The Heron Kings 3

The Heron Kings 3

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The Heron Kings III

(working title, obviously)

 

Draft Chapter One

 

Two lone figures walked the rain-slickened cobbletone streets of Carsolan, shadows long in the moonslight. All around them the sounds and smells of the city danced as they made their way through the urban gloom. One, a pace ahead, wore the navy blue woolen formal coat of a master alchemist. The other, younger and carrying a stack of papers and books in front of her, wore a plainer gray version of the same.

“Master,” said the teenage apprentice, her voice a bit muffled by the load she carried, “do you really believe we’ll be able to deliver the contessa’s order on time? I don’t think we even have the space for all the materials we’ll need.”

The master nodded curtly. “Oh, we’ll deliver, don’t you worry. For what we’re being paid, I’ll rent the extra space if I have to. But you’re right, it’s a tight schedule.”

The apprentice gave a wry grin, unseen in the dark as she dared to venture a bit of impertinence. “I think the contessa just wants an excuse to make you come see her again soon.”

The master stopped in his tracks, and his apprentice almost ran into him. “Why,” he said with the bone-driest, most desiccated of wits, “how dare you? Whatever would make you imply something like that?”

“Oh, come now,” she continued, pressing the attack, “you taught me to analyze using all my senses and instincts. It’s not hard to see that she likes—”

“That will be quite enough,” the master said with only a bit of frustration. “Talk like that can have serious consequences for those of the contessa’s station. And of ours, for that matter.” He continued on his way.

“Don’t see what the big deal is,” the apprentice said with a shrug. “She’s widowed after all, and you’re one of the most respected men of the commons. What matter if two, er, middle-aged folk—”

“How charitable of you! Listen, if you wish, you may explain your impeccable logic to the queen herself when we’re next at court. I’m certain she’ll see the error of her ways. Until then, please keep your lascivious aspersions to yourself, and your mind on alchemy. There’s much to be done, starting tomorrow.”

“Yes, master.” They crossed an intersection, and down the street to the right the lights of a nighttime fair glowed amid the hum of a crowd and the scents of a dozen sweet-foods. “Um,” she said haltingly, in a tone practiced to work on his nerves, “I’ve actually already set up the natrial distillation. It just needs to be turned on.”

The master nodded. “Good, good.”

“And, I finished the Bismic recrystallization earlier today. And my notebooks are all up to date…”

The master halted again with a sigh, and a smile he couldn’t quite force away. “Then I suppose you’d like to go down to that silly fair?”

“Can I?”

“Fine, fine.” He took up the pile of documents from his apprentice’s aching arms. She was already halfway across the street when he called her back. “Wait!” Moving the stack to one arm, he fumbled in his coat pocket with a free hand. “Here. Fair’s not much fun without wasting some money at it, I suppose.” He pressed a few silvers into his apprentice’s grasp.

“Thank you, master!”

“Don’t stay out too late,” he called to her rapidly disappearing form.

“I won’t!”

“And don’t get your coat dirty!”

“I won’t!”

The alchemist was nearly to the next street when the explosion shook the entire block. There was a greenish flash, then a thunderous boom and shockwave that hit him almost in the same instant. The mountain of papers he carried went flying in all directions. But even before he regained his footing, his blood ran cold as the pitch and timbre of the blast, and a lifetime of training told him exactly what had caused it. Vril. The energetic substance, thought magical by the gullible, was greatest power of their age, and the most dangerous if mishandled.

He turned to see smoke billowing from somewhere down the street, outlined in orange light. It was coming from the direction of the fairground. He ran toward the conflagration, and already the cries of the terrified rang out.

He rounded a corner to see a banking house pouring smoke and fire from the shattered windows of all three floors. His master’s eye calculated that such a blast would require about half a milliliter’s worth of Vril. Too much to be gathered in one place by accident. This was deliberate. Just beyond the building, hundreds of fair-goers scattered in panic. And directly in front of the burning ruin, one small form lay unmoving, wearing the coat of an apprentice alchemist.

“Oh, gods…”

He stumbled forward in a horrified daze, heedless of the heat of the fire. Its light showed off the damage that the explosion had wrought to his young protégé, with burns and cuts covering the entire right side of her body. Bits of her clothing still smoldered, and he carefully turned her on her side, fearful of making the wounds worse. “Oh, no. Gods, no no no…”

“M…” she mumbled, barely conscious. “Mas…”

“Shh,” he said, fighting back tears of rage and terror, “lie still. You’ll be…you…”

“I’m sorry…got my coat dirty…”

“Hush.” He looked up at the scattering crowd. “H-help! I need some help here!” None paid any heed. A few paces down the alley next to the bank, he could almost make out someone. They were standing against one of the building’s walls, doing something…painting? Writing? It didn’t make any sense. After a time the figure finished whatever task they’d been about and ran down the alley into darkness.

After what seemed an eternity of manic helplessness he spotted a large, boxy shape moving away from the fairground. It was one of the new mechanical street carriages. “Hey!” he shouted as it passed. He threw himself up at the driver, climbing into the front seat. “Stop!”

“Whoa! What’re you doin’ you idjit! We gotta get outta here—”

“Stop!” He pulled the handbrake himself, took the driver by the collar of his shirt. Inside the coach behind, two passengers shouted in alarm. “My apprentice is hurt! She’s badly burned. You must take us to the hospital! St. Thalia’s is just that way.”

“Piss off, we’re getting’ as far from here as—”

With a disgusted grunt the alchemist dug once again through his pockets and tossed whatever he had at the driver, the coins bouncing off his craggy face and onto the driver’s seat. “Here, you ghoul. Now you help me, or I’ll turn the gold in your teeth to mercury!”

Whether convinced by the money or the idle threat, the driver helped him load his apprentice into the coach against the protestations of the other passengers. The car turned down the alley, the quickest possible route to the hospital. The alchemist cradled his apprentice while they rode, and as they passed the wall of the attacked bank, he gasped in renewed shock. Scrawled across it in bright white paint were the words, By Order of the Heron Kings.

 

 

heron kings logo The Heron Kings by Eric Lewis dark grimdark fantasy novel