Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Alchemist's Ledger - Conclusion

    Hi, folks. What could happen if you cross a sorcerer with an accountant? You might get The Alchemist (played in my mind by Alan Rickman). Here's the conclusion of my just-finished short story, The Alchemist's Ledger. I've had a lot of fun writing it, and I hope you've had some enjoyment reading the last few weeks.
   Last week, our sword wielding mercenary, Sing, returned from his quest with a powerful jewel needed to complete a spell to animate a statue of Vale, the local God of Justice. Sing received only half his promised fee, and he left the Alchemist with a pile of receipts and the task of balancing them into a strange ledger. Today he's back to see if he can collect the remainder of his fee.

 
---
 
Sing returned to the offices of the Alchemist late the next morning, nursing a hangover and debating with himself whether he should just take what he’d already been paid, leave town, and count his blessings. This time, he wasn’t surprised when the dwarf opened the door before he could knock, but he wasn’t prepared for the urgency in its voice.
“Where have you… been?” wheezed the dwarf. “The master is… wheeze… waiting… wheeze… go!” He pointed down the hallway, now alight with torches in sconces every ten feet or so along the way. Sing was grateful for the light, but the fact that the same walls had been smooth stone the night before made him uneasy.
“Cursed sorcery,” he muttered as he made his way towards the door at the hallway’s end. When it opened at his approach, he strode through without hesitation. But he kept a firm grip on his sword as he scanned the interior of the room.
It was brighter in the room than the previous night, the curtained windows unable to block completely the brightness of the day. The statue of Vale remained uncovered and now dominated the room with its presence. A brief vibration ran through the floor. Sing swallowed nervously. Did it seem more… alive than before?
As if he’d heard Sing’s unvoiced question, the Alchemist answered, “Yes, the spell is almost complete.”
 
