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Fantasy Kids Holiday

Intense heat permeated the air. Beads of sweat pooled atop Andrea's brow. He winced when they stung his eyes and muddied his vision. Though he must not lose focus.


Towering furnaces and vents lined the smeltery. The walls were made of dark stones, while the pieces of machinery were made of dark grey metal. It was a gloomy place, lit only by the orange light of molten ores.


Despite the spaciousness of the facility, Andrea felt claustrophobic. He gripped his shovel, scooping gravels of malachite into the furnace. With his shorter limbs, it was a demanding task to him compared to the older apprentices.


At a distance, Lorenzo watched over the apprentices. He was responsible for the quality of the work and the safety of the procedures. A man of few words, his stern demeanor kept everyone in line.


Andrea collected another shovelful of green rocks. Then, he carefully plunged them into the blaze.


"Wait! Stop!" An apprentice yelled.


The furnace flared up suddenly, devouring the length of Andrea's tool. 


Before the heat could reach him, Andrea felt a shove from cold, hard hands. He fell face first, feeling the soot and gravel scraping against his skin.


"Get up."


Andrea rubbed his sore arm and dusted himself. As he looked up, he was met with a cold scowl.


"There was a spike in the fuel. You were not paying attention."


"I'm sorry...Master Lorenzo." 


"What is the use of apologies? Your negligence could have killed you, along with the others."


Andrea shrank under the harsh tone.


"You are dismissed for the day."









Andrea huffed, breathing in the brisk air as he left the smeltery. He looked up to the sky, squinting a little at the bright light.


Sparse clouds covered the vast blue expanse. Birds soared into the distance, chasing the wind and sun.


What freedom. If only I could be like them. Andrea thought.


Andrea sighed and turned his gaze back to the off-grey walls of nearby buildings. A layer of powdery snow covered the brick-red roofs. Somehow, they reminded him of toadstools. 


Andrea almost chuckled at the thought before making his way to the apprentices' quarters.









Past the winding corridors, Andrea arrived at the room he shared with other young apprentices. He was alone. The others were still working or studying under their masters.


Andrea walked to the third bed at the left. After placing his satchel at the side, he slumped onto the mattress. He sobbed a little. 


Lorenzo was the Headmaster of Metallurgy, an authority of his field. Andrea was one of his few chosen apprentices. 


Andrea berated himself. He should have known better earlier at the smeltery.


It wasn't the harshness of Lorenzo that shook him, but the blatant look of disappointment. 









"Hey, why are you sleeping in the middle of the day?"


"Shh! Maybe he's unwell."


Andrea heard some voices. His groggy mind could barely register them.


"Today's a strange day. Isn't it?"


"It's always strange when it comes to Master Piero."


"I heard he released some toxic essence into the air, and it went to the menagerie." 


"Master Piero hasn't caused any disaster so far. But how are the creatures?"


"They are fine. Master Marietta made sure of that."


"Hnnnhhh..." Andrea woke. The chatter was too much. He looked at the windows, seeing the warm evening light.


"Why...don't you two need to work?" He looked at the two girls.


"There was an accident. We were dismissed." Lavinia said.


"Wha-no, it's just a small one. The smeltery-" 


"It's not the smeltery. It's the anima foundry. Master Piero was doing some experiment, and it produced some unexpected results." Lavinia continued.


"And somehow, the strange thing he always made got wafted into the menagerie. Master Marietta evacuated all of us." Cecilia added.


"Oh-uhh. I see." Andrea felt relief. Even master alchemists made mistakes sometimes.


"You must be hungry. The canteen is closed now, but I've saved some bread." Cecilia said.


"I've also baked some cinnamon tarts during the time off!" Lavinia reached into her bag. Soon, a spicy aroma filled the room. 









"I-I'm sorry...I just...don't remember." Piero placed his hand atop his face, digging his fingertips into his temple.


"It's alright. You are fine." Lorenzo rested his hands on Piero's shoulders. The ceramic fingers were cold and stiff, but the strength behind the prosthesis provided some much needed assuage.


"It's just...today, halfway through the transmutation process, I forgot what I was doing. Did anyone get hurt?"


"No. The masters handled the situation. We'll be fine."


"I-" Piero scowled. His mind was a churning chaos. It was like a spindle, reeling threads of memories into spools, yet sometimes unraveling them into frayed strands. 


What has been, what was to be. To Piero, they were events he could glimpse into but never hold in his mind.


"I'm not sure about being fine..."


"Ah yes, foreseeing some impending doom again? The past is the past, the future is the future." Lorenzo sat beside Piero. "No matter what happens, I'll be there for you."









For the next few days, Piero stayed in his office. He would continue the experiments after he figured out some means of precaution.


