The first thing I noticed when my consciousness surfaced from the depths of slumber wasn’t the sweet smell of an elixir being brewed or the soft bubbling of a cauldron, but the fickle wind on the back of my neck, courtesy of a mischievous little wind elemental. Next came the sound of my spine creaking as I sat up, having fallen asleep at the desk of what served as my workshop. I couldn’t even recall when I had drifted off.
Taking a moment to run my fingers along the hardwood that composed what should have been the instructor’s desk of the abandoned classroom, they brushed the round-frames of my glasses. The lenses quickly found their place over my eyes, the world going from a blurred mess to clear and concise. As I stood, my peripheral vision caught sight of mist lingering to my right and I turned to face the source.
There, with her insectoid-like wings fluttering to keep her aloft, my partner Aeria hovered next to me with her arms crossed. She was a sylphid, a wind elemental spirit that alchemists partnered with in order to create their prideful products. Her small, wintergreen, vaguely humanoid figure was miniscule enough to fit in my hand. With eyes that were black as the night and thick strands of mist flowing down her back like hair, she frowned.
Aeria was an immature elemental, a child by human standards. Thus one of three things happened when she was upset. Either she gave the offending party the silent treatment, threw a temper tantrum and hurt them, or cried and whined about it. Right now she seemed to be in the silent treatment stage, which was better than the tantrum since her mastery over the air was unrivaled—relative to humans, of course. In a confined space filled with hazardous materials, like my workshop, that would end badly.
Since I couldn’t remember what I did last night to warrant the look on her face, I asked her, “What’s wrong?”
Aeria’s wispy, dulcet voice entered my ears as she spoke up. “You promised me candy, but you fell asleep!”
Ah, right. That would upset her. It probably seemed like a violation of the contract we had to her. That needed to be corrected immediately. I reached into a small pouch of treats that I kept for her and plucked out what could only be described as pure sugar.
And just like that her attitude pulled a complete reversal as she took it from my grasp and landed on my shoulder to eat.
Even if alchemy wasn’t a dying art, I imagine it was an impressive feat contracting with a high-tier wind elemental spirit for candy. The standards set by the great alchemist Paracelsus left Gnomes, Salamanders, Undines, and Sylphids as the primary elemental beings that alchemist following in his footsteps would strive to work with. While there were other elementals of the same element, or more obscure ones that held command over a different concept or element, these four were considered the only fully recognized ones.
Never let it be said that I was not resourceful, even as a young boy.
With that problem taken care of, I took stock of the contents of the abandoned classroom I called my workshop. The room, much like the structure itself, was lined with stones that had weathered the ages. Several of the individual tables that were used once to teach students had been grouped together, housing flasks, beakers, vials, bottles, distilling equipment, and other tools of my trade. The shelves were rearranged so that half were in the light of the window and half in the shade, stocked with ingredients, reagents, and catalysts. On the chalkboard were outlined procedures that were subjected to trial-and-error until every step was perfected after countless hours.
Yes, this was my sanctum within the prestigious Amadeus Magica academy, where those seeking a career in the magical or mystical arts could come and develop their skills. The recruiter told me when I inquired about the school that coming here meant I could realize my full potential and become a world renown professional. It was said that everyone here was treated as equals, comrades in the pursuit of dreams and goals.
That was a lie. Much like any other place in the world of Trimagus, or at least the continent of Etrova, the aptitude to use magic, your bloodline, and wealth determined where you stood. I was basically an outcast since I couldn’t use magic at all.
You see, amongst humans there existed a subspecies capable of using magic in a manner different from other beings that harvested energy that the world itself seemed to leak. These individuals were born with the abnormality of a magical nucleus that most other humans lacked; letting them use spells with a wand or similar focus. It went to say they quickly ascended through social ladders due to their useful capabilities.
No one was sure when some humans gained this hereditary ability in the past. I had a theory that involved crossbreeding magical creatures, but considering the social status of non-humans these days mentioning it would probably get me lynched. Therefore it sadly remained unproven for the moment.
Anyway, in accordance to human nature, a hierarchy developed within the subspecies itself despite being considered higher on the social ladder than someone who lacked their gift. Magi were on the upper-class of them, the elite through bloodlines and wealth alone. The middle-class magic-users were considered Witches and Wizards. They possessed the ability to use magic too but lacked the lineage, wealth, or purity to be considered elites.
