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A New Apprenticeship Begins

03 Mar

Continued from Enric’s Graduation.

Flames crackled, and screams echoed.  Enric could only stare and beg for Elmer’s release. “He didn’t do anything wrong!” the boy cried hoarsely. “Let him go!  He only made medicine!” The boy struggled against a hundred hands that held him back and turned his face to look up at his teacher.  His tears fell freely as he watched the only man who fed him, clothed him, and cared for him dance uselessly over flames that were igniting the man’s only coverings.

Enric could see the blisters forming on Elmer’s legs, and began to struggle.

Elmer’s coughing and screaming became weaker as smoke began to overtake him.

Elmer’s formerly graceful features were contorted by agony, soot, and tears.  His hair stopped being yellow, and his skin stopped being pale as both became greyed by soot.  Someone splashed water onto the alchemist’s face, and the soot began to run.  As the water ran down Elmer’s body and landed in the fire, more smoke rose up to choke him.  The fire rose higher and began to claim Elmer’s coverings.

Enric screamed as Elmer’s struggles began to wane. “Master!”

Elmer felt tired, and the pain began to ebb.  His struggles slowed to a stop.  Breathing was hard.  Clouded eyes looked out at the crowd.  He couldn’t hear anything, and he could barely make out Enric’s struggling form among the grasping crowd.  A smile slowly lit his face before he began to cough again.  He tried to lift himself to get more air, but his arms were weak from supporting his weight, and he was never a very powerful man.

The heat reopened and reclosed the hidden marks of torture on his body.  Welts bled and sizzled.  Scabs cracked open painfully.  His abused genitals became a center point of agony.  He screamed, but couldn’t hear himself.  His struggles began anew.  His every wound, revealed by the burning of the bag he wore, hurt far more than when it was received at the hands of the giant bald man.

An abstract part of his mind wondered if this was the real purpose of the torture– to ensure he kept screaming in the fire.  His vision ceased working entirely as he closed his eyes.  Even his tears were filled with soot and the stinging of acrid smoke.  It felt as though his body was becoming part of the fire.

Suddenly, a voice whispered in Elmer’s ear. “Are you ready for god’s mercy, unwanted shepherd?”

Elmer’s only jumbled thoughts reflected pain, want of an end, and fear for the fate of his apprentice.

“Ah, you are not done tending your flock.  What do you have to offer me, if you are allowed to continue?  Oh, but you can’t answer, can you?  The pain is too great.” Elmer suddenly felt a great yank, and he was seated at a lovely white table in the middle of a lovely garden.  In front of him, a stranger sat with hair of flaming red and a smile that eased Elmer’s memory of suffering away. “You have passed out now.  They will make the fire low, so you can wake up before they kill you in the flames.” The voice seduced Elmer, pulling him forward, as though urging him to want.

The stranger with the flaming hair smiled. “What price will you pay to continue to teach the boy?  You have no wealth, and your body is broken.  Will you give me your soul, unwanted shepherd?”

Elmer stared, then began to laugh weakly. “My soul already has an owner.  I have nothing to offer you.”

The stranger blinked in shock. “Who?  Who owns it?”

“That boy who is screaming for my release, but he doesn’t know it, and none will tell him that he is who I fight to live for.  He is all I have.”

“Will you bargain him for your life?”

“No.” Elmer paused as he began to feel the burning flame again. “I seem to be waking up.” He closed his eyes in anticipation of the pain. “I will bear it, because I will not give you my student, nor anything of his.  Do not bargain with him, either.” His eyes narrowed as a wave of pain shot along his back.  His vision waved between the fading garden and the fire, and he wondered if he was seeing correctly when he saw the being on the other side of the table turn to flame.

Another voice spoke to him, this one gruff. “You did well, Elmer.  Sleep now, and know the boy is in good care.”

Elmer closed his eyes as the agony continued to grow.  In his weak mind, he made one final request. “Let me tell him I love him, please.”  His inner voice was weak, and he couldn’t hear his own thoughts.  For a brief moment, the pain faded entirely, and his lungs were clear.  His request was heard and given. “Enric!” he cried. “I love you!  Be,” he paused to catch his breath, “Be a good boy, and take care of Bess!” His voice trailed off as he hung his head.  The fire rose rapidly and consumed him, rope and all.  His final scream echoed loudly through the village.

Enric’s scream echoed Elmer’s, and he broke free and ran forward.  Someone yanked him away from the fire before he could shove his hand inside.  He looked back and saw a hunch-back with blind eyes.  The hair on the back of his neck rose at the sight of someone so ugly.  He felt repulsed.

The man shoved a wineskin into the boy’s mouth. “Drink!  You are thirsty!” The boy drank, surprised.  His world faded to black.

Enric woke in his apartment in the big city.  A note was left for him by the guard who initially helped him.

Boy,

I don’t know why you ran off, or to where, but you were passed out at the gates, covered in soot and ash.  My wife cleaned you up.  When you wake up, you can meet her in the landlord’s office.

– Bran

The boy began to sob as memories rushed back.  Elmer was gone.  His beloved master disappeared from the world in a ball of fire.

He was alone, save some kind strangers who didn’t cut his throat.

Slowly, the boy forced himself to dress and clean himself up.  How did he get back?  The thought faded from his mind.  He must have escaped and fled, he was sure.

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