Chapter Seventeen: Losses
Seon stared around at the laboratory he was given. Rows and rows of books were on the shelves, more books about magic than he'd ever imagined he'd get to see in his lifetime. Set on the table were beakers, cauldrons, glass instruments for heating potions, and more things than he knew what to do with them. Cabinets were filled to their maximum capacity with potion ingredients.
Seon had a wide grin on his face as he childishly went up to one of the glass instruments and rubbed his finger against it. It was real. It was his.
"I'm supposed to find a cure for curses..." he said in an amazed whisper. "The king lifted the ban on magic so that I could study a cure for curses! Me. Seon Forestar, just some elf from a forest of apple trees, lifted the ban on magic. I can do it whenever I want now!"
Seon excitedly ran over to the bookshelf, not caring if he tripped on the way there. He ran a finger along the spines of all the books he had at his disposal now.
"Haha! I don't even know where to start!"
He decided to pull out a thick volume titled Basic Curses and How to Use Them. He heaved it into his scrawny arms and ran into his bedroom. He flopped onto the small cot and let out an "oof!" when the book landed on his stomach.
He flipped the cover of the book open and started scanning through the fresh pages.
This was the first of many books that he would scan through.
"Okay, potions," he thought to himself. "Potions focuses on how combining roots and liquids create magical reactions without actually using magic. When I put it like that, it kind of sounds like cooking. Leon spent more time in the kitchen but I'm sure I can manage this. Since it won't be using magic, it won't take too much out of me."
Seon pulled out a book to identify the ingredients and spread them across the table.
"Okay, let's see... This is rotwood. This stuff is used for healing potions. It renews skin... Neat. And this stuff is marcelium. Used clense out magical residue. Okay! Let's start with this!"
Seon poured water into a cauldron and ignited a fire underneath with a burner. He tossed the rotwood and the marcelium into the cauldron. When the cauldron immediately started bubbling, he looked into it.
The potion puffed up in a small cloud of green smoke into his face. He coughed as the smoke got into his lungs. It smelled like something was rotting right under his nose. He waved it away with his hand and scrambled over to open a window. He leaned out the window and let the smoke flow out to the open sky.
"This might be harder than I thought..." Seon sighed.
He walked back over to the cauldron that he had used. Stuck to the bottom was a thick, black glob that was still bubbling slightly. With every time that a bubble popped, more green smoke smoke leaked out. The substance itself smelled like rancid meat.
Seon held his nose to stop himself from puking at the stench.
"Okay! I think I got something!"
On the table was a new potion he made out of random ingredients, a healing salve next to it, and Complex Curses for Those Who Deserve Them, open onto a page describing how to do an avian transformation curse.
He read over the curse one last time. The process would be painful, but he had to test the results on someone. He took a deep breath and stepped away from the table.
He held his right hand over his left arm and concentrated. He began chanting the spell and felt the numbness go down his right hand.
Once the spell had made contact with his left arm, he cut the spell off and howled in pain. Small black mounds were breaking his skin as they attempted to breach the surface. At a distance, they'd just look like thick arm hair trying to grow in. However, Seon knew they were feathers. Blood was clinging to the tips of each of them. Since he cut the spell off before it was done, he felt several of them break beneath his skin.
He was breathing heavily and clutching his bicep. Every time he moved his left arm, he felt the feathers move around inside of him. They felt like dozens of thick and sharp needles stabbing him. Tears were pricking at the corners of his eyes.
He held his right hand over his arm. He desperately willed the curse off of him. Wished for the magic to separate from his body. Anything to give the painful hell out of his arm.
The feathers seemed to melt away. He laughed in relief as the despised intrusions were finally gone after they had only existed for a few minutes. They only evidence they left behind were scratches where half of them had broken the surface and the lingering pain.
He clumsily groped for the healing salve and unscrewed the lid off. He messily wiped some onto his shaking fingers and rubbed it into the skin of his left arm. The skin and the flesh beneath it finally healed over. The pain disappeared, leaving only the memories of it.
Seon frowned. He could easily remove any curse he inflicted upon himself, all he had to do was wish it away. However, Baudouin couldn't do that. Baudouin was stuck with his scales and claws and whatever else came with it. Seon shuddered to imagine what it must have been like when Baudouin was cursed. Seon succumbed to the pain and had tears in his eyes merely from partially transforming his arm. Baudouin had his entire body transformed at once at a young age...