The lowest-class, which was slowly being phased out, were Alchemists like myself who, by definition, were those who entered into contracts with elemental spirits and borrowed their magical abilities and traits to create magical items. Unlike the other two classes most alchemists had no internal magical nucleus to draw from and were ordinary people who borrowed power. In centuries past that was more than enough to stand amongst the highest pillars and reach the sky. Now we crawled in the waste beneath the surface, practitioners of a dying art.
Technically speaking, my own heritage was one that was cast off from some line of magi generations ago. Occasionally bloodlines would no longer produce heirs that possessed the ability to use a wand due to a lack of the required nucleus. Once that happened the branch itself was cut away from the main family to prevent it from spreading, all contact completely severed, leaving only bitter fallen nobility that quickly gained humility or died out.
While I pursued the path of an alchemist for my own reasons, those who actually knew my heritage and my family’s career would see it as another feeble attempt to regain the class that we once had lost.
The death of the alchemic arts in the last five centuries could be contributed to several factors, but the primary reason was the lack of elementals around, leaving alchemist these days few and far. They were vanishing compared to their numbers in the past and, for the most part, they rarely interacted with humans as they did back then. That was due to the fact that human nature often competed with that of elementals.
They had their own set of morals, but they were often superior in ability to any mortal human. Humans, especially those capable of magic, would not surrender their pride or even acknowledge them as equals. Instead, they often tried to enslave or demean them, leading to present circumstances.
It was a shame really, seeing as alchemists were also responsible for most of the obscure artifacts and magical items needed. You can enchant objects with spells, but they would eventually fade away since the world slowly eroded away the magic unless done by spirits such as Aeria, since their magic was more aligned with nature and would not be eroded by the energy the world gave off. Not to mention they were capable of coaxing the magic out of materials in a way that humans couldn’t.
In that aspect I got lucky with Aeria. She had agreed to a fairly loose contract with me, solely because I swallowed the foolish human pride I had…okay, and some minor bribery with sweets. The contract was open, with her being allowed to leave my service should she feel like it as long as she informed me a few weeks prior. By nature she was mischievous, whimsical and fleeting, much like a cool breeze, and hated being tied down too much so it worked for her.
I allowed my gaze to venture to the window, where a vial rested on the sill. It was filled with a concoction known as the Bellatoress Brew, one of the complex draughts taught to the students nearing graduation. Since I was on good terms with the Apothecary Magister, I was given the recipe upon request despite the difficulty that stemmed from the multiple properties it contained, due to the contents that made it up.
It was named after a famous witch who used it to turn the tide of a war, designed for battlefield situations where a magic-user needed to have their reserves restored and wounds healed, at the expense of the body’s condition once the effects wore off. While I couldn’t use the concoction myself since it was toxic to me, not being a magic-user and all, but the fact that I could prepare it successfully meant that Magister Chelde and Magister Astat would vouch for me to receive my credentials in their areas of expertise ahead of time, just as Magister Flourish and Magister Diagona agreed to as well.
That meant I could leave from here without continuing next year. Truthfully, I had every intention of leaving once this year was done. I had been planning on doing so for quite some time since the tuition was outrageous for the level of education received.
I could only take classes that had no active focus on magic requiring a wand. The only courses that were geared directly towards alchemy here were the Apothecary and Chemeia classes, since the continent we were on had more history when it came to plants and medicine. I also attended Magical Zoology and Magical Herbology & Herbalism, since I learned about animals and plants that held some significance in my practice.
Leaving aside that, there was also the fact of the matter that I faced a certain amount of discrimination from the other students. Not being able to use magic made me an easy target for certain individuals, mostly those who found some cheap thrill in humiliating someone who they assumed was beneath them. The rest tended to be sheep and kept their heads down so they weren’t targeted for defending me.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
The knocking on my door drew my attention. At this hour I wasn’t expecting anyone, so I was a little cautious about answering it. More than once I had been cursed by a few of the more troublesome bullies and, while it was nothing permanent, I often felt the desire to practice my knife-throwing on them for it and likely would if I thought I could get away with it. “What is it?”
“Magister Flourish sent me for Kowler Freslight,” said a masculine voice from the other side of the door. “The gardening club was working with Hekateil and she sent me to ask for your elemental’s assistance in the greenhouses?”
