a rough draft excerpt
On the slope of a particular mountain, that lurched over a particular city, on the north side of a wooded incline, there was a spacious cottage, and a tower.
The cottage crowded with trinkets and rarities; shelves squatted in dusty corners, cluttered with blue bottles and coral broaches, figurines of jade with pearl eyes, cloudy beads, knots of rough silk, and many locked chests and caskets with rust-hinged jaws. A sturdy table, polished and gleaming, lifted deep, pewter dishes, like a proffered hand. It was all color and brilliance, a dragon’s hoard of miscellaneous riches.
In contrast to this oasis of treasure, the cold gray tower rose out of the roots of rock like a fungal growth from the heart of the mountain. It was slightly crooked. Not enough to be noticed by a casual observer, but its wrongness pressed a dizzying tension onto the mind. A stranger happening upon it would perceive a growing sense of something not-quite-right, almost of nausea, like the unsettled feeling in the pit of the stomach the night before he falls ill.
In the daytime it stood, hollow as a gull’s bone. But when darkness threw out its corners—as it tends to do rather than fall, in places where trees huddle and turn their back on the sky—a yellow glow lit the slivered window at its very top, a puncture in the black stone; and a curl of smoke trickled out.
The Alchemist approached, not arrived. The old women could never come to consensus on the time of year or day.
He made his presence known in the creeping way of winter. Rumors arrive that it has been spotted on summer’s cusp, and it draws nearer. But no one can say when the boughs heavy with ripened blackberries shriveled and snapped, or when warmth took its leave without notice. The Alchemist’s mysterious wealth was thought to be an accumulation of decades (centuries! said the old women) of travel in lands east of east. He went to town once or twice a month, in thinning but persistent finery, and gathered necessities.
He spoke little. He never attended church.
Sometimes he would send for someone, a woodcutter or a tailor, and upon completing his business, he would return with accounts of golems in the cupboards, and coins sprouting from between the floorboards, like silver mushrooms.