"Ugh, Emmy, I'm not sure if I can pull this off..."
The Maraquan Carma doesn't say anything.
It's an hour until dawn in the camp of the Ixi Raiders of Cogham, and Mer is about to lose his mind. That is, if he hasn't completely lost it already. "Emmy, where did I put the Spyder venom? Please tell me I didn't toss it in the wrong bowl..." But, again, the Maraquan Carma doesn't say anything.
Not that being royal sorcerer and apothecary for the Ixi Raiders isn't fun and all, but Mer tends to bite off more than he can chew when it comes to projects. The transparent Ixi sorcerer has been clumsily trotting his way around his messy hut, tossing ingredients and trinkets all about the floor, talking to his pet Carma, Emmy, as if she would be able to help him out. Emmy is a good listener, that's for sure, but she's not much help when it comes to locating missing ingredients.
Mer awkwardly gets on his two pairs of knees to look into a cupboard by his hooves for any sign of the missing venom, but to no avail. He tosses his messily braided hair over his shoulder, then stands back up — turns around, then gets on his knees again.
"Aha!" He manages to find the delicate glass vial of deadly green liquid hiding amongst the dust Cybunnies underneath an old bureau. Any sane person would probably be thinking, Gee, I should probably keep better track of my deadly poisons, but not Mer. Mer has more important things to worry about, like making sure he can finish both of these recipes in time...
He uncorks the vial with his teeth — again, a decision any sane person would definitely not do — then skilfully drips exactly three drops into the ancient black cauldron that is slowly bubbling above a firepit to his right. The venom sizzles and snaps from within the rest of the brew, and a plume of black smoke begins to rise into the air, escaping through the smoke hole in the roof. Corking the vial again, Mer stares intensely at the smoke with his fingers crossed, waiting, waiting, waiting... then, a shimmer of green rises into the cloud. "Yes! Good! We did it, Emmy!" he shouts to his Carma, but, again, she doesn't say anything. "Okay, next, I need, uh..." he trots over to the table where his many potion and recipe books lie, then flips through some pages of a well-loved, cream-coloured tome until he finds his second recipe. "I need... uh... ah! Buttermilk! Of course, how could I forget?" He dashes across the room to a frost-enchanted cabinet where he keeps perishable ingredients, then digs through it for a few seconds. Icy Negg, nope. Chilled eyeballs, nuh-uh. Wibreth eggs, nah. Mouldy custard, frostbitten Blumaroo steak, blue woowoo grubs... "Ah! There you are, you sneaky buttermilk!" And he pulls a large jar out of the chilly cupboard and trots back across the room.
Emmy watches him with a wide-eyed interest from within the confines of her saltwater tank. She's just as curious about his odd antics as anyone else would be.
Mer grabs a measuring cup from a shelf above where his second concoction lies, then measures out three quarters of a cup. He holds it at eye level, staring intently as he pours, making sure the measurement is perfect... But then, "Meretseger, are you finished?"
Mer's deep bass voice shoots up about three octaves as he lets out a rather embarrassing "eep!" He spins around in terror, dropping the measuring cup, but managing to keep a hold of the jar of milk. Standing in the threshold to his hut is one of the tribe's finest warriors: a nut-brown, broad-shouldered, battlescarred Ixi by the name of Ajani.
The buttermilk Mer had been pouring splatters messily across the dirty floor, but, thankfully, nothing is ruined by it. Mer throws his now-empty hand over his chest, trying to steady his racing pulse. Ajani can see through Mer's transparent skin just how much he had terrified him — his heart is beating like crazy. The warrior snickers a couple times, then looks back up to Mer's black and hazel eyes, cocking an eyebrow when he sees that Mer is looking incredibly guilty. He expects the young sorcerer to respond, but he doesn't. Ajani's expression turns from amused to purely puzzled. "Uh, are you alright?" he asks, his tone only half-concerned.
