Two figures stood draped in shadow looking upon the world through a pool of shimmering mercury. Their eyes gazed upon the world through pool with a hungry longing as they themselves were no longer part of it.

The smaller figure, an emaciated skeleton of a man, looked to his larger companion, “Have the Vanguard found a worthy vessel Raketh?”

“Soon my friend, soon,” was all the hulking Raketh said in reply, his mind too fixated on the prospect of releasing the ultimate being of chaos and destruction upon the world of Erith.

**********

The city of Brynn was like any other; teaming with life. People moved through the streets going about their daily duties, market venders hawked their wares, livestock were herded through the streets and every now and then a rat could be seen scurrying through the streets or a bird nesting overhead.

Everybody played their role in the grand design; every individual was a cog in the great machine that was Brynn. Some cogs were larger than others though, their roles having greater relevance.

It was thoughts like this that made Brucien Bannerson depressed each and every day as he opened his store. Alchemy was big business; his healing potions and salves were particular popular with mercenaries and adventurers, but when a knight slays an Ogre it would be he who is called a hero not the alchemist who’s potion gave him the vitality to win the fight.

He sighed heavily to himself as he tidied the aphrodisiac shelf; how he hated looking at these bottles of multicoloured liquids day in and day out. Sometimes he had to fight the urge to smash every single one of them, an act that could very well prove fatal as many of them contained poisons or incendiaries.

“POOMPH!”

He barely flinched as a minor explosion happened in the back room. As per usual, his assistant, Fredrick, stumbled into the room coughing and spluttering.

“Too much firesalt again?” asked Brucien, he already knew the answer.

“I’ve nearly got the ratio juuussst right master Bruce,” replied Fredrick.

Fredrick was a good man, barely out of his teens, but he had no head for alchemy. Bruce didn’t have the heart to send him away though, or else he’d have no friends at all.

“How was your evening? I didn’t hear you get back last night,” grinned Bruce.

Fredrick had a habit of disappearing most nights for many hours at a time, Bruce suspected the young man liked to frequent one of the many bars in the area. Bruce himself wasn’t one for social drinking; he was too shy a man for that, although he had the nasty habit of trying to drown his sorrows in the bottom of a wine bottle when his assistant wasn’t around.

“It was…interesting,” he replied, “Has the fair lady Bethany walked by yet on this fine morning?” Fredrick changed the subject, grinning mischievously.

Bruce turned beet red, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,”

“Oh sorry, must be my imagination,” he smiled.

Every morning the lovely Bethany would walk passed and buy one flower from the florist next door. Although Bruce would never admit it to anyone, this was the happiest part of his day. Bethany was more beautiful than any woman he had ever seen before; it was like she was pulled from the imagination of the gods themselves. She carried herself with the grace and dignity expected from the daughter of a nobleman but it seemed more natural to her than the other high class daughters.

On several occasions he’d even had the good fortune to talk to the woman, if he could call the babbling incoherencies that came out of his mouth as speech. Rather than laugh at the fool she had smiled gracefully and left, as if understanding the effect she was having on the man.

He examined his reflection in a large jar of pickled snake eggs; he was not repulsive and yet he wasn’t dashingly handsome either. It was more his unconfident demeanour that put women off.

“Speak of the she-devil…” said Fredrick, staring out the window.

It was as if Bruce suddenly grew lighter as the lady approached; gracefully walking down the street in a beautiful green dress that matched her jade eyes perfectly. She greeted everyone to a warm smile, and nobody could help but return the smile.

Much to Bruce’s amazement, Bethany smiled and gave him a little wave as she passed by his window.

“Do you need me to put a bucket under that slack jaw boss?” teased Fredrick.

Bruce realised his mouth was hanging open and quickly assumed a pose of nonchalance. He resumed his tidying of the shelves until the jingle of the doorbell indicated someone had entered the store, turning around he was stunned to find himself face to face with his secret love, Bethany.

“I..I…hello, c…can I help you?” Bruce mentally kicked himself, can I help you? That wouldn’t make a woman swoon for him.

