Universally enthusiastic chaos-artist & storyteller

Chapter 23: Things in jars and sausages

“You okay buddy?”
I grunt and pull the blanket over my head and try to drown out the splitting headache that worms its way around the back of my eyes.
“You know it’s midday already right?”
“Leave me alone Tungsten. I’m not feeling well.”
“Yeah, that tends to happen when you drink an entire bottle of wine by yourself.”
There’s a blinding light as the blanket is pulled away from me, a chill goes up my spine. I snatch out for it trying to cling to that last corner of warmth “Give it back.”
The guy rolls his eyes, sits down on the floor and keeps his half of the blanket in an iron grip “Wanna talk about it?”
“I didn’t think you were the drinking type. Let alone the ‘drink until you pass out’ type. So what happened out there?”
“What’s it to you?”
“Well, for one that was my wine and I don’t know if you noticed but you fell asleep in my bed. Secondly, you’re the responsible one between us and I’m pretty sure the plan is screwed if you break down now.”
I huff then slump back onto the bed, blanket be damned “Pretty sure the plan is screwed either way.”
“Go on?”
“I’m supposed to be ‘the bridge between dolls and alchemy’” I tell him with as much mockery as I can muster “But the dolls hate me and I don’t even know where to find the alchemist. Not to mention I screwed everything up in the first place. It’s my fault doll fever is even a thing. There’s no reason for anyone to cooperate with me.”
Tungsten blinks at me “Right so…I’m not particularly good with these sorts of things…What would your doll buddy say to you in the scenario?”
I grunt “His name was Stegarius and I don’t know!? ‘Don’t give up’ or some nonsense like that?”
“Well, don’t give up then.”
I groan “Then what should I do!?”
“Well…for one, how about you clean yourself up while I make something to eat? You skipped dinner last night so I bet you’re famished.” He pulls the blanket around himself, ties it into a cloak and walks to the door “I’ll see you in a bit.”
I roll my eyes, then hiss at the pain in my temples.
All right Inquiry, time to be brave.
I pull myself upright.

Tungsten made eggs and sausages full of grease and salt. I look at them with suspicion.
“Trust me, it’ll help. Eggs and sausages have helped me through many a hangover, well…that and ‘the miraculous hangover cure’.” He boasts pulling a vial from his breast pocket with a flourish, the content amber-coloured and faintly glowing for some reason.
I pull up an eyebrow “You made a cure for hangovers?”
“Neon made a cure for hangovers, I just stole his recipe.”
“Is that why he throws glassware at your face?”
He lets out a scoff “I wish, no, that’s…” His eyes drift back to the bottle and something in his eyes shifts, “That’s not important right now…”
“Uhu? So I need to talk about my issues but when it’s the other way around.” I leave the phrase hanging.
The big man huffs “I can also not give it to you and leave you with that headache.”
I groan. “Fine, I won’t pry.”
He sets the vial down next to my plate. “Good, now trust me, you don’t want to taste this stuff, just toss it back like a shot and follow with as much food as fits in your mouth to drown out the taste.
“Right.” I pick up the bottle and push some scrambled eggs on my fork in preparation “Just to check, this isn’t going to kill me right?”
“Are you allergic to potassium?”
“I don’t think so?”
“You’re gonna be fine!”
“All right…” I toss it back grab my throat as my head explodes and try not to throw it all up.
“Eggs! Eggs!” Tungsten yells pointing at the fork.
I stuff the fork into my mouth, then scramble for some sausages.
By the time the plate is empty, I feel…surprisingly fine.
On the hangover side at least.
“No problem. Now how are you feeling?” he asks, mouth full of egg and sausage goop.
“Well my head’s fine…everything else is…still impossible and hopeless.”
“So what would-?”
“I don’t know what Stegarius would say!? He’d probably be just as frustrated as me right now. But unlike me, he could make them see sense.”
“How would he do that?”
“I don’t know he always had that way of convincing people. I think the only person I ever convinced to do anything was Stegarius and right now I wish I hadn’t.”
“You convinced me to let you stay here.”
“You don’t have much to lose, this place is huge.”
“You convinced Mercury to teach you alchemy.”
“She probably just saw a desperate boy that was easy to manipulate.”
“So would you die if you ever accepted a compliment?” he asks me while crossing his massive arms.
I sigh “I don’t deserve compliments I just deserve to get out of everyone’s way and be as unobtrusive as possible. I should just call Abel and have him take me back home. Maybe if I play my cards right with my parents I can still work in their stupid factory and be miserable for the rest of my life.”
“Do you want to?”
“No! Of course not!”
“Right.” The big man sighs “You know I’m not the best at…” He waves his giant hands in my general direction “This. But if I can help in any way…?” He leaves the question hovering.
I just shrug “I don’t know, you don’t happen to have another bottle of wine do you?”
He scoffs and ruffles my already messy hair “Not for you and not this early in the day.”
I roll my eyes “Thought so.”
“It’s fine…need any help in your lab then? I could do with a distraction.”
“You still squeamish about cutting things open?”
“A little,” I admit.
“You okay with things in jars?”
“I mean I’ve seen them before…so I think so?”
“Good, I’m running out of space so you can help by cataloguing my specimens. Follow me”

