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I woke up with a start, staring blindly ahead for a moment. As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, vague shapes formed. The only illumination in the room came from a guttering candle stub on the table and the silvery moonlight shining in from a small window near the ceiling. Squinting slightly, I made out the rough shape of the desk in front of me, the somewhat flattened roll of parchment spread out over it... oh, no. Memory of what happened last night flooded my mind. The Solstice Feast, all the food, and feeling warm and comfortable in this dark little room with the blazing fire.
I shot a glance at the fireplace, now only cold ashes. I must have fallen asleep while writing, but I was supposed to be done last night! Perhaps, if I finished before morning, it occurred to me, I wouldn't get in trouble.
Praying that the candle would last at least a little longer, I grabbed a quill pen and pulled the inkwell toward me. As I dipped the pen in and brought it to the parchment, I felt my hand shake a little, and a droplet of black ink fell to the page, spreading out and leaving a large blot. Oh well, too late now... Taking a deep breath and composing myself, I looked back to the last word that I had written, and then to the nearly unreadable page of scribbles beside it. Letting out a barely audible sigh, I began to copy over the rest of the page.
“…and as I will show here, the Secrets of Alchemie are perhaps not as secret as we previously assumed. Though we think of Alchemie as a mysterious, faraway art, I have begun to find, one by one, the Secrets of this unexplored trade.
To begin, I have found a way to transfigure gems in type- ruby to emerald, sapphire to diamond. While this is not quite lead into gold, it is nevertheless an exciting breakthrough into…”
I must have been writing for hours, as the candle was reduced to a tiny flame in a blob of melted wax, and the pinkish light of dawn was beginning to shine through the window. Adding a flourish to the final word, Alchemie, I stood up, wincing at the scraping sound the chair made after having listened to nothing but the quiet scratching of my quill all night. Grabbing the parchment, I rolled it up, and then immediately realized my error. I had forgotten to sprinkle sand on it, an elementary, stupid mistake. If it was smeared- but too late now. Scroll in hand, I made my way to the door, stepping over small piles of cracked inkwells, broken quills, and ripped parchment.
It only took a minute to get to the office, but it felt like forever. It was off-limits time; from ten until six, during the night, servants were not allowed out of their quarters.
I say servant, but of course really we were just slaves treated well. I could talk with the scribes, act like I was one of them, but while they went home to a kind family and comfortable bed, I had nothing to look forward to but overcooked food and a hard cot. Of course, I couldn’t quit if I wanted to, I had nobody to look after me. In a land dominated by elves and humans, a lone sprite of only thirteen summers would have nowhere to go.
Moments later, I tiptoed to the door of the office and tried to sneak in, before finding that the door was locked. Tugging at it fruitlessly for a moment, I let a grin cross my face as I remembered that my hair was up. Reaching to my head, I pulled out the pin holding my hair in place and brushed dark blue strands out of my eyes as I got to work on the lock. Now was the time that Jarred having taught me some of his simpler skills were coming in handy.
I felt the lock click and pulled out the pin, sweeping my hair back into a simple, if messy, bun. The door swung open with a loud creak, and I flinched, expecting to see Kint there, his face red and angry, but the room was dark and empty, a desk looming in the back. As I tiptoed across the room, I realized I had forgotten to title the parchment. With a small, “Ergh,” of frustration, I set to looking for quill and ink.
It took a while, but I eventually found a near-empty inkwell and an old-fashioned feather quill. All of my good ones are carved wood these days.
I unrolled the parchment, relieved to see that it was hardly smudged, and hastily titled it. “A Treatise of Alchemie, Part I of IV”. After adding a few flourishes and decorations, I signed the bottom in small, plain letters. “Scribe: Mira May”. Re-rolling the scroll, I laid it on the desk and began walking, as silently as possibly in my bare feet, out of the room and back down the hall.
A few feet down, I heard muffled voices from up ahead. Surprised that anyone would be awake at a ridiculous time like this, I continued as quietly as I could. As I moved, the voices got closer; they seemed to be coming from behind a door left ajar, across the hall from me. When I started to see bright flashes of colored light through the door, my curiosity was piqued. Knowing that I would forever wonder if I didn’t investigate, I inched my way toward the door to see what was going on.
The door lead to the courtyard, a wide stone platform enclosed by tall walls that also continued into the center, giving it a mazelike feel. A few determined blades of grass poked between the cracks in the stones, and earth showed through in the less well-maintained areas. Muddy footprints crisscrossed all over the otherwise plain color of marble, mapping out a scuffle that took place just where I was standing. Two sets of footprints led up to it, but only one walked away. Yet there was no other evidence of a fight, no unconscious body or even a torn piece of clothing.
Lacking anything better to do, I tiptoed along the path, stepping into each of the boot prints, noting the previous walker’s large feet and long stride. The lights seemed to have vanished, and I would have left were it not for the continued babble ahead of me. I was getting closer to the sound of the voices, and a sudden loud crash and shout made my wings shoot open in surprise. Letting them fall limply onto my back once more, I poked my head around the corner and was amazed at what I saw.