October Frights 2022 - Part IV
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If you happen to be in Atlanta this weekend, I just got to Atlanta for Multiverse! Come on down!
On to the story. It's Part IV of Spirit of Alchemy
I paced around the cozy room Fastred allowed us to use… for a nominal fee of course. I couldn’t be sure what method was being used to talk to the old bastard, but within a couple of days it was easy to connect the person from Offredus communications with the bookseller’s interested party. All I had was the name Pépin. Fastred claimed to know nothing about him, which was concerning in itself as I thought he knew everyone dabbling in such things.
Mediums always bothered me. The dead lie, and the not exactly dead lie even more. Those who never lived lie the most, but that was a problem for another day, I hoped. You never know what, or who you are speaking to, and those who call them tend to be just as questionable in my experience.
The room was protected with sigils, and a number of enchanted objects were tastefully scattered about the room. We would have privacy, and be relatively secure.
If he ever showed up.
My being immortal didn’t mean you should waste my time, and the other party was twenty minutes late. Glancing at my watch, twenty-two. I would grant him a few more moments, and then my former… Offredus’ reprieve would end. It had taken three days to connect with this Pépin, another to get Fastred to confirm his end, two more to agree on a date and time, and two more to get to… now.
Every night, the old bastard raged more than usual, but he appeared to still be recovering from our spat. Thinking my rage had subsided was a mistake on his part, but one I did not intend to reveal. I let him believe I had returned to my fearful, subservient ways.
He would be wrong.
I glanced at my watch. Nine-thirty-one at night. I’d allowed myself to slip. I’d given him an extra minute.
I took a deep breath and cleared my head. Charlatan or not, I had given the old man too much time. Too much grace. I had allowed him to control nearly every breath of mine for over five centuries. Even if it meant I would take my last breath, I would shatter the bastard’s skull and let him join the brethren on the other side, no doubt many of whom were salivating at the thought. Damn my fate. He had sealed it long ago.
I opened the door and walked down the narrow trail through the labyrinth. Fastred was speaking with someone, it sounded like whispers. The other voice was deep. Accented. It was hard to tell with whom.
I edged nearer to the cramped lobby. Fastred stood behind the counter, wringing his hands in a twisted towel. “How was I to know?”
“You were not supposed to know.” The warm deep voice carried the threat of a sheathed blade. Not readied, but ever present. “You have nothing to fear in this.”
Inching to the edge, I could see the edge of a figure. Expensive suit.
Fastred nodded, seemingly unsoothed by the promise. “I will take you to meet him now.”
“No need. Mister Necca, if you would join us?” The figure turned to face me.
I stepped into the space, maybe ten feet from him, near the counter. “Pépin, I take it?”
“Let me introduce myself.” The figure stood a little over six feet. Manicured nails, and impeccably trimmed black hair just giving way to white threads. “My name is Ilbert de Pons. Certain friends call me Pépin.”
The swirling in my chest grew. “I have not used that name for many years.”
“Would you prefer Salvaza, Mabe, Sithney, St. Auban, Carreau….”
“You have made your point.” I flexed my hand, looking around for a way to defend myself. I doubted a first edition of Dickens would help.
He held his hands in front of him. “I mean no affront, simply that I do know who you are. Exactly who you are. Shall we see if we can help each other?”
All I could read in Fastred’s eyes was concern. Or fear. It was hard to tell, because his poker face was only letting the slightest hints slip.
What the hell could he do to me? I’d been tortured before. It wasn’t like I was afraid of dying. “After you.” I nodded towards the direction I’d come.
De Pons strode past, a lion through the jungle.
Fastred gave a slight shrug I took as a wish of luck, and I followed behind my guest.
The aisle took two turns following the inside wall of the building, packed shelves giving a narrow path, until I reached the room on the left. The door stood open. Looking inside, de Pons had seated himself comfortably, his coat thrown across a nearby chair, his hands resting on the arms of an antique seat.
I closed the door behind me, and sensed the static charge that supposedly gave those inside protection, and privacy. I took the seat, a hard wooden office chair, and nodded to my guest.
De Pons shifted, making himself look at ease, but I could see the tension in his muscles. Controlled breathing. Absolute focus.
“May I call you Enzio?”
I steadied my nerves, and fought the urge to look down. I couldn’t give him an inch, no matter his aristocratic airs. “If you wish.”
“Call me Pépin. It is my hope we can be friends.” He shifted to lean towards me. “Shall we cut to it? Where is your benefactor? I understand you had quite the disagreement the other evening.”
“Safe. For now.” He had to know I wasn’t going to fall for some power play? Or maybe he thought I was still the mucking servant I was five hundred years ago. Offredus certainly believed as much. “What is it you offer, and what do you want?”
“My understanding is that you have been gifted for all intents, immortality. This happened in Lord Apollinaris Offredus’ attempt to bestow it upon himself, and instead, you claimed it, and he found himself living without form, dead without dying, and ultimately tried to reclaim his body, and now inhabits his skull. You desire mortality, Offredus to claim his immortality and again walk freely.”
“And what do you want, Pépin?”
“The secret. The next understanding of the great work. My family has been at this for centuries. I believe I have the key for you, and he has what I need.”
I leaned back in my chair. Had the great work driven him mad? Could it be possible? Or just another lie, a thief of ideas. “Tell me, why should I believe this? Believe you?”
“My great uncle Horace de Pons said you were a man of reason, and intellect. You knew more of the great work than most generations of alchemists. A man born of the earth, and one for whom the great work has not corrupted. One who has not allowed the gifts to control him, or use to ill.” He unfurled his hand and extended it. A coin rest in his palm. A 1923 1 franc. “Horace wished to thank you for all those nights you spent talking, educating him. Fastred even told me you keep his first work in a treasured box. When he passed over, I was bequeathed a box of my own, including the coin, and the information I needed to find you.”
“Horace was your great uncle?” I asked, “What happened to him?”
“He returned to the family. He pursued the great work. He never found his answer, though he had it all the time. You.”
“Maybe he knew he wouldn’t like the result.” I leaned forward. “If what you say is true, he knew enough of me to question this… gift.”
“You have my offer. What do you say?”
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “I will think about it. I will have to confer with Offredus. Know this, the path you are on, what you seek, is not what you think.”
“Enzio, know this.” De Pons motioned for me to come close, and whispered, “Like my father, and his father, and his father, and generations before them, I bear the mantle of the Âme Brûlante. Hector feared this as much as you. Maybe more. This is my calling. My raison d'être. I have borne my next generation, such that if I fail, they will continue where I have failed. But I will not. We, will not.”
“I will consider it.”
“You have until Friday. Be here at eight PM. Sharp.” He pushed a card at me.
Thanks for reading, and come back tomorrow for Part V! In the interim, check out the rest of the tour!
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