The old man sighed as he heard the young girl call out to him. Of course
she would come to pester. Well, only one thing for it. He gripped his knees and got up painfully from the crook of tree roots he had been resting in, checking to make sure none of his various bits and baubles had fallen off. He'd be upset to lose one in these woods, fond as he was of them. Stepping out from behind the tree, he grinned. Seems that he had come out just as the girl had spun the other way, yelling at him in completely the wrong direction. He cleared his throat to get her attention, making sure to stay in a non-threatening pose. Young and inexperienced as she was, she could still be dangerous.
“Yes, you would want to help your friend, I am sure,” he said gruffly, mastering his face into a slight grimace. “Unfortunately, I am not entirely certain what there is to be done. Those notes were unfinished, and it seems my apprentice triggered some kind of backlash during the rituals.” He gestured up the slope towards the ruined cottage.
“There is a chance, mind you, that the girl's mind might still be in there somewhere. He might not have made that much of a mess. But I am not entirely certain we'd be doing the siren any favours by disorienting her a second
time, and this one with the creeping horror of what was done to her and memories of a life she can no doubt no longer return to.”
His frown deepened, and he stroked his grizzled beard thoughtfully, staring at the younger alchemist. “I'm not sure what, precisely, to tell you about my erstwhile apprentice, however. His name is Sebastian, and had been studying with me for several decades.” The old man's eyes flashed, and for just a moment, there were as black as midnight, more crow than human.
“He has stolen several artefacts of mine, gathered over the course of my life. Most of them were either consumed in the ritual to create the siren or destroyed in the resulting cataclysm. That ritual dagger you found, for example, was an heirloom of a long dead friend. Ruined now, sadly. I don't know what all might have survived.”
He shook his head. “I do know that Sebastian himself is
still alive. I can feel him still slithering about. And as you saw from your own perusal of his notes, he is a sick, twisted man. I wish I could say there's hope to turn him around, but that is not the case. I'm afraid he must be put down.”
“In the mean time,” he nodded back up the slope towards the ruins. “I will do what I can to analyse the siren. Berenice, you said her name was? I will make sure she has a good founding in her natural abilities, and some defensive and utilitarian magics to make her more comfortable. The sort of accidental creation she was born in, however, leaves it impossible to find any sort of reversal spell. For that, I am sorry.But I am sure that you will want to check for yourself, and there may indeed be a few things I can teach you, should you deign to show up and make sure I am trustworthy. And, as a token of good faith...”
He reached into the inner pocket of his long coat, fishing around for some moments before finally pulling out what looked like a dreamcatcher that had fared poorly in a windstorm or three. Though it looked like a tangle of string, black feathers, beads, and fur, as he held it up, it spread itself out into an intricate three-dimensional shape. And then immediately began humming slightly, the feathers all orienting back to Berenice's nest.
“While I am certain you have some fancy technological whatchamacallit do detect magic, there is no way like the old way. The pitch of the humming tells you how close, and the feathers will change, ah, there they go.” They had turned a bloody red, tinged with blue on the tips. “They will change colours to let you know what sorts of magics they are detecting. The beads will heat up if you are in eminent danger.” He folded up the whole thing into its seemingly natural shape of a ball of tangled string and held it out. “Free of charge. I don't need it right now, and if I do I can always make another.”