“Today was amazing!” Mason exclaimed excitedly. “I met new friends, saw new places,” She grabbed Rebekka by the arms, “I rode a horse! I actually rode a horse!!”
“Okay, okay,” Rebekka laughed. “I know. I was there, remember?”
Mason clasped her hands at her chest, and dreamily said, “Oh, it was like flying!”
Rebekka fluffed her pillow a few times and yawned. “No, I don’t think it was exactly like flying. Maybe what you think flying is like.”
“You have to be so technical, don’t you?”
Rebekka laughed again. “Alright. I think it’s time for bed.”
“Bed? But I don’t wanna.”
“You have to. We have training tomorrow.”
“Blah! Who cares!” She crossed her arms and turned from her. “I’m not going to bed and that’s that. Hmph!”
“And what would Jude have to say about this?”
Mason sighed and let her arms fall. “Get to bed.”
She sat beside down beside Rebekka and began fiddling with her thumbs.
“It’s so strange. Ever since I can remember Jude’s always been here with me. Now that he’s not, things feel a little colder.”
“Yeah… I know how that is. I remember a day when my father to leave out of the town to another one over. He took me to my grandmother’s home to stay a night. I had always thought my grandmother was a sort of strange witch, with all her hanging herbs and funny smelling clothes. I didn’t want him to go, I really didn’t, but he had to go and there is no stopping what can’t be helped…”
Rebekka spent a moment in reminiscence before relinquishing the memories and looked to Mason. The girl was just staring at her.
“What?” Rebekka asked.
“Is that it?” Mason replied.
“I thought it was going to be something different. I’m not that worried about Jude not being here. There’s a first time for everything and I’m not a kid anymore.” She gave a sharp nod of confidence to solidify her point.
“Right… Want me to tuck you in?” Rebekka asked with a grin.
Mason looked at her with a wrinkled nose. “No.”
She got from the bunk, which was filling with Rebekka’s laughter, and crawled up into her own, leaving Rebekka in her mirth.
It was the middle of the night and Rebekka found herself staring into the dark. Light snoring was coming from Mason’s bunk, but that wasn’t what kept her up. Nor was it the sporadic coughing coming from a different bunk nearby. Her mind was strangely alert. Alert and thinking about the Alchemist’s factory.
An image of that horrid evil place was stained in her mind. Black smoke columns of malicious acts. Bricks of malevolence. Pillars of darkness. She may not have known what conjuring was done there, but she felt with every inch of her soul, it was nothing but atrocious horrors.
She rubbed a hand over her arm and shoulder, feeling the smooth scars there, and sat up throwing the thin blanket off. She needed to know what they were doing to Acidine. She just had to. Carefully, she crept to the door of the room and tried the handle. It twisted freely and she slipped outside into the hallway. It was lit by smokeless candles and quiet as a grave. Quickly, she made her way outside.
As she snuck through the seemingly empty garrison, she planned her way to the factory. In the moment of her weaving through the slums earlier, she hadn’t remembered most of the streets she traveled or turns she made. It was going to be hard finding the factory without directions. Fortunately, she had a hunch where she could get some.
Pushing those thoughts from her mind for the moment she finished making her way outside. The night heavy and warm, a sign of rain, but the stars were out and twinkling against the black blanket of the night sky. There would be rain soon, but not tonight. Rebekka crept through garrisons’ outer grounds, careful to keep to the shadows and made her way out to the square.
A few guards were present, but they were busy talking amongst themselves in the light of the lamps dotting the area. Rebekka slunk past them and headed for the stables. On her way there she didn’t meet anyone; it was eerily quiet. There should have been someone, besides the guards, out in the night. Eventually, she did realize that there was someone out sneaking around within the shadows. Herself.
When she came to the stables, she didn’t enter immediately. For one, she had to make sure there was no one around to see her enter. Secondly, she had spotted Finch loading a bale of hay unto a carriage. Once he had returned the stables, she made her entrance.
The stable’s interior was lit by a single lantern. Many of the horses were asleep, but there a few of them that were awake, watching the stable hand at his late-night work. Rebekka closed the door, making sure it alerted Finch of her presence.
“Who’s there?” Finch asked.
