Chartreuse Grande extended a spill to the fire; when it caught he touched the flame to the bowl of a long-stemmed pipe. He tossed the flaming twist of paper into the fireplace, then drew the first breath of fragrant smoke into his muzzle.
A flicker of light caught his eyes, and he glanced down at his hand. His paw, rather, he thought, realizing that the flash of light was a spark reflected off the retractable claws that tipped his fingers. The hand was thick-fingered, clumsy, and covered in bronze fur that like the rest of his body. It was all of a part--a tufted, furred tail protruded from between the artificial tails of his coat, and most dramatically of all the massive head of a lion surmounted his shoulders, at least twice the size of a human head and crested by a wild, flowing mane.
He had not, of course, been born this way. He was not some magical creature, natural or laboratory-made. On the contrary, he'd been an ordinary human--indeed, as a young man he'd been considered extremely handsome. Porcelain-pale skin and long blond hair had highlighted an almost feminine beauty that never failed to attract the attention of women and even some men. Indeed, it was that attraction that had led to his present state. When he was scarcely more than an apprentice, his beauty had caught the capricious eye of the Grand Witch Lujei. Lujei Piche had been beautiful herself, fair of face and voluptuous of body, but her charms had been wasted on Chartreuse. He cared only for his studies; the only lust that burned in him was for magical knowledge and specifically the secrets of universal law to be revealed through alchemy.
Lujei, however, was not a woman to be so casually dismissed, and with one set of charms useless she chose in a fit of pique to exercise a different set on Chartreuse. She laid an enchantment on him, cursed him into his bestial form. Refuse her, would he? Fine, then; he would be spared the trouble in the future of having to refuse any other girl again.
Lujei had of course meant those words as a mockery, but the truth was that Chartreuse accepted them literally and happily. He'd found romantic appeals to be a nuisance, but now he was largely spared them. The only real difficulty he faced was on account of his altered hands. Thick and clumsy, with their pointed claws, they were incapable of the delicate work they once had performed with easy dexterity. It made it difficult to deal with the fragile apparatus of alchemy: small glass vials and pipettes, coils of tubing and wire and the like. Yet, even that he'd turned to his own advantage. To successfully practice his art, he had to concentrate, to be careful with every movement. It had forced him to develop mental focus, to drive out distractions in his search after truth.
The fact was, it was odd for Chartreuse to spend any time at all thinking about his condition. Ordinarily it did not prey on his mind; he only spared it a concern when someone else raised the point, whether it was Gammel Dore asking if he wanted help seeking a cure or Opalneria Rain seeking to free him from it by accepting her love.
That last had been Lujei's fault as well. Opalneria was Lujei's apprentice; the ghost witch had told her a highly edited version of the curse story, which it turn made Opalneria strive to get Chartreuse to fulfill the condition to break the curse by shattering the ice around his frozen heart or some such romantic nonsense. No doubt it was Lujei's intent to annoy Chartreuse endlessly, knowing that as Opalneria was a fellow professor at the Silver Star Tower the alchemist could not easily thrust her aside.
Luckily that particular problem seemed to have resolved itself. Lujei had changed her tune, warned Opalneria away from Chartreuse. Opalneria had made one last, desperate attempt which Chartreuse had quashed squarely, but without Lujei's constant pressure Opalneria was finally able to accept the inevitability of the truth that Chartreuse did not need her. One of her own students had confessed his love to her and it seemed that, perhaps, she might be able to recover from the destructive obsession Lujei had inspired in her.
It was so unlike Lujei to pull in her fangs for any reason that Chartreuse was still amazed young Lillet Blan had been able to get her to do it. A girl of remarkable talents, Miss Lillet. She would go far as a magician...
Ah, there it was, Chartreuse put his finger on it. Lillet Blan--or more accurately, what Lillet had done to him. That was the reason for his strange, introspective mood. He hadn't been aware of it specifically--why would he?--but the alchemist's detail-oriented mind had observed it subconsciously and this had given rise to his reverie. It was one year to the day from the greatest of his alchemical workings, the creation of the ultimate homunculus.
Homunculi were artificial forms of life spawned by alchemical mastery of natural laws. They possessed intelligence and form, as opposed to mere existence. They did not have a fixed life span, as they drew life from the seeds of magic carefully trapped in a flask. This flask absorbed life-sustaining mana from the environment as an ordinary human breathed in air or ate food. A homunculus, however, was bound to its flask, could not leave it.
Chartreuse had thwarted this flaw by building his homunculus around a core, a central force to hold it together. The flask was still needed, but the core gave the homunculus the power to move about freely, to act on its own. That core was a living spirit, a soul created by God's will. With his magic he had reached up to heaven and plucked down an angel, had wrapped it in a woman's body, beautiful and perfect. There would be so much for him to learn from her, this creation he had named Amoretta Virgine. Bringing her to life had given his ordinarily placid soul a taste of the divine exaltation God must have felt at the creation of the world.
Amoretta's mere existence had taught him much of homunculi, of the ways of life. Her mind and memory were a tabula rasa, giving rise to many theories. Was it because the secrets of God were not able to be told, so she could not recall them while hampered with mortal flesh? Or was it that the soul, by itself, was not the same as the mind at all? She had learned with ferocious speed like all homunculi, talking within a day, absorbing knowledge almost as if she were a sponge soaking it up. Perhaps it was only that she had to be remindedthat she knew things, rather than actually having to be taught them, so that it took only a single telling to awaken her knowledge.
