The Cauldron- Part 3
(continued from: The Cauldron Part 2)
Eligere ate in silence, staring into the distance.
As he finished his meal, floating dots on the horizon became waving lines. The Dragons were returning. Whatever had happened at the Portal had happened quickly. There were only three Dragons this time, and no Elven Guard. The Sorcerer Leaf rode the Dragon that Hedge had been riding. Hedge looked like he had aged a decade in the last half hour, and rode the smallest Dragon, who shrugged its rider off unceremoniously. Hedge hit the ground in a heap, now wearing a simple tunic. A third figure dismounted, and Eligere snapped to attention as he realized who it was. General Securos, one of the four generals of the Elven Army, indicated for the younger Alchemist to be at ease.
Striding from his Dragon, the Sorcerer Leaf nodded towards the witch. “Clara, this form suits you. I hope you are well.”
Clara curtsied prettily in return. “Well met, Leaf. You seem twice the man you were last we met.”
Leaf gave a brief and sardonic smile. Eligere had heard the Sorcerer never smiled, and noted the moment as potentially unique. He made a note to tell his family and friends of the Sorcerer’s Smile.
Leaf produced the Cauldron. “ I apologize for this interruption of your appointed task. Hedge has been dismissed from his position. The task was clearly passed from me to you, and backed with the authority of General Securos.“
The Elven General coolly regarded Eligere. “Leaf seems to think you have useful qualities. One of them may have been your use as bait in our efforts to uncover the corruption of your former Department Head.“ Instead of looking at Hedge, he looked directly at Clara, who smiled sweetly back. Her smile was not returned. “Witches, Sorcerers and the like sometimes forget that sentient beings can find manipulation offensive. I will have to apologize for him, I suppose. I was unaware of that particular detail of the operation.” The Elven general turned to the older Alchemist on the ground. “Hedge seems more fit to serve the Fuddites than the Elves of the Emerald Dragon. We will arrange to transfer him tomorrow. “ Hedge whimpered piteously. The Fuddites were a group of goblins known for intimidation and dishonesty. No one liked the Fuddites.
General Securos turned his square jaw and steel gaze back to Eligere. “That said, the Sorcerer’s recommendation is a powerful one. I would promote you to 2nd Alchemist…if I could. The rules of the Elven Chain prevent me. Third Alchemist will have to suffice.”
Eligere tried to muster some gratitude, but was unable. He had very little interest in what position he held in the Chain, at this point. He bowed in acceptance, and the General seemed satisfied.
Leaf was growing impatient. “Enough of who did what to whom, and who will be what. Instantiation is overdue.” Leaf handed the Cauldron ungenerously to Hedge. Eligere thought he noticed a flash of indignance in the runes of the Pot. He massaged his temple, trying not to admit to himself that he was starting to think of the Cauldron as a living being.
Hedge bent to his duty. Cauldron in hand, the disgraced boss stammered the lines he had been instructed to recite. “If…if you want it, it is yours. Do you want it?” he said tremulously.
Eligere alone felt some pity for the old man, and accepted the Cauldron back as Owner.
Hedge’s eyes grew wide as each stone embedded in the Cauldron brightened from a dense sickly green to a lively emerald. As the verdant values changed, the blood drained from the old man’s face. He slipped to the ground, unconscious. General Securos slung him over the back of his Dragon easily.
Holding the Cauldron, Eligere felt a warmth coming from the arcane iron, and a rhythmic vibration. Was it…purring? He gave the Cauldron a skeptical sideways smile, and the runes seemed to glint lightly in the late morning sun in response. He was definitely losing his mind.
Leaf nodded. “To the Portal, then.” He gestured towards the Dragon on which Hedge had flown. “Incidentally, this young Dragon seems to have chosen you as its rider.”
He suddenly realized the Dragon was the one he had met at the River’s edge the day before. The Elf blinked apologetically, and the Dragon blinked back in response, not without some amusement dancing through its eyes. The Third Alchemist couldn’t think of another of his rank that had a Dragonmount. Eligere retrieved his pack and sent his horse back to camp. The Dragon bowed its neck and Eligere swung up to the saddle. He bade his farewell to Clara, who seemed sad to see him go. Moments later, Eligere looked behind him as his Dragon carried him over the hills, and saw no sign of the witch, or a hut.