“It’s just me,” Rebekka said, stepping into the circle of light the lantern cast.
Finch eased. “Oh… what are you doing out of the garrison. There’s a strict curfew around here.”
“If it were so strict there would be more guards on patrol,” Rebekka replied. “I come here for a favor. I need some directions.”
“The Alchemist’s Factory.”
At the name, frightened surprise crossed Finch’s face and stepped back from her, nearly tripping over his own feet. Luckily, he had the gating of a stall to catch hold to.
“The Factory! But why in the name of all that is good would you want to go there?”
“Because a… friend of mine is there.”
“Your friend is dead.”
“No, he isn’t. Please. I’m only asking for directions.”
“You won’t make it. The Body Snatchers… You don’t know how dangerous it is.”
“Please. I have to go.”
“And do what?”
Rebekka opened her mouth but didn’t have an answer. She couldn’t tell why. She only felt the need to. A noise saved her from further explanation. It came from near the back of the stables. Not from the back door, but close.
“Who’s there?” Finch called again, but no reply came.
Rebekka edged into the shadows and crept towards the place she thought the noise had come from. After carefully examining the area for anything out of place, she eased. Just when she was about to tell Finch it was a false alarm, Mason appeared out of thin air.
“Mason!” Rebekka scolded which caused the girl to give a startled squeal. “You aren’t supposed to be here!”
“Technically you aren’t supposed to be here either,” she replied after a quick recovery.
“Go back to the garrisons now.”
“I can’t go back. I came all this way. And besides, I can only do a concealment charm once every… fifteen minutes… or was it twenty.”
Rebekka grumbled and returned to Finch and his lantern.
“Oh, it was just Mason,” he said with some relief.
“Yes, thankfully,” Rebekka replied send a sharp look to Mason which made her shrink. “Forget about the directions. We’re going back to the garrisons.”
Mason suddenly perked. “Directions to where?”
“None of your concern.”
“No, no. Wait a minute. If you’re going any place your not suppose to be I can help.”
“Not a chance. I promised Jude I would keep you safe and that’s a promise I am keeping.”
Mason crossed her arms and muttered, “I really don’t think leaving me all alone in the garrisons is keeping me too safe, but whatever you say.”
Rebekka felt her cheeks warm.
“Well, the garrisons are a lot safer than what’s out there in the Slums. There are these things called Body Hunters,”
“Snatchers,” Finch interjected quickly.
“Snatchers,” Rebekka corrected. “And other weird… creepy… stuff.”
“Didn’t I see a carriage outside?” Mason asked. “Couldn’t we just get into that and Finch take us wherever we need to go?”
“Actually,” Finch interrupted yet again, but this time thoughtfully rubbing his chin. “There is a place I know that’ll get you extremely close to the Factory. Let me get the horse ready.”
“But–”, Rebekka began, but he was already leaving. She could have stopped him, but something deep down inside was pulling her to the Factory.
“We’re going to the Factory!” Mason exclaimed in an emotion bordering fear and excitement.
“Yes, we’re going to the factory,” Rebekka grumbled, “But I warn you,” She cut her eyes to Mason. “do not make me regret this.”
“Oh, puh- leze. Jude and I have been through way worse than this ‘Factory’. Luckily, I know of a lot of charms that’ll do just the trick on helping us get in. Let’s see… there’s the vanishing charm… the revealers charm to reveal all traps… the ghost charm… the softer metals charm….”
Rebekka sighed and hoped nothing bad would come from this.
“Through there,” Rebekka said and pointed.
“There. Look where I’m pointing.”
“Rebekka I can’t see anything.”
“What do you mean–”
“It’s magically done. To me it looks like a wall.”
“Oh, the charms… forgot… sorry. Come on then, I’ll lead you there.”
After Finch had taken them to the place he promised, which was a near a small pond behind the factory, Mason cast her charms and with surprising ease, they slipped within the Factory’s perimeters. So far, Rebekka knew that the charms Mason had casted would enhance certain aspects their sight and hearing. However, Mason said that her charms worked differently for everyone, so what Rebekka saw and heard wasn’t exactly what Mason would see and hear.
Once they were inside the Factory Mason began to ask, “I wonder why–”
She brought her voice down. “I wonder why they would magically conceal that door.”