Hekateil, a plant that when coaxed by a spirit produced oils that stimulated the production of magic from the nucleus of someone in possession on one, making it useful in potions and such. While the leaves and flower held a decent amount of oil, the most potent lied in the roots. But they were delicate and efforts to coax the oils out using the magic of a magic-user or force would fail, since only a being with closer ties to nature could do so, like an elemental. And since Aeria was the only elemental on-campus, she was the first that came to mind without the need to outsource.
Since Magister Flourish was decent towards us and assisted me often with herbs and plants, it would be rude to turn away her request. But I did a quick check in the nearest reflective surface and saw that my appearance needed tending to before I went anywhere. “Alright, give us a moment to get ready.”
The southern portion of the campus was where the forest bordered the small mountains and held a variety of plants and animals. Between the forest and the academy were the Greenhouses, elongated and sleek buildings of glass that housed vegetation both exotic and commonplace. They were kept in magically controlled climates depending upon where they thrived in.
The particular one that we were needed in was the Montanus Greenhouse, which held a similar environment to that of a mountainous region, moisture lacing the air and stones that served as beds for the fauna glistening from the condensation. The chill rolling around would have reached beyond the half-cloak I wore and left me feeling damp, if not for the spirit omitting it around us as we approached a small group of students huddled around the magister.
Recognizable by her somewhat unkempt and plush hair, Magister Flourish was a fairly aged woman but would most likely see many more years. Despite that she remained very spry as her earthen-brown eyes peered closely through her glasses at the dais that stood in the center of the greenhouse, lecturing her students while pointing her wand at the parts of several bushels of Hekateil divided into bunches of leaves, stems, flowers, and roots that were placed into jars. The lecture ceased once the guide who brought us here announced his return.
“Ah, here you both are,” she said, her tone warm as she welcomed Aeria and myself. “I apologize for calling you in on such short notice. I hope you weren’t too preoccupied, but before classes began I was hoping the little dear could assist with milking the roots.”
“Just the roots?” I asked for confirmation, to which she nodded. With that confirmed I guided the sylphid from my shoulder into my outstretched palm, leaving her standing up as if she was on a stage. “Aeria, if you will?”
She consented and sang a melody that reverberated gently throughout the air as she focused her intention and magic towards the roots. Spirits could be considered an incarnation of nature itself, their magic similar to that stored in the depths of the plants, so the link between the two caused a reaction. The roots became luminescent, a soft viridian hue coating them as her natural magic made the roots secrete their oils magnificently.
“What an elegant song, my dear,” Magister Flourish cheered with a small applaud, to which the young spirit of wind curtsied as though she had a dress. As someone who had lived for some time and worked with youths of all ages, the magister knew well how to appease the youngster. “I can’t thank you enough for your assistance, the both of you.”
With that done we took our leave from the Montanus Greenhouse and made for the woodlands to the south, towards where the Magical Zoology class would take place in a clearing in ten or so minutes. Along the way we gathered several of the natural resources provided by the campus itself within the wild to be used later, such as herbs. It was when we neared the clearing that we heard a literal siren’s song pulling us in towards the center, where the magister of the class sat on a tree stump.
Magister Diagona was a sight to behold, long pale-silver hair that became feathery at the ends with soft eyes that were as silver as moonlight. They were traits that served as proof she was a 2nd generation hybrid, one born between a human and a liminal species—beings that were capable of matching, breeding, and communicating with humans intelligently. She was surrounded by small wildlife and gelatinous globs of semi-sentient slime as she delicately plucked on the strings of a harp and sang an intoxicating song.
The siren’s blood flowing through her veins added an enchanting quality to her voice that could ensnare you if you were caught off-guard or lacked the will to resist. It was like my mind was sinking in the sensual sound, my body drawn to it as most other thoughts were drowned out. It took me a moment to temper my willpower to resist the temptation to join the other wildlife near her and stay afloat of the honey-like sensation calling to me. Thankfully she ceased her alluring song when she saw me struggling to remain in control at the edge of the clearing, not willing to enthrall a student by accident.
