Sample ChaptersThe Alchemancer series

The Alchemist's Forge Preview - Chapter 3

The Alchemist's Forge is the 4th book in The Alchemancer series. Here’s chapter three in its entirety for you to read as a preview.




“SO, THAT'S THE ENGINE,” PERSIMMIUS said. “It’s big! Bigger than you said. Damn thing won’t go easily. It’ll take a lot of explosives. Even then, there are dangers. You sure you don’t know how it works?”

“I do not,” Ensel Rhe said next to him. “I know one who does, but he is on an expedition and, as far as I know, has not returned yet.”

Persimmius grunted and crossed his arms. “I suppose you don’t know what they’re doing to it, either?”

Ensel Rhe had already told the pyromancer he had little knowledge about the engine's workings, so he didn’t bother answering the same question again as they spied workers and engineers scurrying about on the machine’s multiple platforms. Ensel Rhe had led the pyromancer through the underground tunnels Istan had taken him through when Ensel Rhe had wanted to get a closer look at the engine without alerting the eslar guards to his presence. This time had been no different, so now the pair stood on the hidden ledge, surveying the work of the eslar invaders.

“Nothing at all?” Persimmius asked.

“I have told you all I know,” Ensel Rhe said in his usual quiet monotone. “Ingrid Kane and Balrabbek came here to create a process of everlasting life. The engine somehow fits into this plan.”

“Necromancy.” Persimmius spit over the side of the ledge. Some of his phlegm caught in his beard, which he wiped away absentmindedly. The rest sailed into the vast abyss of the engine shaft and disappeared into the darkness.

“Balrabbek said otherwise when I questioned him about that,” Ensel Rhe said. “I believe what he told me about necromancy having no part in their plan, but I suspect Ingrid Kane would give me a different answer if she was here to ask.”

“Right, everyone’s on a damn expedition, and here I am stuck with you trying to figure out how to destroy something that’s probably going to kill us all regardless.”

Ensel Rhe stared at the pyromancer with a questioning gaze. “Your analysis tells you this?”

“My analysis?” Persimmius laughed out loud. He stopped when he realized such noise might carry to the eslar. Though a fair distance away, who knew how far sound might travel in the underground chamber? “We’re a hundred feet away from the engine. How do you expect me to perform an analysis from way the hell out here? I’ve looked at it like you asked. I’ve seen a thing or two. It’s a damn impressive device. I’ll give its creator that much. But damn dangerous too.” Persimmius pointed at the bottommost section of the cylindrical machine below the four stationary collecting arms. “Look there. I can’t say for sure, but those idiots are retrofitting a surge amplifier into the main assembly. Also, see a little higher up where steam is coming out? They’ve attached some sort of a splitter and run the lines all the way up to the top to the chamber there.”

“Why is this important?” Ensel Rhe asked.

“Because, for one, they’re boosting the collector’s gain. Maybe they know what they’re doing, and no harm will come from that. But the lines running from the middle section straight to the top? They’re bypassing the central mechanism, which isn’t good. If I understand the machine’s basic function, it collects, buffers, and transmutes elemental power, then nullifies or inverts or does whatever the hell the latest fool to touch the thing wants it to do. Only the next time it activates, with the way they have it set up, it’s more likely to blow us all to hell before it grants anyone everlasting life. Understand now?”

Ensel Rhe thought he did, though the engine’s activation was irrelevant because their goal was to destroy it before Ingrid got that far. Persimmius laughed again when Ensel Rhe reminded him of that.

“You saw the exhaust steam, didn’t you? They’ve got the alchemicals inside the engine doing something.”

“Such as?”

“How the hell should I know?” Persimmius barked. “Maybe they’re testing the reaction. Or maybe they’re priming the engine for activation. Or maybe they’re warming it up so they can bake a freakin’ cake!”

“You are unstable, pyromancer.”

“No shat! You think I would have blown up half the city if I wasn’t?”

“Calm yourself. You are no good to me if you cannot control yourself.”

“Isn’t that the problem? I’m no good to anyone anymore. That’s why I was trying to get the hell out of Brighton. Every minute I stay here, there’s a chance someone will recognize me. Even if everyone who saw me in the act is dead, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who was responsible for the firebombs. Those fools outside my home did. Others will, too.”

The pyromancer had made this argument before. Ensel Rhe was tired of hearing it.

“If anyone comes looking for you,” Ensel Rhe said, “then they’ll have to deal with the both of us. Few will risk their lives in such a hopeless endeavor.”

“So you say,” Persimmius muttered, but at least he’d stopped blubbering.