"Uh..." Mer looks to the black cauldron to his right, then behind him to the counter where a glass mixing bowl sits, still eager for that buttermilk. He picks up the measuring cup he'd dropped and tosses it in a bin full of messy dishes, then grabs a clean cup from the shelf behind him. He begins to pour the milk again. "Yes! Yes, I am fine, sir, I uh..." He trots to the cauldron to make sure everything is still looking alright — thankfully it is — then darts back to the glass bowl and carefully pours the milk inside. "I'm just... a little behind schedule..."
Ajani snorts. "I can see that," he says, crossing his arms. Mer was supposed to have that delirium brew ready by now, but he can see that it's barely halfway done. He shakes his head as he watches the scatterbrained sorcerer flip through some pages in his books until he finds his first recipe again. "The boss is growing impatient, Meretseger," Ajani says, and Mer cringes at the warrior's words. He knows that. He didn't need to be told. The chief has about the same amount of patience when waiting for anything as King Skarl has when waiting for his evening banquets — which is, to say, absolutely none. Ajani sees the nearly-invisible fur on the nape of Mer's neck stand on edge at the sound of the hidden threat, and he snorts again. "How much longer, boy?" he asks.
"Uh..." Mer finally finds the page he was looking for, then throws open a chest by his hooves and starts rifling through stale-smelling ingredients and long-dead petpetpets. "Gimme, like... I dunno, just a little more time?"
Ajani sighs. The warrior's patience is truly saintly, but even he grows nervous in the face of the chief's frustration. "Mer, it was supposed to be done by now..." he mutters.
Mer pulls a long vine of snowberries out of the chest, then darts over to the cauldron again, grabbing a charred wooden spoon off of the floor as he goes. "I know, I know, I know," he repeats over and over as he begins to stir the contents of the pot, then slowly drops the berries in one by one. "I'm just... I don't know, but I know, you know?"
Ajani makes a puzzled face, but... at least Mer is working. He sighs again. "I'll let the boss know," he says, turning to look out into the blackness of the early morning. "Just... try to hurry up, will you? For your own sake..."
Mer cringes again as he drops one last berry into the vat. The brew begins to boil more violently, each broken bubble sending a sweet-smelling cloud into the air. Mer nods frantically as he stirs. "Yes, yes, of course," he says. "I won't let you guys down."
"Alright... I'll let the boss know..." Ajani shakes his head as Mer's fingers slip and he almost drops his spoon into the nasty liquid, but he manages not to. The warrior then turns to leave.
As the sound of Ajani's hoofsteps disappears, Mer lets out a frustrated groan, then shakes some of the rancid slime off of his spoon and sets it on a table beside the cauldron. "Emmy, come on, help me out here," he says.
The Carma does a little flip in her tank. Mer assumes that's petpet talk for, How do you expect me to help? He giggles to himself, then answers to "Emmy's" response. "Fine, fine, you're off the hook, but, like... I dunno, give me some support, or something."
The Carma splashes loudly a few times in response.
Mer runs back to his book table, checks his recipes, then starts muttering to himself, "Coconut, coconut, coconut..." He runs circles around the room, checking each chest and drawer and shelf for the apparently incredibly elusive ingredient. "I know I have shaved coconut around here somewhere. You saw it, right, Emmy?" — the Carma doesn't respond — "Like, I just had it two seconds ago. Uh..." He makes two more useless laps around the room, then eventually finds a small jar of fresh coconut shavings right above where the mixing bowl is. "Of course... right in front of my nose..." he mumbles tiredly to himself, then quickly drops the jar's contents into the bowl and stirs gently.
A few more minutes pass as he gathers more things — chopped pecans, into the bowl. Diced purple juppies, into the cauldron. Two teaspoons of vanilla, into the bowl. Ten drops of Droolik drool, into the bowl— "Woah! No, no, nonono..." Mer manages to stop himself before making the huge mistake. He runs to the other side of the room and drops the Droolik drool into the vat. "Emmy, I can't believe you almost let me do that. It would have ruined it!"
Emmy blows some angry bubbles at him. He ignores her sassy response — what he assumes is petpet talk for, Hey man, that would have been on you!