We enter the lab and he immediately starts pulling out drawers and stacking up jars, test tubes, bottles and glass things that ring as they get scooped from their hiding holes and dumped on the table.
“Okay so it’s kind of like when you haven’t paid attention to your bookcase in a while, things just pile up and then you shove things to the back to make space and before you know it you can’t find what you’re looking for. So if you want to help me out then you can make a list.”
“Well, that should keep me busy for a while.”
Tungsten halts “That’s what you wanted right?”
“Oh good. Here’s my notebook and a pencil, everything should be labelled but if you come across anything that isn’t then just shove it to the side and I’ll figure it out later.” He runs off to fetch more glassware “Oh and if anything looks like it’s gone bad you can set it aside as well, the colour can be washed out that’s fine but things like mould or bits in the water should be inspected and maybe discarded.”
“Got it.”
“Don’t open anything! Especially not if you suspect it’s rotten.”
“Right…I guess that’s all…So you can do this?”
“I can do this.”
“Thank you, that really helps me out.” He then stretches and says I’m in the parlour if you need me.
He leaves the room and I get to my task staring with the big bottles and working my way down to sets of tiny vials kept together in a dusty card stock box with faded letters spelling either lizard teeth or wizard leech? It’s hard to make out.
I run across some truly odd things, a white snake with two heads that has the unnerving property of being prepared in such a way it feels like it’s looking at you. A travel box dedicated entirely to mice with various illnesses, the bottles are fine but opening a drawer and finding rows and rows of deformed mouse tails is…quite disturbing.
I log it all the same and try not to think about it too hard.
The beetles pinned down into modest picture frames are far more pleasant to look like. I keep checking back and forth between the book and the small brass plaque to see if I’m writing the names down correctly.
It’s hard to gauge how much time has passed but the list is getting very long by now.
Then Tungsten comes barging in and announces “I’m going out, don’t wait up.”
“Wait what?” I look at him in disbelief but lo and behold the guy is wearing the dark glasses, gloves and a long coat to hide his tail. “Since when do you ‘go out’?”
“I got a job, it’s confidential. Nothing you need to worry about.”
“All right, good luck.”
“And I mean it, I’ll be back late, don’t wait up just grab something to eat once you’re hungry and go to bed on time.”
“Yeah yeah, good luck with the job.”
He nods, then practically jumps out of the lab, closing the door behind him.
And then I’m alone.
I look at the task ahead, there’s still a lot to be done. I pick up a cassette of wax-sealed petri dishes, each sporting a different salamander. I’m surprised how many of these are just, animals… not animal hearts or brains, fingers or toes just animals in formaldehyde with, I assume, no intention to cut them open. I mean what use is a beetle?
Except for them being pretty.
By the time I’ve catalogued it all, I find it’s already nine p.m. and I make a small rounds through Tungsten’s lab to see if he perhaps missed anything.
Except, who am I kidding? I’m totally snooping.
Mercury would kill me if she found me opening drawers without her express instruction to do so. Or at least she’d say she would. Part of me wants to be sceptical of her claims, but then another part remembers what happened to Prishtoli and knows full well she’s not above murdering a doll, so a human wouldn’t be that far off.
I don’t know if Tungsten is a better alchemist or not. But he’s a lot more agreeable to be around at least. Even with the selfish streak.
I push aside a box of randomised tools with no idea what any of them are supposed to do.
And then I pull out something even stranger.
I find it hidden deep in the back of a cupboard, covered in dust. A machine, mysterious and alien-looking with the slogan ‘speak to the dead’ painted on the side with shimmering pale paint.
Well, this requires further inspection.
It makes a concerning rattling sound as I set it down on the table. I look it over with care.
It’s made primarily of a wooden box, with tubes running in and out of a steel chalice-like receptacle.
The box it’s mounted on is decorated with wild claims like ‘talk to the dead’ ‘find inner peace’ and strangely ‘fun for the whole family’. It also boasts decorations of moths, butterflies and crows, the carriers of the dead in the old religion. I find a brass knob that pulls out a drawer with a book called ‘instructions’.
I reach for it but just as my fingertips brush past the cheap card stock I pause.
Am I actually considering doing this?

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