Sing cast an uneasy glance over his shoulder at the statue as he followed the voice to the same work table he’d left the sorcerer at the night before. The Alchemist, although now seated, was still hunched over the ledger. A quill stained with dark red ink lay amongst the neatly arranged receipts at his side. “But, I wanted to check with you before I finished it.”
“Yes?”
The Alchemist ran his finger down a column of the ledger. “After you procured the jewel, you slept one night at a stable before returning from your quest. Then, you decided to… celebrate your success, I presume, by spending each night of the return journey at a different brothel.”
“I…,” began Sing, but the sorcerer raised a hand to cut him off.
“Again,” said the Alchemist, “I do not question your… needs. All I require is a receipt for each… service rendered, and those you have provided, except…” His finger stopped at a blank line on the page. “… on the fourteenth night of Frostmoon.” He straightened and turned.
Sing flinched when he saw the man’s face. It was drawn and lined as if he’d aged forty years in a single night. He swayed momentarily when he stood, clutching the edge of the table to steady himself. His eyes lost focus for an instant, and he shook his head. Sing took a step forward, intending to offer assistance, but the Alchemist waved him away.
“What happened on the fourteenth, Sing? Did you decide to give your cock a much deserved rest?”
Sing frowned. “The fourteenth? Let’s see, today’s the…”
“…eighteenth,” the Alchemist reminded him.
Sing screwed his eyes up and counted off silently on his fingers. “Four nights ago?”
The Alchemist pursed his lips. “Yes. Thank the gods you needed but one hand to figure that out.”
“Ah,” sighed Sing. “That would have been Brienne.”
“I’m not familiar with the place.”
“That was her name, Brienne… I think.” The mercenary smiled.
Sing hadn’t thought the sorcerer’s face could fall any further, but it did. “And you bedded her, obviously. Please tell me you got a receipt.”
Sing shook his head. “I didn’t pay for it.”
“She gave herself to you… freely?”
“Is that so hard to believe? But, no, not exactly. It was sort of a… barter arrangement.” An ominous thrum vibrated the floor, and the Alchemist glanced nervously at the statue of Vale. Sing’s hand moved unconsciously to the hilt of his sword. “Gods, what is that?”
“It’s nothing to worry about,” said the Alchemist. His voice was unconvincing. “What sort of barter?”
“I did her a favor.”
“What favor?”
“I thought you didn’t want to know any of the details?”
“I changed my mind.”
“I killed her husband.”
The Alchemist’s eyes widened. “At her request?”
“Yes.”
“I see,” mused the Alchemist, rubbing speculatively at the stubble on his chin.
“The man was a drunken brute,” Sing elaborated, “who regularly abused her. He…”
The Alchemist cut him off with a wave of his hand. “Tell me,” he asked, “did you kill the man before or after you had sex with his wife?”
Sing straightened. “If you mean to judge me, don’t. I would never knowingly bed a married woman. She was a widow by the time we…”
“Yes, yes,” interrupted the Alchemist, “how very… moral of you. But that is not my concern.” He turned back to the ledger. “I believe it’s actually a credit,” he murmured, “not a debit at all.” He turned back to Sing. “I’ll need to make a brief note, and then you can be on your way… with the remainder of your payment.”
“Sounds good,” smiled Sing. He relaxed with a sigh and watched the Alchemist dip the quill into the bottle of ink. The tip came out clean.
“Bugger,” muttered the Alchemist, “the ink has dried. I’ll have to freshen it a bit.” He jabbed the tip of the quill into his finger and squeezed a few drops of blood into the ink bottle.
Sing shuffled forward and peered over the Alchemist’s shoulder. It was true. The entire ledger was written in blood. He swallowed the bile that came into his throat as the Alchemist scribbled something onto the previously blank line. He placed the quill on the table with a satisfied sigh. “It balances,” he said. “And you, my mercenary friend…” He reached for the remaining pouch of gold and tossed it over. “… may be on your way.”
Sing caught the pouch. He nodded. “Thanks.” He teased the top open with a finger and peeked inside.
“Trust me,” said the Alchemist, “it’s all there.” He smiled. “And I begrudge not one krin of it. You exceeded my expectations, my friend.” He shook his head, chuckling. “But I still have to question whether a roll in the hay is worth a man’s life.”
There was a sudden rumbling beneath their feet, accompanied by the sound of grinding stone. Sing swung into a crouch to face its source, his hand on the hilt of his blade. “By the gods,” he exclaimed. The head of the statue had turned to face him, and two of its arms were now folded across its chest.
“Perhaps I shouldn’t have said that,” murmured the Alchemist.
“It moved!” Sing exclaimed.
“It did, didn’t it?” The Alchemist sounded disconcerted.
Sing cut his eyes to the man. “What the…”
“Shush,” cautioned the Alchemist, his finger to his lips. “Choose your words carefully.”
“I wasn’t… What do you mean? What did you do?”
“My bad,” apologized the Alchemist. “I inadvertently questioned whether having sex with that woman was worth killing her husband. I believe you now stand in judgment before Vale.”
Sing’s blade was in his hand instantly. “The hell I do,” he cried. The sound of more stone grinding made his skin crawl. Lightening fast, the statue had unfolded its arms from its chest. It now stood on four legs, looking poised to spring.
“Sheath your sword, you fool,” warned the Alchemist. “It makes you look guilty.”
He replaced the sword. There was more grinding as the statue settled onto its haunches. “What do I do now?” he whispered to the Alchemist.
“You must convince Vale your actions were justified.”
Sing frowned. “Well, I already told you. The man was a brute. He deserved killing.”
“That is not the issue,” said the Alchemist.
“How can that not be the issue?”
“The question was posed as to whether the sex was worth the man’s life,” the Alchemist explained.
Sing threw up his hands. “That’s crazy.”
The Alchemist shrugged.
“How can I convince him of that?” Sing pointed to the statue.
The Alchemist held up a finger. “Leave that to me. I will advocate for you. Just answer my questions.” He rubbed his hands together, looking pleased. “Actually, this will be a perfect test.”
“Test?”
