v) The crates change hands at last

The crates change hands at last. The alchemist is all business, counting each mangled copper penny. She relieves the gang of all but a single penny each — presumably to leave enough for a cheap pine box in an ignoble grave. The team’s infatuation is such that this seems entirely just.

The alchemist departs amicably, having concluded the transaction amicably and legally.

The “love” effect wears off after midnight. The gang’s carousing, having racked up quite the bill at the inn, to celebrate their good fortune, when reality re-asserts itself in a rapidly dissolving gradient.

Shyan asks, “Did we pay the alchemist to take the crates?”

“I do believe we were under the influence,” Cang says. “Of love.”

“Wow,” Fassn says, his mustache full of grog foam. “She really was an alchemist!”

iv) It’s a pure love

It’s a pure love; appreciation, adoration, lust, honour, all. Shyan, Fassn, Cang, Abianarin, and the peasants love the floorboards, the deer’s head mounted over the fireplace (which they love), the shutters and the ceiling beams and the dew on their emptied mugs of grog.

Abianarin blinks against the enchantment. Her cells alight with interest. She loves the alchemist for making possible this probing sensation. She wants to know its source, the manner of its potency. She loves that she wants to know.

“So you see,” the alchemist says, “I’m an alchemist.”

The team loves this.

“And I’m buying,” she continues.

They love this even more. She names her price. They love it.

iii) “Oh yeah?” Fassn says. “Go on then. Do something alchemical.”

“Oh yeah?” Fassn says. “Go on then. Do something alchemical.”

The alchemist shrugs, as though nothing could trouble her less. As she does so, her scar catches the hearth’s light, and reflects in a shimmering wave, like a silvery thread.

With a grand gesture, her robes snapping as whips, she produces, and shatters upon the floor, a glass flask, which when shattered (as above), produces a noxious odour. A low fog creeps across the hardwood as the flask’s contents dissipates.

At first, drunken patrons, led by the drunken innkeeper, hurl slander at the alchemist for harshing their buzz (and other crimes). But soon, a tide comes in upon the mind. Fassn breathes deeply. Abia inspects the fog. Shyan and Cang leap at the alchemist, who deftly dodges away.

“You’ve goods for me?” she asks.

The team blinks. Then everyone in the inn falls in love.

ii) The inn is quiet

The inn is quiet, save for the sounds of gambling, and the honky-tonk piano of a frail old woman, who at her age is plainly just going through the motions.

The piano stops when the group of friends walks in lugging their scuffed and filthy crates. Snoring can be heard from a fellow passed out at the bar.

With the inn’s attention on them, Shyan says, “We’re looking to sell. Bottles, phials, the like. There a chemist in town?” A murmur passes through the patrons.

Cang flashes a sign to the bartender, who begins pouring drinks. A woman in indigo robes of a delicate cut stands, throws back her hood. She has an untamed mass of ebon hair, and behind it, a hairline scar running across her forward. She slams another shot of murky brown booze before clearing her throat. “I,” she says, with a suppressed hiccup, “am an alchemist.”

i) Old Ajralan does not, indeed, have his fill

Old Ajaralan does not, indeed, have his fill, for eleven days and twelve nights.

Thereafter, the team stumbles, parched, starving, and bubbling with the last vestiges of fury yet extant after nearly a fortnight bearing crates, by hand, along a dusty and deserted road.

Now, they arrive, filthy, to a mud-smeared cluster of thatched-roof huts. The huts gather around a central square where a large cookfire smolders before a rickety gallows. Lean villagers in roughspun stare at the newcomers with frank distrust as they muddle through their daily tasks.

“Inn,” Fassn rasps.

“Are those wings on your back?” asks a peasant.

“The inn!”

The peasant scoffs to her companion. “Outsiders.” She gestures to one of the huts, alike in aspect to the rest, if somewhat larger. “Sleep it off, wingboy,” she says.