Years ago, Piero was celebrated as a great master of alchemy for his discovery of ophidum, a substance thought to be capable of reversing transmutation. Little did the others know, it was so much more.


Piero shifted through his manuscripts. There was much work to be done.


The creation of ophidum was permanent. One can only stabilize or disperse it. It was a substance of pure anima.


Anima was a fickle and enigmatic thing to material beings.


Piero realized that too late. Desperate to regain the memories he lost from the plague, he permanently altered his mind.


There was a soft knock.


"Come in."


"Hello there! My dear, I heard you were upset and sulking for days. My, everyone slips up sometimes." A jovial voice rang at the door. 


"I'm alright, Master Marietta." Piero flashed a weak smile.


"And so are the animals! Don't worry about them. They've been doing well, no signs of hurt whatsoever."


Marietta walked into the room, carrying a delicate cage.


"Here, this little one has been wanting to meet you." Marietta pointed at the cage. There was a bird that resembled both a sparrow and a swift.


"I-I think this is unnecessary. It's too much."


"Here, I hope he'll cheer you up. I mean, you have to go out sometimes. There is more to life than alchemy."


"I see. What a wonderful gift. Thank you."


After she left, Piero pinched the bridge of his nose. He stared at the creature, absentmindedly counting the iridescent lines of its violet plumage.









"Ooh, what's that?" The apprentices clamored over Lavinia.


"It's so pretty!"


"Where did you get it?"


"Master Piero gave this to me. Said it's a reward for my quick learning." Lavinia answered.


"I'm pretty sure he's from Master Marietta's aviary." Cecilia said.


The bird chirped, bouncing in the cage.


"I think he's hungry. When's the last time you fed him?" Cecilia asked


Lavinia shrugged.


Cecilia sighed. She went to her bedside drawer and fetched some jars. She poured the desiccated insect specimens onto her palm and held it out to the bird.


The bird peeped, almost seemingly shaking its head. It flew out of the cage.


"Eeeek!" Lavinia squealed. The bird flew towards her and landed on her bag, pecking at it.


"Oh, I think it wants my custard tarts." Lavinia opened the bag.


"Wait-"


The bird dug into the tart before Cecilia could stop it.


"There's too much flour and sugar." 


"Better than eating yucky bugs!" An apprentice chimed in.


"That's what birds eat." Though Cecilia had never seen this kind of bird, not even in the books.









The apprentices decided to take care of the bird together and named it 'Elio'. They would take turns feeding Elio and clean its cage. Every evening, they would let Elio out of the cage and play with it.


"Elio doesn't want to go back again." Andrea said. Often, the bird was reluctant to return to its perch in the cage, preferring to sleep on a bed.


Cecilia sighed.


"Alright, Elio. Come here." Andrea made a mattress on his nightstand with some spare clothes and linen.


The lights were extinguished. Moonlight spilled from the window, illuminating the flitting snowfall.


Andrea watched as Elio chirped contently.


"Cheep." Andrea chirped back.


"Hahahaha-what was that?" Lavinia laughed.


"I...don't know."


"Let's just sleep." Cecilia said.









In the lecture theatre, Andrea listened attentively. It was a foundational lesson on metallurgy. There were many apprentices under different masters.


"How do you temper an alloy of iron and lapis viridis?" Lorenzo asked.


Andrea perked up, but before he could raise his hands, another apprentice answered.


"We heat it up to the fifth-degree intensity. Then, we submerge it in liquid vitreum for five seconds and cool it in standing air."


"Very good." Lorenzo continued. "What do we use it for?"


"The alloy can be used to conduct anima. Creating a sift that turns complex anima into-" Andrea was cut off by a series of coughs and wheezes. Something tickled his throat.  


Several apprentices went and gave Andrea some water.


"We use alloys of different properties to conduct and direct anima. They are much like the sifts, barriers, and funnels we use for material substances." Lorenzo continued his lecture.









The apprentices gathered at the canteen for lunch.


Andrea poked at the rye bread beside his vegetable soup. Nothing looked particularly appetizing.  


"Hey, are you alright? You didn't have your breakfast." Lavinia asked.


"Yeah..."


"I know! I'll have papa make you some bread over the weekend. It's surely better than these lumps here."


"Hey, it's alright. You gave a good answer back there." Cecilia sat beside the two and set her food on the table.


"I just...I don't know. I let Master Lorenzo down again." Andrea said.









After lunch, the apprentices went separate ways. Lavinia arrived at the workshop. The senior apprentices were already there, assigning tasks. 


Lavinia went to her station and set up the apparatus. This time, she was responsible for purifying salt crystals.


"Master Piero!"


Lavinia turned back, so did many others. It wasn't common for Piero to visit his apprentices. 


