Will fiddled nervously as he lounged in the ornate armchair. But no matter how he shifted he couldn't seem to get comfortable, and he hadn’t even dared pour himself a drink from any of the many different kinds that were available. This was all too lavish for him. He’d tried his hardest to stay calm and act normal while the alchemist had been in the room, but now that she’d left his hands felt clammier than ever. He put his book down on the table next to him. At first he hadn’t wanted to read or even touch it but just sitting there doing nothing had been worse. The book was called ‘The Lord of Silver’ and chronicled the life and story of the great founder of the Eastaran Empire, which was now The Seven Duchies. Will had almost read through the first half, and in his opinion this lord of silver had some very convenient and dramatical twists and turns in his life. The book claimed to be a biography written from a historical perspective but he didn’t buy it. For example the mysterious teacher and the farmboy who secretly was a prince all along. That didn’t happen in real life. Those types of things only happened in stories. He got up from the chair and paced back and forth a few times across the small room. He was just about to give up and go back to reading when the door opened. He spun, trying his best to keep his face calm and his hands still.
The young alchemist he’d met earlier came in first, followed by an older woman who instantly caught his attention. She looked to be in her early thirties, apart from a few streaks of grey in her otherwise black hair. Her eyes shone with insight and wisdom in a way Will had never seen before.
“Master Alchemist.” he stammered. He made a clumsy bow and almost tripped over himself in his haste.
“Don’t do that.” The woman said with a grimace. She waved for him to sit down. “I hope you’ve been comfortable until now.”
Will nodded, and all but fell back down into the chair. Once he was seated she followed and sat on the chair opposite him. He swallowed hard. She looked at him as if she could see straight through him, and her gaze was as if she was studying him under a microscope.
“We’ve identified your potion.” she said. Will tried, but couldn’t keep a smile off his face when he heard that. He felt as if a several ton weight had been lifted off of his chest.
“That’s great. Thank you, really.” he said.
“Don’t mention it. Actually I wanted to ask you where you got it from. My apprentice said you’d happened across it, but I’m sure there’s more to the story than that..”
Will flinched, but her gaze on him told him that he definitely shouldn’t lie. It wasn’t the same kind of pressure he’d felt from the younger alchemist earlier, but at the same time it was more suffocating. He almost felt transparent.
“There really wasn’t much more.” Will said. “I bought the potion from a beggar two weeks ago…”
“A beggar?” The younger woman interrupted. “How could a beggar…”
“Don’t interrupt him, Alice.” the older woman said. She signaled for Will to continue as the one who had to be Alice reddened slightly. The contrast from how she appeared now compared to how she’d appeared when he first met her was striking. Will found himself dumbfounded for a moment.
“Right.” he said as he came to himself again. “A beggar had it and sold it to me. I paid a full gold coin for it and it’s been under my floorboards ever since. Until I brought it here, of course.”
After a few moments of silence the woman spoke. “Why did you wait two weeks before taking it to be identified?”
Will hadn’t expected that to be the part of his story she’d focus on. The reason he had been hesitant to tell how he got the potion was that even he found it strange. Especially now that it seemed the potion was actually genuine. Still he answered honestly.
“Because I need money. And I’ve run out of other options.” he sighed. “I can’t keep up with my work or my body might give out. But at the same time I need money if I’m to change my situation.”
“Are you in some kind of trouble?” Alice asked. Will shook his head and shrugged.
“No, I’m just poor.” he said. “It’s hard living in this city if you’ve come from outside. Especially if you don’t have enough for the medallion.”
“So in order to get that money you decided to take the chance on this potion?” The older woman said. “I suppose I can see it. It still sounds like a stupid risk to take. Didn’t you find it odd that a beggar would have an alchemical potion to sell?”
“Of course I did.” Will said. He twisted around uncomfortably. “But… I don’t know. The potion felt real to me when I held it. I can’t really explain it. That was another reason I kept it for so long, is that I kept second guessing myself. There were so many times I wondered what came over me...”
“You felt it was real...” the older woman said slowly. She tapped a gloved hand on her chin. Will swallowed hard. Suddenly he flinched when the woman clapped her hands together.
“Let us do an experiment.” she said.
Will stared at her, and he could see that even Alice seemed confused. What was this now? What experiment? For what reason?
“Please close your eyes, young man.” The woman said.
Will just stared dumbfounded without doing anything for several moments before he jerked back to himself. He closed his eyes, and once he did the woman spoke again.
