The Four Intelligent Fools
All four of them sat around the fire, the first and second in their books, the third making their meal in the flames, and the fourth tinkering with the , or more accurately, producing wind around her for both practice and out of sheer boredom. The second and third resembled each other in that they were both young men with black hair with slightly different faces. The first and fourth resembled each other in that they were complete opposites. The first was a bald male, with his red hair having seemingly retreated to his lower face and jaw. His skin was slightly wrinkled, marking him around the age of forty. His eyes were small slits that sagged a little. His irises appeared as a dark brown. The fourth, on the other hand, was female with a full head of brown hair, with here face being young and smooth. Her eyes were wide open, showing the world the light brown that lied within them. They all seemed to ignore each other, too occupied with the what is in front of them.
The third was the first to break the silence, “All right, the rabbit stew is finished! Marcus! Pull that old mug of yours out of that philosophical trash. Smeg! Get over here before I start nagging you like mother did. Elise! Stop playing with the wind like a child and come sit down.” Marcus the first came reluctantly from his book with a frown on his face. Smeg the second rushed to the fire and was the first to grab a bowl. His mouth was salivating so much, some of it was starting to drip off the corner of his mouth. His brother the third just shook his head and glanced at Elise the fourth, who was the only one to take the log as her seat. Her face still held boredom in it. “Well, aren’t we a lovely family,” commented the third as he poured the stew into small tin bowls, “The grouchy old fart, the two brothers, yours truly being clever and the other being as dense as the honey he chokes on, and the rebellious girl who doesn’t like the family.” He finished passing the bowls around, finally pouring his own. He tasted the salts he had purchased in the town before. He regretted not buying more as this was rather dull and bitter tasting.
Marcus consumed his share slowly in small spoon-fulls, “Maybe I wouldn’t be so ‘grouchy’ if I wasn’t surrounded by a generation of fools who refused to think of the world around them and who called the works of great thinkers trash,” he gave the third a chastened look, “Marten.” He hadn’t taken kindly to Marten’s comment on Mikhael Sinowa’s The Double-edged Sword That is Communication. “Mikhail Sinowa is an archetype thinker whose example all should follow. His works in languages allowed him to unite hundreds of tribes into one nation. He is a true hero, one who used his tongue ass a substitute to a sword or an axe.” He left out what that nation ended up becoming. A drop of stew fell onto his faded yellow cloak. He mumbled a curse.
Smeg was already licking his bowl. When he was finished, he laid it down quite clumsily and picked up the book he had been reading, “Mikhael’s story is too dull though. Not nearly enough action. That’s why I prefer epics like this.” He patted his hand on the book. “The Tale of Alsra’s First and Only King. A masterpiece and a very true story.” Smeg recalled a moment from his childhood, when his mother, with her sweet smile and golden crown amulet, told him the story of Liam Sethous from the scriptures of Heaven. It was more censored as he was only eight at the time, but he never grew tired of Liam’s tale as more of it was revealed to him as he aged. He then remembered her being trampled by a garrison of Joklan knights that rode through one day and the memory was soured with sadness.
Annoyance altered Marten’s expression has he ate the stew. Placed his bowl down and said to his brother, “Smeg, for the last time, not everything from the House of Heaven is credible! That story could have been simple propaganda created to draw in their hordes of believers.” Smeg’s thoughts became more sour as he was now insulted. He now just looked at the ground. Marten took another bite of his stew. It was more bitter than before, as well as his attitude, “And besides, Marcus wasn’t referring to Mikhael’s life story. He was talking about the works that Mikhael had written himself or at least inspired, which are only a step above garbage, as I consider them only useless.” He took another bite of the stew. Still bitter.
The older man took another small bite, not even half way through his bowl, “Useless? How can literature that shapes your views of the world be useless?” He refused to be insulted by someone half his age and supposed wisdom.
“Because in the end, all you have accomplished is a thought. ‘Yes, now you can tell people about it and enlighten them. It’s not as if they already have their own beliefs,’” he said with a mocking tone and sarcasm. “Perhaps if you would focus your attention to a tome concerning the laws of the ethereal world and its specific aspects, Hirjelm University would actually recognize you.” Like they recognized me? he thought regrettingly. He brought his spoon up for another bitter bite, but was surprised to have tasted nothing. He checked to see if his bowl still had any stew in it, which it did. He looked up to find both Marcus and Smeg chuckling to themselves. His brother nodded side ways towards Elise, whose bored expression was now at least complimented with a smile.
“What the hell? Do you have nothing better to do than to blow my food away?” he yelled frustratingly. He was gripping his teeth now. This hadn’t been the first time Elise had chosen to toy with his food with her damned wind magic.
