Ben kept his arm slung around Clancy's neck, fighting back the nerves that made his knees shake and nausea roil in his stomach. The horse stared at him with big, liquid eyes, and the absolute trust he saw there made Ben feel even more worse. He refused to look way though. Ben was no coward, and he would not flinch from what was about to happen.
And besides, the only other thing to look at was the alchemist, drawing the blue aether from the vial into a syringe topped with a vicious looking needle, and the other two stableboys, hovering at a safe distance.
Clancy was a beautiful beast, but the alchemist insisted that the blue aether would make him even better, and the master had agreed to the treatment the man offered without much prodding. Ben's sister, who worked in the big house, had witnessed the alchemist's arrival, and she claimed that as soon as the master had seen the shiny metal badges pinned to the man's yellow waistcoat, everything he said was treated as though handed down from the gods. Ben didn't know what they meant, but they'd been enough for the master. Winking in the half-light of the stable, they looked dingy and almost sinister.
The alchemist moved quick, Ben had to give him that. One moment he was standing at the edge of the stall, the next he was standing beside Ben, sinking that vicious long needle into Clancy's neck. The horse knickered, too startled to give more of a reaction than that, and then wobbled. His eyes went glassy, still trained intently on Ben.
"Keep him calm, boy, the next part isnt going to be pretty," the alchemist said, his voice flat and disinterested. He hadn't removed his tophat when he'd entered the stables, and Ben was struck by a powerful urge to slap the damn thing off.
"What do you mean?" Ben dared a glance sideways at the man, who was cleaning his needle with a brown-spotted rag.
Clancy pitched slowly to the side, eyes rolling in his head in absolute panic. Ben's darted out of the way of the great beast as he crumpled slowly to the floor of the stables, then knelt down by the stallion's head, running a hand over Clancy's neck as it heaved in great gasping breaths. He heard the other stable boys muttering, one of them shouting, "What've you done to him?!"
"It's all part of the process."
Ben pet Clancy's muzzle, trying to pretend that the alchemist wasn't there, trying to will himself calm for his horse's sake.
Not my horse, Ben reminded himself. He would never have agreed to this if Clancy had been his. But Clancy wasn't his, and he was a warhorse to boot. This would hardly mark the first time an alchemist had altered him in some way. Still, as flecks of foam began to form around Clancy's mouth, Ben had to fight back his own sense of panic. The alchemist was completely unfazed, disassembling the needle and returning it to his worn out leather satchel, and following it with the vial of pale blue ether that he'd The stallion thrashed weakly on the ground, nearly clipping the alchemist with his hooves as the man gathered his things together. Ben watched with narrowed eyes as the man returned the vial of blue aether to a special pocket in his waistcoat and turned back with a cheerful smile, which faltered a bit when he caught Ben's eye.
"It is already a powerful beast-"
"His name is Clancy," Ben blurted out before he could stop himself.
There was a moment of startled silence from the alchemist, and then he continued as though Ben hadn't spoken, turning instead to speak to Mason, one of the other stableboys. "Clancy is already powerful, and has withstood other such infusions before."
"Those infusions were administered by a doctor." Shit, Ben thought, biting the inside of his cheek as the alchemist's expression hardened.
"Wha'ts your name, boy?"
Shit, shit, shit. His sister had always told him that his stupid mouth would get him in trouble one of these days. It seemed like today would be that day.
But before Ben could speak, Clancy chose to express himself by vomiting onto the floor of the stall. The alchemist scurried out of the stall and into the aisle, his face twisted in disgust as the smell of bile filled the air.
"That's to be expected," he mumbled, fumbling a handkerchief from his pocket to cover his mouth. "I'll convey the rest of my instructions to your master."
"Wait, what do we do if-" Ben said, leaping to his feet, but the alchemist was already fleeing the stables.
Frustration and terrified, Ben returned to Clancy's side, shrugging off his jacket as he went and tossing it into the corner of the stall. Aether infusions were expensive, whether they took or not. And if the infusion didn't take, Ben knew that he would be the one to get the blame, not that yellow-jacketed bastard with the shiny badges on his coat.