The shout came from the young elf, Ash, who was sitting on his bed in complete solitude. He was trying his hardest to cast a spell he had seen the priests use, occasionally. The problem, however, was that there was no effect, whenever he used it.
Ash looked in the mirror, and tried to touch the wound on his cheek, where he had tried to shave earlier. It hurt.
“Minor Heal!” he tried again, but, once again, to no avail.
In the end, he simply wiped the blood off of himself with a corner of the rags he was wearing. It wasn’t wholly effective, nor was it pleasant, but it would have to do.
The young elf stood up. His eyes were firmly planted on the door to the hallway. He could hear the other monks getting out of bed, heading toward the courtyard for morning mass. Ash was never allowed to go to morning mass, because he was seen as a blasphemous creature. A corrupted version of man, born to mock Icarus and his servants.
‘Everyone outside that door can do something I can’t,’ he thought, looking at his hands that weren’t able to conjure even the simplest of Light Magic. ‘Why am I like this?’
Ash remembered that he had work to do, and cheered up at the thought, even if only slightly. Being able to finally do something meaningful had made him optimistic about his situation.
He walked up to the heavy, wooden door, opened it, and went through it. The hallway outside was no more uplifting to be in than the inside of his own, gray, and depressing room, but at least the hallway didn’t have barred windows. It didn’t have windows, in fact, but Ash had always thought that was better. He didn’t like the teasing light that came in through the barred window. No light was better than some light, along with the constant reminder of his captivity.
The elf approached the heavy double doors at the end of the hallway, went through them, and suddenly found himself bathed in the heavenly light of the outside world. To his right, the abusive priest, Wilfred, was preaching about the origin of something, surrounded by a veritable mass of monks and other priests.
‘Well he’s certainly enjoying himself,’ Ash thought to himself, using the distraction that was Wilfred to slip through the courtyard, unnoticed.
He proceeded to sprint to the lush, green, and beautiful fields outside the courtyard, where he wasn’t usually allowed to go. In fact, he had never been outside the courtyard, except for when he first came to the church.
The fields weren’t paved, so it felt strange to run barefoot on the grass. Ash hadn’t felt grass under his feet in many months, and was as such overjoyed by the strange sensation, as he proceed to run toward a small cottage that stood in the far end of the field.
After running for a while, and after stubbing his toes on uneven parts of the invisible path, the young elf found himself before the small, cozy-looking cabin from the inside of which light was streaming out. There were a few small windows on the cobblestone walls, and through them, Ash could see Angela sitting in a rocking chair with a pair of round reading-glasses on.
She looked so peaceful, as she sat there; rocking back and fourth in a rhythmic fashion to the crackling blaze on the hearth, illuminating her wrinkled face with the dancing of its flames. She appeared to be reading a book on medicine, and Ash wondered whether or not interrupting her would be alright.
Ash let out a cough, as he had found himself to accidentally breathing in the smoke from the fuming chimney. He didn’t know how long he had been standing around, and frankly, he didn’t care too much. The young elf had enjoyed the brief calm in the storm and was now ready to work.
He walked past a small vegetable garden that flanked the path to the elderly woman’s front door, which was a heavy, wooden door that looked just like the one in Ash’s room. Except this one wasn’t keeping anyone from leaving. It was just a regular, old door.
Ash knocked on the door three times. He could hear Angela getting up and walking to the door, almost instantaneously. She had been expecting the young elf, and that made him happy. Very happy, in fact. So happy that when the elderly lady opened the door, he stood with an eager look on his face. One, which no-one at the church had ever seen on his face.
“Hello, Ash,” she said, as mellowly as ever.
Her eyes, though, were as sharp as ever. They were like those of a hawk, just like the rest of her facial complexion. Everything about her was likeable, to Ash. The way she hid her motives behind wit, without shielding herself with lies, like Ash did.
“Come in, come in. We’ve got work to do, remember?” she continued, gesturing for Ash to enter her little house.
Ash followed the elderly lady into the living room where he had seen her, sitting in the rocking chair which was still rocking back and forth as they entered the room.
“You’re probably wondering what I’m gonna have you do here, aren’t you, Ash?” Angela asked, as she pulled out a drawer with various gardening tools in it.
She proceeded to pick out a small shovel, which looked like it could be used for tending to small plants like tomatoes and such. Ash followed her with his eyes as she proceeded to head over to her desk that stood in the opposite side of the circular living room. A small, lit candle stood on top of the desk, shedding its flickering light over a stack of more than a hundred pieces of white paper, which stood leaned against a pot with a peculiar plant in it.
It was green and had small, purple berries on it, and was unremarkable in every fashion, except for one. The berries gleamed with a subtle pink shine, bringing a completely ethereal vibe over the otherwise plain desk.
Angela grabbed the plant by its base, and proceeded to pick one of the berries with utmost care, hurriedly shifting it unto the shovel, which she held ready in her other hand. Swiftly, she almost ran towards Ash, who stood with a dumbfounded look on his face, as he watched the elderly woman come his way with the shovel held out from her body, as if she was scared it would attack her.
