The Auld Alchemist: Chapter 11

“Thank you for coming at such short notice,” said Lord Anglestone. He was sitting with Sir John in a large room. They were both in comfortable arm chairs near a roaring fire.

“My pleasure,” said Sir John. “You said you had some news?”

“Indeed,” said Lord Anglestone, “I believe I have a significant lead on the robbery. In fact, I think I may be very close to recovering the items. I was hoping you would have a drink with me to celebrate.”

“I, er…” said Sir John, “I’m a little off the drink right now.”

“Temperance pledge?” said Lord Anglestone.

“I’m close to that,” said Sir John.

“Well, will you take some lemon tea at least? I would be offended if I couldn’t offer you something,” said Lord Anglestone.

“That would be very refreshing,” said Sir John.

Lord Anglestone clicked his fingers and a butler appeared. The Lord ordered some drinks then sat back.

aa-ch-11“Later, Clackprattle”

“So tell me,” said Sir John, “what have you learnt?”

“Well, it seems there has been a most remarkable chain of events,” said Lord Anglestone. “I can tell you I have tracked down and spoken to the miscreant who broke into the Museum. It transpires that shortly after robbing that august institution, he was himself robbed, by a person he struggled to describe.”

The lemon tea arrived and they both drank.

“I think I may have an idea who that person is, but do go on,” said Sir John. The fire and the comfortable chair were starting to make him sleepy, despite the excitement of the meeting.

“Ah, I have the advantage there,” said Lord Anglestone, “for I know for sure. The person was none other than Diarmuid Mac Dubh himself. The old fool had somehow managed to find out about the theft and stop it.”

“I … er … what,” said Sir John who could barely keep his eyes open.

“Yes, the old failure thought he could stand between me and my rightful heritage. He stole again the lens, made by my ancestor, my family, to make another pointless attempt at leaving this mortal coil. But I fashioned, with the help of my order, a golem to steal it. Right now it is being prepared and moved to the building my family has had constructed for the very purpose of housing it.”

There was a clink as a cup and saucer were dropped.

“You see Sir John, I am the heir to an analchemical process that has been operating for 99 years and 364 days. It has all been planned to complete on this night, on the lunar eclipse. I will channel the dark light of the moon into the lens, into the alchemical workings I have inherited from my grandfather, and I will make the Summum Malorum, the Dark Stone. And then, Sir John, the power of life and death, the power of poverty and riches, will be mine!”

Lord Anglestone stood up triumphantly but Sir John ignored him as he was fast asleep and snoring a little.

“Do we kill him now?” said Frater Gravitas Maximas as he came out the shadows.

“Later, Clackprattle,” said Lord Anglestone. “Later, when we have the Stone.”

The Auld Alchemist: Chapter 12

The Auld Alchemist: Chapter 10

“And that’s when Marie created a small insect from a stone, attached the golem’s clay to it and let it loose,” said Sir John.

The three members of FOLI sitting in the Jennings’ parlour looked grave at this news, although it occurred to Marie they looked grave at every bit of news. The younger one, Frater Lorem Ipsum, looked slightly nervously at her.

“We had no idea your wife was…” started Frater Magnificus, “talented.”

“It’s a common experience,” said Sir John, “to underestimate her. But I must ask you all to treat this information with the strictest confidence.”

“Sir, we are a secret society with a noble history,” said Frater Magnificus. “If there is one thing we can do, it is keep silent.”

“It’s just I found this in the bookshop,” said Sir John, holding up a book titled “Rites and Ceremonies of the Fraternal Order of Light Incarnate”. Soror Beatitudinum screamed.

“Frater Lorem Ipsum, avert your eyes!” shouted Frater Magnificus. “Avert your eyes!”

Sir John took the hint and put the book away. Just then the door opened and a short humanoid creature with a white skin and no face came in, breathing noisily. Frater Lorem Ipsum jumped up from his chair and the other order members looked shocked. The creature peeled back its face.

“Mr Bosch!” said Sir John, “what a surprise!”

The vampire looked around him. The order members were all standing now and looking aghast.