Midair, General Securos split off with the disgraced and despairing Hedge. Before long, Leaf and Eligere landed at the foot of the Liquid Portal. As the clouds of dust buffeted from the wings of their mounts settled, Eligere noticed that an Alchemist’s station had been set up nearby. Judging by its superfluous decoration, he guessed it belonged to Hedge. Or rather, had belonged.
The Sorcerer and the Elf dismounted. “Perhaps you have some understanding of the power of the Cauldron, at this point, “ Leaf said. “This power seems not to corrupt you, which is not entirely unexpected, but welcome given the circumstances. “ The sorcerer of $AXI paused.
“Know this.” Leaf clasped the Elf by both shoulders. “This Object has Infinite Potential. For Good, for Evil, for Magic and Dark Magic. Fortunately we were waiting when Hedge’s dark Instance of the Cauldron was implemented. He had a valid Instance, and so gathered the Water. We apprehended him before he could draw from his Dark Pool.“
“The Cauldron is quite unique when it comes to its use of the Water, “ he continued. “Gated Liquid Pools are links to specific Realms. This Portal we stand before links to the Smartlands of Binance. Similarly, the Twin Gates of Hash lead to the many-faced mountains of Polygon. The Waters within a Cauldron, on the other hand, link to everywhere, and everywhen. The Runes are what determine the linkage, to where and to when. The Potential is literally limitless.“
“In short, this Cauldron will give you the power to draw forth things that simply do not exist in this Realm. Some will be Unique in ALL Realms. And rarity is value. Know this, Eligere, that there is risk involved, as Infinity contains all possible outcomes. Your character, while part of the equation, will not protect you from all things that emerge from beyond the Water.”
Leaf stepped back from the Portal. He gravely regarded Eligere. “You know what the next step is.”
Eligere nodded. The enormity of this moment was not lost on him. He thought of Elia, Thielen, and Deliana. He sent a silent prayer to the Spirits for their safety and happiness, regardless of what was to happen to him. He knew, despite the dangers, he could not turn his back on this moment. The Cauldron seemed to be pulling him towards the Liquid Pool. It was made for this purpose, Eligere now knew. Perhaps he was, as well. As he grew closer to the shining sheet, he could see the resolve in the eyes of his watery mirror image. Each change in the topology of the Portal seemed to be accompanied by its own little whisper, reminding him of the whispering runes in the witch’s hut. He leaned to the Portal and listened closer, he heard his own voice, faintly, as if on the other side of the Portal, saying “…accompanied by its own little whisper.” Were these his… thoughts? He glanced over the left shoulder of his reflection and could see Leaf there. The Elf heard a rippled utterance from behind the water. “Get on with it, boy.” It sounded like Leaf’s voice, but it was frothing with anger.
The Cauldron was tugging him forward with greater insistence.
Eligere took a deep breath, and made the decision to dip the Cauldron.
“Do not hesitate,” Leaf said behind him. But something seemed off. The Sorcerer’s voice was coming from the wrong side, over the wrong shoulder. Before he had a chance to change his mind, the Cauldron completed Eligere’s choice, and pulled itself into the Liquid surface. Eligere felt a shock through his arms as the Cauldron began to fill. He looked over his reflection’s right shoulder, and there was the Sorcerer, again, but in accordance with where his voice had come from. How could the reflection be over both shoulders? Eligere could see Leaf reaching out a hand in warning, but he was moving impossibly slowly…
In an Instance, the duplicate Sorcerer was at the far face of the Portal, underwater and real, and not at all a reflection. His face was twisted into a vicious snarl as bubbles streamed forward between yellowed teeth and popped on the surface of the Water inches from Eligere’s face. His spindly, wizened fingers were grasping at the Cauldron, greenish veins pulsing with greed. Panic-stricken, Eligere summoned the last of his strength and wrenched the Cauldron away from the Liquid Pool. He stumbled to the ground, trying to avoid spilling the contents. The twin Sorcerer was staring down at him, screaming in rage, an alien sound that sent sharp ripples across the Portal. The veined visage sank back and down into the depths until the mist of its furious eyes was all that was left, before that too dissolved into the surface. His heart beating through his chest, Eligere knew what his worst nightmares would be from now on.
