Skeletons at the Apothecary

Long before the first rays of the sun had brushed the dewy blades of grass, a lone, hooded figure was out upon the plains, satchel by her side and a small knife strapped to her belt. She knew which ingredients had to be picked before dawn and where to find each of them.

She was an apothecary – the only one in the nearby town that she called home. Many moons ago, when she first arrived, the townsfolk had treated her with a cautious distrust. She was, after all, a mysterious figure – naught was known about her, not even her true name.

Hard times fell upon the town not long after, as war broke out and the land was ravaged by plague and famine. It was only because of her vast reserves of knowledge that the town was able to survive the onslaught. It was around that time that the town warmed up to her. Eventually, she became a central figure of the town – a lifeblood pillar. Yet she remained the enigma that she always was.

So, there she was, ever the lonely figure, a shadow haunting those lush plains. The mysterious hero of the town. But in truth, she was holding back. She could never do for the town as much as she would like to. She dared not call the attention of the Inquisition upon herself or the town. At least, not yet. She had fled enough towns to know what became of them at the hands of the Inquisition.

She played, therefore, the part of the cold, unsympathetic devil who cared little for the town and its well-being. She had lived in that town longer than anywhere else, but that time was drawing swiftly to a close. She would have to flee once more, she knew. It was for that very reason that she was out, gathering… possibly for the last time among those familiar plains.

When she returned, the sun was high above the horizon, and one of her regular customers – an elderly lady who suffered, quite frequently, from joint aches – was waiting to refill her prescription. She took a moment to put away the freshly gathered ingredient – she would organise them later – and began to prepare the medicine.

As she handed over the carefully prepared vials, she did something so uncharacteristic of herself, that she, too, was surprised. She offered the lady advice not asked for. She asked the old lady to flee the town, as far as she possibly could. As soon as she possibly could. The old lady might have dismissed the thing as a joke if not for the grim expression with which she spoke.

After the old lady left, she cursed and let out an exasperated sigh. It was not that she did not want more skeletons in her closet. It was simply that there was no room left for more.

A tormented and bitter half-smile haunted her face a few nights later. Her preparations were complete and she was ready to leave. The Inquisition was coming and she was ready to settle her debts.

As she walked away from the town, she did not turn back. Not once. It was her final act as an alchemist. No one would know who she was, but she would be remembered. The town would serve as a monument to her genius… her rage-fuelled, malicious and incredibly meticulous genius.

A villain took birth and died that night… but so did a hero. Did she have any regrets?

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