Rebekka lead her down a into a hall that looked like no one had used in a while. They were invisible to others at the moment (they asked Finch just to be sure) but Rebekka wasn’t sure when the charm would run its course.
“Probably because they want people to think the entrance is at the front of the building but truly it isn’t,” Rebekka whispered, answering Mason’s question. “Just think if anyone wanted to do what we are doing. What a surprise they would have once they land right into a trap.”
“Oh, I see now. Wait don’t step there!”
“What is it?”
“A trip wire, but invisible. Let me unset it.”
The moment Mason started to ready one of her charms, Rebekka stopped her. “No!” she nearly shouted. “No. Disarming it will only alert whoever is here of our presence. We’ll move around it.”
So, over a painstaking half an hour, they had worked their way around countless of traps; stepped aside witches, wizards and countless other workers of the Factory; wondered through invisible doorways; and eventually had to dodge dripping acids and flames sprouting from pipes that ran along the walls around them.
“Are we getting close?” Mason asked wearily.
“I don’t know,” Rebekka replied, “but I can feel we’re close. Are there any traps through here?” Strangely, Rebekka could see all of the invisible entrance ways and Mason saw all of the traps.
“No, but there’s a lot of magic there. A lot of enchanted things.”
“Maybe it’s the Alchemist’s workshop. We probably shouldn’t go there.”
“This isn’t like that. I think… we’ve found a storage room.”
Rebekka peeked around the entrance’s corner and gasped. They had found the storage room alright and it was like nothing Rebekka had seen. There were shelves and shelves holding rows and rows of creatures. Big and small and in between.
“Mason you have to look at this!” Rebekka said in amazement.
“I’m seeing it,” Mason said, stepping up beside her. “Where did they get all of these from and why can’t we hear anything. Shouldn’t it be rather noisy?”
“Must be an invisible soundproof ward here. I bet Acidine’s somewhere in there.”
The two of them stepped through the entrance. Immediately Rebekka was bombarded by an abundant sort of animal sounds and calls. Mason had to cover her ears just to get down to the end of the hall. But at the hall’s end there was no sign of Acidine. They had come to a stone wall.
“He was supposed to be here,” Rebekka said and realized her shoulder was getting numb. “Wait a minute, he is here.”
“But where?” Mason asked. “I would be able to see something if he were close.”
“Maybe he isn’t close.” Rebekka felt along the wall until she came across a protruding stone. It would have looked like the rest of the wall to a regular person, but thankfully she had Mason’s charms. She pushed the stone in, and a section of wall came loose and slid open.
“Oh,” Mason said visually sagging some, “a secret passageway. How original.”
“They are practical,” Rebekka said and snapped her fingers to create a small bluish flame above them. The flame’s light revealed a spiraling staircase. “Down we go.”
“How come you can make fire!” Mason said as they entered inside.
“Practice,” Rebekka replied spotting a lever that most likely had the purpose of closing the stone door. Once she had maneuvered the lever, and the door had closed, they continued their way down into the dark.
“How come everyone always says practice. I think it’ll just be better if someone told me I just can’t do it.”
“But that may not be true. It was only last year when I learned this little trick.”
“Yep, and it takes others even longer. Not everyone has the gift of fire, but just because you don’t get it on the first few tries doesn’t mean you won’t ever.”
“What about three hundred fifty-six times.”
“Yes, even on you three hundred fifty-sixth time.”
Before they reached the end of the staircase, Rebekka noticed the glow of candlelight. She motioned to Mason for silence, extinguished her flame, and cautiously they proceeded to whatever awaited them. The place was a study, carved out from the hard-packed dirt one finds going several feet underground, but it didn’t seem to be very large. The first thing that came into view was an empty desk. A stool came next, and then there was a small trash bin over filled with crumpled paper balls. Next was the corner of a bookshelf–
The last step of the staircase squealed upon Rebekka stepping on it. She paused, adding no more weight to that foot, listening. She heard nothing at first but then there was a rustle… the tinkling of metal… and a low moan?
Rebekka couldn’t stop herself and raced into the study.
There, in the farthest corner, in his blue steel cage was Acidine.
(to be continued…)
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