The smoke from the potion turns purple for a few seconds as the drool dissolves. Perfect.
One, two, three more minutes of stirring the syrupy brew, then it's back to the glass bowl. He's practically done with that half of the day's projects now. He digs through a pile of cooking utensils until he finds a clean tin, then pours the contents of the bowl inside. He shakes it gently until it lies even, then trots over to his oven to place the batter inside. Once done, he breathes a sigh of relief... then, Ajani's voice again: "The boss says you have half an hour."
Mer's "eep!" is more of a shout this time. It's so aggressive that it makes Ajani take a few shocked steps back and instinctively reach for the spear holstered to his back. Mer falls back against the oven, almost burns his hands, but manages to let go in time to save his skin. His pulse starts racing again. Ajani's gaze keep darting between the sorcerer's thundering heart and his panicked eyes. This time, there's no amusement in the warrior's tone as he speaks. "Meretseger, what are you doing?" he asks.
Mer stutters a bit. He turns to look at Emmy's tank, but manages to catch himself before saying, "Emmy, you tell him," which would have been incredibly embarrassing. He then catches a glimpse of his cauldron. The smoke has begun to die down, and he gasps in shock. At least he knows what he has to add next. "Uhh..." He darts across the room at full speed, skidding to a halt in front of a few shelves lined with vials of this-and-that, then pulls out a small jar of spicy Meowclops whiskers. "I'm just... doing my job, sir," Mer says as he opens the jar and counts out exactly six whiskers. He drops them into the vat, then looks over at Ajani. The warrior has his arms crossed and is tapping one of his front hooves against the dirty floor condescendingly. Still, Mer tries to have faith in his answer — it isn't necessarily a lie, after all. "...What?" he asks.
Ajani sighs again. "Meretseger Anubia, what are you doing?" he reiterates, more irritated this time, and Mer cringes at the sound. His superiors using his full name is never a good thing...
Mer embarrassedly trots back to the shelf — puts the whiskers away, then grabs a mug of steamed ectoplasm. "I'm working on Chief's... stuff..." he says as he spins back around, then makes his way over to the vat. He measures out a tablespoon's worth of the ectoplasm, drops it in the cauldron, then looks back towards Ajani.
The warrior's expression hasn't changed at all.
Mer's focus begins to dart quickly between Ajani's frustrated green eyes and the oven across the room. The brightness of the sorcerer's hazel irises against the dead black of his skull makes the saccadic movements all the more obvious. Ajani cocks an eyebrow again. "Why do you keep looking at the kiln?" he asks.
"Because, uh..." Mer looks over and back again. "I have... stuff in it..." he says. When Ajani looks unimpressed with the answer, Mer tries to fake confidence. "Duh," he adds, sticking his tongue out slightly as he trots back to the shelf and puts away the ectoplasm.
Ajani's sighing is only continuing to become more and more irritated. It's practically a language of its own at this point. He shakes his head disapprovingly. "What is it?" he asks.
Emmy splashes a few times in her tank, and Mer shushes her loudly. He then looks over to Ajani, who looks ridiculously embarrassed seeing the sorcerer talking to his petpet... but, whatever. He's allowed to talk to his Carma if he wants to. He walks back to the cauldron and begins to stir the brew again. He tries to maintain his confident façade. "Ingredients, sir," he says. "Magic stuff. That's my job, after all. If I explained it, it would only bore you. You're a combat expert, not an apothecary, right?"
Ajani narrows his eyes slightly, but he's almost impossible to offend. Mer knows this, so his tone remains infallible. Ajani watches him stir his brew for a few more seconds, looks back to the oven, then lets out one final, theatrical sigh before reiterating his first statement: "You have thirty minutes."
Mer whips his head up, a bright, snaggletoothed grin across his nearly-invisible lips. "Pefect!" he shouts, a little too enthusiastically, then immediately slams his jaw shut when he sees how shocked and confused Ajani now looks at the outburst. Mer tries to remedy the situation before Ajani asks any more questions. "That's, uh, just as much time as I need to finish the delirium brew," he says.