“If you hear any more, please contact us,“ said Frater Magnificus, “we have an urgent … ceremony to attend.”

“We do?” said Soror Beatitudinum.

Frater Magnificus nodded vigorously and the trio left.

“Well…” said Phlebotomous, “how’s the investigation going?”

“It’s been better,” said Sir John, “it seems the objects have slipped through our fingers, but we have managed to find their original owner and a talking dog.”

“Yes, my day’s been busy too …” started Phlebotomous. Just then Miss Henderson came into the room. Phlebotomous flinched as he saw her.

“Telegram for you, Sir Jennings,” she said and passed a note to Sir John. She was carrying a tray with a pot and five cups on it which she took away again.

“Yes, my day has been so busy…” said Phlebotomous but noticed no-one was paying attention.

“it’s an invitation to see Lord Anglestone,” said Sir John. “Apparently, he has some important news on our ‘mutual interest’ that he wants to tell me right away. I shall leave at once.”

aa-ch-10Mon Dieu!

Sir John left the room at haste and shortly after the front door slammed. Miss Henderson returned to the room with a pot and three cups. She pointedly served two cups of tea then left.

“How was your day then Mr Bosch?” said Marie to be polite.

“Well, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you!” he said.

“Go on,” said Marie.

“Really?” said Phlebotomous. He then regaled her with several tales involving dangerously malfunctioning inventions, a case of near asphyxiation with a new sunlight protector, and an unsuccessful attempt to recruit some household staff.

“And the last one ran away as soon as I opened the door,” he concluded.

Marie could feel her heading nodding, even though Miss Henderson had brought in some tea. She felt a tap on her foot and looked down. A small stone smeared with clay was next to her foot.

“Ah,” she said, “my stone bug.”

“I haven’t seen one of those in years!” said Phlebotomous. “Where is your map?”

“Map?” said Marie, “I have to walk the streets to find where he has been.”

“No, you don’t,” said Phlebotomous. “You can use a map and a bit of string to make a pendulum.”

Marie produced a map and tied a bit of yarn to the stone. She held the pendulum over the map and it swirled round in circles before pointing straight at one place on the map.

Mon Dieu!” said Marie. “The place the golem came from, it is Lord Anglestone’s house!”

The Auld Alchemist: Chapter 11

The Auld Alchemist: Chapter 9

“Tell them about the artefacts,” said Morag. Diarmuid sighed and continued his story.

“I suppose some people came and took what remained after the fire. These were the artefacts that resided in the British Museum. As for me, I used the rest of the stone to extend my life and make some gold, then started again. What else could I do? I managed to recreate most of my tools, but the items I had lost, well, one of the items, seemed invaluable. They were in the hands of one Sir Hans Sloane. The crucial item was only needed for the last step, so I waited until just before the work was complete. I broke into the gentleman’s house to retrieve my tools and to complete my work. I did not see it as theft, as they were mine to start with.

“Alas, again I was unsuccessful, as my physical form here attests. Some Red Stone, but no elevation. I sent back the items to Sir Sloane in frustration, but then started again. One hundred years ago I was also close and again needed that crucial item. By now the artefacts were in the museum, which is from where I ‘borrowed’ them. I hardly need tell you that attempt failed. I believed then there was a flaw in the items I had used. I set out to create new tools from scratch. Again, I returned the ‘borrowed’ items so no one would look for them, or more importantly, me, and thought no more of them until recently.

“It was just a few short weeks ago that I was carrying out a divination and I saw there were others who wished to use my tools for ill ends. I could not be sure who they were, but it was reasonably clear the tools would be stolen. I waited each night outside the museum until I saw some rogue enter the building. On his exit, I relieved him of his ill-gotten gains. I established that he was a mere hired hand and knew nothing. I brought the artifacts back here. Albert has been kind enough to let us stay, you see.

“I thought the matter over and the crisis averted until yesterday. I believe you visited a couple of days before? Ah, curses, if we had only … still, hindsight is the wisest yet tardiest wisdom. During the night there was a disturbance. I woke to see a creature of some kind, a golem I think, leaving the window. It had only taken one artefact, the most dangerous, the most powerful.”