Amoretta, however, sought more than merely being a vessel for knowledge. While her mere existence fulfilled its own purpose for her creator, she herself had wanted, needed more. As a life that had been created by another's hands, she felt, was convinced, that she required a reason to live, some specific purpose for her existence to fulfill.
"All lives born from nature are, ultimately, created from God's love. They fulfill that love by merely existing," she had once told him. "As a homunculus, I lack that love, and thus that purpose. Without it, I am as incomplete as any blob or chimera."
"But you have a creator, Amoretta. You did not come about in a vacuum."
"And do you love me, Creator?" she had asked. "Did you give me this woman's form to be the vessel of your love? Am I an Eve made from your own hands? Am I your treasured child? Or am I just a homunculus?"
He'd only been able to insist that she was perfect as she was. She'd offered to be a wife to him if he wished, a daughter if that was what he wanted, but he had not made her for those things. Chartreuse had not created Amoretta to give himself a family, but to delve into the heart of alchemical law. He could not say to her, I love you.
So she'd found someone who could.
He'd asked her, indeed ordered her to return to his laboratory, but she had refused.
"In there, I am just a homunculus. And you are the same as the lab," she'd told him. Direct, plain-spoken words as she'd always used, as indeed he'd taught her. Circumlocution was alien to them both. She'd gone on to say it even more plainly: "What I need is not my Creator, but Lillet."
The flames danced in the hearth before him as the memories rose up unbidden, not memories of words and actions, but of feelings, of the pain of the sudden rejection, the way Amoretta's statements had cut into him like a hot blade.
There was the crux of it, Chartreuse thought. Why did the man who did not need love, did not feel love, still feel the pain of it? Was it merely pride? The ego injured by being dismissed, injured again by having so flagrantly misunderstood the depth of Amoretta's own need? Possibly that was so. Surely that was a part of it.
Pipe-smoke wreathed his head, rising in curling eddies around him as the fireplace drew currents of air in the vaulted library. Even his choice of room was odd tonight. While he enjoyed comfortable chairs, perhaps even a brandy while he read, he generally preferred the surroundings of his laboratory. Everything in its place, everything made to a purpose.
And you are the same as the lab.
But he could not help it, damn it! He'd told the truth to Opalneria. He had not rejected her personally. He did not need anyone in that way. He did not lie awake, his body aching for a woman to hold--or a man, either, if it came to that. Physical lusts were momentary things to him, gone in literal instants before they ever had a chance to take root, to provoke any action the way they did in other people. He could not change who he was, just because it would better suit others if he did. He scowled fiercely at the thought, and it even brought forth a little growl of anger from deep in his throat, a sound that was as monstrous and leonine as his head.
It surprised him, even startled him. A little rebellion of his own, Chartreuse thought, just as Amoretta had pushed back against his expectations of her. We are who we are, after all.
But the growl made him think.
He felt, didn't he? Chartreuse could be angered. He could suffer. His life was of the intellect, but he was no less a living, breathing man for it. He had emotions.
Yes, of course, that was it! How could I have missed it?He had proclaimed himself a man of science, devoting himself to the objects of his study with the dispassionate intensity of an analyzing, calculating machine. Facts, hypotheses, experiments, analyses, conclusions all processed and neatly arranged. But what was alchemy but a study of the natural laws of life?
Amoretta had told it to him as plainly as she'd said anything else, and he'd simply ignored it. He'd dismissed it as irrelevant. Love.
The most perfect creation of his alchemy would always be flawed, always be lacking without it. Chartreuse had loved the actof creation, but had he loved the creations themselves? How could a man say that he understood life when he ignored the most fundamental truth of it?
Chartreuse sighed heavily, exhaling smoke in long streams that made him look almost like a hissing, steaming golem. That was what he'd made of himself, or tried to: a machine made to fulfill a purpose without heart or soul. And in doing so, he'd forgotten part of himself, and part of that work. For he did love his art. He was entranced by it, found the play of energies and matter and mana unfolding, entwining, as compelling as others found the curve of hip or breast. Alchemy was new worlds to discover, new secrets to unearth, the clues of creation left like signs by God to man if only they could read them aright.
Could knowledge and study be a need, a love? Oh, yes, he thought. He craved his alchemy like a starving man craved food. Why else had he accepted his curse so easily, so effortlessly, than because it brought him closer to that love? But instead he'd denied himself, sealed himself off from it by his own act, his own will.
He was a fool.
It had cost him Amoretta, because he had failed to love her--failed, perhaps, to see a difference between love and desire despite her own assurances. At least with Lillet she had found someone to love her, so that although he had been found wanting it had not been at her expense. But he knew better, now. He would not create what he could not love. And perhaps, through that, Chartreuse would come to know what it was he, himself, would say that he needed.
NOTE: Chartreuse always seemed to me to be a mingling of different character concepts. On the one hand, he's clearly the Prince from "Beauty and the Beast" (when he refuses to show...ahem..."hospitality" to a beautiful enchantress, she curses him to assume the form of a beast until he can come to feel love), but he's equally a Dr. Frankenstein, obsessed with surpassing the secrets of God through science (magical science in this case but science nonetheless), creating unhallowed forms of life and not respecting their needs (indeed, as the Frankenstein monster turns on Victor Frankenstein, so too does Amoretta turn on Dr. Chartreuse, although not in such a terrible fashion...although one might ask, if the Frankenstein monster had a Lillet, perhaps it too would have found an outlet for its feelings through words rather than violence). As the Epilogue to GrimGrimoire shows, though, it's not the Prince side of Chartreuse that learns from his past errors but the Frankenstein, for he's clearly learned that for his new creation, Tahlea, to fulfill his hopes he must offer her all that she needs, not just what he wants to give...