The world did not react kindly to the death of their god. Priest King Ganix announced Her death from atop the steps of the Archtemple, shortly before setting himself on fire. As his caterwauling husk rolled down the steps of the temple, the clergy-nobles rallied to prevent the news from spreading. With Her death came the stoppage of magical forces. While magic was dead, the thought of magic would linger for months afterwards. People come and go, countries shift and change, but ideas linger like a parasite nestled deep in stubborn minds.
Lucilla reached inside her coat as she pushed through the crowd, clutching a small pouch. The flock of curious passersby had gathered in front of a bright red caravan wagon, manned by a tall, blond man and a lazily chewing horse. If he was attempting to practice magic, she needed to hush his preachings immediately. She needed to be cautious, because the crowd could turn on her in an instant. As she neared closer, his enthusiastic speech magnified off the low brick buildings around the plaza.
“ - And after the mother gave my All-Curative Catholicon Elixir to her fevered son, she came back within hours to beg to pay me more for it’s restorative effects. I had to deny her, unfortunately for me!” The crowd hollered, and by the man’s grin, Lucilla could tell his sales pitch was working all too well. “And for the meager price of five silver eyes, you too can banish any ailments with the power of the Catholicon Elixir’s mystical ingredients!”
Lucilla made her way to the front, increasingly impatient, until she shoved a man out of the way and broke through the horde, coming to rest in front of the cart. The crowd grew quiet at her approach. The horse cast a wandering eye towards her presence, still chewing, and the gleaming man turned to face her. His piercing blue eyes stared deep down in her soul, an unnatural shade of blue she’d only seen at the sea.
“It seems we have our first lucky customer. Young lady, to whom do I owe the honor of providing the magical solution to your misfortunes?” He projected loudly, and every inflection of his tone was grandiose and pomp. If he hadn’t worked as a circus narrator previously, perhaps there was a career for him in the future.
Lucilla became aware of the congregation’s attention trained on her. Her hand clutched the small pouch tightly. She had to pick her words carefully; these people were already enchanted by his salesmanship. “It seems, sir, that I am confused. Am I to understand you are a practicing magician?”
His smile shrank, and his gaze turned more hawk-like. He was undoubtedly examining her, probing her with all of his mystic senses. She only had the illusion of feigned ignorance as defense.
“Why, yes. You seemed to have missed
my introduction. I shall recollect it for you, if you so desire.” Lucilla
remained silent, and so he continued on a well-rehearsed narration. “Hello, and
good afternoon! I am called Solomon Sorn, faithful son of Her sons, and bringer
of Her light to the dark corners of Aos. I bear nothing but my horse, a few
tales of former skeptics, and my famous All-Curative Catholicon Elixir. I
believe you heard the rest. May I interest you?”
Yes, you may. Have you tried this Elixir yourself?”
“Why, of course! It is part of my daily nutrition. I wake each day with bountiful energy, and with this Elixir, I estimate I’ll live well past a hundred years.” With every claim, he reeled in the crowd more. She needed to put him in his place.
“Solomon, I’m glad that you stand so firmly behind your product. Well, I assume you do. Don’t you?” It was her turn to grin. He had no choice but to take the bait. Solomon showed no sign of skepticism in his face, confidently answering, “Of course, dear.”
“Well then, I’d like to see you prove that. And wouldn’t this crowd?” She turned back to the crowd, expecting an outcry of response, but they seemed to have assumed a more sheepish mentality. One guy in the back finally said, “Yeah!”
She had to work with what she was given. Lucilla brought forth the burlap pouch in her hand as she continued, “Have you ever heard of the draxun-hunters out East?” As she talked, she loosened the string on the pouch, opening the bag to reveal a cobalt, metallic powder. She held out the powder for Solomon to see, then turned to show the people behind her. They stared curiously, and unbeknownst to them, she was already stealing the show. If they did believe in magic, they were about to reconsider.
“The draxun-hunters live in the thick, humid forests of the Waterwoods. I’ve never been, but I’ve heard it’s quite a miserable place. Anyways, the draxun-hunters make this powder from grinding up poisonous beetles.” She paused in her story to pick up grains of the powder between two fingers, rubbing it between her fingertips. “When they go out for hunts, the only way they can catch a draxun is to paralyze it. They throw the powder, and let the humidity carry the powder towards the draxun. The draxun breathes it in, and almost immediately seizes.”
A soft breeze scurried through the plaza, and the people closest to Lucilla began to slowly step backwards. Solomon looked on with a curious smile, anticipating her next move, so she moved. “With all your escapades into the mystic, you should piss and sweat magical elixir, shouldn’t you?” Lucilla didn’t wait for his answer.
“Show us.” She brought the pouch up to her face, artfully blowing the powder towards Solomon.
The plaza erupted in chaos. Half of the crowd ran screaming, pushing each other to break out of the posse. The other half sat entranced, waiting to see how Solomon would react. That was the half she was depending on. Solomon shrieked as cobalt powder swept over him, coating him in a glittery skin. He tried to wipe it off of his arms, but the powder just got on his hands. “You bitch! Do you know what you’ve done?!” He screamed, running to the back of his caravan cart.