“Yes you can kind sir,” she smiled before leaning in close and whispering secretively, “my dearest mother has a rash on her…ah…sitting area, and I was hoping you might have some kind of ointment that might help. Seeing as so I come passed here every day I volunteered, plus she couldn’t bring herself to send one of the servants,” she laughed.

There was several seconds of immensely uncomfortable silence before Bruce realised he should be laughing too, “Ha…hahaha…ha,” he managed pathetically. It was the most forced laugh anyone had every heard.

More silence before realised he should be finding an ointment for the lady, “Oh…a rash how g…ghastly. Ointments…we have…much…good…”

He was turning into a babbling idiot, somewhere out back he heard a dull thud thud thud; Fredrick banging his head against the wall in frustration. Thankfully he was saved from uttering any more incoherencies by another jingle at the door.

A man strode in with heavily booted footsteps, dressed in the fine attire of a noble of wealthy family. Bruce groaned silently; the one fault Bethany had was that she was betrothed to him; Glann Talbot.

Talbot was the son of the wealthiest merchant in Brynn, whose family claimed to be among the original founders of the city half a millennia ago. As someone might expect from society’s elite, he was completely egotistical and snobbish.

“Bethany my dear please tell me you have that ointment, I can’t stand to be in the dregs of town any longer. Its just so…common.” He said.

Bruce rolled his eyes, if Talbot thought this was the dregs of town he’d like to see how long he lasted in the warrens. The alchemist had half a mind to tell him his shop was in a well respected sector of the merchant’s district, but the other half of his mind kept telling him to keep his mouth shut and stay out of the man’s way.

“Just a minute dearest, master Brucien is just about to fetch it for me,” said Bethany, placating the snob.

Talbot’s eyes fell on him, “Well, what are you waiting for? Fetch it!”

Flustered, the alchemist rummaged around a nearby shelf for the desired salve. He was so nervous that he knocked over a jar of beetroot juice, which subsequently shattered right besides Glann’s rather expensive looking boots.

“Stupid fool!” the irate man pushed Bruce to the floor and looked ready to give him a severe beating but Bethany held him back.

>“Please dearest it was a simple accident, don’t loose your temper,” she said soothingly, which seemed to calm the man down somewhat.

“Fine, but you’re paying for these,” he pointed at Bruce menacingly, before dragging his fiancé towards the door, “come on we’re going somewhere more refined,”

Brucien could only watch as Talbot yanked his beloved out the door and out of his life once again. He despised himself for not standing up to the bully, he couldn’t even bring himself to get off the ground when Talbot was about to beat him. The fact that a woman had to save him doubled the shame.

His hands shook as he rose to his feet; the anger had been there the whole time, he was just too afraid to use it. There was no other way of putting it, he was a coward who deserved nothing more than the mediocre life he had. His father was right; he would never amount to anything.

Quickly the rage bubbled over until he couldn’t control in anymore; with an animalistic cry of anger he grabbed the nearest bottle and smashed in on the ground, and then another and another. He kicked the shelf, breaking it in half and causing a more glassware to shatter. Vile concoctions mixed on the floor, creating a sickly brown green liquid.

Eventually his rage burned out, and the man sat on the floor with his head in his hands, weeping uncontrollably.

*********

*Fredrick listened in silence as his master vented his anger on the defenceless potion bottles. When Brucien slipped into a depressed state, sitting on the floor and weeping, his assistant slipped out the back door as quietly as possible.

He kept to the back alleys, avoiding the busy streets as much as possible until he reached his destination; the Warrens. Considered by the elite to be a blight on the otherwise pristine face of Brynn, the Warrens was a ramshackle shanty town and home to the city’s more unfavourable citizens.

The young man stepped over a corpse with an extra smile cut across his throat and knocked on the door of a particularly run down looking shack. A man in his late forties, with a beak of a nose and rune like tattoos on his cheeks answered.

“We have our vessel,” said Fredrick proudly.