“Now,” Ensel Rhe said, “why does it matter if steam comes from the engine?”

“Maybe nothing,” Persimmius said, straightening his jacket. “But if the alchemicals are volatile—and most are—and they’re in a hyperactive state, then they might interact with the alchemicals in my firebombs and make the explosion much bigger than we need. I know what you’re going to ask. How much bigger? Enough to take down the entire palace and maybe the surrounding area along with it.” Persimmius chuckled. “I suppose if you don’t care about casualties, then it doesn’t matter.”

“You care nothing for the people of this city,” Ensel Rhe said, “so I imagine you care even less about the eslar who invaded your home. I told you my intent when I recruited you. I must stop Ingrid Kane. The cost matters little to me.”

Persimmius shrugged. “I was just pointing it out as a potential danger. We’ll need to make sure we’re well away from this place when the explosives go off. Speaking of that, I see a lot of guards, not to mention all the workers. Their presence makes placing the explosives tricky.”

“Concern yourself with the manufacturing of the explosives and their placement. Leave the guards and others to me.”

“Planning on killing all of them?” Persimmius asked, chuckling as if he’d made a joke, though his laughter died in his throat when he saw the stark expression on the other’s blue-black face. “Never mind! I don’t want to know. As for the devices, I’ll need to set them at different points along the engine’s superstructure to make sure we do the job right. Probably ten to fifteen explosives with yields somewhere in the range of...” His voice trailed off as he worked out the numbers. “Well, a large yield. Let’s leave it at that for now. I’ll know more when I get back to my workshop and run through some calculations.”

“Then you have everything you need here?” Ensel Rhe asked.

Persimmius did, so they left the engine chamber behind via the same tunnels they’d used to get there before emerging from the underground onto a dark, quiet street. Right away, they saw inverted shambling about, but the victims of Ingrid Kane’s quest for everlasting life ignored Ensel Rhe by rote and Persimmius because he hid his energy signature from them using his magic. Though Ensel Rhe paid them little heed, he noticed Persimmius’s curious gaze lingering on them.

“I keep wondering if I’ll run into someone I know,” the pyromancer said. “A lot of people were in the palace when it all happened. The chancellor, many lords, ladies, and others.” Persimmius spat. “Damn necromancy. I wouldn’t mind studying what happened to these people. They’re not dead. I can tell you that much. Stuck somewhere between life and death is my guess. You’re sure this boy of yours can change them back?”

“He thinks he can.”

“And what happens when he returns from his expedition and finds you blew up the engine and all the people he’s trying to save along with it?”

“Return to your workshop,” Ensel Rhe said. “Begin your work on the explosive devices. I have other business here that may occupy me the remainder of the night.”

Before Ensel Rhe had turned away, Persimmius stopped him.

“You’re sure Serena got away? She didn’t turn into one of those things?”

“I saw her off myself. She is safe.”

Satisfied with the answer, Persimmius nodded.

Without further comment, Ensel Rhe parted ways with the sorcerer. Persimmius had work to do, and so did he. Though Balrabbek was dead, the company of eslar soldiers who had sailed into Brighton to occupy the inner city still had a commander or, more specifically, an admiral named Odiyarus Bar Nabala. A military man, but one who only followed orders or someone with a stake in Bal and Ingrid’s scheme? Wanting to understand his enemy and learn his disposition, Ensel Rhe found an unguarded service entrance into the palace, where he prowled the deserted halls and started searching for the admiral’s command center. Ensel Rhe wasn’t sure if the location was inside the palace, but it seemed the most logical choice. Wary of guards, despite the empty stillness hanging over the place, he prowled one hall after another, searching for some sign of activity. But all was quiet, as if the eslar had abandoned the palace. Ensel Rhe knew this was not true. The eslar forces had arrived with limited numbers because they expected to find no one alive inside the city walls. But Aaron had foiled Ingrid’s plan to invert the entire city, leaving half the population alive and prepared to resist. Ensel Rhe knew the eslar only needed to hold the inversion zone until they completed their trials of the everlasting life process. Then Ingrid would have everything she needed, and the eslar would leave. If only it were that simple. Ingrid had introduced necromancy into the formula, and Ensel Rhe knew she had something more in mind besides refining her life-extending process. He wondered if Admiral Odiyarus knew that, too.