Elise shrugged, “Excuse me for breaking the tension. I calculating that three of us being happy and one being distraught was better than all of us being distraught.” She delved her spoon in to the stew for consumption, but the moment she brought it up, it was taken from her hand by an imperceptible force and splashed into her stew. It splattered onto her white shirt, leaving a dark stain. She looked up to find that Marten was now the one grinning with the others.
Her light toned skin flashed red and her face became a monument to both embarrassment and anger. “You wretched bitch!” She charged forward, applying wind behind her to increase her acceleration. Within less than a fourth of a second she had brought her left leg up and kicked Marten in the chin with the toe of her shoe. Marten fell back with a grunt, followed by a moan from his upper front teeth ramming his lower lip.
Marten sat up, tasting his blood. The blood, he remarked, also tasted bitter. He got up and charged Elise. The wind magician tried using her wind magic again, but found her self heavier now, as if she was being punched towards the ground. However, Marten took the pleasure of bringing her there as he tackled her. They were now both on the ground, struggling with each other. Both grabbed the others collar, both reached back with their right fist, both of their faces held the same violent intention, with Elise beneath Marten. This was not unusual for them, it seemed, as Marcus just continued to eat his stew ever so calmly.
Smeg, however, didn’t share the old man’s opinion, “Would you two just stop it! This gets us nowhere.” He came between the two quarrelsome magicians, struggling to push them away. Seconds after intervening, he managed to push them away from each other. Smeg stood up and glanced at both of them, wondering why the two of them despised the other so. “Can we not get along? I mean, we are doing this for the benefit of us all, right?” He looked down at Elise and his eyes found the top of her shirt was torn. He blushed and averted his eyes as they creeped down the tear to the beginning out line of her breasts. Damn it, Smeg, don’t do that! You know what your brother said. “Attraction to her will only lead to a broken heart and possibly a broken body."
Elise came to her feet and walked back to her log with discontent. If it wasn’t for these “benefits”, she would have left this project a weeks ago. However, just as with all of them, if events went accordingly, then they would all gain much respect at the University. Maybe a visit from the Lord Master himself, she thought excitedly, knowing that such an honor could be the turning point of her life.
Marten reassumed his spot by the fire, only to realize that his dinner had been splattered all over the ground. Bitter as it was, he would not stand for the hunger that laid within him!
Elise noticed Marten’s misfortune. She picked up her own bowl, of which she had yet to even touch, and handed it to Marten. Marten, who was a little surprised to see this, took the meal. “Thank you.” He noticed how cold it was but didn’t mind, as the fire did little to improve its taste. He did, however, mind when he found he couldn’t even pull the spoon out on account for it being yoked to the frozen stew. He looked up and caught Elise's smile, “Are these childish jokes of yours the only thing that comforts you, or is it just me?”
Elise shrugged, “It’s just you.” She decided to ditch the log and sat down by the fire, joining the group.
Marcus finished his stew. “Now if you are done with your squabbling, we have work to do,” he announced. He reached into the pack next to him and pulled out a large roll of paper and some spectacles. He flattened them and began examining the first sheet after applying his lenses. “Let’s review first. Smeg, why are we here?”
“To create an homunculus, of course.”
“All right, but why here? If it was to simply create an homunculus, we could have simple set a room and create the being through one of the few processes listed in books.”
“Uh..? Because…this is…suitable ground?” He looked around at the trees and nearby mountain. Maybe it’s a nature thing? He thought
Marcus sighed and shook his head. Why is he apart of this? Even he must know how inadequate he is for this. But he already knew the answer. Marten wouldn’t agree to this joint effort otherwise, and his knowledge and expertise with magic is required.
Marten saw that this would get them no where. “In this area, the oh so lovely northwestern region of Jokla, lies a theorized cave with a theorized tomb in it. Within this theorized tomb is a theorized prison for a theorized soul that is theoretically powerful.” He turned to Elise, passing off the role of speaker to her.
“Within the thousands upon thousands of books dedicated to magic, there are a handful of books that concern the creation of homunculi. The number of these books barely surpass fifty, if even that many. Half these books contain only hypotheses that prove wrong when tested. The other half contain only a handful of plausible methods, of which the number of them doesn’t even surpass my hand. These methods include a ritual involving necromancy, a process involving the use of both magic and alchemy, and a inhumane method involving the growth of a soulless newborn babe inside a woman.” She turned to Smeg, then upon realizing who he was, turned to Marcus.
