Mason the Apprentice

Mason pushed his sandy blond hair out of his eyes and breathed slowly. He watched bubbles form in the alembic, watched the liquid change from milky green to clear as steam started to collect in the tubing leading to the other beaker.

“Cooler” he said and the salamander on the copper plate below the alembic chirped and glowed a little less brightly. Mason watched the condensing liquid drip into the lower beaker, watched the upper beaker settle from a boil to a simmer and nodded.

“Five,” Mason said to the salamander and held up one hand with fingers spread. The salamander chirruped and went stalk still, staring ahead, keeping the heat even. Teaching a salamander to accept voice commands had been a long process but Mason felt it was time well spent. He straightened up the workshop, cleaned out a few bottles and left them to dry on the edge of the sink, and swept a little more to stay busy than to clean the already immaculate floor. His master kept a clean house and Mason had always been a tidy lad to begin with.

The salamander chirped twice and scampered into a low dish of water to cool off. Mason picked up a bottle of fireflies and shook two into the salamander's enclosure, then carried the little fire amphibian over to bed down for the night.

Once the salamander was safely enclosed Mason walked back over to the workbench and examined the distillate. It seemed to be ready. He pulled on a cord to alert the Magister.

“Ah, good work as always, Mason,” she said as she walked over to the table. Her practiced eye noticed the clarity of the distillate, the spotless workshop... she would soon send this boy out proudly, and miss him immensely. A good apprentice was getting harder and harder to find, and more necessary in her old age.

The Magister carefully poured Mason’s distilled liquid into a shallow silver pan. The liquid seemed unable to settle, moving in shallow waves long after it should have stilled. “That... seems to be a powerful disturbance, Magister.” Mason said, deferentially. His teacher just nodded. “Let us see if we can discover it’s source...” she said, pulling a small gold plumb bob out of her apron. She held it over the pan and watched it swing fitfully, eventually pulling to the northern edge. Mason noted the direction without being asked or instructed. The Magister smiled thinly in acknowledgement.

“And now let’s see what kind of disturbance this is...” she said and carefully poured two small dashes of a rare powder over the surface of the liquid. It had taken her nearly a year to prepare this mixture, but knowledge justified the cost.

Instantly the powder turned ruby red and started to glow. “No!” The Magister said and leaned closer, but only for a second. The powder seemed to be burning on the surface of the water, and black smoke started to pour upward in great roiling clouds.

“The copper lid, boy, quickly!” The Magister said, and Mason dove for the wall where the lid was hanging, but it was too late. The liquid burst into flame and melted the silver pan almost instantly, the liquid inside now an acrid steam, choking both of them. Mason remembered his training; he dove to the floor to get under the smoke, watched his Magister do the same. They crawled to the outside door, coughing and gagging, and lay in the dirt catching their breath as smoke billowed out of the workshop.

When the smoke cleared and they were able to enter the workshop Mason looked at the wreckage, the alembic smashed, the silver pan melted down across the surface of the workbench, the ceiling stained with dirty red and black smoke. “What... what happened, Magister?” He asked. His teacher didn’t answer, and he was startled to see her face, serious and drawn. “Mason, it appears someone is practicing demon magic. And we need to find out who.”

Note: this is a bit of a character study and setting study for my upcoming NaNoWriMo story, currently under the working title “Exchange Magic ”.