Alchymia and the Cross-eyed Cat
A cat, the size of a Labrador dog, stood on his two hind legs behind Willow, his body glowing orange as if it were made of pure fire, his two piercing green eyes studying Drake closely from under his crazy orange mane.
‘Fulcanelli, what….what did you do that for?’ spluttered Drake, his voice struggling to hide his irritation.
Fulcanelli shrugged, then began to lick his paw. ‘Because I cannnn,’ he purred.
Drake threw his hands to his head. ‘But Fulcanelli…we don’t have time for this-’
‘Mistress wants to see youuuu. I will take youuuu.’ He pointed at Willow, lying like a baby on the floor, ‘She can’t seeee.’
‘Surely there were easier ways of doing that,’ said Drake, rubbing the top of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. Things were never simple; Willow, the cat (if that’s what he was), why couldn’t they just leave him alone and let him get on with it?
‘Damn it, Fulcanelli!’ cursed Drake, as the cat leapt, without warning, out of the room like a lightning bolt.
Drake looked at Willow lying on the floor. Why the hell hadn’t she just stayed at home? He rolled his eyes and scooped her off the floor where she hung limply in his arms, a small trail of drool trickling from the corner of her mouth, gleaming like a slug trail. The faint hint of a smile curled his lips; he couldn’t wait to tell her about that.
Fulcanelli moved like a firestorm tearing up a forest as he weaved his way through the dark backstreets. Drake followed the orange afterglow with Willow still dangling in his arms. He eventually found the cat sitting outside the door of a shabby four-storied house that looked as if it hadn’t been lived in for decades; bare pockets of brick lay exposed to the elements where the rendering had been eaten away and most of the glass was missing from the windows.
‘You took your timeeee,’ said Fulcanelli grooming his paw.
Drake scowled; of all the annoying beasts he had ever met…
It was a few moments before Fulcanelli moved, he rapped the sun-bleached door three times before pushing it open. He bounced into the house and disappeared up the staircase at the far end of the room.
Drake scoured the area before he followed the cat into the darkness.
Damp, decay and death oozed from every surface; from the mottled wallpaper to the basement peeping through the crumbling floorboards. With only thin slivers of moonlight to illuminate his way, Drake struggled across the rotting floor and up the stairs after Fulcanelli. Gaping holes smiled at him as he climbed, waiting for him to fall into the rats that scuttled and scratched beneath them.
The second floor was also dark and as rotten as the floor below. Grey net curtains flapped loosely over the glassless windows and withered leaves gently scraped across the floor with the ebb and flow of the breeze.
With no sign of Fulcanelli, just the distant sound of purring coming from somewhere above, Drake continued upwards. He emerged into yet another room, a red door standing open at its far end, the purring, louder now, was coming from the other side of it.
Drake walked carefully through the narrow doorway and into a warm and homely room, smelling of lemon and tarragon, that clearly had an enchantment on it since it was larger than the whole house itself. A simple wooden bed, shrouded in layers of thick patchwork blankets, lay at the centre of the far wall, surrounded by stacks of leather-bound books, jars and scrolls of parchment.
Alchymia sat in front of a roaring fire to the left of the room with Fulcanelli resting his head on her lap, purring loudly as spittle erupted from his mouth. At the other side of her, a wooden table strained under a pile of books, a chopping board, fresh herbs and a myriad of bottles and containers filled with different coloured oils and infusions.
‘Drake,’ said Alchymia, her eyes fixed on Fulcanelli, ‘you can place Willow on the bed.’
Drake sighed with relief; Alchymia was, at least, safe. He said nothing but stumbled over to the bed and tipped Willow on to it and let the blankets swallow her up in layers of warmth and comfort.
‘Come and sit down,’ said Alchymia softly, pointing to a chair that she had magicked beside her.
Drake slumped heavily onto it.
Drake nodded once and a small dark wooden table appeared in front of him, with a steaming mug of milky tea on top of it. He took the mug and wrapped his cold hands gratefully around it.
‘It has been quite some time Drake, so I can only assume that you are in trouble.’
Drake nodded again, his eyes unwilling to look at her, to betray his shame. Why was it that she was the only one who could make him feel like a little child again?
‘I also assume that it has something to do with the fact that the dwarves have ransacked my home?’
Again Drake nodded, he could feel the tiredness taking over his body.
‘What are they looking for?’
Drake looked up and sighed. ‘I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s probably the same thing we’re looking for.’
Alchymia looked at him, eyebrow arched, waiting for his answer.
‘The Emerald Key,’ he said quickly, before gulping down a mouthful of tea.
Alchymia’s eyes widened momentarily. ‘I see…’ she said, turning her attention back to Fulcanelli, running her fingers through his orange mane, ‘and why are you are looking for The Key?’
‘I need to find it, I have no choice,’ he said, studying the tea in his mug. ‘Someone wants it and if I don’t find it for him, well, let’s just say that’s not an option.’ He sighed heavily. ‘I need your help Alchymia.’