“What was it?” asked Sir John.

“It is a glass, a lens,” said Diarmuid, “which at the very end of the process is used to turn the alchemist from his fixed earthly form to a being of spiritual light. The danger is that it may be reversed, may be used to turn a spiritual being, even a malign one, especially a malign one, into something physical. This is what I believe these people are trying to do.”

“This Draco Viridis?” said Marie. The alchemist looked at her.

“Is their their name now?” he said. “The names don’t matter. It is the intent that is important. And now they have it. And the serpent is clever, sending a golem. If it were a human who had stolen the lens, Morag could track them. But a creature of clay … it is impossible.”

aa-ch-9“Quite Special!”

“Marie,” said Sir John, “there must be something you can do? Could you try visualizing the golem to determine the direction it went.”

Diarmuid looked confused.

“My wife is a witch,” said Sir John, matter of factly. Miss Henderson glared at him.

“He means…” said Morag, “for real.”

“Oh, yes,” said Sir John, smiling lightly. “She’s very powerful. Quite, quite special actually.”

“I don’t think this visualization thing works mon cher, but I ‘ave an idea,” said Marie. “Was any of the clay left behind? On the window sill or somewhere?”

“There was a little, yes,” said Morag.

“I’ll need that,” said Marie, “and a small stone…”

The Auld Alchemist: Chapter 10

The Auld Alchemist: Chapter 8

The window blinds were rolled down and the closed sign was set on the door, an act that had made Albert wince. In the shop were Albert, Morag the dog, Sir John, Marie, Miss Henderson, and an elderly gentleman with a long grey beard.

“So, then,” said the old man, “I’m Diarmuid Mac Dubh. I daresay you’d like some sort of explanation?”

aa-closed“So, Then…”

There was a general murmur of assent although the question seemed rhetorical. Mac Dubh sighed and started to speak.

“So the history books have it that I died 300 years ago in a fire which destroyed my house and killed my family. All that remained of my life’s work was some glass oddments which were undamaged by the blaze and have been kept, until recently, in the British Museum. Some of these facts are not entirely accurate, as I’m sure you can gather.

“First, let me tell you a wee bit about alchemy. You see, the Great Work takes exactly one hundred years. Completed correctly, it elevates the alchemist beyond the corporeal form, transports him to the angelic world and brings him in contact with God. The Summum Bonum, also known as the Philosopher’s Stone or the Red Stone is a mere side effect, not the goal. Nevertheless, the powers of the Stone, to extend life and create gold, are necessary to prolong the alchemist’s life and to allow his time to be devoted to the Great Work. So first, one must find a master willing to gift some of the Stone. Then the alchemist may attempt the work himself.

“As for me, my first attempt, ending three hundred years ago, ended in catastrophe. I was a mere 121 years old and my daughter, Morag, was my apprentice. You see, I had given her some of the Red Stone meant for me, so moved had I been by her mother’s death. As the work neared completion, a small amount of the Red Stone appeared. I was ecstatic, and I leapt in joy. Alas, in that moment my concentration on the Great Work was broken and success became failure. The apparatus flared violently and the flames caught the house. The three of us, Morag, myself and our dog tried to escape. I grabbed Morag and dragged her from the wreckage of our home, my skin burning. When I was outside I realized I had taken the dog by mistake and my daughter was still inside. In despair I threw the some of the Red Stone into the burning house to try to save her.

‘Her body was destroyed, but her soul somehow …  migrated … to the dog. She spoke to me immediately, asking what had happened. I realized we would have to hide, or else she would be killed as a demon. We ran from that place.”

Diarmuid looked at Morag with tears in his eyes.

“My poor daughter, we have been running ever since,” he said.

The Auld Alchemist: Chapter 9

The Auld Alchemist: Chapter 7

Albert Cunningham was sitting in his shop behind the counter reading the newspaper. The dog was snoring quietly near to his feet. The quiet sounds of customers not buying anything filled the shop. Suddenly the tinkle of the bell announced arrivals and Albert looked up. The gentleman, wasn’t he a knight, and the French lady from the other day were coming in along with a younger lady that seemed somehow familiar. The knight was looking rather the worse for wear and the young lady looked rather stern. Albert remembered where he’d sent the knight at that point.

open-1“Oh Bugger!”

