The Alchemist's Wish
By D. Paul Angel
Far from the city, distant even from the farms and villages too small for even an inn; nestled the tiny valley of Witherbark. It was the kind of locale which wasn't so much mentioned on maps as it tended to reside under such labels as, "Wilderness," "Elf Be Here," or "tread ye not here after dark." It earned its name from the nebbish, weathered hide of the birches and oaks which densely filled its ripples. Deep within it, however, there was also a pure spring of fresh water, around which tightly wound an ancient, almost forgotten, Ley line. Next to it sat an old, weathered cabin, which housed a single, gruntled, occupant.
Lam Thion emerged from the forest, pushing back the branches, snags, and vines that were ever trying to absorb the paths. He held an arm-full of dead branches and crossed the tiny clearing around his cabin while his unquiet eyes flitted from the cabin to the forest with varying degrees of distrust and malice.
He entered the cabin to a sickly obsequies voice greeting him, "So good to see you again, Master Thion."
"Sod off Skaeal," snapped Thiol, "You miserable Imp."
"At your service," the Imp replied, materializing, next to the fireplace.
"I said 'Sod Off!' not, 'appear!'" shouted Thion, allowing the wood to tumble from his arms across the cabin's hard packed dirt floor in his anger.
"Of course, Master, I was merely trying to be respectful." replied Skaeal cooly, "Perhaps Master does not wish the lowly Skaeal's help with the Master's experiments anymore?"
"Curse you to the pain, Skaeal. You bloody well know I need you, you, you-" Thion's anger filled tirade would've made Skaeal blush, were he not already naturally beet red and a minor Daemon. Thion's coarse words continued as he built a fire around the medium cast-iron cauldron that filled corner of the room closest to the spring. It slowly died out of its own accord as he grabbed the misshapen ingots of lead off the floor and placed them in the cauldron, but you could tell that the anger still rippled through him.
He had done this ritual many, many times, and it had always ended in abject failure. There was only one ingredient missing. One last thing that Skaeal had yet to figure out which was all that separated harnessing the Ley energy into the conversion.
"If only you could read the book," he said finally, plaintively, in Skael's general vicinity. The Book did not exist tangibly so much as it was the collected lore of Skaeal's line of Daemons. When Thion had summoned and bound Skaeal to do his bidding, he had not counted on the Daemon being unable to read the whole of the tome.
"Master understood that Skaeal could not read when Master bound Skaeal," said the Imp matter of factly, raising his small arms to his side and knocking over some books from the shelf on which he was suddenly sitting. "Perhaps Master is tiring of turning lead into gold and wishes Skaeal to try and read something else?"
"No, I cannot leave here without gold. My life is forfeit until I do. As you know all too well!"
Skaeal made no reply but was suddenly next to the cauldron, wrapping the flames around his fingers. "Perhaps Master would like to try a hotter fire this time?"
"Is that what the book says?" asked Thion with piqued excitement.
"Skaeal will help the help the flames."
Thion looked into the Imps's shiny, solid black eyes. There was a glint in them that he had never seen before. "You can read it now, can't you? Can't you!" Skaeal made no reply, but started building the flames hot enough that Thion could feel the sweat drop from his brow. He grabbed the little Daemon's form, and turning it away fromt he fire and towards him shouted, "What's changed? Tell me what's changed! What do you know? Tell me!"
"What is it the Master wishes?" asked Skaeal, matching Thion's level stare, "Above all else?"
"Gold of course! I want to turn lead into gold."
"Then Master shall."
"You can read the formula! The last ingredient! Tell me, what it is? Tell me!"
"A willing Human," said Skaeal simply, as Thion was immolated with a piercing scream.
The next day, Skaeal pushed through the charred reamins of the cabin. He heaved a smoldering beam aside and uncovered the cauldron, looking at the gold within it. "We both got what we wanted," he said as he pulled it out. "I get my freedom, and you, Master," he said mockingly, "finally turned lead into gold."