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--- Time: 2:30 PM - Six hours of Walking Later
Location: Outside of Carver, Maine
Berenice was sweating, and her legs were burning with the most intense pain she could ever imagine. Her torturer
had slowed pace for her several times, but it was not until they had finally entered the woods that she began to feel better. The fresher air had begun filtering to her more than an hour ago, and she had not realised how gross the skies above the city had felt until she made it back here to her home territory. Once they were out of sight of the suburbs, she perked up immensely, and actually quickened her pace despite her pain.
Her speech became rapid fire as she began pointing out landmarks that were almost invisible except to the creatures that lived here exclusively. ”See, Car-lee? Right there is the stain where I got three squirrels at once! Three! And just over there is one of the best rocks for sunning! Ooh, and in a few minutes we’ll see the creek I take baths in normally. The fish here are sooo much better than the ones I got you earlier!”
Charlie laughed, in a good mood herself. It’d been awhile since she had been outside the city for a good hike. After a full night of walking and then later a full morning of walking, Charlie had admitted she too was tired leaning heavily on her staff as she walked, thankful for the relief it gave. Not to mention hungry, she fished out a power bar from the bottom of her backpack. “I’m sure they are, glad we made it without a problem. The disguise went off without a hitch.
” She took a deep breath of fresh air in, “I joke about getting out of the city, but I think I’d go crazy with the quiet out here. The serenity of it all.
“Nice set up, though. Good place for a birdlady to do her thing.
” Charlie commented. “I guess nobody bugs ya out here.
” ”No, no one comes out this far. I do not know why, but I like it. Too many walkers and I would have to move. Oh, we are here!”
They had emerged from a thick wall of trees out onto a promontory overlooking the ocean two hundred feet below. The sound of the surf, now unrestricted by dense foliage, sounded clearly as the waves continued their eternal war against the coast. Outside of the line of trees, only grass and wildflowers reigned. However, the grass was much less dry than most coastal grasses, lush and verdant. Bees hummed along on their busy runs, and several thrushes flitted about, catching and eating them.
On the tip of the promontory was the remains of a blasted cabin. It might have been a handsome log affair at one point, but splinters of wood scattered almost to the treeline attested to its violent destruction. One corner, facing out to the sea, had survived, along with a few stubs of walls. Between these were strung lines of ivy and scavenged strings, and from those dangled all of Berenice’s various treasures, mostly shiny objects and animal bones. To one side, in a pile that had collapsed down the hill a bit, was a pile of bones. None of them were human, but at least one skull among those was of a larger herbivore, perhaps a female deer.
Charlie followed behind Berenice, her old skirt catching some grass. Her hand brushing through it appreciatively as she walked. Marveling at the natural sight, her eyes settling on the cabin. She stepped into the not-so-humble abode. “Shit, Berry. You’re a scavenger too.
” She said with delight, running a hand at the broken walls of the cabin. “This cabin though, it’s a total wreck. Do you know what happened?
The alchemist didn’t think it was unreasonable to ask, but she figured the siren wouldn’t know.
Berenice shrugged noncommittally as she fluttered up to the corner, not caring about her disguise now that they were out of sight of normal people. ”I do not know. This is where I was born, I think. There are still some things from before, but I do not know what they are.”
She gestured over to a spot underneath one section of surviving wall. There, covered by a torn section of tarpaulin, was a small cache of magical accouterments. Glass shards and broken alchemical bottles, some still stained with their contents, a broken stick or wand of some sort, a twisted and half-melted silver dagger, and, underneath the rest, still mostly buried under wreckage and apparently something the siren had missed and just happened to stack the rest of the junk on top of it, a charred, leather-bound tome.
Shuffling up her mask over her nose on reflex, her boots making prints in the disturbed dust on the ground. Her eyes on the wall. Charlie approached the wall lifting the tarpaulin up squinting at the contents behind it recognizing the odd assortment of items, especially the tome. She looked up to Berenice and asked, “Do you mind? I know what some of this stuff is.
Berry shrugged again. ”I have no use for it, so go ahead. I am hungry. I will go get lunch.”