“Hello, Albert,” said the young lady. “I don’t suppose you remember me. It’s been a few years.”

“There’s a vague familiarity,” he said. “Was I overly familiar with your mother a few decades ago?”

“No,” said the lady, “I’m Felicity Henderson.”

“Old man Henderson’s daughter?” said Albert.

“Exactly!” said Miss Henderson.

“Oh, Bugger,” said Albert, and Miss Henderson grabbed him by the collar and dragged him over the counter. The dog jumped up to look at the events, and Marie looked askance at the dog.

“Do give him my best regards,” said Albert in a gargled voice, “and let him know I shall return the money presently.”

“I ain’t here for him,” she said. “I’m here for them.”

She pulled Albert’s head toward the older couple to illustrate.

“Good day to you both,” said Albert.

“You sent poor Sir Jennings here on a right wild goose chase to that den of thieves in New Malden. Worse, he was practically force fed alcohol and swindled out of a not inconsiderable sum of money by the very gent you sent him to. He handed over a large sum of money for a collection of beer bottles.”

Miss Henderson held up a bag which made a loud clinking sound. Sir John winced slightly.

“Well, he won’t be the first gent who handed over a large sum of money for beer bottles,” said Albert, “even if they are usually full.”

Miss Henderson pushed Albert’s head down onto the counter with a small thump.

“Albert, you may as well tell them, especially now,” said the dog. “I don’t think these are criminal masterminds.”

“You ain’t met her old man,” said Albert to the dog.

“Excuse me,” said Sir John, “is this hangover getting worse or did the dog speak.”

They all looked at the dog.

“Are you sure about this,” said Albert.

“They trusted you,” said the dog to Albert, “or at least the witch did. And now that … well, maybe they can help.”

“Very well. Gentlefolk, Miss Henderson, let me introduce Morag Mac Dubh,” said Albert. “Morag, you’d better go upstairs and get your father.”

The Auld Alchemist: Chapter 8

The Auld Alchemist: Chapter 6

The public house was gloomy and a pall of smoke filled every inch of it. Sir John walked to the near empty bar and sat down. The place was filled with menace and bad humour.

“Good job I didn’t bring Marie,” he said to himself. “Goodness knows what might happen to her in this place.”

A sour looking fellow with a bowler hat loomed from behind the bar.

“Good evening, sir,” he said, the pleasantry doused in contempt. “How may I help you.”

“I’d like a half pint of your finest ale and, if you know, the whereabouts of one Mister Bobblewit,” said Sir John.

The publican’s eyes rolled and then darted to the right of Sir John. A decrepit looking man of indeterminable age and long greasy hair was sitting there staring in front of himself.

“Whadyawanimfor?” said the man, slurring the words.

“I’m hoping Mister Bobblewit can assist in helping me find some artefacts,” said Sir John. “Do you know where I might find him.”

“Buy us a drink and I might tells you,” said the man, turning to Sir John and showing his pockmarked face.

“A drink for this gentleman,” said Sir John to the publican, who was just returning with Sir John’s beer, holding it at arm’s length as if it was infected.

“No, no, no!” said the long haired man. “You gotta buy US a drink. You and me. Can’t you speak the English? Two whiskies.”

“Er, two whiskies,” said Sir John to the publican, and turned to the long haired man. “So, you know where he is?”

The long haired man looked pointedly at the barman and waited. When the two whiskies arrived he drank his in one slug, then indicated to Sir John to do the same.

“Thass besser,” said the long haired man. “Now, you buy two more whiskies and sit in that corner there and I shall send Mister Bogglewit to youse.”

aa-ch-6-color“Bottoms Up!”

Sir John did what he was told and sat in a corner conspiring to be even shadier than the rest of the bar. After a short while the long haired man came and sat down next to him.

“You’re Mister Bogglewit?” said Sir John.

“Yes, indeed,” said the man and grabbed his whisky. “Bottoms up.”

