Will walked out onto the street an hour later, clean but with a frown on his face. Drummond had neglected to mention that this place called The Blue Rose was a high-class spa and not a simple bath house. The simplest and cheapest option they had cost almost all the money Will had left. A full silver coin for a simple room with what was essentially just a fancier barrel of water for less than an hour was just wrong. But it did come with high quality soap, plus Will figured he owed his body some luxury for a change. Adding to that he didn’t want to just leave after he walked in and heard the prices. That would just be embarrassing. He sighed to himself. Now he only had three measly copper coins to his name. From thirty three silver coins to three copper. That was more money than he’d ever spent in a day in his entire life. And he still felt he was coming up quite a bit short of what he’d wanted. At least he smelled clean.
Hinden’s north district was also known as the inner city, or the upper city. It was separated from the middle district where he was now by a wall. The Inner Wall separated the richest from the less rich. Here guards were stationed at pretty much every crossing, and several groups were out patrolling the streets even during the day. Not even successful tradesmen and rich merchants had their stores in this district. Only people such as noblemen and alchemists had the privilege to live within these walls.
The inner city was the smallest part of Hinden City, if you looked simply at its size. But that simply wasn’t enough to get the full picture. Here each and every building was built in marble or brick, and was at least four stories tall. Back when Will had been living in Annville, this was what he’d imagined big cities to be. A place where everyone lived grand lives in opulate buildings that were almost akin to palaces. Boy had he been wrong.
Now as he was seeing these sights he tried as hard as he could not to gawk. He walked as if he belonged, trying not to draw any untoward attention to himself. It wasn’t unheard of for people to get escorted out of the northern district by a guard if they were seen as ‘unfitting’.
He’d tried to make himself as wealthy-looking as possible, but compared to the rest of them he still stood out like a redfish in a net full of tuna.
Much to his surprise however, nobody came up to him to tell him to leave. In fact, nobody even looked at him twice. Without any incident Will managed to walk right up to the Alchemists Guild Hall. He took a deep breath and walked inside.
The Guild Hall was a truly gigantic building. Just the foyer was the size of a normal three-story house. Will’s new shoes echoed against the marble floor with each step he took. Trying not to stare too much, he identified an appropriate person to approach and walked over towards them and took his place in line. The Guild Hall wasn’t a place where alchemists actually did alchemy. It was a meeting place, where they had their discussions and kept their records. It was also said it held the largest library of books in the entire Hindenrun Duchy, perhaps the largest in the entire kingdom. Of course the books were off limits to outsiders, especially people like Will. People like him would come to the hall simply to get information or if you had a special request for a potion you’d like made.
“Next” The woman behind the counter spoke politely as it became Will’s turn.
“I have an potion I’d like identified.” he said.
“An identification request, okay.” the woman said. “Any one of the cities practicing alchemists could do that. You could just visit any one…” she paused, and looked him over. The smile on her face suddenly seemed condescending, although not in a malicious way. More like the look a parent had when they were teaching a child who doesn’t know any better. Pity was perhaps the most apt emotion that smile evoked. The woman either didn’t notice Will’s frown or didn’t care. She simply took out a map of the northern district, then marked out three locations by circling them.
“These three would be the best options for you.” she said. “You should go try your luck there first.”
Will took the paper and left without a word. He didn’t know what he would’ve sounded like if he’d spoken. He was tired. He’d spent what to him was a fortune on clothes, and still he was too underdressed. That woman had looked at him as if he was a penniless man living on the street. And while that was at least partly if not mostly true, she could at least try not to show it on her face.
‘Redwoods Alchemy Lab’ was only a few blocks from the guild hall, so it became an obvious first stop. But the door was closed when he arrived. Will did not want to cause a scene by banging on it to see if someone would answer. At best he might just offend the alchemist, at worst he’d just be thrown out of the district by the guard. All he could do was head to the second location.
As he walked he found himself drawn to the luxuries of the inner city. Things that the other people walking the street didn’t even notice or think about, but to him stood out as clearly as a hole in the hull.
The streets were clean, for one thing. And they were also too wide. Will thought three large carriages could pass each other without any trouble on any of these streets. It made him feel exposed, out in the open. He found himself keeping as close to the buildings as he could as he walked.
Speaking of the buildings, they were too tall. And too far apart. Why did every house need a garden, anyway? And they all had glass windows, many of them taller than he was. Totally incomprehensible. All it took was a single rock for dozens of gold to simply be destroyed in an instant.