“Hold this,” she said, passing Ash the shovel and the berry. “Oh, and do make sure not to move around too much. It explodes when friction occurs,” she continued with not even the slightest trace of her usual mellowness.
The elderly lady then headed out the door behind Ash, leaving the elf with the potentially explosive berry.
‘What the hell?’
A few seconds later, the door, which had since then shut behind the young elf, was practically kicked open, letting Angela in. She was holding a bucket of water in her right hand, and a fistful of dirt in the other.
“Pass it,” she said, firmly, holding out her open hand.
“Right, here you go,” Ash said, not at all following what was going on. Had he already started working or was she merely doing her own thing?
Angela took the berry, gently lifting it off the shovel’s blade, while touching it with nothing but her fingertips. When the glowing little thing was well up in the air, the priestess dropped it in the water, where it laid for about five seconds.
Then a loud boom resounded, shaking every fiber of Ash’s body, and soaking him with water that had escaped the bucket.
But Ash didn’t complain. Rather, he was curious to see what the point of the whole process had been. Why had Angela shown him the berries and their explosive nature?
“Come here, Ash.”
The young elf didn’t hesitate. On his knees, he crawled to Angela’s side, and peered into the bucket, where there wasn’t any water. Instead, a thin layer of white dust now covered the bottom of the rusty container where it gave off a powerful fragrance—much like that of rhubarb compote.
“What is this?” the young elf asked, completely amazed both at the smell, but also at the powder-like substance that sparkled like diamonds.
“This is nitraberries—a highly explosive berry that emits a sugary smell, which attracts various insects. To little critters like bees and mosquitoes, the fragrance is irresistible. They have to eat it, no matter what. Unfortunately for them, the powder is highly poisonous, as it undergoes a chemical reaction when it comes into contact with water. Its properties change from explosive to downright poisonous.”
Ash pulled away his hand, which had slowly started reaching for the nitrapowder. He couldn’t help but be a little disappointed that he wouldn’t ever taste the deadly treat in the bucket. He was, however, quick to recuperate, and turned to Angela with an excited look on his face.
“Now, you’re probably wondering what I’ll have you do around here, aren’t you?” she began.
“Of course you are,” Angela finished, cutting Ash off mid-sentence.
Ash hadn’t expected this, when he had gotten out of bed in the morning. He had expected to tend to roses or something. Never once had he considered working with explosives; if that was what he was going to be doing.
“You’re going to be writing a book with me. You see, I’m currently writing down everything I know about plants that grow here in Kanburrough. I take it you can read and write, can’t you?”
“I can. I learned it at my previous master’s house. He wouldn’t even let his slaves be illiterate,” the young elf replied with a smirk.
Angela looked pleased. She gestured for Ash to follow her, and so the young elf did. The two of them walked up to the desk that remained covered in paper, which were all plastered with little notes and scribbles.
“As you can see, I have no talent for writing, myself,” she said, pointing at the sad, crooked letters on the otherwise well-made paper. “Therefore, I’ve decided to assign you to the task of turning my unintelligible writing into a full-fledged piece of literature. I’ll have you know that I’ve been trying to get my thoughts down on paper and put on a shelf in the Grand Church’s library for years on end. Unfortunately, it has been to no avail so far, as you’re likely able to deduce,” the elderly woman continued, with a regretful smile on her acquiescent face.
“The high-and-mighty priests in the Church administration always think they’re right about everything, yet, with a bit of research and testing, anyone will find that they’re all idiots. Ignorant idiots, the worst kind of idiots,” she finished.
Ash just looked at her, as she rambled on about how she would change the world of literature on the subject of botanics. The young elf wasn’t paying much attention, but he enjoyed the company, which Angela offered.
“So, when can I start?” Ash asked, breaking Angela off mid-sentence, as she had done to him, earlier.
The woman stared at him with an appalled expression on her face.
“Weren’t you listening?”
“Well, then. Start writing down, you most rude person.”
The last comment wasn’t said without a hint of a smirk on her lips. And so, the day went on. Ash wrote down everything Angela said, with the exception of her hateful references to the priests in charge of the church’s library. The elderly lady and the young elf sat there, illuminated by the crackling flames on the hearth, which complimented the hearty vibe in the circular living room.
When the sun went down, Angela fetched some bread she had made earlier, which she then went on to share with the young elf, who was used to moldy, week-old leftovers from the church’s kitchen. In the midst of it all, Ash almost forgot to be back by curfew; something he usually never forgot.
“You better get to your quarters soon,” Angela reminded Ash, passing a glance at the grandfather clock that stood behind her young assistant.
“Oh, crap, you’re right.” Ash said, surprised, dropping everything between his hands on the floor on which he had been sitting. “See you tomorrow!” he shouted, as he sprinted out the door, which Angela was politely holding open for him.
“Of course,” she said to herself, as she closed the door behind the young elf, who hastily disappeared into the darkness outside.
Once again, Ash didn’t fear the day to come. He did, however, dread the night beyond description. The long, dark nights he would spend in a dark, unending void.