He drank the drink in one shot and stared at Sir John until he did the same.

“So, what’s your name,” he said, “and don’t tell me your real name.”

“Er … my name is Patrick,” said Sir John.

“Well, Peter,” said Mister Bogglewit, “how can I help.”

“I said my name was Patrick,” said Sir John.

“But it ain’t your real name,” said Mr Bogglewit, “so why do you care? Tell you what, get another drink in Percival and tell me what you need.”

Sir John returned with two more whiskies which were drunk rapidly. Sir John was beginning to suspect he would be drunk rapidly, too. He decided for the bold approach.

“I am looking for the lost Diarmuid of artefact Mac Dubh,” he said. Something seemed wrong with the sentence, but he wasn’t sure what it was.

Mister Bogglewit nodded sagely.

“The pretty bits of glass, yes I knows what you wants,” he said. “The question is, have you got the money?”

“Two more whiskies, on the house,” said the barkeeper dropping two drinks in front of the men. He winked at Mister Bogglewit when Sir John was knocking his drink back.

“I am fully prepared to go the paying price,” said Sir John. “In fact…”

“Wait!” interrupted Mister Bogglewit suddenly. “Shh! Do you hear that?”

Sir John listened to the murmuring chatter in the bar and watched the table spin a couple of times.

“I don’t hear anything?” he said.

“No,” said Mister Bogglewit looking around suspiciously, “me neither. You wait here and I’ll get the goods.”

He went away whilst Sir John sat reeling in his chair. He was pleased to have solved the case and thought he was making a genuine friend with Mister Bogglewit. He considered telling him this fact when he next came back. Mister Bogglewit appeared in the seat next to him with a bag. There was a sound of chinking glass from inside.

“Here you go, friend,” he said. “For you, a mere 5 pounds.”

“Thank you, friend,” said Sir John, gleefully handing over the money. Thank you very much indeed.”

The Auld Alchemist: Chapter 7

The Auld Alchemist: Chapter 5

A rotund, shabbily dressed man with a day’s growth of beard sat behind the shop’s counter. He was leaning on it and looking at the shelves filled with a myriad of unusual and tasteless decorative items. A large brown dog slept languidly next to him.

Sir John and Marie came into the shop.

“Are you Albert Cunningham?” said Sir John to the man.

“Maybe” he said, his eyelids heavy.

“You’re not sure?” asked Sir John.

“I’ve got an inkling,” said the man. “Why don’t you introduce yourself to me and then we can see if it becomes an opinion.”

“I’m Sir John Jennings, paranormal investigator,” said Sir John, “and this is my wife Marie.”

The man’s back straightened involuntarily.

“Welcome Sir Jennings!” he said. “Just for absolute clarity, you are in no way connected to the revenue offices or the London constabulary.”

“Well, I think one of my maids is…” started Sir John.

Non,” said Marie. “We are not either of those things.”

“Oh, French,” said the man, “Enchanted! I am Albert Cunningham, owner and proprietor of this fine establishment. How may I assist you in fulfilling your hopefully myriad and expensive needs.”

“We’re looking for some stolen artefacts, with a possibly magical provenance.” Said Sir John.

aa-ch-5“Five Shillings!”

At this point a young man entered the shop. He was carrying a large bag and started walking toward the counter. Albert Cunningham started coughing.

“I am afraid sir that I have no knowledge of the whereabouts of articles from disreputable sources as I would never procure something in that manner,” Albert said loudly to Sir John. The young man quickly left the shop, looking startled.

“Look,” said Albert, leaning close to Sir John, “despite my apparent reputation, I don’t deal with anything that isn’t legitimate. But, as they say, I might know a gent who can help. If you tell me exactly what you’re looking for and perhaps purchase an item from the emporium, I may be able to guide you on your way.”

Sir John leaned in, too.

“We’re looking for artefacts belonging to Diarmuid Mac Dubh which were stolen from the British Museum.”

Albert looked carefully around him.

“Who are ‘we’?” he said quietly.

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you,” said Sir John equally quietly.

“Well then, sir, we are at what your wife might call an impasse,” Albert said.

