From Imaginary Ripples · Stories

Fragments II: The Apothecary’s Apprentice

Fragments is a collection of unrelated stories that I started writing, never really finished, and probably never will.

The ornate blade slid effortlessly into Michael’s belly, a gasp of pain escaping from his lips as he pushed it deeper into himself. He felt his warm, sticky blood ooze down the blade and over his fingers. His vision blurred as his life force ebbed out, his grip weakening on the blade as he felt more of his tainted blood gush across his hands and spill onto the already blood-soaked dirt beneath his feet. He took once last glance around him, at the scene of the massacre that he knew he was responsible for, before his vision clouded again and then cleared. He seemed to be standing in a shadow of the world, everything gray and wispy as time seemed to stand still. Before him, stood a young man he recognised from long ago.
“Martin? But it can’t be. You can’t be…”
“Quiet Michael. I’ve come to help you. There is still time. If only a preciously small amount. Trust me Michael, it cannot end this way. It cannot.”
Martin started to fade from view and Michael turned at the sound of a cough from behind him. There he saw a ghostly apparition of himself, half standing, half falling in slow motion as he passed his sword through himself. Beyond himself stood a tall, broad shouldered man wearing the black robes of a priest of the Death-God. The priest’s eyes locked with Michael, and for the first time in years Michael felt fear. The priest’s eyes were a swirling maelstrom of raw force and power, they seemed to be as deep as eternity and everything that fell under their gaze was instantly seen in it’s truest form. The priest seemed content to stand and stare at Michael as the ghostly form of Michael slowly died between them.
“What do you want?” Michael inquired of the priest. The priest chuckled before responding, “It is not a question of what I want, but what you need my son. I have no wants, I am here because your friend begged that I come and give you another chance. I agreed to come. As for the chance, whether that will be received remains to be seen.”
“Chance? A chance for what?”
“So many questions. A pity you did not question things so in the mortal realm.”
“The mortal realm? Where are we?”
Stepping through the shadow of Michael the priest responded “We are in the realm between realms. The shadow’s you see are shadow’s of what you would call the real world, the mortal realm. The shadow of you dying is you dying.”
“But…”
“Do not interrupt me, boy. I will have no more of your questions. Your time is limited and mine is valuable. How did this happen?”
“How did what happen?”
The priest glared at Michael, and Michael realised that the priest referred to his own imminent death. “I pushed my sword through myself.”
“That is not how this happened. How did this happen?”
“I saw what I had done and decided that there was no choice but to fall on my sword.”
“Again you have not answered my quesion. How did this happen?”
“But, I did, I saw what I had done and fell on my sword. What more do you want?”
Shaking his head like a benevolent mentor does when a student can not grasp an obvious concept, the priest replied, “The beginning, Michael, start at the beginning.”
“There was a battle between my forces and those of Lord Argemmon’s, I caused the massacre of hundred’s on each side. At first I was oblivious to what I was doing, the pain I caused, but then my eyes were opened and I could no longer live with my deeds and thus I fell on my sword.”
“Still you do not start at the beginning. There is no helping you if you cannot even recognise where things begin. I know you know where it begins. In your heart the beginning screams to be heard. But you have suppressed it, refused to listen to it for so long you no longer hear it’s call. Open your ears and hear. Tell me the beginning.”
Michael’s face creased in puzzlement, and then understanding, closely followed by anguish crossed his face.
“It began about a dozen years ago.”
“To the day. It began exactly a dozen years ago to the day.”
“If you know the story this well, why must I tell it to you?”
“Because my son, whilst I may know this story, it is evident that you yourself are not fully aware of it. Perhaps by relating the story in it’s entirety will allow you to begin to see. If it cannot then there can be no saving you from your fate.”
“My fate?”
“Questions are for the mortal realm and your own actions and thoughts, not for those such as me. Start your tale.”

“Twelve years ago today I sat in my uncle’s shop. He was an apothecary, I was his apprentice. It was the middle of a dry, dusty summer and as I worked hard to crush the juja beans that I had picked in the dark caves to the east the day before, I became increasingly bored and wished I could tear off my sweat soaked tunic and dive in the cool creek that ran through our town. I dreamed of seeing Alise and of fishing under the shade of the coorabah trees with Martin. I hated crushing juja beans, and I hated the careful extraction of the juice from the delicate oran flowers. To me that didn’t seem like the true work of an apothecary. Whilst I crushed beans my uncle got to travel to the homes of the ill and treat them, help them. To me this seemed to be the be all and end all of been an apothecary. How naive I was. I can remember the afternoon clearly and the night even more so. That afternoon a squad of the King’s Finest rode into our sleepy little town, disturbing our market and kicking many traveller’s out of the inn’s, forcing them to camp under the stars. Decree’s started popping up around town that all males of fighting ages were to assemble in the town square the next day at lunch time. Those who did not would be executed and hung from the town walls for all to see their shame.

At my mothers insistence my father bade me to hide for the next few days, until the King’s Finest had rode out of town. They didn’t want me to be forced to join the army, and I was as eager for me to avoid that fate as they were. Except that I didn’t want to look like a coward in front of Alise. A foolish thing, had I not gone to see her that night I would never have gotten into this trouble. Still I do not regret it. Better that this has happened than I have not stopped what nearly happened that night. I snuck out just after curfew to talk to Alise and see what she thought of my going, or more accurately of my not going. As I neared her house I heard the high pitch scream of a woman and it soon dawned on me that it had been Alise who screamed. Forgetting the need for stealth I sprinted to her house and scrambled up the lattice that held the beautiful icola vines. Fortunately her shutters were not barred and I pried one open whilst balancing precariously on the creaking lattice work. Sticking my head in the window I saw one of the so-called Finest holding Alise on the bed by her throat, choking the life out of her as he had his way with her. In a blind rage at the Finest’s desecration of my beloved I threw myself through the window and landed behind the bed. Thankfully he was too engrossed in his own pleasure and Alise’s pain to hear my awkward landing. I pulled his dagger from it’s sheath on his belt and without even considering the implications of my actions I slid the knife under his ribs, angled upwards and pierced his diaphragm. Pulling him off the bed, I stood over him as he slowly suffocated, unable to breathe. I ground what passed for his manhood beneath the heel of my boots and watched with a small sense of satisfaction as his eyes bulged in pain and panic as he slowly lost consciousness and slipped into death.

Alise was sobbing on the bed, gently rocking back and forth.

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