Piero always made arrangements for tasks and lessons at the beginning of every month. Though, he did not teach in person often, delegating heavily on the senior apprentices.


"No need to be anxious. I'm just checking in." Piero smiled. 


Several apprentices straightened themselves. Some discreetly organized their station.


"It's-it's not a surprise inspection." Piero said. "I see great improvements in all of you!"


Piero walked forward, examining closer. "Nice work. Though, you need to refine the distillation process." 


"Pay attention to the crystallization forms. They may look similar, but the properties could differ greatly." He pointed at another.


Lavinia focused on the alembic, fine-tuning the temperature as she waited for her turn.


A dull clink came from the window. A purple bird was pecking at the glass.


Elio! Lavinia almost gasped.


"Oh, if it isn't your little friend, Lavinia. I'm afraid we can't let it in. Why don't you go get it? Marco will take over your work." Piero said.


Flushed, Lavinia left.









Several hours later, Lavinia managed to lure Elio back into its cage with some pastry. It was already evening.


"Who left the cage open?" Lavinia huffed. 


"I made sure it's closed after I fed Elio this morning." Andrea said.


"Thankfully, he didn't make a mess." Cecilia glanced at Elio's bed. "Except for you, there were piles of feathers. I cleaned it up earlier."


"Thanks..."


"I guess he likes you!" Lavinia teased. "Though we gotta be more careful, I don't wanna embarrass myself again."









Winter solstice was nearing. The city was decorated with colorful lights and ornaments. 


The apprentices were allowed to return to their families for two weeks. Many looked forward to the upcoming festivities.


"It's quiet now, isn't it." Piero said.


"I thought you'd enjoy the silence. I got you some spiced cheesecake." Lorenzo said.


Sitting beside Piero, Lorenzo opened the package and sliced a piece of cake.


"You really missed out this time. The marketplace was pretty good. There were some interesting performances in the town square."


"Ah. Maybe next time?"


"That'll be next year." Lorenzo scoffed. "Though the marketplace would be there for several more days."


"Tomorrow then." Piero smiled.









A new year arrived. The apprentices returned from their break.


"I'll never get used to the food here. The baker's guild had it so much better." Lavinia groaned.


However, she brought bags of baked goods for the apprentices to share. Among them was a large honeyed cake.


"Too bad Andrea and Elio aren't back yet." 


"Let's hope for an amazing new year." Cecilia said. 


The apprentices made a circle around the cake and celebrated. 









Days later, Andrea was still missing. Lorenzo looked for his whereabouts, asking the apprentices and alchemists before visiting his family.


Andrea never went back. His family assumed that he stayed at the facility for the winter.


Alarmed, Lorenzo tasked his apprentices to find Andrea.









The masters were called into a meeting after a few days. 


A strange phenomenon occurred in the city. People were developing odd habits. In severe cases, unusual growths and appendages appeared on the victims.


Disturbingly, many apprentices seemed to have developed advanced symptoms.


"Is it any pathogen we know of?"


"We couldn't find any from the specimens."


Piero pondered. 


"This could be a case of anima ingression, much like the plague. We need to ward the cities. We don't know the transmission route. We must isolate everyone as much as possible." Piero said.









Alone in his office, Piero contemplated the situation. Anima was intangible and difficult to observe its exact pattern.


While it could influence the material world, anima was not a uniform shroud. The living matrix of flows and turbulences was known as the anima mundi.


Piero spent decades researching on the remnants of the plague. Even as he mapped out the mechanisms and possible sources of the ingression, he did not fully understand the true origin.


Though, in this ongoing outbreak, things could be more transparent.


Piero concocted a solution with sulfur and infused it into tiny hollowed barbs of serutrite alloy. Then, he attached the barbs to a metal filament.


Piero went to the east side of the city, where the outbreak was first reported. He cast out the filament like a web.


A faint trail was revealed, leading to the forest.









Several alchemists followed Piero's report and went with him the next day.


"Things seem normal here. Are you sure this is the source?"


"No." Marietta responded. She had been observing carefully. "We've passed by hares and squirrels. They didn't run from us."


A shadow swooped down.


Lorenzo leaped in front before it could get Piero.


"Squaaaak!" The creature screeched. It sounded disturbingly human.


"You. Help me." It spoke towards Piero.


It was an enormous bird, half-resembling a harpy. Its violet plumage gleamed under the forest light.


"Help you?"


"Your thing will change me. Back."


"It's the bird I gave you!" Marietta recognized the creature.


Piero had a suspicion.


"Ah yes, of course. But-"


"If you don't. I will make everyone like me." The creature threatened.


Piero calmed himself and pondered.


"Yes, yes. Follow us back. I'll make your medicine!" 