Soldiers ahead alerted Ensel Rhe to their presence by their chatter. Not Omega Agazis, Ensel Rhe saw, but four eslar airmen strolling across a square marked by white stone walkways and solitary olive trees. Leaves, once the deepest of greens, now clung to branches as sickly gray reminders of the inversion that had affected more than the people within the engine’s sphere of influence. Like all the eslar Ensel Rhe had seen inside the zone, the sailors used suppression devices to protect them from the engine’s lingering effect. Though unaware of the reason, Ensel Rhe did not need such a device. Ingrid may have been onto something when she turned her encorder on him and saw his negative energy reading, but Ensel Rhe had neither the desire nor the time to wonder about it. He was sinjee-ka, a master of the arts. He’d immersed himself in krill rituals, taken their tests, and emerged stronger. Regret was a thing of the past and not something that needled at his thoughts as it did others. Besides, why dwell on sacrifices that cannot be undone?

Ensel Rhe hid behind a pillar, waiting for the airmen’s chatter to fade into the distance as they passed from the square. Their conversation was about their dinner and nothing more, so nothing useful. Gliding from shadow to shadow, Ensel Rhe passed through muted gardens, up and down stairs, and into the earl’s rotunda from which Lord Philip had given his final public speech before the engine had killed him. Also, his father and mother had lain in state here. Ensel Rhe respected the solemnity of the place, and since moonlight bathed the space with illumination, he clung to the shadows made by the exterior columns. The move proved fortuitous as a storm of arrows sliced the air where he had stood a second ago. More arrows flew, but the missiles bounced harmlessly from the stone column he hid behind. Ensel Rhe stayed put, waiting for the next onslaught or for his attackers to reveal themselves.

“We know who you are!” a voice shouted, echoing from the rotunda’s blue marble walls.

“Then you have the advantage,” Ensel Rhe yelled. “Show yourself, and we shall see who truly has the upper hand.”

“Very well,” the voice said. “I am here.”

Ensel Rhe peered around the pillar to see a single soldier standing easy in the center of the circle of moonlight bathing the rotunda. The soldier wore the gray sash of a commander over the banded maroon armor of an Omega Agazi.

Ensel Rhe peered upward. “And what of your archers in the balconies?”

“They will hold their arrows, at least until we finish speaking.”

Wary, Ensel Rhe nevertheless stepped into the light. While no arrows rained down on him, he spotted several Omega archers ready to do so on their commander’s order. Also, he sensed the presence of other soldiers lurking beyond in the shadows.

“Your name?” Ensel Rhe asked.

“Korum Kay Cole, Commander of the Omega Agazi. You murdered one of my lieutenants. We found his body floating in one of the canals.”

“Perhaps he drowned.”

“The slash across his neck suggests otherwise.”

“Anyone could have killed him.”

“I have witnesses who claim it was another eslar.”

Ensel Rhe shrugged. “I gave him a clean death, which is more than he deserved.”

“Then it’s true,” Commander Cole said. The commander had two blades within easy reach. A hand already rested on one of the pommels. “You are the one Lord Balrabbek warned us about. He said you would not abide our presence in Brighton and that you would try to kill him. Pity he refused my offer to provide him with more protection.”

“It would not have mattered,” Ensel Rhe said. “Balrabbek’s death was not something you could have prevented.”

“Then you admit to his murder as well?” Korum Kay asked. “Give me one reason I shouldn’t hang you on the spot. Perhaps you think your station will stay my hand? That matters for nothing here, where justice rests on the edge of my blade or the arrows of my soldiers. Speak, and do so quickly. My patience runs thinner than usual on this dark night.”

“You think this night is dark?” Ensel Rhe asked. “If Balrabbek and Ingrid Kane’s plan comes to fruition, then you will know true darkness.”

Commander Cole scoffed. “Their plan to grant immortality to all? Where is the darkness in that?”

“If it is bought with necromancy, then it can be no darker.”

“Necromancy?” Korum Kay said with genuine surprise. The commander lifted his helmet from his head, revealing close-cropped hair the same rust-red color as Ensel Rhe’s. “What do you mean?”

“Do you know nothing of our people’s history?” Ensel Rhe asked. “Once, long ago, others spoke of everlasting life.”

“I know the stories,” Korum Kay said. “As does the Consortium. Do you think our government did not ask the same questions or verify Ingrid Kane’s research before committing state resources to this endeavor?”

“I do not doubt the technocrats asked their questions, but did they ask the right ones?” Before the commander responded, Ensel Rhe went on. “It matters little. The Consortium is rife with politics and favoritism, its members as fallible as any other. Even if some raised suspicions, others amongst them know only greed and the lust for power.”

“That is one thing we agree on. Still, you make a bold claim. Have you any proof?”

“Are the dead rising not enough?”

