Journal Entry 9: The Alchemist
Melmoth’s chambers were in the main tower, three floors below the dorm cells of the acolytes. I never had reason to visit them before, but we all knew where they were.
It took me ten minutes to get there. I saw no-one on my way. When I got to the door, I knocked and heard a muffled response. I went in.
I found myself in a wide hall, different to Mistress Abraxia’s rooms by the notable absence of décor; stone walls and candle brackets rather than tapestries and glowing rock. There was writing on the stonework, running in a horizontal line at shoulder height; a symbol language of shapes and cut out triangles that seemed vaguely familiar.
Through an archway in a second room Melmoth crouched over a vast wooden desk, staring at a stained parchment. The rest of the surface held the various accoutrements of his work; books, potion bottles, demijohns and a large hourglass perched at one end. His head came up and he stared at me as I approached, an eyebrow raised in silent enquiry as to my presence. He looked tired and old, a contrast to his schooled appearance when I’d first arrived.
I kept walking until I was three feet from him then stopped and spoke my news.
“I found Meris, dead.”
There was silence between us. Eventually, Melmoth nodded, as if the information had taken time to register. “We should ask Master Ellis’ apprentices to retrieve the body and dispose of it.”
“You seem unsurprised?”
Melmoth shrugged. “I have been in this tower for decades and seen many acolytes leave through success and failure. You know the rules and the ways around them. Meris is dead, because she was shown favour by Lord Tallien and one of your kind could not accept that.”
I bit my lip to prevent myself blurting out what I knew, but didn’t move or look away. Melmoth returned his attention to his parchment.
“You may leave the matter with me acolyte, I will attend to the details.”
I resisted the instinct to walk away and waited. After a few more moments, Melmoth raised his head again.
“Was there something else?”
I nodded. “You aren’t training us.”
He frowned. “Pardon?”
“The time I have spent here, reading, listening, being told of the past and the way things are, they aren’t part of a scheme to make me a wizard.”
Melmoth’s frown deepened. “How did you come to this conclusion?” he asked.
“If you were training us you would be focusing on the matters at hand,” I explained, “teaching us about the great door, giving us experiences beyond this tower in the fractured worlds, letting us cast magic outside the pull of the vortex. This isn’t a school it’s another prison, like the land below us.”
Melmoth leaned back in his chair, his eyes never leaving mine, nor seeming to blink. When he spoke it was with a soft voice, barely above a whisper. “In all the days of this world and the world before it, every kingdom, nation and society has been in constant threat from people like you; people with the gift; people who learned just how superior they were to those without it.” He waved a hand and his voice strengthened. “We half breeds empower you, but we also remind you of what you should be. Our task is to limit you, to make you think of the cost to those who cannot do what you do.”
“The first alchemists offered wizards understanding of what they are. The next offered ways to refine magic through use of devices and study. We worked with those who understood their responsibility to the rest of humanity, but we were betrayed, and... well... you know what happened.”
“Yes, the schism and the end of days.” Melmoth sat forward. “Your kind caused it and now they roam free amidst the stars while anyone else that survived is left here in the ruin of the world—” he checked himself, “well... most of those who survived... some are allowed to leave to serve their new gods and others... found a different path...”
I stepped forwards, put my hand on the desk so my face was inches from his. “What you say makes no sense. If you are keeping us here because of some ancient crime you would be ruling this tower and the elders would be your prisoners as well.”
Melmoth smiled in response. “In this place we have an... accommodation. You learned that when you spoke with Ellis. Wizards need us. The elders are only here to judge your worth. When the time is right, one of you is nominated to leave; one way or the other.” He picked up the piece of parchment and held it between us. “Congratulations. You have been selected for the test of the door.”
I flinched and stepped back. “The door? But I know nothing—”
“As you said, we are not here to teach you. Perhaps you will succeed and next time we meet, you will be here for a harrowing.” Melmoth reached across his desk for the hourglass, picked it up and turned it on its head. “When the sand runs out, your time with us is over. I suggest you ready yourself.” I heard heavy footsteps and a hand grasped my shoulder. “Cross, escort the acolyte to his quarters. He has much to prepare for his imminent test. See that he is given everything he needs.”
“Yes, Melmoth,” said the man behind me. I turned to face the speaker. It was the artificer’s apprentice who I’d seen before. Silently, I let him guide me from the room.
by Allen Stroud