“To see if the spell worked properly.” The Alchemist pulled the chair away from his work table and motioned to Sing. “Here, have a seat.” Then, he adjusted his robes and walked to the middle of the room, clearing his throat. He turned with a flourish and began, “We have established that, on the fourteenth night of Frostmoon, the defendant, Sing, terminated the life of the husband of Brienne in exchange for sexual favors. Is that correct?”
Sing secured the pouch of gold to his belt and sat cautiously in the chair. His eyes cut around the room, assessing possible escape routes. The door he’d come in seemed impossibly far away. He took a deep breath. “Yes,” he said.
“And,” continued the Alchemist, “although we have already established that the victim was of questionable character and, perhaps, deserved to die, can it truly be said that the scales of justice can balance any human life with a single sexual encounter?”
This can’t be helping, thought Sing. “Am I supposed to answer that question?”
The Alchemist looked at him askance. “The question was rhetorical.”
“Huh? Okay, well it wasn’t a single encounter,” blurted Sing. “We did it… twice, I think. Maybe three…” He trailed off when he saw the glare on the Alchemist’s face.
The Alchemist cleared his throat again. “Ahem. Very well, then. I suppose the sex was better than average?”
“Oh, yes.”
“On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate the sex?”
“How many scales?”
“No, no. Not how many scales. A single scale, one to ten. How would you rate the sex?”
“Rate?”
“Yes, rate.” The Alchemist looked frustrated. “On a scale of one to ten. One being bad, five being average, ten being the best. How would you rate the sex you had with Brienne?”
“Oh,” said Sing, understanding dawning. “I see. Yes, it was really good. Eleven.” They both winced at the grinding of stone as Vale rose again on four of its legs.
“You can’t say eleven,” warned the Alchemist. “Ten is as high as you can go.”
“Ten, then.” The statue took a step forward. “I don’t think this is working,” Sing complained.
“Just answer the questions,” said the Alchemist. He raised his palms in a calming gesture. “You’re sure she was a ten?”
Sing nodded. “Yes!” He cringed as Vale ground forward another step. “I’m sure. Her beauty was such that poets sing of. Auburn hair the texture of silk that… that… fell nearly to her waist when it was undone. Full, firm breasts, whose nipples were like honey on my tongue. I… ulp.” He swallowed more bile and shuddered at the grinding sound. He could almost feel the stone scraping across his bare flesh.
Vale now stood behind the Alchemist, standing high on four legs so that its head brushed against the ceiling. Its remaining four limbs stretched forward menacingly. “It doesn’t matter what she looked like, you fool,” shouted the Alchemist. “The sex! How was the sex?”
“Right,” Sing continued, “the sex. It… it was amazing. She came to me warm and wet, taking my full length with no complaint, moving against me with such skill and… and… grace as I’d never experienced. She brought me to my peak almost at once and then again… more slowly. And after, she… sang to me… in a voice as lovely and tender as any babe might hear from his mother… a lullaby… until I fell asleep and dreamt the most peaceful of…” Suddenly, he pointed. “Look out!”
The Alchemist glanced up and stepped aside with surprising swiftness as one of the statue’s limbs slammed into the floor. Pulverized stone rose in clouds and a gaping hole remained when Vale pulled the limb free, poised for another strike.
The Alchemist turned and stared in horror at the visage looming above him. “No,” he screamed, pointing at Sing, “Him, not me! I…” He leapt aside as a second arm came crashing down, narrowly missing him again. He scrambled to his feet and held his arm out, palm forward. “You have the wrong man. I command you to stop!”
The statue’s appendage wavered above his outstretched arm, and for a moment it looked like the Alchemist might have gained control. But another stone arm snaked around the sorcerer from behind and coiled about his body, holding him in place.
The Alchemist’s brows knit together, and beads of sweat broke out on his face. He thrust his palm forward, and a deep voice echoed throughout the chamber. “I command you to stop!” Curtains fluttered. Candles flickered. The pages of the ledger rustled as a breeze sprung from nowhere.
Slowly, the arm of the statue descended against the palm of the Alchemist’s outstretched arm. Sing gritted his teeth as he watched the elbow bend the wrong way and the bones snap. His stomach did a flip when the Alchemist’s head popped like a crushed melon, his final scream ending in a gurgle.
As the stone limbs of the God of Justice unraveled from the remains of the Alchemist, Sing found himself backed against the door, his sword drawn, fumbling for the latch with his free hand, and praying that walls made of the same brick he’d just watched the statue pummel into dust would delay the monster long enough for him to reach his horse.
He expected the statue to turn and spring for him at any second. Instead, he watched it settle to the floor. A now familiar thrum vibrated through his boots as the thing’s arms retracted to its sides. After a few seconds of immobility, the jewel in its forehead emitted a single pulse of light and then went dark.
He slipped silently through the door and padded as softly as he could down the hallway. The dwarf met him at the front door with a questioning look. Sing shrugged.
 “On second thought,” he answered to the unvoiced question, “maybe she was only a nine. Or even an eight. Anyway, I’m leaving. Best of luck to you.
The dwarf stared down the hallway, in the direction of the laboratory. Sing opened the front door and stepped into the welcome light of day. Humph. A scale of one to ten. It was a strange way of looking at things. He patted the pouch full of gold at his belt.
I’ll give that a ten, though.
---
Well, that’s the yin and yang of it. We all strive for some kind of balance in our lives, don’t we? And dealing with the consequences when things weigh a bit heavy on one side of the scales can be tough sometimes. If you liked this story and you think you’d like to see more of this character, please let me know. The comments section is just past the ads for my books.
Until then, Happy Reading!
 

The Draculata Nest -----------------------------------------------------------------------

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The Dragon of Doughton Park ----------------------------------------------------------


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ebook for Kindle                                                                   in Paperback
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