I dipped my hand into the doom vat and tasted spit. It came on me like a dream: nasty, day-old saliva, gross up around my gums.
“Did it again,” I said, looking over my shoulder at my potions master. “Screwed me hard.”
Old man Argyle grunted. “You screwed yourself.”
“Whatever,” I muttered, and swirled my fingers around. The doom vat was supposed to turn this stuff blue and make my skin tingle if it was done right, but instead it was a weird purpley-green, and I kept getting that nasty taste.
I kicked it for good measure. The thing clanged and vibrated. It was six feet wide, eight feet deep, and covered in ancient hieroglyphics tuned to godlike energies.
“That won’t help,” Argyle barked. “Pack it up if you’re finished. You got a lot of cleaning to do.”
I looked back at his lair: stacks of dirtied beakers, iron pots caked in gore, and stirring rods with petrified layers of goo.
“This’ll take me days.” I stared down the doom vat and willed it to comply. “Can’t I try again?”
“On your own time. Make this place shine.”
He left and I made a rude gesture behind his back before sticking my fingers back into the potion.
Nasty, nasty stuff. I dumped it and got to work scrubbing.
I tasted vomit on the back of my tongue. “How the thirteen rings of hell is this happening?” I prodded the doom vat with a fresh stirring rod. “It’s got to be broken.”
The stuff inside was a shimmering crimson.
“Only idiots blame the tool for their own failing.” Argyle wiggled his fingers over a cylinder filled with a viscous gold liquid and made the thing pop with sparks. He drank it back.
“What was that?” I asked.
“Peppermint tea.” He showed me his crooked teeth. “Want some?”
I knew better than to drink that psycho’s brew. The doom vat taunted me as I returned to poking at it. I put my whole arm in there and my stomach nearly retched. I squeezed my eyes shut and breathed through the nausea.
The liquid didn’t change. The potion remained immune to my desperation. I sweated into it, drooled onto it surface, and still nothing. I yanked my arm back, and the skin was dyed black, top to bottom.
“Uh oh,” I said. “Argyle? Sir?”
He looked over. “Oh, what the hell did you do?”
“Don’t know. Doesn’t hurt though.”
“Go wash up, you dumb asshole.”
I glared death at the doom vat then kicked it just because. “It’s doing this on purpose.”
“It’s the doom vat, boy. Why do you think I call it that?”
“Because—“ I waved my hand at all the fancy glowing runes. “You know, magic and stuff.”
“No, you idiot.” Argyle rubbed his eyes. “It’s a stubborn old beast and half the crap I cook up inside comes out wrong, but when it’s right, by all the gods, it’s a miracle.” He stared off into the middle distance.
“So it’s the vat’s fault, then.”
“No,” he snapped. “Now go wash off then stack ingredients. I want them all catalogued by tonight.”
I groaned, but knew better than to argue, else I’d end up in that stupid cauldron one of these days.
The doom vat sang at night. I could hear its voice echoing off the stone chamber walls, like the sound of ice grinding over dead landscapes.
I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to ignore its call. There were promises in that song: the smell of clean air, wide open roads stretching out before me, riches beyond my wildest dreams. They were false, but even still, the thing wouldn’t shut the hell up and let me sleep.
I stepped from my chambers. Argyle snored one room over. I crept down past his door and into the main laboratory.
The doom vat hung above a dead fire.
I got it roaring again. I was exhausted and my back ached, but I couldn’t help myself. When the doom vat was hot enough, I began to sort, measure, chop, and mix.
Into the vat the water. Into the vat the hair of virgin calf. Into the vat the roots and stems of one hundred varied flowers.
The brew bubbled and smelled like ass—but that was a good thing.
I tweaked the mixture. It was me and the doom vat, doing our dance. I stirred and it groaned back, encouraging, prodding me forward. I added more ingredients and tempered the fire; I stirred in deadly noxious liquids; I breathed deep the fumes and let them sink into my skull.
Something glowed in the doom vat’s guts. I watched eddies of light swirl on its surface then shoved my hand into the blue liquid.
My fingers tingled. My throat wanted to seize closed. The color was perfect.
“What have you done?” Argyle stood in the doorway, eyes wide with horror.
“I’ve cooked it,” I said, grinning like my face would fall off otherwise. The doom vat, lovely doom vat. “Look, master. I’ve done it.”
I pulled out my hand and held it up. The skin seemed to bubble and break with pustules.
Argyle backed away as I prepared to dip in my face and drink.
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