The smoke was thick. Thick enough to blind me completely. Even if it hadn’t been, it made my eyes sting enough for me not to open them anyway. And I think the smoke was blue. Or some shade of blue-ish green. Like I said, my eyes were closed. Somewhere inside that dense cloud of blue-ish green smoke with me, was a burning truck. As far as I could recall it had been a fuel-truck before it had been hit by the magical equivalent of a stinger missile. Now it was a pile of burning metal and I had to get to it and find a way to stop the fire.
So far it hadn’t been my best day yet.
Maybe I should start by introducing myself. My name is David Bell. Officially I work as a security consultant for the University in a Belgian town called Leuven. I get to co-ordinate the different securityguards and the campus police which actually means I’m ranked only a little higher than the securityguards themselves. I’m basically their foreman. Unofficially I’m the go to guy for the local Alchemist’s Guild. Well ok, I’m one of a few go to guys they have. I do tend to get the more interesting cases though. Or at least that’s how I’ve experienced things.
Alchemists I hear you say, like turning iron in to gold and stuff like that? Well, yeah. The myths talk about a lot of things an alchemist can do. Turning things in to gold, living forever, creating magical animals…. the list goes on and on. Most of us can’t actually turn lead in to gold and we tend to age just as the rest of you. Tricks like that are known as Master Secrets and it tends to take a long time to find out how they work. Most of us spend years studying and experimenting. Some actually succeed. I don’t even bother.
I know the basics. Fortifying cloth to be used as armor, brewing potions that heal or enhance your speed or strength. Usefull stuff. I’m a practical guy. I guess that’s why I’m the one they ask to tackle things like burning trucks that give off magically toxic smoke.
Oh, I didn’t say that the smoke was toxic? Well, It was. Blue and toxic.
I noticed that I had reached the burning carcass of the truck because the heat was getting more than just ucomfortable. I tried to open my eyes but the smoke made me close them again almost instantly This was getting me nowhere, fast. If I wanted to deal with the problem at least I had to see it. I pushed my two forearms together in a cross in front of me and focused my will on activating the runes layed in to the fabric. A magical shield formed in front of me and pushed the smoke back. Again I opened my eyes and now at least I could get a good look at the problem. Flames were everywhere. Up to 3 feet high they were burning away the oil inside the truck at an incredibly fast rate. Most of the flames were pretty standard, nothing that would cause the smoke to be blue or anything. Then I noticed a flame, bigger than most, almost 6 feet high at the center of the fire. The thing that made me notice it however wasn’t it’s size but it’s color. The flame burned purple. The arrow that had struck the truck and made it explode was there, using the energy of the fire to produce toxic fumes.
Yeah, the truck had been hit by an arrow, and it had exploded. Think about that for a second…
Actually, the truck shouldn’t have been hit at all. It had gotten caught in the crossfire between me and some ectoplasmic constructs.
It had all started only a few hours earlier. I was enjoying my morning coffee and going over the security reports of the night shift, drunken college students had been caught partying in one of the labs, when my cell phone rang. Unlike wizards and other more active spellcasters, most alchemists don’t have problems using modern technology. Our auras aren’t strong enough to cause interference.
The call came from the office of Jan Baptist, the de facto leader of the Alchemist Guild. Apparently he had received a tip that someone was planning on moving a powerful stolen magical item through Leuven. It would be transported by car and would only be guarded with minimal force as to prevent detection. This meant that I should have been capable of retrieving the item by myself, if things had gone smoothly. They never go smoothly.
I studied the route the car was going to follow and planned my ambush. I planned to hit the car on the bridge across the canal. The bridge is suspended several dozen feet above the ground and the surface of the canal and the traffic lanes are separated by concrete blocks. The ambush would take place late at night, when traffic was light. Minimal escape routes and a minimal chance of collateral damage. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Hiding myself on the bridge wasn’t difficult. Slap on a bright orange vest, put on a hard hat and suddenly you are a construction worker checking out the infrastructure. No-one asked questions. As soon as I noticed the car turning on to the bridge I reached for my gun. My firearm of choice is a modified Smith and Wesson MP 9mm, the kind the local cops use. It’s modified in a way that only magically active people will notice. The pistol is charged with enough fire energy to release two small fireballs. The extra firepower comes in handy sometimes.