Marcus cleared his throat, “Of these three methods, only the publisher responsible for the combination of both magic and alchemy method has gained fame, though he or she refused to give his or her name when publishing the work. The other two names were executed and were expunged from all texts. On top of that, the creation of the homunculus has been deemed as immoral by the House of Heaven, who have always conflicted with the ideals of magicians. As such, common folk come to view the homunculus as little more than an abomination, a soulless crime against life itself.” He turned his head towards Marten, who was chipping away at his frozen stew.
Marten realized it was his turn. “The question asked is: what if the homunculus was created with a soul? The laws of the universe dictate that when a new life is created, the ethereal world connects a soul to it, thus making all living beings an inter median between the material and ethereal world. If the homunculus is hated because of the lack of a soul, would it still be hated if it was created with a soul?” He once again turned to Elise.
She held her head up with her right arm, showing she was bored. “Hypothetically speaking, if the creator of the homunculus were to acquire a soul within the material before it went back to the ethereal world and then place it within a host he has already constructed, then he would have created an artificial human with a soul. And, since this soul once belonged to another human, it can almost be viewed as a version of resurrection.” She smiled at the thought of people talking about “the woman who holds the power to bring life back.” Too wordy for her preferences, but a proper title could be thought of later. Elise signaled it was once again Marcus’ turn.
Marcus nodded to his companions, “It seems we perfectly understand then. Tomorrow, we march there,” he gestured towards the mountain, “and we find this cave that may or may not exist. Smeg, go get Siegmeyer.” He made some more gestures with his hands.
Smeg did as he was told and trotted over to their supplies. He hated being ordered around like some lap dog, did Smeg. Sure, he wasn’t as smart as all the others. Sure his magical abilities were no where near that of his brother’s or his object of infatuation’s. Sure, he wasn’t as learned in history or other thinker aspects as Marcus was. But he was a human being, damn it! He wanted respect from his peers, or in better words, wished for respect. It was a rather unfulfillable wish.
He found Siegmeyer, lying in the center of their supplies, as lifeless as one can be. He looked at Siegmeyer’s empty face where his empty eyes and empty mouth were housed. Marten had done a good job constructing the face, as well as the body. Marten had yet to thank his younger brother for gathering the proper alchemic properties. He hadn’t even paid him back for the supplies he bought. Elise was also guilty of it too, always using her charm to persuade Smeg into doing menial tasks for her. If they treat you as a pack mule for their own doings, I won’t stand for it. I’ll… I’ll draw the line there!
His companions began to gripe and send him rather hurtful verbal messages that said to hurry up. He scowled and picked up Siegmeyer, dragging him to the fire.
When Siegmeyer was laid out by the fire, the other’s came to examine the husk. They had clothed him as to not draw suspicion from villages they may have passed through. It was also to the comfort of Smeg as who in their right mind would choose to carry a full grown naked man?
Marten lifted up the shirt to check for any scrapes or damages that may have been inflicted by the road. He didn’t find any on the torso, nor did he find any on the legs. He did come across a scrape on the left wrist. It was barely worthy of the name wound as it wasn’t even deep enough to bleed. Still, Marten was infuriated.
“Damn it, Smeg! I told you to be careful!” He picked up the wrist and brought it abruptly close to Smeg’s face, “Do you see this? That is a scratch. I remember specifically requesting you not to bring harm of any caliber to the host.” Marten pushed closely to his brother, causing Smeg to fall backwards. Marten released Siegmeyer’s hand and raised his own to punish Smeg for his insolence. Smeg cowered and covered his face, Not again, he thought. Marten’s fist came down, only to hit a hard glass like material that had grown on Elise’s arm.
Marcus and Elise heard his hand crack, and Marten had also felt it. When his hand ricocheted off the hard material, Marten felt pain through his hand and arm and cried out in response. He held his hand and examined it. His ring and middle finger were both crooked and jagged. His palm had a small lump sticking out like a wart. He knelt down and tried to nurse the pain but failed to abate it and unintentionally reversed his efforts.
Smeg looked up to see what had happened. He saw Elise standing in front of him. Her left arm fell back to her side, and Smeg saw the light blue crystal dissipate into small shards, then dust. Elise turned and looked down at Smeg with a smile. She offered him her hand, “Don’t worry, Smeg, he won’t get the chance to harm you while I’m around, nor will anyone or anything else.”
Smeg blushed and he nervously took Elise’s hand. This wasn’t the first time she had protected him from danger. When they had stopped to rest in one of the village taverns they had passed, Smeg had nearly gotten spine bent in two by some overgrown oaf of a thug. Something about Smeg’s ears had irked the lowlife into a drunken rage. Before he could even touch Smeg, the tankard he had been holding froze to his hand. He began shouting curses as he struggled to rip the yoked cup from his hand. Elise then came up and groped the man, freezing him there as where. They had to see themselves out quickly that night. Elise told Smeg that why they were thrown out was to be kept between the two of them. There were times before that when Elise had protected him as well. Whether she was sincere or pitying him, Smeg did not know.