She took off the beret, hanging it carefully on one of her treasure lines, and took off out towards the sea, soaring on the strong breeze coming off of the water.
Charlie watched her go, shielding her eyes from the kick up of her take off. She turned back around looking at her surroundings, the treasures, the bones, everything
. There was some value to the shinier things she had hung up, metal and coins. Her foot shifted across the floorboards, her heel knocking once and twice for hollow spots as she checked the layout. Eventually rounding back to the wall, gathering up the old styled alchemical bottles. Her grandpa had a few of these kicking around at home for nostalgia’s sake. Her hand hovered over the silver dagger, feeling something strange coming off it. Picking it up curiously she squinted her thumb running across the smoothed melted metal. It seemed to resonate with the magic inside her, she tried to transmute the silver. The material refused to budge.
” She said to herself putting the dagger aside finally moving onto the tome.
Brushing the dust off it she pulled it free from it’s hiding spot, opening it slowly with audible crack of burnt leather. She tried to pull some of the ash free from it, cleaning up the binds enough to let her open it without it falling apart. It was an understatement to say it was just in rough shape.
Sitting on her butt, crossing her long legs she flipped through the pages. Handwritten much like how many witches, sorcerers, and magic casters kept their own grimoires. She recognized some horrific rituals in English, Latin and even a little German in the anecdotes mixed generously. As she delved, her hands shook. Some passages were complete while others were destroyed by fire. Gruesome art depicting human shape being torn apart, terribly clinical notes on results of experimentation. She read on, near the end of the book there were scribbled notes and a faint sketch of Berenice’s face.
She bit at her lip beneath the mask, pained as she stared down at the sketch. This is beyond fucked up.
Her curiosity burned through her disgust, she turned the page. Jot notes about Berenice’s powers listed her ability to sing to scream
, what damage she could approximately make. Guesswork mostly. Notes on what her creator really wanted to do with her as a servant or soldier. Silver mirrors being used to… control her? Disable her? It was extensive, no clues on who this necromancer used for Berenice’s creation.
” She muttered down at the page.
The next page was a sketch of the local area and what appeared to be the leylines, on the map was noted where the cabin was and a distinctly very strange funnel drawn directly from the leyline. In an underline next to the funnel was the word POWER
A fat haddock slapped onto the ground directly in front of Charlie as the siren swept low overhead, and then perched back where she had been, another fish still struggling in her hands. She grinned at the alchemist, hair still dripping with seawater. ”These ones fought hard, so they should taste very good.”
She punctuated the statement by biting deep into the spine of the fish she held, blood pouring forth as the creature died. Spitting out the chunk of bone and flesh, she said, ”I am sorry, I know walkers like their food burnt, but I do not know how to make fire and I think you like it less burnt than I could make it. Find anything you can use?”
She looked at Charlie as she bit into her fish, watching politely for the response.
Charlie shot off the floor with a shriek at Berenice’s return, the tome flipped upside down and her staff held out. “I- I swear to fucking God, Berry! Fuck me!
She held her chest hoping for her heart to slow down a pace. She looked up at her dripping head, blood stains from the fish around her mouth, reminding her all too well of the scary shit she finished reading about. Poking at the book with the end of her staff she said collecting her composure, “Found out quite a bit. You’re the result of some sick bastard’s experiment.
She ignored the fish, pulling the mask down her jaw set in a hard line. “Frankenstein bullshit is what. Necromancy, leylines, human experimentation.
” Stepping up to the book again she used her staff to flip it over, not willing to touch it with her hands. Stabbing at the page with Berenice’s sketch.
She was shocked at the vehemence in Charlie’s voice. ”I only barely know what those words mean, Car-lee. But it sounds bad. Does that mean I am bad?”
She lowered her fish, staring at her companion with her golden eyes. ”I do not feel bad. But you sound...angry. Is it me?”
Charlie closed her eyes, taking a deep breath in through her nose. From the day she spent with Berenice, she could say firmly that she wasn’t bad just her extremely volatile origins. Her instincts told her that much, rarely were they wrong. The alchemist licked her lips before answering, she looked up and right in her eyes. Letting there be no mistake, she meant what she said.