Seon felt worse upon thinking that his friend had been a dragon longer than he had been an elf. Would he even remember what it was like? Would he remember how to speak? What did he look like before the curse? Seon settled for the mental image of a small version of King Dominique holding a glass figurine.
"I have to try again," he said with a determined look on his face. "Come on, finish the spell this time, Seon."
It took Seon several more weeks just for him to fully transform the arm he was going to experiment on.
Leon burst through the door to Seon's tower. He briefly looked around the room before he rushed up the stairs. He made it to the highest floor where the lab was, only to find that Seon wasn't awake.
Leon saw a form slumped over a desk. He was surrounded by open books and empty vials. Leon's eyes widened in concern as he examined his brother. For one, Seon's body looked bony and malnourished. An arm that was dangling by his side was twisted and covered in tar-black feathers. His skin looked pale and sickly.
Leon put a hand on his brother's shoulder and gently shook him. "Seon... Seon!"
Seon catapulted awake. He sat up immediately, sending paper flying everywhere. He tried to look around with disoriented eyes. Dark circles confirmed to Leon that Seon hadn't been keeping track of when he slept. Jumbled questions and swears spilled out of his mouth but Leon was certain he wasn't even sure he was awake.
"Seon! Seon, relax!" the younger elf shushed when Seon opened his mouth to yell at him for waking him up.
"I'm... I'm... I'm completely relaxed," he said sleepily.
"Sure you are. What time did you go to sleep last night?"
"Last night? Well... The sun was up, I think," he answered without even bothering to make up a lie.
"Seon! You have to take care of yourself! This is only the first visit and I already find you trying to overwork yourself!" he scolded.
"Lighten up, Leon!" Seon seemed to register what he just said as he seemed to gain back his awareness. "Wait. Leon. Leon!" He pulled the other into a tight embrace.
"Hugs aren't going to make me stop worrying about you, Seon," Leon said flatly. However, he hugged him back anyways.
"I know. I just missed you a lot, little brother!" Seon said honestly. He released Leon from his hug and held him out before him. "How have you been? How's everyone at the castle doing?"
"I'm doing okay," Leon answered. "Baudouin misses you and I kind of think the king does too. Reese dropped me off here and he told me to say hi for him."
"Aww," Seon said teasingly. "Tell the sweetheart I say hi back."
"I think he'd be mad if I told him like that," Leon laughed.
"Exactly. Please do it."
"Wait, but first... What's wrong with your arm?" Leon asked as he pointed to the crooked, feathery mass.
"What... Oh, this." Seon shook his left arm. Gradually, all the feathers faded away, leaving only the elf's bare arm. "I kind of need to do that to research."
"How come?" Leon asked.
"Because I have to test the curse removal stuff on something. It's not like I have any volunteers."
"I'll volunteer!" Leon said with a determined face.
"Like hell you will," Seon said sharply. "I wouldn't subject you to that! What if something went wrong? Besides, it took me weeks to be able to stand making my arm like that! And you have stuff to do back at the castle, remember?"
Leon's face fell in disappointment. A thought then occurred to him. "Does it hurt when you curse yourself?"
"Painful as hell. Now go on; tell me what's going on at the castle."
Leon seemed concerned that Seon was putting himself in pain, but he choose to save that topic for another time. "Umm... The king has been getting a lot of letters of gratitude from sorcerers who knew magic before the ban. Most of them are healers."
Seon grinned proudly. "I think someone owes me an apology then."
"Huh?" Leon asked.
"As I recall a certain someone said that magic was evil and I was a criminal for using it," Seon said. He leaned on the desk and smirked at Leon.
"Wait, you mean..." Leon sighed. "That was at least twelve years ago, Seon. You still remember that?"
"Uh-huh. Now say it," he said smugly.
Leon crossed his arms. "It's not healthy to keep a grudge."
Seon put his arms behind his head. "I don't care. I just want you to say it."
Leon sighed. "I was wrong."
His smirk got wider. "Could you repeat that? I can't hear you."
"I was wrong!" Leon said louder.