“I do, but you don’t.” Lucilla crossed her arms and sighed. She knew this was how he would react. They always did the same thing.
Solomon took deep, heaving breaths as he tore three glass bottles out of the cart. He popped the cork off a bottle and held it over his face, gasping as he tried to choke down the clear liquid. It ran down his face with little regard for beauty. In between gasps, he stammered out, “I - gulp - can’t - gulp - breathe - gulp - help.”
He finished the bottle and dropped it, shattering as his feet. Solomon fell to his knees, gasping for air as she stood over him, arms still crossed. His eyes searched for salvation in her brooding figure. The blue eyes no longer appeared so oceanic, darkening as he clung onto his life. Inside him, she knew his lungs were shriveling up, two fragile balloons protected by all the dangers of the world, but unable to defend themselves from the inside.
“Didn’t you say your magic elixir was all-powerful?” She dropped the pouch next to his feet. His knees were cut from landing on the bottle shards. “No? She can’t protect you? That’s a shame.”
While the veins in his face began to bulge, and he clutched at his throat in lieu of respiration, she turned to face the crowd. Those who had wanted to retreat had done so by now, leaving a small collective of that stared apprehensively at the strange woman and the man dying on the ground. People peeked out from the windows of the brick buildings encircling the plaza. Everyone was silent now. The soft breeze continued on its course. The horse continued chewing its wheatgrass.
“This man,” Lucilla pointed to the asphyxiated shell of person next to her, “has refused to accept the death of his God, and the death of her magic. So too, have you.”
This revelation would not sit well in the townspeople’s conscience. Following the ransacking of the High Foundation, the news of Her death spread quickly, but as not wholeheartedly accepted by all. It was not uncommon for Lucilla to enter a town and find a showman, such as Solomon, preying on the weak with ‘magical’ elixirs. While it was easy to expose them for their lies, convincing the townspeople often took more coercion.
“Solomon Sorn is a liar.” She looked back at him, but it wasn’t a pretty sight. How he was still upright was a miracle, if he was even still alive. His eyes bulged out, staring straight ahead. Silent, catatonic, and paralyzed. She scoffed at him in disgust. “Lay down, scum.” Lucilla planted a boot firmly on his face, kicking out to send him reeling backward on the cobblestone.
She walked over to his wagon, picking up one of the other glass bottles he had so fervently tried to purify himself with. Lucilla uncorked it, wafted the bottle mouth towards her nose, and poured it on the ground. “This, ladies and gentlemen,” She remarked, watching the Elixir splatter on the street, “is effervescent sweetwater. Tonic, if you prefer.”
Solomon lay still. The tonic she had poured on the ground pooled around his head, soaking his blond hair. His eyes were wide open, his mouth agape. Lucilla could see his chest trembling ever so slightly, his lungs taking a hundred miniscule breaths a minute, but the crowd certainly couldn’t. As long as he could still hear her, that was all she needed.
“Is he dead?” A young girl piped up, standing behind her father’s leg. Her father shushed her, but Lucilla laughed. “Yes, babe, he’ll be fine.” She walked over to the girl, locking eyes with the father for a moment. Internally, he seemed to protest, but he didn’t express it. Lucilla nodded subtly, and the father stepped aside. She crouched down, eye-level with the girl.
“What’s your name, young lady?” She stood tall for such a young woman, hands clasped together, fixated on Lucilla’s tremendous presence.
“Analine, but my friends call me Ana.” She said coyly.
“Well, Ana, that’s a beautiful name. Do you see that man over there?” Lucilla looked back at Solomon, prompting Ana to look as well, “He’s a bad man. I don’t want you to trust anyone that says they’re magic, okay?” Ana nodded her head, and Lucilla smiled.
Lucilla stood up and walked back over to the caravan cart. Seeing that she wasn’t going to induce chemical warfare on the whole town, the townspeople began migrating back out towards the plaza. Now, she had her own crowd of onlookers. She looked through the cart’s belongings nonchalantly, then turned to the public and spoke loudly.
“None of you should trust anyone that claims to be a magician. Solomon will come to his senses in a few minutes here, but you are free to do with him as you wish. I’d suggest retrieving any silver you’ve already given him. This… ‘Elixir’…” She huffed, staring at the cases of bottles in his cart, “Should serve no purpose than accompanying your supper as a mediocre beverage.”
She strode back the way she had come, and the crowd parted to let her through. They only stared, unsure of what to really make of this confusing situation. Devoted fools, she thought, would only hurt themselves in the end.
Lucilla left the town within the hour, having gathered the supplies she needed to continue her journey. As she left, the commotion of chatter coming from the plaza indicated that the town didn’t take too kindly to being swindled by a conman. If Solomon weren’t hanging from a noose, then he’d probably be trailing behind her on the road as a stripped, whipped, shattered man. Perhaps he would seek repayment for his broken business. She’d be ready. Some had tried, and all had failed.
“May She stay dead.” She muttered to no one in particular, heading off to find the only true source of magic left in the world.