With the cessation of her song, the wildlife that gathered as her audience dispersed before the roles of predator and prey became known once more and the smaller mammals ended up being digested by the slime creatures that remained in her presence. Those were the ones she had tamed and raised, since she found them cute. She had also donated parts of their bodies for a private project of mine that I was planning to test again later today…granted the previous attempts ended poorly, but trial-and-error was part of progress.
“My apologies,” she said as she stood, setting her bare feet on the grass and nearing us. “I wasn’t expecting students for another few minutes and didn’t mean to catch you within the range of my song.”
Before I could give her a response, Aeria fluttered up to her shoulder from mine and praised her. “Can you sing again? Your voice carried well on the wind.”
She carefully raised a finger to brush Aeria’s head and smiled. “My thanks for the compliment, Little One, but I mustn’t use my song in such a manner when in the presence of other people without provocation.”
Discouraged, but brushing it aside quickly, the young spirit turned her attention to the nearest homogeneous and gelatinous blob that rolled towards us and decided it would make an entertaining toy to pass the time. She tried to poke through its jelly-like skin and body to get to its core nucleus, where it carried out its simplistic functions.
Clearing my throat I said, “No harm done. Besides, I wanted to thank you for your contribution to my pet project and for agreeing to vouch for me to test for my credentials in this field.”
“Well, I had no reason to refuse, but I will miss having you attend so many of my classes and assisting when you could,” she said. Then she hit a point I was avoiding. “Speaking of which, have you informed the young woman who you are often alongside during the evening classes of your planned premature departure?”
“Ah…I have not,” I admitted, somewhat abashed to do so.
“Sooner would be better,” Magister Diagona advised sagely, a somber smile on her face. “I fear hearing it from someone else or too late would devastate her, speaking from personal experience.”
It sounded like she lost someone close to her, not that I was privy to such information, and the advice was sound. I knew I was just putting off the inevitable, but I was not looking forward to telling Alice that I would be leaving her here alone. As fellow outcasts we had bonded and, with me leaving, she wouldn’t have anyone else in our age range to be friends with. “I’ll tell her before then.”
To that the magister gave me a nod and gestured for me to await the arrival of the rest of the class in the clearing. I did so and the area was soon filled by several other students, many of whom were not morning people even after breakfast. One student in particular caught my attention, a student I loathed more than most others and the feeling was mutual.
His name was Ocleo Vancipe, a rather pompous magus who had been on my list of people I would like to dispose of. It wasn’t right, wanting to maim or kill another person at my age so thoroughly. But he’s either been attempting to break me since my first-year, just because he thought he was more valuable than me due to the privileges he received from his family name, or trying to get me to do his work in the classes we share and that I outshined him in.
Let’s be honest, he was one of the primary reasons I was leaving. I had reported his bullying numerous times and either the magisters or headmaster failed to do anything or he would flaunt his influence and get away with it. People like him I just couldn’t stand to be around for long periods of time.
At the moment he was flirting with another female student keen on ignoring him. Considering how he was keeping his hands to himself and spoke to her at an even level, she must’ve been from a family of the same class as his own. That meant he couldn’t coax her into anything by force or status and risk retribution or a feud between their families.
By the time Magister Diagona returned everyone was accounted for, just in time to see her wearing thick leather gloves on both of her hands and large birds of prey settled on them. They were unique in that, besides their stone-grey plumage, they possessed two heads instead of one and the crown plumage on their heads was a pure-white color to contrast the grey.
“Good morning everyone,” the magister said to the class that murmured at the sight of the unusual avian creatures. “Today’s lesson will be an interesting one, as we have these lovely guests joining us. Can anyone tell me what they are called?”
The girl that Vancipe was trying to woo answered rather quickly, her eyes fixed on the birds with something akin to fascination. “Bipen-Aquila or Biquila for short, are magical, diurnal birds of prey. They are tamable, but are rather proud and intelligent enough to know when they are being insulted or belittled. For hunting they possess sharp talons, in addition to minor wind-based magic due to their affinity and alignment with the element itself. They also serve as the emblem of the Asindria Royal Family to the west.”
“Very good, Miss Adelle,” the magister said as she sat back on the tree stump. “As you’ve said, they are clever and proud hunters who consider themselves only subservient to the fickle winds. Taming them is not like you would a pet, but a show of mutual respect or a partnership. Failure to show either one will result in them not allowing you to approach and possibly attacking you.