That silenced the commander. He glanced past Ensel Rhe into the darkness before saying, “When we first arrived and saw the dead coming from the ballroom and elsewhere, I did not want to believe it. Something else must have happened because surely we were not responsible. But then I saw Lord Balrabbek. You may have killed him, but he did not stay dead. He was not the only one, either.”

It took Ensel Rhe a few seconds to understand the commander’s meaning. “Your lieutenant.”

Korum Kay nodded. “Some of my men found him in the water, making such a scene with his splashing and moaning they couldn’t help but notice him. One jumped in to help him. It did not end well for him.”

“How many others have you encountered?” Ensel Rhe asked. “Both sides have experienced casualties. The necromantic effect does not discriminate.”

“None outside the inversion sphere,” Commander Cole said. “We even checked some graveyards but found no disturbances.”

Ensel Rhe remembered what Aaron had told him, so he related as much to the commander. “The engine’s effect is unstable and likely not uniform, which may explain why some are affected and not others.”

Korum Kay contemplated that before he said, “Ingrid and some others are on a mission to solve the instability problem. My concern is what happens when the energy field stabilizes.”

“You didn’t think to wonder about that before she left?”

The commander bristled. “I didn’t know about the dead rising.” He took a breath, calming himself. “That is, I knew about the already dead rising right after we set down. Ingrid explained it as a complication resulting from the engine instability. But nothing she or Lord Balrabbek said led me to believe those killed after the engine’s activation would also rise. I think it was a surprise to them. Or at least to Balrabbek. Ingrid, I’m not so sure, especially now.”

“Is there someone else you can question other than Ingrid? Another scientist or engineer? I saw them in the engine chamber making modifications. One must know something.”

“How did you...?” The commander shook his head. “Never mind. I agree. One must know something. I will have them questioned.”

“Good,” Ensel Rhe said. “Then I take my leave.”

“You’ll do no such thing,” Commander Cole said.

As if on cue, swordsmen closed from all directions, barring Ensel Rhe’s exit from the rotunda. Above him, archers remained poised to strike.

“You still have to answer for the death of my lieutenant, not to mention Lord Balrabbek. Admiral Nabala wants to question you himself.”

Ensel Rhe glanced at the soldiers surrounding him. They were hard men with staunch countenances. Not easily swayed, subjugated, or defeated. Even a sinjee knew when to set aside the sword to try a different tactic.

“Ingrid Kane has a book that proves she knows more than she has told you.”

“What sort of book?” the commander asked.

“A book about necromancy. Its authors? The necromancers Ill Sigith and Jux Jeorn.”

Commander Cole searched his memory. “I know those names.” But he did not elaborate.

Ensel Rhe continued. “I intend to retrieve it to learn what purpose it plays in her scheme.”

Commander Cole’s hand slipped from his sword hilt. He signaled to his men to lower their weapons. “You know where to find this book?”

“I know where she keeps it,” Ensel Rhe said. “Whether it is still there, I do not know. Accompany me. Take as many of your men as you feel you need for protection. But this way, you will see the dark fate you have become entangled with for yourself.”

Commander Cole considered it. He needed only a few moments.

“Stand down,” he shouted to his archers. “The rest of you, return to your stations. Corporal Caradoc!”

The so-named corporal strode forward and stood at attention. “Sir?”

“Round up the engineers and scientists one at a time. Do so discreetly. Question them about their modifications to the machine and find out how much they know about Ingrid’s plan. If anyone asks what you’re doing, tell them you’re gathering information in the event Ingrid’s expedition fails and we have to carry on without her. I’ll expect a full report upon my return. Dismissed.”

Corporal Caradoc saluted his commander and left to see to his assigned duty.

Ensel Rhe waited until he was alone with the commander before he asked, “You bring no one else?”

“I need no one else. If your plan is to kill me, then you’ll find I do not die so easily, either.”

“My plan is as I said. What happens after is up to you.”

“Meaning?” the commander asked.

“I plan to put a stop to Ingrid and her so-called quest for everlasting life. If the book does not convince you, and you persist in standing in my way, it will not go well for you.”

“Noted,” Korum Kay said. “But if what you say is true about Ingrid, and she has somehow fooled the Consortium by hiding her greater design, then it is my duty to stop her. You asked if I know our people’s history. I know it all too well, and I’ll not be a party to restoring the Dark Times when necromancy nearly destroyed our nation. So, if we’re done with thoughts of killing one another, I propose a temporary alliance, at least until we have the book in hand and know its purpose.”

“Your terms are agreeable,” Ensel Rhe said.

“Good. Lead on, then. I fear we haven’t a moment more to lose.”

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