Alriak was rummaging through the Ship’s Laboratory. It was almost at the very bottom of the airship, only the Ship’s Hold was below decks from here. The Ship’s Lab was adjacent to the Ship’s Office and the Personal Quarters of the Court Magister.
The Court Magister, the fearsome and feared Baba Yaga was the personal magic-user of the Sand King and something of an alchemical twisted genius. Obscure beakers and pipes, test tubes and jars adorned the shelves and desktops throughout these rooms. Although this workshop is designed for a shipwright, for every carpenter’s tool there was a pestle and mortar; for each smith’s file was a pair of tweezers and tongs. Many of the jars, glass vials and test tubes were filled with oils and unguents, both arcane and alchemical that could only be discovered by poking around down here, if one knew what they were looking for.
Alriak had spent a great deal of time in the lab as pup. His parents had hoped he would eventually learn something that would be prove his worth to the Duke. Unfortunately he never did. Truth be told, Alriak didn’t believe he could ever make up for the burden he was to everyone.
The beakers and burners stirred a powerful nostalgia within Alriak and his mind wandered. In those days, he had been apprenticed to the Duke’s Magister, Banu’s master alchemist. Alriak could tell the master alchemist saw no giftedness in him and merely tolerated his presence because it was his duty to do so.
The Duke always demanded that Alriak practice his craft as the Alchemist did. But Alriak’s talent, while magical, was not that of a magister and his mind wandered constantly. The dusty tomes and scrolls meant less to Alriak than simple experimentation. “What if” had become the question of the day for Alriak and he could tell it frustrated the master alchemist if not enraged him.
Alriak laughed to himself as his mind traversed the years. Alriak’s erratic approach to magic had left his master’s lab a mess on several occasions. Explosions, volatile fumes and sickness became the norm as his experiments went awry and added to his score of failures.
The laughter turned to tears as he recalled wanting, so badly, to be loved and accepted by his family and the Duke. It wasn’t that he was bad it was just that everyone had expectations of him that he could never meet or live up to.
This Ship’s Lab, though, now this rivaled anything the Duke’s Alchemist had ever dreamed of. Baba Yaga had outdone herself and it seemed to Alriak that nothing would be impossible with a lab such as this. There were stockpiles of the more common mixtures such as potions of healing and health, weapon oils and poisons. But there were some very advanced elixirs and potions, things that were foreign to Alriak. Things that he had only dreamed of creating himself, and things of which he could never dream.
He could tell the lab had been abandoned in a hurried fashion and that the pirates had made no use of it since. Half finished experiments and spilled materials littered the work benches, waiting for the Court Wizard and his associates to return to them – but none had in ninety-nine years.
As he examined the beakers he noticed a small vial that he seemed oddly attracted to. A few small mushroom caps lay in the bottom of the clear yellow liquid. Alriak was well versed in the various types of fungus used in alchemy but he had never seen the likes of these before. The tops of the caps were a bright orange with magenta swirls patterned about the surface. The mixture smelled poisonous and ordinarily he would consider it deadly but he was compelled by it. Compelled to smell and taste it.
Madness, he thought to himself, this should be tossed overboard before someone is hurt by it. But the strange feeling compelled him even further and Alriak had the vial to his lips before he even realized it.
Suddenly aware of what he had done, Alriak threw the vial across the room. As it smashed against the wall Alriak began to vomit, violently trying to expel the disgusting liquid. He examined himself in the mirror and looked quickly at his hands and feet. Everything seemed normal. He was relieved that he wasn’t dead. He no longer felt ill and the sour taste in his mouth was starting to dissipate.
“Well that wasn’t too bad,” he muttered to himself, turning away from the mirror.
A light breeze blew through the cabin, startling him. It was odd that there would be a breeze this deep into the ship. As he turned to the door, it were as if, in one slow moment the walls, ceiling and floor of the laboratory fell away into darkness and shadow and he was standing in a place without boundaries. No floor, no walls and no ceiling or sky. There was nothing except swirling mist and eddying shadows. It was indescribable to him and he became afraid. It were as if the place he were in existed on its own, not a part of anywhere.
Materializing out of nowhere a figure started to form before his eyes. It was a short fairy dressed in a threadbare, dusty shift.
“My, my, my, oh my!" The fairy said, chewing on a stalk of wheat. “Don’t be afraid, young Mortal Man. Together we might learn to fly, you and I. You must be aboard The Princess Parizade, the King’s own boat. You’ll need to learn some new tricks if you plan to stay afloat. I can teach you, if you have no fear.”
“I was, am, a prisoner of the Court Mage. My skills, without peer, the King thought it best I serve him, albeit from a cage.” The fairy was about three and a half feet tall with grey mottled skin and a long, pointed nose.
When he spoke, his voice was soft and lilting and it calmed Alriak like a mother’s calming hand upon a child. It was like nothing he had ever known, and he wished he could feel this way forever. Alriak sensed himself conversing with the fairy but no words were necessary here. It were as if they were talking without talking.
“Drink the yellow potion and step backwards through the mirror. That is how I will hear your call. Here, I must stay, and there you will play; but in-between will be our study hall. A potion of flight? Yes, we might. A potion of healing? Our potential knows no ceiling.”
Alriak knew without any doubt, that the fairy could show him things that no Mortal witch had knowledge of, not even poor Meloria. Excitement filled his heart and he was eager to discover all the fairy had to show him, but things were changing again. The mist was swirling and thickening, becoming darker and obscuring his vision.
“Do not worry.” The fairy grinned. “You need not hurry. I will be here, you needn’t fear. When you return.”
Alriak awoke on the floor. He must have fallen over backwards after he drank the potion, and hit his head against the shield that hung on the wall. The shield, though, was somehow strapped to his arm, with a stalk of wheat caught in the buckle. It was a masterfully crafted iron buckler. Jet-black, but emblazoned with a field of stars and a burning comet. It was truly a beautiful shield.
Alriak knew something very special had just taken place. His mind was racing as it never had before. He knew that what he had experienced wasn’t one of his dreams. It was as real as his current reality but something much better. He looked forward to returning but he knew in his heart the time was not right. He had much to accomplish here now and he reconciled himself to the belief that he would just know when the time was right to go back to that magical place.
Exhausted from his experience he laid down upon the Court Magister’s bed relaying all that had happened today. He had never experienced such a feeling of hope, it seemed to well up from deep within him. His destiny lie ahead and in his heart he was ready to face it, whatever it may be.
by Ian Hewitt
Game Master (Ian Hewitt)