“In addition, they are very protective of the crowning plumage on their heads. Touching there tends to aggravate them into attacking, unless they allow you to do so. Now, form up two lines everyone and only approach them one at a time.”
As we lined up and awaited our turn to interact with the aerial predators, I pulled out my copy of the text for the class and flipped it open. As the girl from earlier stated, the Biquila was used on the emblem of the Asindria Royal Family, which reigned in the western section of the continent, a mountainous region known as Venterris. Their feathers, due to the fact that the magical properties allowed them to hold the wind itself, were often used to gather it and then dissolved to infuse the element itself into an item.
When it was finally my turn to approach the left one, both of its heads turned and regarded me with more interest than the others so far. Slipping my fingers along the feather coating its body, I found the feathers to be coarser than I thought. But they also held a similar atmosphere around them that I felt around Aeria as well, the air itself laced with natural magic. Then, unexpectedly, it dipped its heads in a manner that resembled a bow and nudged them towards my hand to caress.
“Go ahead,” Magister Diagona said gently. “It’s giving you permission.”
“Okay…” I did as it wished after a moment of hesitation and found the feathers there to be soft and downy. The contrast was fairly definitive to those along its body. I stepped aside after a moment to gather my thoughts on this new information when Vancipe approached the Biquila after me and muttered something under his breath.
Not a minute later he tried to touch its crown plumage and aggravated the bird of prey, causing one of the heads to screech at him indignantly while the other pecked at his hand. He pulled his hand back and wisely stepped away as the magister kept it in line until it flew off her gloved hand and fluttered to one of the trees at the edge of the clearing. The Biquila then glared at him in a manner that was eerily similar to how the magister did.
“You were warned about touching them there without prompt,” she chided him, her tone far less gentle than normal as she worked to keep the one on her right hand calm so the class could continue. “You will serve detention this evening with me for disregarding the rules and endangering yourself, Mister Vancipe.”
“What about him?” Vancipe said as he pointed towards me. “It let him do it without complaint and there’s nothing special about him.”
That garnered a few looks from the others in the class until Adelle spoke up. “It’s because of his contract.”
“Correct again, Miss Adelle,” Magister Diagona said, before pointing to where the other one flew off. Aeria, having finished whatever she had been doing until that point, was sitting on the crowning plumage without a care in the world. “As mentioned before, they have an affinity and alignment with the wind itself. A sylphid is a spirit of wind, the element and mana itself given form and sentience, as such they are receptive of both the spirit and the alchemist they have a contract with. ”
I did not know that. Most alchemists guarded their secrets thoroughly or behind ciphers that were difficult to decipher, so outside the standards that were taught there was much I didn’t know as of yet. I suspect that Aeria didn’t know either, due to the fact that she was so young.
The reprimand kept Vancipe quiet, but I suspected he felt slighted given that the Adelle girl paid him even less attention than before as she approached the remaining Biquila and treated it rather delicately. She was definitely a bird-lover and her tolerance for him must have dropped quite a bit after that. And, since the magister was someone he couldn’t take his aggression out on, his gaze fell onto me and spoke of problems later on…wonderful.
Regardless, the class continued without incident until it was time to part and I retrieved the childish elemental before I asked the magister, “How did you know about the wind affinity passing onto me because of the contract?”
“Sirens are creatures that are sensitive to the waves and the winds,” she pointed out. “My quarter nature allows me to feel the affinity you have, which is part of the reason I enjoy your company as much as I do. Not that you aren’t a pleasant student to engage in with. In addition, my father was a zoologist that traveled around the world, so I have learned quite a bit.”
With that said I thanked her for the insight and headed back towards the main building of the campus, with the intention of entering the Library to spend my hour break before heading to Chemeia class next. Between the two I could visit Alice as well since her shift at work ended a few minutes before class began. But first I had to deal with getting there without being ambushed. “Aeria, can you pick up Vancipe’s scent on the wind?”
She nodded. “He’s between here and the building, waiting for you with a few others. Wanna mess with them?”
I considered it, but ultimately declined since it would serve no purpose in the long run. Vancipe was stubborn, although that was true for me as well, and since he couldn’t do something permanently damaging the attempt to salve his ego would be some curse or other that would be humiliating, hence the audience. “Let’s just avoid them and take the roundabout way back.”