"You're damn right you were!" Seon laughed as clapped his hands together. He put his hands on the boy's small shoulders. "I told you magic could do good! 'Cause here I am studying a cure for goddamn curses!"
"Could you start with those curses?" Leon deadpanned.
"Ohhh, you cheeky little brat!" Seon pulled Leon into his arms and ruffled his hair.
"I'm not little!" Leon protested. "I grew a few centimeters!"
"Then how come you still look fifteen?" Seon teased.
"The same reason why you barely look sixty! Though if you keep sleeping like you do now, you'll end up looking a million years old in no time!" Leon teased back.
"A million? Now that's just rude."
"Go to sleep then!" Leon pulled him to his feet. "Come on! Up!"
"I'm going, I'm going, Mama," Seon grumbled.
Leon followed Seon into his room. When Seon lay down on the cot, Leon sat at the edge.
"How am I supposed to sleep with you watching?"
"I'm just making sure you actually sleep."
Seon rolled his eyes and smiled. He shut his eyes and nuzzled into the blanket. Within five minutes, the elf was asleep.
Leon kept sitting on the edge of the bed the whole time. He continued making sure Seon slept until Reese returned to pick him up.
Seon resisted the urge to scream out in pain as the feathers stabbed themselves out of his arm. He kept his attention on his words, on the spell, on his intentions. It was only after he was done with the spell that he allowed himself the luxury of expressing his pain.
He was gasping for breathe, examining his arm. He had done the curse perfectly. His hands, up to the middle of his forearm, were covered in scaly skin like the feet of a bird. Everything higher was covered in coal-black feathers that felt every bit as authentic as the feathers of a real bird. Hopefully, it wouldn't stay like that.
He grabbed a bottle laying on the table labeled "Attempt Number 13." He took a deep breathe and splashed the substance onto his arm.
First, there was the sound of sizzling and the heavy scent of something burning. The feathers seemed to be burning away as they made contact with the potion, getting Seon's hopes up.
Next, the potion started dripping down to his forearm. It was then that he realized that this potion was a horrible mistake. He could feel his skin burning like someone were trying to fry it in oil. It was going red and raw as the surface of his skin started burning away.
He held his mouth out in a silent scream. He started flapping his arm and willing the curse away. However, that only removed the protective hide of scaly skin and feathers to make the burning worse. He grabbed the healing salve and slathered it all over his arm.
He felt the burning subside and sighed in relief. He wiped his right hand clean with a rag and grabbed a quill.
On the table was a sheet of paper titled "Attempt Number 13." It held a description of the potion, the ingredients used, and the method it was cooked in. The space next to the word "Results" was blank.
"Acidic," he wrote down. "Dangerous. Pain level seven. Find a way to dilute the acidity."
He looked out the window to the dark sky. He considered continuing and creating a new potion to start over again. However, Leon's concerned face ran through his mind. He sighed and walked over to the cot.
Seon groaned and ran a hand through his hair. "This isn't working!" he whined. "No matter how many combinations I try, not one of them work!"
Leon put a hand on his shoulder. "It's okay, Seon! Don't give up!"
"I'm not giving up," he said weakly. "I just..." He groaned in annoyance. "I just don't know how to go about this anymore. Throwing things into a cauldron isn't helping anyone."
Leon frowned and looked around at all the books. Seon had been in there for months and already looked through all the books. Leon grabbed a book about potions and an idea came to him.
"Um... There are healing potions, right?" he asked.
"Yeah..." Seon answered sadly. "I wonder how the fuck they got their potion to work..."
"Well, if healing potions restore someone's body to how it was before they got hurt," Leon suggested, "can't you alter one so that it restores someone's body before a curse?"
"Could I really do that though?"
"Of course you can!" Leon said with a determined look on his face. "You combine food all the time so that you could make something amazing and new! Why can't it be the same with potions?"
"Potions blow up."
"So does the food you make."
Seon scoffed. "Rude. Is that really how you're going to cheer me up?"
"It got you to smile, at least," Leon said smugly.
"Okay, I'll give you that," Seon said with a reluctant grin. "I'll also give that idea of yours a try."
