Continued from Elmer the Alchemist.
Elmer’s sense of unease grew. Something was very wrong. “Enric, stop.” he called quietly as he looked around. The trail that seemed so familiar now seemed very alien, as though the area itself was warning him. He couldn’t find anything outwardly wrong.
Enric slowed to a stop and looked back. “What, Master?”
“Nothing, let’s keep going.” He didn’t know why he said that. As Enric went on ahead, Elmer heard something to one side. He slowed. He wouldn’t be heard over the cart and donkey if he stopped walking. He was sure now that he was being watched. If Enric could just get past the trees, the boy might be safe.
The minutes dragged on, and the distance grew. Enric was almost out of the forest.
Elmer felt suddenly dizzy. It felt like a bug bit his neck. He started to scratch it, only to find a red and gold dart. Church colors. He should have known this was coming, and left sooner. His legs felt heavy, and his eyelids felt leaden. The ground rushed to meet him, and he felt dirt in his mouth. The poison they used was fast-acting. His mouth refused to move as he watched Enric continue onward.
Don’t stop. Just keep carting along.
The master’s eyes closed as he faded into darkness. Yes, this was a very mercifully quick poison.
Elmer woke suddenly as icy water hit his face. He coughed and sputtered. His tongue felt covered in ash, and his eyes were sensitive as he opened them to a bright, stabbing light. Quickly, he shut them again and tried to lift his hands, only to find them bound to his sides.
Confusion clouded his mind, and a sharp strike to his cheek roused him from his wondering. He squinted up at a large, burly man who was completely hairless.
“Wake up, woman.” the bald man grunted.
“I’m a man.” Elmer managed in a weak voice, hardly audible.
“You look like a woman, so that is what you are.” The band man grinned. His teeth were sharpened to points, and his breath was overpowering with the scent of death. Elmer’s sensitive nose set him to coughing, and he tried to vomit, but only dry-heaved until the bald man grew tired of his dramatics and drove a fist the size of a log into the man’s belly twice in rapid succession. Vomit flew from Elmer’s mouth and burned at his nostrils and tongue. “If you’re going to puke, do it.” He sneered.
Elmer coughed and spat. Tears stung his eyes.
“You look like a woman fresh-raped.”
“Shut up.” Elmer growled.
The bald man cackled in glee. “There’s a sore spot. Maybe if you didn’t dress like a woman and look like one, you wouldn’t know the pain they bring upon themselves. Then again, bedding the devil does strange things to everyone. Maybe you like it.” His direct, lusty gaze made Elmer flinch.
Up above, in the main chapel, the pastor smiled as he heard Elmer’s muffled screams of agony. He was sure the master’s cries would call the student, and they could burn both of the witches for their evil ways. The man closed his eyes and listened as Elmer begged the giant torturer to stop. The pastor smiled as he felt that evil carnal pleasure of knowing that he caused great pain for a sinner.
Far off, Enric waited for his master to catch up. The boy sat on the cart at the entrance of a large city, swinging his legs as he sighed. A nearby guard was growing annoyed.
“You said he’s not far off, didn’t you?” the guard snapped.
“Yeah. He said he wanted a last look at our old home, and he’d catch up.” The boy frowned.
The guard sighed and shook his head. “Why you two leave your old home anyway? You’ve been rattling on about it like it’s Eden itself.”
“Oh, Master said it wasn’t safe to be so close to the church there, and that the big city here wouldn’t be so mean about him teaching me how to make medicine.”
“Oh, alchemy, huh?” The guard scratched his chin. “I heard about a witch hunt for an alchemist in a small town just north of here. Elmeroth the Endbringer, the poster called him. Said he was demon-born.”
“Elmer’s not like that.” Enric said without thinking. “He’s really nice. When I tried to rob him, he gave me clothes and food.”
The guard blinked and looked at him. “Well, don’t mention that he’s your master to anyone. Everyone here believes anything any clergyman says.” He frowned. “It should be only a half-day’s walk.” He looked up at the setting sun. “I don’t think he’s coming.”
Enric stared in shock, then glared angrily. “Master wouldn’t abandon me!”
“I never said that.” The guard shook his head. “After my shift, I’ll help you get settled in somewhere with someone to take care of you.
As realization set in, Enric began to feel ill. “You think they caught him?”
“Yeah, and they’ll take you if they find you.” He shook his head. “You’ll have to find a new master.”
The boy felt like the guard just stabbed him in the belly. The rest of the day was a blur as the guard found him an apartment and paid his first month’s rent, then helped him move in and spoke to some friends about finding the boy a master in some workman’s trade.
By the time the boy was left alone, it was well after midnight, and he simply collapsed into his bed. The sensation of loss refused to leave, and instead only grew, until he wrote a note saying he was going to clear his head, and left. He took the donkey and rode hard out of the open gates. Tears stung his eyes, and as the sun rose into the sky, he saw the burned remains of Elmer’s home.
Enric tied the donkey to a tree in the woods and walked to the town, scared of what he might find. He moved cautiously through the outskirts. Finally, he came to the square. The tradesman’s tents were moved to the outside, rather than lumped together in the center. A wooden frame held Elmer above the ground, hung by his wrists. The boy’s master wore only a burlap sack, rather than his comfortable cotton. He looked unhurt, and with his eyes closed and his face serene, he looked like he was asleep.
Beside him, a massive man with no hair stood, a hungry gleam in his eyes as he watched. On the other side, the local pastor preached a violent sermon on the sins of witchcraft.
Below Elmer’s feet, a great pile of logs was being built.
Enric felt cold inside. He had no weapons, and he had neither poisons, nor elixirs. He didn’t even notice as two monks grabbed his arms and dragged him forward, in front of Elmer. They turned his head up to face his master.
“The apprentice returns to the false master! It is not too late for him– we can still cleanse his youthful soul!” the pastor cried. “We will cleanse his ties this witch with fire, and we will re-educate him in the ways of goodness and light! Come, everyone, lay your hands on him and pray as we cleanse the filth from our lands!”
The crowd pushed in, and Enric felt hands touch him everywhere as the huge man held a torch aloft.
Elmer finally woke. He felt pain everywhere. He had been raped horribly during the night, repeatedly. His stomach still felt ready to burst from all of the water that had been forced down his throat. He wheezed and coughed as he spotted a torch slowly lowering. A torch? He looked up, and he saw Enric among the crowd, held back by countless hands as the boy stared up at him in horror.
His feet were suddenly too hot, and he began to scream and struggle. It burned! His legs shot out, trying to avoid it. The smoke hit him, and he began to cough. His kicking sent embers skittering about, but did little else. His kicks were too weak. Tears filled his stinging eyes as he struggled and screamed hoarsely.
Enric could only stare in horror. He couldn’t do anything. He struggled and tried to reach for his beloved teacher, but as the man’s beautiful face contorted into an ugly mask of agony, he soon found he couldn’t save him.
Elmer was dying.
Enric was helpless.