The large solid oak doors of the apothecary shut with a hearty thud as I pushed them closed behind me. The main room with its arched roof beams and dark, thick support columns is illuminated by candles placed all around the expanse in various stages of depletion.

Wax drips from every candelabra and wall sconce like ancient stalactites. The light shudders and dances around the room as I made a straight line for a back corner, passing through a seating area with a large round table and high-backed chairs in the open circular center of the room.

Spread around the room along the outer walls are bookshelves with their dusty and sometimes cobwebbed biographies, discoveries, archival footnotes, ancient manuscripts, grimoires, maps and rolls of unidentified subjects stuffed in amongst the tomes; books on flora and fauna, herbs and poisons, the latter of which occasionally are the same thing; books of poetry, prose, ancient languages, myths, legends, history, archeology, and the like. This is where I am most comfortable; the most myself.

Along the back wall, straight back from the large oak doors and between two very large bookcases is one of the three work tables in the room, this one being the widest and most cluttered. I clumsily bumped up against the table, swaying slightly before putting my hands down on top of a stack of books and papers to hold myself up. Candles, beakers, dried herbs, potions, and various alchemical implements litter its surface. A couple of books that had been stacked precariously lost the last bits of their grip and slid off the table, thudding heavily on the floor.

Tacked to the wall behind and above this table are many sketches and hand written notes on recipes, talismans, effects and outcomes of experiments, lunar cycles, and seasons. The visible proof of a life, so far lived, in the pursuit of knowledge.

The other two, smaller tables at opposite sides of the apothecary, are those of my two adepts, Phileas and Sophera.

After a few moments of silence, I jerked my head around, looking for the young adepts who are nowhere to be seen. I turned back around, head down, my hair hanging and mumbled to no one but myself something about timeliness and punctuality. That I should be lecturing anyone about punctuality when I look like… this… is a clear sign of the level of my annoyance at what I have been a party to this evening.

I pushed myself back up with a dramatic sigh, brushed my hair back out of my face, pulling out a few more small twigs in the process which I briefly considered in my hands before absentmindedly dropping them on the floor. As I slowly, and unsteadily, turned away from the table to step back out towards the middle of the room, my two young adepts burst through the door to the storage room on the south wall of the apothecary, hidden from my current view by one of the large book cases about the room. Their joyous ruckus quickly halted as their eyes finally caught on me.

Near the center of the room, where the adepts stand slack jawed and agape, are arranged three high-back wing chairs of plush crushed velvet in a mossy green, dark burgundy, and deep royal blue around a large circular oak table. At the center of the table are two tall candles. One white, one black. This is where thoughts and people mingle.

Carved into the table is the Wheel of Life. Each season’s original Celtic name carved out in a calligraphic script: Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine, and Lughnasadh.

I cautiously head for the burgundy chair, my plush, enveloping seated sanctuary, and once close enough to it to descend, I simply dropped down into its comfortable embrace, letting my head fall back and to the left against one of the wings. I could feel the heat throbbing against my face and gave a quick glance down at my hand, noticing the cut has started to bleed again.

The two adepts are now visibly shaken by my appearance, the disheveled state of my clothing and hair, and the bloodied gash on my forehead; the splatter of blood on my face, hands and arms.

Fear, amazement, disbelief and excitement are all present on their faces. They glance between each other as if to ask each other if this is real, but neither looks back to me for the answer.

Both of them are in their mid-teens, slightly taller than the average. Both are lithe and slender. And both have their hair pulled back behind their ears, though Sophera’s is a bit longer than Phileas’, and is as black as a starless night whereas his is the color of the souless Ginger he is. Nah, I’m kidding. Or am I…

Finally to break the prolonging, silent awkwardness, I say “Gods, I hope that was just an extremely vivid dream.”

Phileas says, “You had us all worried, Ander.”

Sophera says, “I thought you were dead.”

“Why were you even here so late?” I ask. A slight hint of my previous incredulity sneaking through.

Phileas says, “Umm! I was working on that new alchemical preparation, you know the one with…”

I cut him off with a wave of my hand and an abrupt exhortation. “Shut up, please.”

Sophera squeaks, “And I was studying the lunar cycles and the seasonality of the effects of the few plants we have left.”

“Oh, right, right. I keep telling you two to start watering those plants every morning before you leave for the day.”