Marie put down a small porcelain pagoda.

“’Ow much for this … Folly?” she asked. Albert grinned.

“Five shillings,” he said. “And if I were you, I’d go to the Royal Oak in New Malden and ask for Mr Bobblewit.”

Sir John handed over the money and the Jennings left the shop, taking the porcelain building with them.

“So,” said Albert when they left, “the Foh-Lie boys are after them as well.”

The Auld Alchemist: Chapter 6

*Thanks to The Graphics Fairy  for today’s lovely image of a pagoda.

The Auld Alchemist: Chapter 4

aa-ch-4“Remain Anonymous”

Marie and Sir John sat one side of a large ornate desk. Behind the desk was large chair and behind that were drapes and a large picture of an austere man. The real life man appeared from behind the drapes and smiled at the Jennings.

“Good afternoon, Sir John, Marie,” he said, “how may I be of service? I was intrigued by your communication.”

“Good afternoon, Lord Anglestone,” said Sir John and Marie nodded. “We were most interested in your knowledge about Diarmuid Mac Dubh. We are conducting, ah, an investigation regarding some artefacts of his.”

“Aha!” said Lord Diarmuid. “You were at the British Museum, yes? Well, at least one mystery is solved. I have retained some investigators to look for the missing artefacts. They mentioned that there had been a mix up. May I ask who you are investigating for?”

“I believe our employer wishes to … remain anonymous,” said Sir John, mildly embarrassed.

“No matter,” chuckled Lord Anglestone, “I was merely curious. I can’t keep old Diarmuid to myself can I? He is something of a family obsession. I inherited it from my father, rather like my title. You know of course I have written a book on the fellow”

“Why is he so interesting?” asked Marie, “And why would someone steal these artefacts.”

“Well,” said Lord Anglestone, “he is an intriguing chap. Seemingly self taught, although there are rumours of contact with Robert Fludd, another alchemist. Worked all his life at this alchemy business, which is really just a fancy word for chemistry. In that regard he was years ahead of his time. He invented a large amount of laboratory apparatus that was revolutionary at the time, and is now commonplace. Of course, doing all these experiments at home had certain risks, which he fell foul to. There was a fire at his home, and he was killed along with his daughter. The wife had died years before, I believe.

“As for the artefacts, they have attracted a certain macabre fascination with those who believe in ghosts and other such hocus pocus. Because he was an alchemist, you see, they believe they can use them to create what they call the Summum Bonum, the sum of all good. It is known more commonly as the Philosopher’s Stone. It is rumoured to be able to turn lead into gold and extend life. All nonsense of course, but intriguing that a man of Mac Dubh’s intelligence was taken in.

“And now, tragically, the artefacts have been stolen, as you know. I have some men on the case, the very best. You’re welcome to help of course, and we could share what we know.”

“Thank you,” said Sir John, “perhaps if we find anything of note we’ll update you and vice versa.”

“Of course!” said Lord Anglestone. “I only hope these priceless artefacts are found before they are damaged. But thank you for your time, I look forward to speaking again with some news.”

Lord Anglestone escorted Marie and Sir John out of the room then wandered back to the desk.

“Well, Frater Gravitas Maximas,” he said, “it seems that we are both getting our wishes.”

An obese man with a strange amulet, a sphere in a coil, came out from behind the drapes. He stared obsessively at the door where the Jennings had just left.

“Indeed we are, Frater Princeps,” he said. “Indeed we are.”

The Auld Alchemist: Chapter 5

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November

And ironically we forgot that today we were due to post a chapter of our latest thriller. We can only apologise, mumble something about Nanowrimo taking over our life and offer this picture of us projecting a shadow onto a 16th century Venetian wall in Crete by way of recompense. Rest assured, your fresh chapter will arrive tomorrow.

Benthic Gardens

Despite the extraordinary demands of NaNoWriMo, we at the Benthic Times still find time to indulge in the pleasures of gardening. Or should we say challenges… Our new home has presented us with a spectacular assortment of weeds and exotic native plants. We’ve given up on the idea of recreating an English country garden and have settled upon an array of alien-looking cacti.