Sunday, January 30, 2011


The alchemist seemed less than enthusiastic, but he fell in behind the lion and the painter as they made their way gingerly toward the smouldering house. They paused at the blackened door.

"Do we knock?" Maggiormente said, trying to be helpful.

Eduardo gave him a withering glance. "I don't think Monsieur Manet needs to knock to enter his own house."

"I only meant," the alchemist said, ruffling his beard with agitation, "it might be a way to determine the structural soundness before entering."

The lion and the painter paused and turned to look at him. Maggiormente cocked an eyebrow at them and they exchanged a look with one another. He had a point.

"Does the door feel warm?"

Manet leaned toward the door and put his palm up against it tentatively. "It is warm, but not hot."

"It's probably not on fire then, Eduardo concluded, nodding.

"Probably," the alchemist repeated. The lion grimaced.

The painter looked worried. "Perhaps you could take a look, first," he said to Eduardo.

"What?" The lion tipped his head back, balancing the fez precariously.

"Couldn't you fly up and take a look through the windows?" The painter gestured toward the lion's wings then toward the first floor above them.

Eduardo frowned and sat down, closing his eyes with a deep sigh. "No."

"But it would only take a moment! And we could be more certain—"


The alchemist sidled around his familiar to approach Manet. He leaned toward the man and said in a low voice, "His wings are not strong enough to bear his weight. They are merely vestigial in the lions of Venice. They were perhaps airworthy once, but now—well, you see."

Manet's eye widened. "I am so sorry!"

"It is nothing," Eduardo said with a sniff.

"I should not have been presumptive, monsieur." The agitated painter bowed awkwardly then turned back to the charred door. "Shall we simply try our luck?"

"Do let's." The cold tone of the lion carried a final air of censure, but surely it is not to be imagined that he wished ill upon the painter by encouraging a risky action.

Having made up his mind, Manet threw open the door. For a moment, there was only an inky blackness. Then all at once, heavy cottony puffs of smoke rolled out onto the pavement causing the adventurers to take hasty steps back from the onslaught.

The house belched oily clouds for some time, as if a crowd had gathered behind the door like guests eager to leave a party all at once. As if to mirror them, a small crowd gathered behind the threesome, eager to see what they might do in the smoking house. Their chatter made a susurration of sound like leaves falling.

"Can you see anything?" Maggiormente squinted into the depths of the darkness.

Manet peered into the black, unaware that his face had a light coating of schmutz from the passing clouds of smoke. "I do not see any flames." He turned back to his friends. "Shall we go in?"

Maggiormente and Eduardo exchanged a look. The alchemist shrugged. "Tutto fumo e niente arrosto!" The lion laughed and the two of them joined the painter at the door. Eduardo stuck his head through the doorway and inhaled deeply.

"There are no flames anyway."

"Don't go in!" A woman's voice carried from the street crowd.

The adventurers turned to regard her. The others around her craned their necks to see how the three would react.

The attempt to dissuade them seemed to stiffen their resolve. The three gave a curt nod to their would-be cautioner and turned back to the charcoaled-door. They had hardly drawn a breath before they ducked into the shadows and disappeared from view.

"We should have brought a torch," Eduardo grumbled.

"Shhh," the alchemist said, blinking in the dark.

"Oh no!" the painter cried. "I cannot believe it!"

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