“I’ll teach you, you…” Marten was cut off by a crystal shard that flew by his head. It made a loud thunk as it the tree behind him. His anger was now replaced with shock. Elise just stood by Smeg now, looking at Marten with pitying eyes. Pity? No, that wasn’t it. Perhaps callous? He knew though that he had lost. No trick with gravity could stop those crystal projectiles of hers, let alone break them. Elise was also able to resist his gravity manipulation to an extent, showing a strong and stern soul. Marten knew he was a poor match for her power’s capabilities.
Marten looked at his hand again. That swing was meant to bruise and punish Smeg. Instead it had cracked and now laid broken before him. If he couldn’t use both of his hands, he would be almost useless to his group. They would be running chest deep into Heaven knows what and none of them could afford to watch over poor Marten and his crippled hand. Marten cringed at the thought. No, damn it! I was the one who gathered these people. I may not have Elise’s potential, but to Hell with it all if I’m to hand threins to her! He found his teeth grinding and stopped. He had already chipped a tooth in one of his recent fits. Who am I convincing? I’m through. Finished. He imagined the shame of walking back the the university empty handed, with only a bandaged caste to show for his efforts. Pathetic.
“Smeg, go heal your brother’s hand. Remember the techniques I taught you.” With the order from Elise, Smeg approached Marten and kneeled towards his injured hand. Smeg positioned his own hands inches away from the momentary deformity, curving them around it, and a blue light began to emit from Smeg’s palms.
At first, Marten flinched as the energy began its way into his hand, but he immediately grew used to the tingles, to the pinches and clicks as his two jagged fingers began to take their correct form again. He made a grunt when the light began its work on the small lump in his palm. It was as if he was reliving some of the pain, but not all of it. The lump went back up and Marten’s hand looked efficient once more. There was a slight tingle through his arm as the bone was mended, though nothing beyond uncomfortable. When all was well again, Smeg’s hands retreated back to his side. He fell back off his knee onto his arse and sighed. The work had tired his soul, thus tiring his body.
Marten moved his hand in every possible way, checking to see if it was functioning properly. He found nothing of the sorts to complain about.
Marten met Smeg’s eyes and vice versa. He never knew his brother had been practicing the arts of regeneration and healing, especially receiving guidance from the woman who seemed to be the bane of his existence. Marten had tried to teach Smeg his own arts: creation magic and gravity manipulation. Smeg, however, proved too incompetent for these areas. One would think brothers would be able to make the same connections to the same plane, but it appeared to Marten that it had been he himself who had received the stronger soul.
It seemed now though that Smeg may have received a stern one himself.
Marcus let out a loud grown, easing the tension that had risen throughout the camp. “Well, I suppose if you are all done with your petty squabbles, we should try to get some rest,” he rose up a bowl, Marten’s, as apparent by the iced over stew, in a half-hearted toast, “For tomorrow, we either mark ourselves as great and wise magicians,” he dropped the bowl into the fire, “or scorch ourselves with shame and embarrassment.”
The old man closed his eyes, concentrating his thoughts and soul. A green light encircled the encampment, rising from it particles of light like embers from a flame. Marcus released his breath, suddenly tired from setting the enchantment. It was a necessity, he told himself. Without it, they would be easy pickings for the wolves that prowled the woods. The thought of those beasts sinking their teeth into his stomach, ripping out the stew he had yet to digest, with him screaming for the others like a beaten child screams for his mother, was less than appealing to him.
They all assumed there spots for sleep. Marten took his by the fire and closed his eyes, waiting for the horrible night to end. Smeg took Siegmeyer back to their stash of equipment and laid him gently in the middle, making sure he was at least handled like a human being. Smeg slept by the stash and found sleep and comforting dreams of mother quickly. Marcus pulled out the book he had been attending for the trip and continued through it. He pressed on, but sleep took hold of him before he could conclude his mental philosophical journey into the ideals of peace created by a man who was less than dust now. Elise was the last to fall to sleep, for her dreams were up in the night sky, embodying the very stars. She fixated her sight to a small blank speck where no star had yet to call its home and declared that that would be her spot, that she would shine brighter than the others, that she would escape her normal life, would rewrite her normal upbringing, would throw away her normal talents and replace them all with unique and grand content worthy of history and legends alike.
For that was the promise a young girl had made to herself all those years ago.