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The Forlorn Alchemist

The Forlorn Alchemist

Many years ago a minor noble from a land long lost to history migrated to the recently vacated Elven lands called "Telvurin", bringing with him his wife and three daughters, household servants and entourage in the hope that he could establish himself as a high lord over the area. His goal was to monopolize food production and sell it at a high price, becoming wealthy and over time increasing his house, power and wealth. One of his household staff was a talented alchemist who had learned to brew several types of potions that, when mixed with soil, allowed plants to grow at an astonishing rate. His lord, a minor count, had experimented with larger tracts of land in his former holding and found his crops grew at more than twice the rate of other farmers in the area, but he could never sell at a reasonable profit, as other lords and nobles controlled the markets.

After settling in the area, in what is now known as "The River Kingdoms", the count began to establish his territory and farm the land in earnest, using the alchemist's potion to grow all types of crops and reaping harvests previously unheard of. It was known these lands were fertile territory for farming, but his production was truly bountiful. The count created markets in the local area, and due to his vast harvests he could afford to sell his produce, grain, fruits and vegetables at a very reasonably rate, and the coin flowed.

Farming is hard work, and even though the count was pleased with his arrangements, he began to tire of the drudgery of farming, wanting to make more coin faster so he could live like the nobles from his former homeland. Though he was a minor noble, his tastes were not, and no matter how successful his scheme, he yearned for more coin. The count had a plan.

He commissioned the alchemist to create a potion that would kill plants and ruin the soil, and he provided this potion to other farmers in the surrounding area claiming it was the same fertilizer he had used on his land to produce his bountiful crops. The other farmers eagerly used the formula, hoping for similar results. When their crops died, the count thought he could either corner the market on food or buy their lands cheaply. Instead the farmers banded together to confront the count and demand restitution, knowing now they had been duped. They approached the manor house and overcame the guards, but the count was in the fields with the alchemist testing their latest formula.

In their anger the mob killed the count's wife and children and burned the manor house to the ground. Upon seeing the flames the count and the alchemist returned only to find ruin. A handful of household guards were putting out the fire as the mob had fled leaving the count and alchemist to their misery. The count was distraught, realizing his greed had been his undoing. But, knowing the alchemist's talent for brewing potions and growing things, he demanded the alchemist mix a concoction that would return the count's wife and children from the dead. The alchemist was appalled and refused to be part of such a horrific experiment. The count became incensed and took the alchemist's wife, son and daughter hostage and told the alchemist that when the count had his family back from the dead, the alchemist's family would be returned as well.

Horrified at his new task but determined to save his family, the alchemist stayed in his outbuilding and began experimenting on potions that he hoped would grow anything, including the dead, now using previously untried ingredients. There was marginal success in getting rodents and birds to stir after death, but the creatures appeared to suffer terribly. Sensing failure, the alchemist became desperate to get his family back, knowing the count had gone mad and he might kill the alchemist's family at any time. The alchemist went to a local graveyard to get a variety of "new" ingredients for his next round of experiments. As he dug up the graves of recent and ancient deceased he became overwhelmed with a sense of foreboding. The alchemist's sense of doom deepened with every shovel full of dirt. He harvested bits of everything; eyes, teeth, brains, hair, organs. The stench was unbearable and he wretched repeatedly, but in desperation he continued until his case was full of pieces of the dead to be used in his experiments.

Upon returning the alchemist began to brew body parts, pour off the dregs, and distill the remainder. He powdered some things, grated others, tried various combinations and brought them to a boil. Experiment after experiment failed. He continued for days and days, visited occasionally by the now clearly insane count. The remaining household staff appeared to have drifted off into the countryside, fearing for their lives and being appalled by the counts deteriorating state. But the alchemist was now so focused he did not realize he was practically alone.

Then, finally, a breakthrough! A dead rat was force fed a potion with a small dropper, and after a series of convulsions, rose and scampered away. The alchemist was ecstatic! This was it! He could now raise the count's wife and children from the dead, get his family back and flee to more civilized lands, far away from the madness that this excursion had become. He hurried to the ruins of the manor house to tell the count of his success.

The count was giddy with delight. It was disturbing to see the gleam in his eyes when he was told of the results of the experiment on the rat, and the count hurried out to a storeroom to show the alchemist where he had been storing his family while he awaited the alchemist's successful concoction. The four women were laid out in a farming building on a large work table, side by side, now decomposing badly and obviously having been picked at by birds and fed on by other wild creatures. The count motioned the alchemist over and beckoned him to proceed.

The alchemist unstoppered his dropper and placed several drops of the potion in the decayed mouths of the count's wife and three daughters, one at a time. For a long while nothing happened. The count became visibly agitated, anxiously waiting for his family to rise and rejoin him in the land of the living. Then suddenly, one of the girls twitched. Then another. One opened her eyes, another sat up. His dead wife sat bolt upright and turned her head towards the count, who now clasped his hands together in delight, knowing things would return to normal just like he had hoped.

The alchemist knew better. He had just done the unthinkable, and immediately regretted it. He rushed out to his outbuilding to gather his things before rescuing his wife and children and found the rat he had resurrected, wandering around the little room, small tendrils sprouting from its little body writhing in agony. It clearly wasn't doing well in such an unnatural state, and the alchemist knew doom had come. He ran out of his room to the ruined manor to find the count fleeing the building where he had just raised the women from the dead. He saw now why the count was fleeing. All four women were shambling out of the building, vine-like tendrils erupting from their bodies, lifeless eyes looking ahead, walking slowly towards the count, even as he fled.

The alchemist rushed into the ruined manor house to fetch his own family and flee. He scrambled up the stairs, and down into the basement, searching frantically. He finally found them, sitting in chairs in a darkened room, all at a table as if at dinner. They were obviously dead, and had been for quite some time. When it happened he had no idea. He had become so consumed with his experiment he had lost all track of time. He wept and wailed, not hearing the shrieks of the fleeing count. He took his wife and children out of the ruin and buried them, and sat and wept.

The ruins are now gone. The fields returned to their normal state. Farmers eventually returned to farm, the land healed by weather and time. The little graveyard was claimed by weeds and vines, over grown and forgotten. But it is rumored the Forlorn Alchemist can still occasionally be found near a gravesite in the River Kingdoms, cursing the count and mourning the loss of his beloved wife and children.
I liked this short story - I don't usually read the fiction in the forums (or the IC posts) but this one caught my attention somehow. Great job!
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