“Tell me when you feel something.” she said.
Will frowned. Was she going to touch him? What was going on here? His mind unbidden went to stories he'd heard of strange experiments done by alchemists, that left people permanently disfigured, or even with a second...
...Then he felt it. The same feeling he’d had every time he’d opened the potion. He shivered as he realized this must be what she was talking about. His eyes snapped open. His potion was in the woman’s hand, with the cork in the other. He gaped, and a glint flashed in the woman's eyes.
“What did you feel, young man. Describe it to me.” The woman sounded oddly eager now, which made Will even more uncomfortable. And he was made even more uncomfortable by a stunned looking Alice that turned to stare wide eyed at him. He swallowed, twice, before he found enough moisture in his mouth to speak.
“It’s hard to describe…” he began. He closed his eyes and tried to remember the feeling. “A sort of familiar otherness? Some kind of connection? I don’t know how to describe it. It’s there, but at the same time I don’t know what it is or how I know.”
“How is that possible…” Alice muttered to herself. “He’s an…”
“Just as I figured.” Jocelyn interrupted. “And no, child. I do not believe he is.”
Her gaze was now openly fascinated as she studied him as if he was a fish on a hook. Will twisted uncomfortably in his seat.
“I’m sorry, master alchemist.” he said. “But what’s going on?”
“Please, call me Jocelyn.” the woman said with a smile. “And I don’t know myself.” Her smile turned wider into a full on grin. Her eyes were almost sparkling. “Isn’t it exciting?”
Will felt shivers run down his spine. No, he did not agree.
“I have an offer for you.” Jocelyn said. “I will hire you as a temporary worker here in my store. You will help mostly with cleanup and carrying ingredients, but you will also help in some of my experiments. In return you will be paid handsomely and also be allowed a room here for yourself.”
“...What?” Will said, dumbfounded.
Had he just been offered a job? By an alchemist master living in the inner city? Why? How had the conversation suddenly gone in this direction? And why did his instincts scream at him to consider carefully before accepting this incredible offer?!
“Why?” That was all he managed to say. He shouldn’t have said it, but he couldn’t help himself.
“I’m curious.” Jocelyn said with a shrug. “And I’d like to study this potion closer. Consider it recompense if you will.”
Oh. So that’s what it was. Insight flashed inside Will’s head. The potion was such that it could even cause him to feel it. A potion that intense had to be rare and valuable. But why not just buy it from him outright if she wanted to study it? Did she think he wouldn’t sell? If she thought that he didn’t need the money then why would she have offered him a job. No, there had to be something else going on here. He should just sell the potion and be on his way… It just felt like such a waste.
Even a simple labourer at an alchemist's office was a job of quite some standing in the city. It was way better than he could ever have hoped for with his own plan. A restaurant in the lower city was nothing in comparison. Plus if he worked closely with an alchemist he might even learn a bit of their craft. Then he might become an alchemist himself one day, if he got lucky. The fantasies swirled around Will’s mind, fantasies of being a famous and wealthy alchemist who could do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted. He would never have to worry about money ever again.
Jocelyn rising from her seat ripped him out of his revery. She straightened her apron and turned towards the door.
“I understand that this is sudden. I will leave you alone for a moment to consider. Come, Alice, let’s give him some space.” she said. Will panicked, and hurriedly got to his feet.
“There’s no need, there’s no need.” he said. “I was just surprised, is all. Of course I would be honored to accept your offer.”
Jocelyn smiled widely. “Excellent. Now that’s settled. Where do you live now, I can send someone for your things?”
“Uhh”, Will said with a grimace. “Thank you, but that won’t be necessary. I don’t really have much left. I can take care of it myself.”
Jocelyn’s smile faded into a frown. “Oh.” she said. “Well, if that’s what you want then do that. Alice will be in her study when you get back. She will show you to your new room. We can start our work tomorrow.”
When she’d stood they had all stood with her. Jocelyn went her own way while Alice walked Will back towards the front of the shop. When they came to a door in the hallway Alice spoke up.
“That’s my study.” she said. “Knock there when you come back. Don’t bother with the bell by the counter.”
Will nodded absentmindedly, and the two parted ways as Alice entered the study. Will walked the remaining hallway alone. His mind still spun from the many events of the day. He couldn’t believe even half of them. In fact the only thing that told him this was reality was that his back was still hurting. He’d never thought he would ever think of that pain so fondly.