Now, I only needed the regular ammunition. When the car was halfway across the bridge I took out two of its tires. The driver seemed to know what he was doing because he managed to stop the car without too much difficulty. As soon as the car had stopped moving four men in black suits got out. They looked eerily alike. As if four brothers had decided to get in to supernatural security together. They noticed me fairly quick and reached for their own weapons. I managed to take out two before they opened fire. I am not going to lie, I killed them. In my business you learn early on that it’s kill or be killed.
I dove behind one of the concrete blocks, but not before I took a bullet to the shoulder. The wound was bleeding, but not enough for me to have to worry about it yet. I fired a few more shots, but to no avail. The two remaining guards had retreated to their car and were using it as cover. I even think the car was armoured. For a few minutes nothing happened. I tried to find an opening so I could get a few more shots in, but I saw nothing. That’s when I noticed the two dead men were melting.
Great. I wasn’t dealing with mortal goons, but with ectoplasmic constructs. Temporary living dolls of pure magical energy. Whoever was behind this had some pretty powerful mojo to create four of them at the same time.
I decided that I needed some extra firepower. I readied one of the fire-charges inside of my pistol and tried to hit an open door of the goon’s car. The fireball hit the door and tore it right off its hinges. The fire and force pushed the guard hiding behind it to the ground and I quickly put a bullet through his constructed brain. Three down, one to go.
The fourth goon appeared from behind the car only a second later. He had gotten to the trunk of the car and was now armed with an impressive old looking bow. He loosed his arrow and I only barely managed to jump out of its path. The arrow struck the concrete block and started to eat its way through. Magical arrows or a magical bow. Both were rare these days. I tried to get a good look at the weapon and as soon as I did I reckognized it, the Lernaean Bow.
Better known as the bow of Heracles it is said to give any arrow it fires the properties of Lernaean Poison which is both highly toxic and acidic. An amazingly powerful item and not even the one I had been sent to retrieve. I seriously began doubting my decision to retrieve the item alone.
I dashed from my hiding spot, running towards the goon’s car firing several shots on the run. None hit, but they did prevent him from putting an arrow in my chest. Once I reached the car in put my gun beneath it and fired the second of my fire-charges. The fireball exploded on the other side of the car, right where the last of the constructs was standing. I could hear him hit the ground after being thrown in to the air by the explosion. I hadn’t counted on the arrow that he had readied. As he fell he loosed it from the bow and it flew to the other lane of the bridge, where a fuel truck just happened to pass by. I already told you the result.
So now I was standing only a few feet from a huge magical purple flame giving off highly toxic smoke, protected only by a magical shield that would last maybe 5 or 6 more seconds. Whatever I had to do, I had to do it now. I reached for one of my potions and moved closer to the fire. I focused on my shield as hard as I could to keep it active just a little while longer. Should it fail now I would die almost instantly.
My healing potion is by far the most complex and powerful item I can and have ever created. It can cure first degree burns or a twisted ankle almost instantly. I was hoping it would be able to counter the poison as well. I poured the contents of my flask across the burning magical arrow. The flames leapt higher as I did, burning away the alcohol in the potion. I always use whiskey as the basis for my potions. The healing power of the potion activated as soon as it came in to contact with the arrow. The flame burned green for a second and the arrow turned to ash. The poison had been neutralized and the fire was creating regular smoke now.
I hurried out of the smoke cloud. After searching the four piles of melting ectoplasmic residue I found the item I was sent to find. A silver ring with a clover carved in to it. I also took the Lernaean bow with me as well. Wouldn’t want some mortal picking it up as a souvenir. Besides, I would need it as evidence to explain the events of this evening.
After I had filed my report I was going to have a drink at the Studios, I earned it. Maybe I should take the next few days off. Something tells me this situation is only the prelude to something much bigger.