Leaf had reached the Elf, and helped him to his feet. “Did my twin have a Cauldron when last you saw him? Did he manage to duplicate it?” Eligere responded that he did not see a second Cauldron, but that he did not know for sure. Leaf closed his eyes as if in meditation. After a moment, he sighed. “I’m afraid that my counterpart has the same abilities that I do, and has been more diligent in employing them. If he does have an Instance of the Cauldron, he has since hidden it from my view.”
Eligere looked at his own Cauldron. There was now a second set of runes around the base, just as at the top. As the Alchemist brought the Cauldron to the workbench, he realized that he needn’t have been worried about spilling it. The liquid did not respond to being tilted.
The first experiment commenced. Leaf produced a coin purse from his robes. He instructed the Elven Alchemist to retrieve an empty vial from a nearby rack and to lower it in as far as he could without the tongs touching the Liquid. Leaf emptied the contents of the purse into the Cauldron. The gold coin seemed to dissolve rather than sink, and for a moment the silvery surface was a mix of both metals. Eligere had noted the Dragons minted on the Old Kingdom coin…Leaf had dropped what was once worth a year’s worth of a Fourth Alchemist’s pay into the venture.
At first, it seemed like nothing was happening. Just as Eligere was beginning to think they had failed, liquid bubbled up to the top of the vial. A pink hue, bright and unnatural. He used the tongs to put the vial back in the rack, knowing that it might be too hot to touch…or too cold. The cauldron was buzzing on the table, apparently content.
“Not an unfair price for that potion,” said the Sorcerer, apparently recognizing the liquid. “Allow me to demonstrate but one use of the Cauldron’s power.” He took the blue vial and quaffed it before Eligere could even manage a warning.
The Sorcerer closed his eyes as the potion’s effects took hold. Trails of blueish smoke wafted from his nostrils. When he opened his eyes, they were horrifically blue, but quickly faded back to their original pale hue. Leaf flexed his back to straighten his posture, and Eligere heard several loud cracks as the Sorcerer’s vertebrae resolved some long-standing stalemates. Leaf pulled a plain iron cauldron from a shelf beneath the Alchemist’s table and held it between his hands so that Eligere could see it plainly. The iron gave a horrific sharp shriek as the Sorcerer easily crushed it between his palms. After a moment, he handed the crumpled metal form to Eligere. It was still warm from the process of being mangled.
“A Potion of Strength. Not a permanent charm, to be sure. But certainly a thing of great utility.”
Leaf studied the Elf, pinkness returning briefly to the Sorcerer’s eyes as his emotions flared. “My twin may have a Cauldron, and we must admit that there is risk from that. But what that side of the Portal does not have is a copy of you, Eligere. We must use that to our advantage.”
“Your task continues, of course, but you have performed this first part admirably. You stayed true to your principles despite the risks. The next stage requires diligence and record keeping on your part.”
The Sorcerer’s fingers traced the lip of the Cauldron. “The Runes here reflect the happenings in this world, mostly due to the Owner. You, in this case. The Runes here at the bottom are dependent on another realm, or even another time in this realm. Your job is to experiment, and record all changes in both sets of Runes. You must take down the results of all of the combinations of these runes, and the corresponding transmogrifications. Decipher the runes to the best of your ability. If your cleverness matches your character, you will succeed. For the good of the Realm, and the validity of the Chain.”
Eligere smiled wearily. He was not someone prone towards pridefulness, but he felt his breast swelling. Beyond in the midday sun, his newfound Dragon bellowed a raucous cry of victory.
“For the good of the Realm, and the validity of the Chain, “ Eligere said, beating back tears of pride.
What powers await those who dare to join the ranks of Magic?