Friday Flash Fiction: What’s In the Cauldron?

by Oct 23, 2020Blog, Flash Fiction

Edric stood on his tiptoes as he stretched his arm up to the highest shelf, the wobbly stool under his feet in an almost constant state of toppling under his bulk. At barely three gossems tall, he hardly had the frame for his extra weight. But he somehow managed to get a finger behind the delicate glass bottle and slide it forward where he could finally grasp it.

“Don’t drop that,” thundered the voice of Bartrum Snell, magicist, apothecant, and Edric’s Master, “or I’ll take it out of your thick hide!”

“Yes, Master,” Edric grumbled woefully. He knew that Bartrum wasn’t joking. He still had the marks on his skin from the last time his Master had cracked his staff along Edric’s backside. He carefully stepped down from the stool onto the ancient stone floor, then used a sleeve of his rough, linen, apprentice’s robe to wipe the sweat beading on his brow. In the year since his fourteenth birthday, when Edric began his apprenticeship with Master Snell, he’d already learned well what it meant to disappoint the crotchety old man. The week Edric spent as a feral pig had been no fun at all.

“Stop dallying, you noisome troll, or we’ll lose this potion entirely.”

“Yes, Master,” Edric repeated as he shuffled toward his Master’s cauldron, careful not to let his long robe get caught under his feet lest he trip over something in the near dark of the magicist’s chambers. Bartrum had his back turned to the boy as he stood over the ominously bubbling liquid, gently stirring it with his staff. Edric held the vial out so that his Master would see it. “I have it here, Master.”

Bartrum snatched the vial from Edric’s hand with a spryness that belied his advanced age, then squinted as he peered at the words scratched unto the label. “Ah, yes, Nimblebetty Root powder. Perfect.” He set his staff against the side of the cauldron’s lip, then pulled the stopper from the small glass container and sniffed its contents. “Yes, yes. This will do nicely.”

The magicist tipped the vial toward the potion and shook the coarse, brown powder from it. The liquid sizzled where the powder touched it. Bartrum handed the empty vial back to his assistant, then grabbed his staff and resumed stirring, mumbling an incantation under his breath. Edric watched him closely, mouthing the same words silently, until the bubbling brew began to emit a faint, sanguine glow. Bartrum pulled his staff from the cauldron, and rested himself against it as the ruby light grew ever brighter. He glanced over at Edric. “Stand back, boy,” Bartrum muttered softly. “Mustn’t stand too close now.”

Edric bowed his head in deference, and took a careful step back. The spell chamber, lit until then only by a trio of torches and the flames beneath the cauldron, grew in brightness until it seemed ablaze itself, washed in the scarlet brilliance cast from the potion. Then, suddenly, the bubbling stopped. Edric held his breath, a lone bead of sweat running down from his brow across his cheek.

“He comes,” Bartrum whispered.

The floor began to rumble. A pair of black horns poked from the top of the potion, rising to reveal a bald, scaley head, followed by a set of heavily muscled, spike-tipped shoulders, as a demon emerged from the carmine brew until it was exposed from the waist up.

Illustration of cobweb covered shelves filled with vials and potions.
“Who dares summon me,” spoke the demon, its angry voice booming like a heap of boulders tumbling down a craggy mountainside.

Edric tried very hard to make himself small.

“It is I,” said his Master with as much force as he could muster, “the eminent magicist Bartrum Snell the Stupendous. I have summoned you here, Ugumu’uth the Terrible, and I bind you to my will.”

Ugumu’uth roared, and Edric quickly put his hands to his ears, trying in vain to block out the horrifying noise. But, against all expectations, the bellow turned into a guffaw. The demon’s laughter clawed painfully at Edric’s ears.

Bartrum lifted his staff and slammed it on the stone floor. “You will submit, creature of perdition!”

But the demon’s laughter did not cease. “You may have summoned me, magicist!” Then a clawed hand shot out and smacked Bartrum, who flew back into the wall of shelves behind him, roughly smashing the many hand-blown glass vials and bottles stored there into a hailstorm of glittering shards. “But I am bound by nothing.”

The magicist’s staff had fallen to Edric’s feet. He reached down to grab for the intricately carved piece of wood, polished smooth by many years of handling, and picked it up. At four gossems long, it was taller than he was, but it felt comfortingly warm to his touch. Then Edric looked to his Master, who was covered in a hotchpotch of multi-colored powders and liquids, as he struggled to right himself.

When Bartrum saw that Edric had retrieved his staff, he reached out for it greedily. “Quickly, boy!” he called out. “Hand me my staff!”

But Edric, looking first at his prone Master, then to the demon, who’d gone suspiciously quiet while it watched the events unfolding in front of it, then back to his Master, shook his head. “No.”

Bartrum’s eye went wide with fury. “You dare to defy me, you brainless poon?”

Then the demon chuckled, sounding like a burlap sack full of heavy chains. “This was your doing, little one?”

Edric looked back at the demon, who expressed a mixture of curiosity and amusement, and nodded. “Yes, Evil One.” Because Edric had prepared for this day, sneaking into Bartrum’s spell chamber in the small hours while his Master slept to replace the powder inside one of his Master’s vials with a ground spice from the kitchen. It had taken Edric weeks of exploring the spice rack, a few bottles and jars at a time, until he’d found one that smelled enough like the Nimblebetty Root to suffice. “I replaced one of the potion’s ingredients with cumin.”

Ugumu’uth burst into raucous laughter, and the apprentice fought his urge to cover his ears, knowing that it would do him no good.

“Cumin!” cried the magicist, who’d resumed his efforts to push himself to his feet. “You will pay for–”

But the demon’s muscle-roped arm shot out again, closing the impossible distance with a crack like a whip, grasping Bartrum firmly by the throat and hauling him into the air. The magicist tried to speak, but only managed an impotent gurgle.

“You are coming with me, Bartrum Snell the Stupendous,” Ugumu’uth announced with a menacing growl, “and you will learn the true meaning of perdition.” Then the demon turned to Edric with a sly grin. “Enjoy your new staff, magicist.” Finally, after a deafening roar that shook the very stone floor that Edric stood upon, the demon plunged back into the depths of the cauldron, pulling Bartrum down with him.

Edric stood there in the suddenly silent spell chamber, grasping his staff firmly, and smiled.

Story Prompt:

A recipe goes very wrong.

Cover for Into the Lightning Gate, Book One of The Gates Saga by Robert Roth

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