Ajani just waves a hand impassively. He can't take much more of this. "Sure it is, Meretseger," he says, then turns to leave once more, muttering one last, "Half an hour," over his shoulder.
Mer throws his head back melodramatically and moans at the ceiling. "Emmy, why didn't you help me out with that?" he asks his Carma.
Emmy blows angry bubbles again.~
"Four... three... two... one... Done...! Hopefully...!"
Mer throws open the oven, and the sweet smell of fresh baking fills the room, overwhelming the sickness from the poison in the vat. Cloaking his hands in a strong spell to prevent burning, he pulls the pan out, sets it on top of the table, then channels a decently-strong frost spell to speed up the cooling process. He's running out of time...
"Emmy, help me out," he says nervously, but the Carma doesn't respond. She's sick of his useless begging. "Emmy, I don't know if I can pull this off..."
At least he's practically done with half of his work. His half hour is almost up, but he's pretty sure he will have just enough time to get the potion done... He just needs to stay focused...
He glances over at his cauldron to make sure everything still looks good, then pulls a fancy platter out from his pile of dishes. He flips the tin upside down until the delicious-smelling cake inside plops out nicely, and he lets out an amused squeak of laughter as he sees it's baked perfectly. "So far so good," he mumbles to himself, then quickly runs over to his shelves again, grabbing an apple lantern and throwing it over his shoulder into the vat, Sophie the Swamp Witch-style. He smiles smugly when he hears it splash perfectly into the brew. He then grabs a freshly-whipped bowl of cream cheese frosting off of the counter to his left and makes his way back to his cake.
Two, three, four minutes more, and it's all nicely frosted. He checks his cauldron, makes sure everything is still boiling correctly, tosses the leftover frosting — bowl and all — into the potion, then grabs a fork from his dishes and spins around, excitedly admiring his work. Pleased with himself, and with just enough time left to finish the rest of his work, he looks up... and finds himself staring straight into the rageful red glare of the Chief of the Ixi Raiders.
Mer flat-out screams this time, but — thank Fyora — he manages to keep a tight hold of the platter. The chief is completely unfazed by the yelling. He's impossible to startle. Still, his glare couldn't get any more corrosive. He's absolutely fuming. Mer doesn't know what to say. He doesn't know what to do. So he does the stupid thing — holds the cake out for the chief, puts on his sunniest smile, then excitedly — maybe a little too excitedly — says, "Happy birthday!"
The chieftain is never caught off guard... except in this moment. He was about to give Mer the scolding of a lifetime for not being done with his work, but... "You, uh... remembered?" The ashy black Ixi has never looked more puzzled. His expression softened instantly at the sound of the two simple words. His gruff tenor lightened in his throat before he could even speak.
Mer's smile only grows more radiant. "Of course, boss!" he says proudly, clopping his heels together loudly to stand straighter and more respectfully. "I'm part of the royal circle, aren't I? This is a very important date!"
For just the teeniest, tiniest second, Mer sees the edges of the chief's lips curl up in a smile... but it fades almost immediately. His practically permanent scowl returns tenfold as he sees the cauldron behind his sorcerer still bubbling slowly. "This is what you have been doing instead of working?" he asks, his tone darkening to pitch.
Mer's glowing smile begins to fade. "I... I mean, I was doing both..." he says, his voice falling, guiltily kicking one of his back hooves against the floor.
The chief snarls. "Meretseger Anubia," he begins, and Mer can already tell he is in for a huge, angry lecture... "you are pushing your luck here. You were instructed to finish that potion before dawn, and the sun has already begun to crest over the hills of Brightvale. The thieves who have stolen my axe will be awakening soon, and we should have struck their camp hours ago!"
Mer's ears begin to droop. He purses his lips embarrassedly. The chief continues his rant without acknowledging the young sorcerer's drastic change in demeanour. "We need to leave immediately if we want any chance of success, but we can't begin without that delirium poison for our archers' arrows. The thieves could be mobilising already! This whole morning could be a lost cause because of you!"
Mer looks away, his embarrassment staining his transparent cheeks a shade rosier.