He had a well-prepared Restoration Potion in front of him. Normally, the potion would restore severe injuries, even grow back a limb. However, the sunflower root that was in his hand was meant to ward off evil. Perhaps it would be strong enough to ward off curses.
He tossed the root into the concoction, changing its color from an emerald to a light pink. He scooped some of it up into a bottle with his cursed hand. The potion did nothing as it brushed against his skin, prompting him to pinch his nose.
"Please don't be toxic," he prayed.
He gulped down the potion. It felt slimy as it slithered down his throat. It tasted very very vaguely of fruit; it reminded Seon of rotten apples.
He waited for several minutes. He didn't feel faint. He didn't feel sick; well, nothing beyond the bad aftertaste of the potion. He wasn't in pain. He looked at his cursed arm to see no change.
He went over to the mirror in his room and examined himself. There was no change at all.
He walked over back to the table where he had the sheet on the table. It was titled "Attempt Number One Hundred and Seven." Next to "Results" he wrote, "No effect."
"Well, it didn't explode this time. That's an improvement."
Seon added more sunflower roots to the experimental potion. The next few times that he drank it, the result remained unchanged. After he had added ten more sunflower roots to the healing potion, he noticed something.
The scaly skin of his cursed hand was a shade or two closer to his original skin color.
Seon carefully examined his arm. He wasn't mistaken. The skin actually did change.
A wide smile spread across his face.
After that experiment, he attempted adding more sunflower roots. The result never went beyond a change in skin tone, but it was still enough to get his hopes up.
He paced around the tower. A hand in his hair and another at his hips. He had been pondering for weeks just what he could do to make the potion stronger. He needed to know if it was actually working or if he was just wasting his own time.
"Come on!" he grumbled to himself. "There has to be something. Something I missed. There has to be something in this tower that could raise the potency of the potion..."
He saw sunlight bounce off the glass instruments. That's when he remembered.
The Stone of Life.
He rushed over to a drawer and dug for it. He held it up between his fingers. The violet stone was shimmering brightly. The numb shock of magic ran up his hand.
This was it.
This was what he was missing.
He began the next day. Hastily throwing the potion together. Tossing the sunflower roots in.
He was ready to see if the stone would work.
He carried the Stone of Life on a metal tool, in case the potion reacted badly. He carefully dipped the stone into the potion. Steadily, the potion changed from a light pink to a deep crimson.
With just as much caution, he lifted the stone out of the cauldron. It remained the same as before.
Seon let out a sigh of relief. The only thing left to do was to test if the potion had worked.
The elf jolted at the sudden voice behind him. He lost his grip on the tool and the Stone of Life fell out of its grasp. It plopped into the potion.
He whirled around to see who the surprise visitor was only to see that it was Leon. The boy was staring at him curiously.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"I'm... I mean, I was experimenting," Seon answered.
He heard a quiet metallic sound coming from behind him.
"Sorry. Did I scare you?" Leon asked.
"Yeah, you kind of did," Seon said bluntly. "Could you wait a few minutes? I'm working."
The sound was getting louder.
Leon's round, blue eyes widened slightly. "Seon..." he said quietly.
"You should know not to interrupt someone when it's magic-related."
The sound grew into a loud clanging.
"Something dangerous could hap..." Seon finally took notice of the noise and turned around.
The cauldron full of potion was trembling violently and bubbling madly. It was about to fly off of its stand. A loud hissing decided to accompany the clanging.
"Seon! Move out of the way! You'll get hurt!"
Seon was suddenly shoved backward. He fell to the floor and nearly struck his head against the table. Leon stood above him with his arms out in front of him.
The two locked eyes for a brief second.
Then there was an explosion.
And a wet splatter.
The entire room was coated in a layer of red. Pieces of bloody skin clung onto the formerly spotless glass instruments. Tufts of hair were scattered about here and there on the floor, no longer the midnight black that Seon knew but a pearly color beneath the coat of blood. Bits of bone made themselves known as they tried to stay above the sea of blood. In the air loomed the putrid stench of cooked flesh. Seon could only stare in horror, for he couldn't tell where the potion ended and his brother's blood began.
The only remains of Leon were scattered about the room.
With a squish, the Stone of Life landed where his brother was standing mere moments ago to save him.
Seon screamed until well after his throat was raw.