“No. You’re not bad, Berenice. Berry… You’re fine, a little rough around the edges but- people say the same about me. I’m angry at your creator, angry he-they-who the fuck ever decided it was a good idea to do this. Decided that human life meant nothing for the sake of his experiments.
” She said, firm and with a warm conviction. “Let’s eat, then maybe I don’t know catch up with Carrie if I can get a decent signal.
Charlie smiled picking up the fish with her bare hands, dusting off the best she could. “I just need a sharp stick.
Berenice’s head snapped up as a sharp, echoing clap sounded across the ruins. Leaning up against the edge of the ruined wall was an old man, grizzled and bent, though still obviously capable of quick movement, as he had crossed into their space without either of them noticing. “Well spoken, child,” he said, in a commanding baritone. “Well spoken indeed. And that confirms you are not
the little pissant that made her, so I don’t have to kill you.”
” Charlie yelped, turning her back to Berenice and adopting a defensive position her staff held out with both hands, glaring at the man.
He rocked himself off of the wall with a twist of his hips, and the shabby overcoat he wore flipped open for a moment, revealing a well-worn sword hilt hanging at his hip. The man fairly oozed
sorcerous power. “And, if I make the logical assumption of that speech that you are a genuinely good person and of sound judgement, then that means I do not have to kill her
, either.” He nodded his head at Berenice, who had dropped her fish and flared her wings out, baring her teeth and the claws of her hands, clearly ready to defend Charlie and herself.
“Easy, girls. I am no enemy of yours,” he said, holding his hands up to show they were empty. “Rather, I would be after the one who created her. Seeing how, after all, he is my responsibility.” Behind him, still against the wall, leaned a staff much like Charlie’s, though covered in runes and bits of shamanic totems.
“Who the fuck are you?
” Charlie snapped, her eyes roaming his body noting the sword, the staff, his build. Picking up on the way the air seemed to change with his entry. It became charged more so than what she noticed spending the day with Berenice. It prickled at her forehead. “Answer real quick, I haven’t a lick of control over Berry here.
The man chuckled, clearly at ease. “You can call me Salamander. Everyone does these days. Don’t ask why, it’s an old
joke. And to more clearly answer your question, I suppose you could say I am the siren’s grandfather, or as close as she’s like to get. I taught her maker most
of what he knew. Or knows, perhaps.” He made a gesture, and the tome snapped through the air and into his hands. He flipped it open, still talking as he perused.
Charlie’s expression hardened at the show of force, her grip tightening on the staff her magic seeping into the wood, moving up to the copper she modified into it.
“I did not, however, teach him any of this. He left my endorsement some time ago, and I have been trying to find him, fearing what path he would likely take and hoping I was wrong. Unfortunately, I was not,” he glanced up at Berenice and his face radiated sorrow. “And some have suffered direly for my tardiness.”
“As for you, miss,” he said, turning his gaze to Charlie, “I am in your debt for caring for this poor creature. Had I found her before you, I may not have realised my error before putting her down as an abomination created by a mad man, instead of giving her a chance like I am now.” He dropped the book, which flared into bright blue flames and was more than half ash before it hit the ground.
“The name is Alchemyst, I read the book.
” She said keeping eye contact shuffling her footing, ever so slightly. “So you’re in my debt eh? Does that mean a free ticket to leave?
” She watched his expression, looking for signs of a liar. She knew she could use the various treasures Berenice had collected for their escape. Her own pocket was full of escape routes as well. She had no interest in fighting him, he clearly had control over his own brand of sorcery whatever it was. “Hardly believe a word you say, you’ve got some charisma about ya that is setting off alarm bells. Don’t trust you.
She was plain, while her mind worked at the tin next.
Berenice, for her part, had frozen at the word ‘grandfather’. She knew the meaning well enough, but from what her two new friends had said, she wasn’t likely to have one. Her wings dropped and she relaxed slightly, but remained watchful.
“Oh, I won’t keep you here. You can leave if you want. But she,” he looked back at the siren, “cannot. Not yet, at any rate. She’s quite young, yes? She needs to learn control, conscious use of her power. I would not be surprised to learn that there were mistakes.” He sighed. “And given how she seems to be staying alive, what is keeping her together, she will need to know how to defend herself.”