Piero theorized that the leakage of ophidum had temporally reversed the creature's transformation. Perhaps it was once a human.


In the workshop, Piero worked tirelessly for an elixir of ophidum. Eventually, he prepared several vials.


"Squak!" The creature swung around. "Medicine. Now."


"Here-"


"Give me!"


The creature lunged forth and swallowed the vials. Immediately, it changed.


Its feathers and wings atrophied. Its beak flattened into a face. Soon, it morphed into a man.


But before it could rejoice, its limbs contorted again. Its bones snapped under its shrinking skin. Once again, it was a bird.


The creature was a writhing mess, stuck in an endless cycle of transformation.


Contrary to popular beliefs, ophidum was never meant for reversing transmutation. 


The anima mundi heals itself. What was reversed must occur once more. Paradoxically, the creation of ophidum could not be undone. The result was a loop of happening and unhappening.


"You can come in now." Piero said nonchalantly.


"Well, well. How do we deal with this?" Lorenzo asked.


"Send this to Marietta and the others. Whatever's inside it must be causing those changes. We can stop the outbreak once we figured it out."









After days of biopsy, the alchemists discovered the source of infection. It was a complex form of anima. Much like a parasite, it latched onto other complex forms of anima, like a sentient mind. Then, it would slowly degrade the creature into simpler forms.


Though they were unable to reverse the transformations, they were able to purge the parasite. Most victims were able to live with their symptoms.









"I guess I'll take that back. Bugs look delicious." An apprentice said.


Cecilia only glared at him as she plucked feathers from her elbows.


"Hey, on the bright side, I think they look pretty good." Lavinia trimmed her own feathers, almost as a fashion statement. 


"Mine are green. I'd love to have those black ones like yours."


"Thankfully, none of us got a beak or something."


"I really want to see what Andrea gets."


"Master Piero said he went back with his family."


"Guess he'll become a merchant or something then? Alchemy is so much cooler."









In a faraway sky, above the sea of clouds, a bluebird soared.


He felt the wind under his wings. It was unbridled freedom.


Vaguely, he remembered how he once longed for this.

December 26, 2020 04:37

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8 comments

Rayhan Hidayat
07:39 Dec 29, 2020

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised someone with a username like that would do this prompt haha This anima thing is very intriguing. I was a little confused what the mechanics behind it exactly were but the alchemy guy was as well, so I guess it was intentionally obscure. I love the payoff, it was well worth the buildup. Kudos 😙

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Saizen 🦜
17:34 Dec 29, 2020

Ah yes 🦜 Since you've done the same prompt, I guess you can say we're 'Birds of a Feather'. Thanks for the read! I'm glad you like the ending. I apologize for the occult-ish language in the story. In plain terms, ophidum potion creates a time loop in the affected subject. The exact properties of time loop can vary depending on the potion. Piero has his memory in a slow and unstable time loop because he tried to use an ophidum potion to cure his amnesia (The Ouroboros Tale). Hence he sometimes forgets the past and remembers the future.

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Rayhan Hidayat
10:03 Dec 30, 2020

Haha smooth 😉 No need for apologies, I guess the issue is that I didn’t read that story first. Not that it stifled my enjoyment, mind you

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S. Closson
22:53 Jan 12, 2021

What a fun take on the prompt! I really enjoyed the setting's gritty, real feel. It reminded me of a more refined steampunk setting, especially with your use of alchemy in the world and the anima being sort of plague-like. The way you wrapped the story up was very well done, and honestly that last line was pretty impactful. Awesome stuff!

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Tiffany 🌻
19:33 Dec 27, 2020

This is an amazing story, it got more and more interesting as it progressed. I loved the unique characters, Elio turning into a human was an awesome plot twist :0 My favourite part is the ending, I got chills! I love how you told the reader what had happened to Andrea, without directly telling what had happened. Beautiful way of ending the story, good job! Would you mind taking a look at my newest story? :)

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Saizen 🦜
20:03 Dec 27, 2020

Thanks for thr feedback! I tried to go at a wholesome horror sort of tone. I'm glad you liked the ending! I've been looking forward your stories. I'll definitely check them out!

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Tiffany 🌻
20:27 Dec 27, 2020

Ok thank you!

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Saizen 🦜
21:24 Dec 26, 2020

Welcome to another Saizen-style spiel. This is a sequel of sorts, to The Ouroboros Tale. In this story, we follow the shenanigans of the young apprentices and Piero, our beloved sociopath alchemist. Author's note: - Alchemy is very much like low-tech Sci-Fi, than fantasy. People back then did use scientific methods to develop the principle of alchemy, it's just not nearly as rigorous as modern science. Like, people did know that reacting certain substances through some chemical processes will produce some results. It's not really magic t...

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