind her back and a look of indifference hiding a solemn expression.
"You're still not getting off easy." He made a fist and this time, something hit my head with a thump I could hear between my ears.
I came to.
Something I didn't expect; being alive.
The first sound to my ears was the voice of the man who I thought had me executed. "Kira huh? In that case, you'll be known as 'Passion Flame'. My name's Glaive but most people call me the 'Blood Reaper'"
It took me a second to register what was going on but the scene before me left me in shock. We were standing in the middle of a razed encampment. Red was strewn about everywhere as if the sky rained blood. Looking around, I spotted Trinity far behind in a puddle of vomit with a look of petrified fear.
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