That still, silent voice of warning in the back of Payton’s mind stirred her awake the morning of her first day. Forcing herself to push that voice to the side, she shuffled out of her bed and opened up the suitcase she brought with her. For some unexplainable reason, she didn’t feel quite ready to put on anything provided by The Brass Hearts just yet. Payton decided on a cream-colored button down shirt and rolled the sleeves up to her elbows, a dark green knee-high skirt, a brown cincher with crimson lacing, crimson stockings, and brown ankle boots. She then brushed out her red hair, put it up in a bun, and dragged herself to the dining hall for the morning meal while trying to keep her head from spinning in a vortex of foreboding and confusion.
After she finished her breakfast in the dining hall and made her way to her laboratory to begin her daily work, that disquieting voice continued to irk her. The elevator door slid open to the infirmary floor and she inched her way to the lab as if she expected some monstrous creature to be waiting for her, ready to attack her. Payton held her breath as she slid the key into the keyhole and unlocked the door. The room seemed much more ominous and eerie than it did the previous day. Payton cautiously walked up to the piece of paper on the countertop writing out her work for the day and picked it up. Panic and dread constricted her lungs as she read the list: purified unicorn blood, 3 grams of energy crystals, and liquidized mermaid scales. Of course, all of them were illegal potions. Payton dropped the paper to the floor and her knees buckled under the weight of the dreaded truth that crashed down on her. Everything made horrid sense now; the vagueness, the bizarre rules, and the insistence in joining. All her fears and suspicions were confirmed; this wasn’t a regular company, it was a criminal organization. Payton had to steady herself against the counter as she gasped for air. Just then, the door opened. Payton screamed and turned around faster than lightening, nearly jumping out of her own skin. In all her panic, Payton had almost forgotten that Jackson said her manager would come by to check up on her and show her the ropes. She blanched at the sight of a familiar brown haired satyr leering back at her.
“Ahh, if it isn’t the girl that swore she’d never do alchemy,” he jeered. “I see you read the work load for the day.” Payton sneered at his nonchalance.
“W-what kind of a business do you guys run anyway?” Payton spat out.
“A lucrative one,” Jess replied as he casually made his way toward Payton. “Now, unless you have any more questions, let’s get started. I’m to see to it that your work gets complete by the end of the day.” Payton shook her head as she strangled on a sob.
“I was told I was going to be making elixirs and medicine, not disgusting potions!” Payton choked out. The satyr clenched his jaw as he got down bottles and jars to set on the counter.
“And technically, that’s true. These things are elixirs and medicine to those who ask for them. Now as I said, we haven’t time to waste.”
“No, I’m not going to do it! I’m not going to be making potions!” Payton panicked. Jess stood in the way of the only exit out of the lab and side-stepped Payton’s attempt to leave.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Jess snickered. The look in Jess’ orange eyes was somewhere between menacing and amused. “Did you so easily forget that you’re not to stall on orders? Now, you’re going to do whatever we ask of you to because your life and the life of your brother depend on it.” He moved closer to Payton until he backed her up against the counter. “Oh, and don’t get any dumb-troll ideas about running away either. That location device in your wrist will tell us where you are and if even that doesn’t work, Jackson has back up. You belong to us now in every way, and if you dare step out of line, we will make sure you don’t forget it.” It didn’t take Payton very long to weigh the situation and conclude that, as of now, there was no way out of this. She gulped as her panic was melted by surrender.
“Okay,” she whimpered softly. “I’ll do it.” Jess smiled as he squeezed her shoulder.
“Just take a few slow deep breaths,” he instructed as he pulled out a pair of goggles and brown gloves from the near by drawer. “And put these on. I’ll go through a few things before I leave you to your work.” Payton averted her gaze as she gingerly put on her gloves and goggles.
“Now, what you won’t read in the books is that adding moon dust to the unicorn blood and slowly boiling it over low heat will purify unicorn blood even more than simply boiling it,” Jess rhapsodized while he opened up a large vial of red liquid, pouring it into a pot and turning the heat on the burner to low. “Now, be a dear and grab me the moon dust.” It disgusted Payton how he could talk about exploiting a creature’s blood the same way one would casually talk about their dreams and hobbies. Although purified unicorn blood was known to give people eternal youth, it also would eventually drive that person insane after they’ve outlived all their loved ones as well as their own dreams. Many people who have been seduced by the idea of its eternal youth had been driven to suicide, and yet it was still a hot commodity in the black market. The jar of moon dust sparkled and taunted her as she wrestled the lid open for Jess.
“How much?” Payton grunted.
“One spoonful,” He answered. “You do the honors. After all, you’ll be doing this on your own after today.” Payton gritted her teeth as she scooped out a spoonful and dropped it into the liquid and stirred it.
“Perfect. Now we let it simmer for several hours while we get started on the energy crystals.” Now Payton was no stranger to the adverse effects of energy crystals. Every so often, a poor soul would come stumbling into the apothecary with violent tremors and dripping blood from nearly scratching their skin off. People would smoke these crystals in hopes for energy at supernatural levels, but find themselves on the floor scratching their skin off, then coming back for more. “For the energy crystals, you’ll obviously see here in the instruction book to dip thread in pixie wing paste then soak it in lighter fluid for a few hours, but you’ll want to keep a safe distance from the jar of lighter fluid because a flame will burst when the paste comes in contact with the lighter fluid. It’s just a reaction. Observe.” Jess fixed his goggles over his eyes and slipped on some safety gloves. Once he was done dipping a thick thread into the jar of pixie wing paste, he tied the dry end of the thread to a metal stick and stayed several feet back from the jar of lighter fluid sitting on a counter away from the burner. Once he slowly placed the thread into the lighter fluid, a flame leaped out of the jar and dissipated in mid air. Payton reluctantly took the initiative and successfully followed suit with the next two threads. She’d never admit it out loud, but watching the flames leap into the air like spunky pixie ballerinas was entertaining.
“See what I mean? The job is relatively simple. Well, at least for someone like you,” Jess simpered. “It’s just like making the elixirs at your apothecary.” Payton had to fight the urge to go off on him and tell him that this was nothing like making medicine, but she knew it would do her no good. So she just settled for glaring at him. Jess slid his goggles up to rest on his head, showcasing the insolent look in his eyes.
“Oh don’t look at me like that, you know I’m right. Now I need to take care of other business. I trust that you’ll be able to handle things on your own from here. If you need anything, you know how to reach me. It takes two hours for those energy crystals to fully crystalize, by the way.” He paused for a moment when Payton let out a sorrowful sigh as she opened up one of the instruction books. “Aww, come now, cheer up love,” he caressed her cheek in mock gentleness, “working here isn’t so bad. You’ll see. Besides, I have a feeling you’re going to fit right in.” He peeled the gloves off of his hands and gave Payton an arrogant grin before he stepped out of the lab, leaving her alone to finish off the rest of the work.
“I’ll never fit in to this goblin pit,” Payton seethed as she located a timer to keep track of how long the unicorn blood was simmering and the energy crystals were sitting. She bit back a whimper as she opened up a book to find the instructions on how to liquidize the mermaid scales, which was the last thing on that list. That perverted satyr! Payton groaned in her mind, he just had to be my manager of all possible creatures! However, even that horrid reality paled to the fact that she had failed the only family she had left. Surely her parents were rolling in their grave right about now as she had failed them as well. The weight of that reality crushed her insides like a gold coin on a train track. “What have I done?” She choked out, “what have I done?”