But strangest of all were the windows that were all blackened. No matter how he thought Will couldn’t make any sense of them whatsoever. Even if he thought ordinary windows were irresponsible, he could at least see the appeal of them. But what was the point of a window you couldn’t even see out of?
If they were made to open then why not just have wooden shutters instead. Much cheaper, and safer too he’d wager. Was it just a way to display that you had more money than you knew what to do with?
Will shook his head. When he got rich he wouldn’t spend his money on stupid things like that. He’d buy things that were useful. What he sought was a freedom from stress and arduous labor, not the admiration and envy of others. All he wanted was to be rich enough. Was that too much to ask?
The second alchemist was in, but as soon as he walked in the door he was told to go away. ‘Master Thom isn’t available right now.’ was what the man said.
Just the third location left.
‘Jocelyn’s’ was in comparison to the other alchemists a rather inconspicuous building. It was still large, and still had the large chimney sticking up that Will had come to realize was typical for a place where alchemical tinctures were brewed. But it didn’t have gaudy and ornate designs plastered all over the front like the others had. It was only a simple sign that said ‘Open’, and nothing more. Will felt hope rise in his chest. Perhaps they wouldn’t throw him out.
The inside smelled of flowers and smoke. Most of the scents were unfamiliar and foreign, but there were a few familiar ones that Will could make out. Plums, red sea onion, and if he wasn’t mistaken… Molten iron? Yes, he was sure that’s what that smell was. He remembered it well from the smithy back in Annville. A smell you could taste in your mouth as much as your nose. It was mixed together with the smell of burning coal and cooking meat. Will wasn’t sure what to make of it, but he found it rather comforting. Alchemists were strange, and the things they were doing should smell weird, or it wasn’t proper alchemy.
Apart from a counter by the back wall and a bench to sit on the small room was empty. The counter wasn’t manned but it had a bell sitting on it, and there was a door leading further inside behind the counter. Will walked up and rang the bell. He tried not to get nervous as he waited, and failed miserably. He took deep breaths and wiped his suddenly sweaty palms all over his new pants before he could stop himself. The more time that passed the more uncertain he became. Each second seemed like an eternity. He tried to tell himself that it would all work out. That an alchemist would come out that door, take one look at his bottle and offer him a large sum of money immediately to buy it. He didn’t manage to fool himself even for a second.
After a while the door finally opened and a young woman walked out. She had black hair up in a bun which was covered with a hairnet, and a white mask over her nose and mouth. Both her gloves and her apron had stains from some sort of black gooey liquid on them, but she didn’t seem to pay any attention to that at all. Will swallowed hard. This was a real alchemist. He almost thought he could see the supernatural stream out of her like wisps of smoke. She gave Will a quick once over.
“We’re busy.” she said. “Come back later. Or you can wait here, I don’t care. Just don’t ring that bell again.”
She closed the door behind her before the words Will had planned to say had managed to leave his lips. His mouth was open but the words had been in his throat. He found himself standing there stunned for several seconds before he managed to react again. What had that been? As soon as she entered just her presence had made him freeze on his feet. He hadn’t been able to speak a word? He was furious with himself. He couldn’t afford to be so timid. He didn’t have time to play it safe. All he had left was the leap of faith.
He walked over and sat down on the bench. Since she hadn’t thrown him out directly he would wait. Even if it took all day.
Not even a minute later the door opened again and the woman came back into the room. She froze for an instant when she saw him, but recovered quickly. She put up a sign on the counter.
Busy, come back later.
Why couldn’t they have put that up sooner. Maybe even write down when they're available? Will thought it, but didn’t dare speak it, even to himself. Even though he didn’t feel that strange suppressive aura anymore, alchemists weren’t people you wanted to offend.
“Were you planning on waiting?” the woman spoke through her mask. Will started.
“Yes, if that’s not a problem.” Will said carefully. She had said she didn’t care if he stayed, but was that just her way of telling him to go away?
“Good.” the woman said. “Then you can tell the ones who come in not to ring the bell. I find that just the sign itself isn’t very effective.”
She nodded to Will, and seemed to take it completely for granted that he would do as she asked. She turned around and walked back through the door. Will didn’t even have a chance to protest. Not that he would have even dared to. Still it wasn’t bad. At least she hadn’t thrown him out on his face. That was something. A foot in the door is better than a face in the pavement… or whatever salesman saying would fit best.