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Mind over Matter

 

The barkeep stubs his smoke out in an ashtray and leans forward, arms folded, on the bar. The heavy smell of alcohol and tobacco curls through the air. He glances at his opponent sat opposite. This man’s face bears no expression as he looks down at his hand of dog-eared cards. He bites his lip, showing yellow teeth, and strokes the stubble on his cheek with his palm. The barkeep gives him a winning leer.

“You lose again, Murl!”

With a curse, Murl throws the cards down onto the mound between them. The barkeep gives a belly laugh that makes his jowls shake, and rakes in the meager pile of coins with one hand. Murl picks up his shot glass and gulps his drink.

“Another,” he grunts, slamming the glass down.

The barkeep pauses as the front door of the tavern opens, and a man in platinum robes strides in. The rumble of conversation around the bar trails off, and the shady patrons turn to look at the interloper. The newcomer pushes his hood back and coolly surveys the Common room . His dark eyes scan the barflies and mercenaries that occupy the tables.

Murl looks at the barkeep, and then turns to look back over his shoulder towards the tavern door. The torches hung around the room sputter and pop, disrupting the silence.

A chair creaks.

The newcomer in the silver robes strides forward accompanied by the knock of his boots on the floor. The patrons look tense as they watch him. He stops at the bar, between Murl and a cloaked man, and smiles over at the barkeep. The barkeep turns to address him.

“What do you want?”

“The best in the house.”

The barkeep gives a small laugh that accentuates his array of double chins. He slaps Murl lightly on the shoulder and points at the newcomer.

“‘The best in the house’ is probably cheaper than yer own piss. Sir.

The barkeep receives the newcomer’s smile in return, so he gets up and pours the drink. He sets the single shot of liquor down on the bar in front of the newcomer.

“Tha’s ten copper, bub.”

The newcomer picks up the glass and downs the liquid in one. He places the glass back on the bar with a clink. With casual ease, the newcomer slips his hands inside his robes and fumbles around. Tobacco-stained roll-ups hang from the lips of the bar’s patrons as they lean forward in anticipation.

“I appear to have misplaced all my money.” The newcomer says, without a trace of irony. “I don’t even have two copper pieces to rub together.” He turns to the man in the dusty cloak. “Do you?”

The man looks up slightly from under his cowl. His eyes narrow at the newcomer. His face shows him to be between thirty and forty years old and his boots show him to be a wanderer of long roads.

Moments pass, and no-one moves.

“Why do you dress like that?” The wanderer replies in a gravelly voice.

The young newcomer holds his gaze evenly, but does not reply. “The drink costs ten,” the man adds. The newcomer smiles again, briefly.

“‘…And as thee observes, my will shall shape worlds.’” He says, spreading his hands.

The wanderer’s brow knots slightly. The newcomer merely indicates with a flat hand to the dark wooden bar. The wanderer studies the newcomer a moment more, before producing two antique coins. They are wide, thick and pitted, and they give the light clink of copper when he puts them down.

The wanderer places two fingertips over the faces of forgotten kings and pushes the coins across the bar.

The newcomer nods, keeping contact with the wandering man’s eyes, and then passes his hand, flat and palm down, over the copper pieces. Every pair of eyes in the bar widens, except two, and the barkeep curses one word to himself under his breath: alchemy.

A golden glint flashes up at the wanderer from the bar. He glances down casually and then back to the newcomer.

“Glammer. Nothing more.”

“Then break it, and find out,” the newcomer says through his smile.

The barkeep picks up a coin to examine.

The wanderer picks up the other coin and puts it to one corner of his mouth. He bites sharply, clenching his jaw, and snaps the coin in two. He spits the other half of the coin out into his rough palm. The barkeep cranes forward to look.

The two halves appear to be solid gold.

“Legerdemain, then.”

“What?” the barkeep asks, bewildered.

“It means ‘sleight of hand’.” The newcomer replies, turning to the barkeep and pressing his hands flat against the bar. The barkeep’s brow furrows and he glances at Murl for support. Murl does not match his gaze. Instead, he stares wide-eyed in awe at the newcomer’s hands.

The newcomer presses his fingers down so firmly that they go white, and a shining ripple spreads out across the bar like oil. It flows out away from his hands, seeping into the grain and transmuting it. Veins bulge in the newcomer’s neck and sweat beads on his forehead as he concentrates. Murl and the wanderer quickly draw their hands back from the advancing tide.

The tavern’s patrons gawp. Every jaw open, and every drink forgotten, in total silence as the entire bar top becomes gold.
“Not legerdemain, then.” The wanderer drawls, a smile curving the corners of his mouth. “If you wanted to spread your name, alchemist, I am surprised you did not merely turn the walls to dust.”

The newcomer - the alchemist - shrugs. He turns and leaves, and no one moves to stop him. The front door shuts heavily, and the barkeep looks at the wanderer, who turns back to finish his drink.

“Should we go after him? Make him turn something else into gold?”

The wanderer glances at him. “That man is dangerous.”

“I s’pose one twenty-foot bar of solid gold is enough is enough for me.” The barkeep reflects, running his hands over the cold metal surface in wonder. “This would keep a man going for a lifetime.”

The wanderer apparently notices this too, and his hand drops to his belt to loosen the sword in its scabbard.

“It’s really just a question of whose lifetime.” He says grimly.

The barkeep glances up to see groups of the rough, hard bastards that populate the tavern slowly stand, draw their weapons and face each other.