The chief keeps chastising him through gritted teeth. "And beyond the fact that this mission is now at risk, you should not be disobeying my orders. You were lucky to be allowed into our tribe, let alone the royal circle. Outsiders are not permitted entry, and haven't been for hundreds of years. You know this, Meretseger. I made an exception for you, yet you are still disobedient!" He takes a few aggressive steps forward, but still, Mer remains unmoving — just looking to the ground to his right. The chief jabs one angry, clawed finger into Mer's chest as he continues. "This is your last warning, Meretseger, or you will be out without a second glance. We don't have time for these sorts of games. We don't... have..."
The chief's voice suddenly trails off, and he begins to slowly lower his hand. Mer is afraid to look up, but his curiosity gets the best of him. He hears the chief sniff a few times, and he raises his eyes in response, curious as to what managed to silence the furious black Ixi. The chief's expression is still dark, his ears pressed back angrily, but his gaze has softened almost completely. He's focusing on the cake in Mer's hands again. "Is, uh..." The chief looks almost... embarrassed... "Is that... carrot cake?" he asks sheepishly.
Mer is absolutely bewildered, but his hope begins to return with the sound of the lightness in the chief's tone. Still, his confusion causes his voice to get stuck in his throat for a few seconds. "Uhm... Yes, boss," he finally manages to say, still keeping his voice hushed.
The chief doesn't raise his eyes. He swallows hard — awkwardly. He's trying to keep the furious expression on his face, but he's failing miserably. "That's, uh... my favourite kind of cake," he mumbles, more to himself than to his wayward sorcerer.
Mer's smile finally begins to return, and his ears perk up again. "I know, boss," he says, his expression brightening. "That's why I made it."
The chief finally looks into the transparent Ixi's black and hazel eyes. The pride that swims in Mer's smiling gaze chases away the last remaining hints of the chief's fury — much to his dismay. He swallows hard again. "You, uh... remembered that, too?" he asks.
Mer nods excitedly. "Of course, boss," he says. "I mean... you're important, you know. Being chief and all. I gotta know my liege, right?"
Emmy has stuck her nose out of her tank and is watching the scene unfold with an intense curiosity. She can't understand what is happening — what they are saying — but she can tell it's important.
The chief keeps looking — well, glaring, actually — into Mer's eyes, but then, he lets out a frustrated breath, relaxing his shoulders and unlocking his knees. He shouldn't be okay with this, but...
He takes the plate gently from Mer's hands, then smiles to himself as he catches another whiff of the delicious cake. The chief never smiles. Ever. That just makes Mer's heart flutter more excitedly. He hopes that means he's not gonna get exiled...
The chief shakes his head, frustrated with himself just as much as he is with the rest of the situation, then gives in to the temptation — takes a bit out of the cake, smiling again when he finds it tastes just as wonderful as it smells.
He finally looks back up to Mer, but he can't seem to stay angry anymore. It was kind of a sweet gesture, honestly. Plus, nobody ever bothers to notice things like birthdays or favourite foods, except for this odd young apothecary. He supposes he can make an exception. It's not like anyone else in the stuffy tribe would ever do something so kind.
The chief lets out another frustrated breath, then lifts one hand to aggressively tousle Mer's hair. "You're alright, kid," he mumbles, and Mer giggles his bassy giggle as he pulls away to try and fix his tangled curls. "Sorry for, uh, yelling," the chief says as he takes another bite of the cake. "But don't disobey me again."
"Cross my heart I won't, boss," Mer says, standing straight and holding his fist over his heart in a respectful salute.
The chief shakes his head one last time, then turns to leave. "You have until I'm finished with this," he says. "I want that potion done immediately."
"Yes, boss!" Mer says with a newly-found confidence, then quickly spins around to throw the last few ingredients into the cauldron.
As the sound of the chief's heavy hoofsteps disappears out the door, Mer lets out an amused squeak, clenching his tongue between his teeth. "See, Emmy? I told you I could pull it off."
The Maraquan Carma doesn't say anything.