Transmutation (short fiction)

Wren & Hess

The shopkeeper opened the door for Wren and Hess.

“You aren’t the regular inspectors,” said the shopkeeper.

“We’re filling in,” said Hess. “Bad case of troll rot running through the constabulary. Alchemy inspectors were hit extra hard.”

The shopkeeper rubbed his hands on his robe. “I see. Come in then. I don’t have all day.”

The shop was little more than a hole-in-the-wall in a corner of the Dregs. There was enough space for Wren and Hess and the shopkeeper and the potions lining the walls, and that was about it.

Hess unhooked the wand hanging from his belt and passed it over the various vials. If the wand detected anything untoward, its crystal would change color accordingly.

“We’re going to need to see your laboratory as well,” said Wren.

“Don’t have one,” replied the shopkeeper. “All my potions are mixed off site. I’m just a merchant. Couldn’t mix a potion if my life depended on it. I can give you the addresses of my suppliers, but you should already have them.”

He went behind his till and sorted through his money. He seemed nervous to Wren. More nervous than usual. All the potion shops in the city had their questionable stock. Standard procedure was to inspect, confiscate, fine, and report, but it wasn’t usually worth it to drag someone to the Tower for carrying one or two overpowered love potions. Every alchemy shopkeeper and constable knew the drill. So far, the owners had been more irritated than afraid.

But this one, something about him set her instincts on edge.

“Is there a problem, sir?” she asked.

“No problem,” he replied. “I’m just an honest merchant trying to make a living and constabulary are bad for business in the Dregs.”

Hess found a handful of questionable elixirs. They were logged and fines were collected. While putting the potions in a bag, Hess dropped his wand. It flared bright red as it struck the floor. He pulled away the rug to reveal a small trapdoor.

“What’s down there, sir?”

“What? Nothing. I didn’t even know it was down there. I was holding it for a friend.”

Wren put her hand on her sword while Hess opened the door. The small collection of hidden potions caused the wand to flash a spectrum of colors. None of them good.

The alchemist threw something at Wren and Hess’s feet. It exploded in acrid green smoke that burned their nostrils. They exited the shop, coughing and wiping away tears.

The shopkeeper, caught within his own noxious cloud, came running out coughing, blindly tripping past Wren and Hess. He stumbled in a desperate scramble, carrying an armload of potions. Several tumbled to the cobblestones in his mad flight. A puddle burned through the street. Another produced a skull-shaped cloud that wouldn’t stop screaming.

They ran after the shopkeeper. To lose sight of him for a moment would be enough for him to give them the slip in the narrow, blind alleys of the Dregs. He no doubt knew a dozen escape routes and would’ve used them if he wasn’t struggling with the same blurred vision they were.

He threw a potion over his shoulder. It sprouted a thick, purple beanstalk that quickly blocked their path. Wren hacked at it with her sword, but Hess crawled up a wall and was up and over in a flash. He caught up with the shopkeeper in a shadowy dead end.

“Put the potions down,” said Hess.

The shopkeeper clutched his hand. A piece of glass had pierced his palm. The wound bled, but the blood was gold, not red.

“I broke it,” he said quietly.

The veins of his arm thickened as his blood transmuted. He reached out to Hess as the transformation overtook his flesh. Within moments, a golden statue of the helpless shopkeeper was all that was left. Frozen in mid-step, he fell over, breaking into several pieces.

“Poor bastard,” remarked Wren as they waited for a team from dispatch to collect the remains.

“Not the first alchemist to try to make his fortune chasing transmutation,” said Hess. “Won’t be the last. Still, a lousy way to go.”

“More lousy than you know, partner.”

She scratched a copper coin with one of the shopkeeper’s shiny fingers.

“Fool’s gold.”

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