He held up a hand, forestalling protestation. “I know, she can get by with friends, and I am not, right now, trustworthy. But I assure you, I mean neither of you any harm.” The tome had finished burning, leaving nothing behind. He kicked at it with one roughshod boot, growling under his breath. “And as it is, I need to make very sure
my student does not return in any form to wreak more havoc on innocent lives.”
“As for the boon, I will leave it up to you what you might desire. I am a very old and very accomplished gatherer of secrets. I could teach you any number of things.”
Charlie chewed on what he said, finally after a moment she stood up straight, spinning the staff in her hand it hit floorboard with a large metallic thunk to stop. “You really think he could have survived this?
” She gestured to their surroundings. “This place is a wreck. He would have had to cast some serious wards, already had some in place, whatever, to protect himself from all this damage. From what I read, he didn’t strike me as the type to not… take precautions.
” Breaking eye contact with the man, Salamander, she looked to Berenice.
“He’s right about one thing though, Berry. You had no idea what you were doing with your voice earlier today when you sang, as knowledgeable as Carrie is I don’t think she can teach you to control what you can do.
” She admitted quietly, “I hate to say it, because this guy is slick as oil. The choice is up to you, Berry. I’ll stay if you want to stay, I’ll crack this guy over the head if you asked me to. But, you get the final say on this.
She tucked a little bit of hair behind Berenice’s ear, “You’re one of us, so we stick together yeah?
Berenice stared at the man for a moment, and then at Charlie. Her tail feathers flicked while she thought, and she stood on one foot, and then the other, obviously struggling with the decision. She really knew neither of these people that well, but then, the children hadn’t known her and they were now her best friends. Her wings stretched out and closed back in close to her body. ”That is not necessary, Car-lee. Sally-man may be strange, but so are we. If I am one of us, so is he, yes?”
The old man smiled, but her gaze flicked back to him. ”That does not mean I trust you, Sally-man. You may come to the edge of the woods from now on, no further. If you come into my nest again uninvited I will claw your eyes out of your head and eat them.”
She hopped down from the top of the wall and down to stand next to Charlie. She offered a hand for a shake. ”You, my friend, are welcome to stay, if you wish. I will let the Sally-man stay if you want to learn things. But you must be tired.”
Charlie shook her hand smiling, the handshake at the top of the most normal thing she did all day today. “Exhausted, actually.
” She pointed with her staff at Salamander. “Not tired enough to kick your ass if I need to.
“Whatever I need to learn I learn from my own mentor. I don’t get much about other types of magic but sorcerers rarely understand alchemy even if they tried.
” She added with no small amount of arrogance “He can hang out in the woods if he wants. The raw haddock is looking better by the second.
The Salamander smiled genuinely, a glint in his eye. “Well, I will take my leave. I will return with the dawn, Siren.” He looked over at Charlie, and said with a wink, “If you ever have trouble with it, since I know a few alchemists who have, try a combination of sugar water, cellulose, and a good dose of a multivitamin if you would like your plants to be healthy in those dark winter months.” He laughed to himself and snatched his staff up as he walked off towards the woods.
Berenice looked at Charlie quizzically. “What does any of that mean, Car-lee?”
She snorted at his retreating back, “Yeah- well, I already knew that!
” Then added, “And her name is Berenice!
Then waited until he was well out of earshot, she whispered to Berenice, “The bastard knows how to alchemize photosynthesis. I’ve been begging my grandpa for years to teach me.
” ”Do you think he was telling the truth? About my creator maybe still being alive. About…”
She gulped down her thoughts for a second, and shook her head and retrieved her own fish, burying her face into it and eating in thoughtful silence.
Charlie went outside with a shrug, “Who knows, he’s weird. This entire scenario is weird. Might come up with some ideas after I eat.
” With that said she built a fire, lighting it with the flint and steel in her backpack roasting the gutted fish over the fire.
A pair of new and terribly strange friends falling into their own thoughts, with an even stranger man at the edge of the woods with his own agenda.