An Alchemist Sets Out 1.02

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There was only one way to describe the Library in my opinion: Paradise.

The chandeliers lined the ceiling, positioned between the stalwart shelves of books that had been preserved through arcane means to avoid the wearing and tearing of time and students. The quiet made it easy to rest at the tables that were nestled against the walls so that you could read without interruptions. If my workshop could be considered a bastion in which I could indulge in my craft, these walls were a paradise filled with a wellspring of knowledge to drink from.

Being what many considered the premiere academic institution on the entire continent of Etrova, in the central region of Quarent where all others crossed, had its benefits. Knowledge gathered and compiled here as students from all four directions congregated for the advancement of their studies, leaving many of their published works behind as alumni. Even if the alchemic knowledge that had been shared was trivial to what was kept in private, it was still more than I could have attained outside these walls and I had taken great care to memorize and copy as much of it as I could in my private notebook for future reference.

The only problems were when Aeria caused too much noise, for which I would reprimand her if needed, and that it made locating me even easier as my seating habits and visiting times rarely changed over the years and there was no locking spell or means to fortify the only entry.

Which is why I was hardly surprised when my perusing of the tome that currently held my interest was interrupted by a shadow being cast over the pages. Looking up, I found Vancipe staring down at me. He looked rather crossed. “Can I help you?”

He started off with his usual rhetorical question cross insult. “You think you’re suddenly special because a dumb animal let you pet it?”

The frustration he felt at me avoiding his little trap was palpable. But unless he completely flipped his lid he wouldn’t do anything overt. Not when the Library had its own security measures against magic use that didn’t meet an approved criteria.

My response was merely to turn the page of the book I was reading and address him as an afterthought. “I would hardly call the creature ‘Dumb’ considering all things. But it was interesting to know that I had an alignment with them due to the contract.”

The neutral tone I spoke in only served to antagonize him further, causing him to tighten his grip on his wand. “Shall I teach you your place once more, you insignificant worm?”

“You can try, but you know that even you can’t get away with casting any curses in here,” I pointed out. Then I helpfully added, “Not to mention that nothing you do will be permanent in the long run and the status quo would remain as it is. Besides, if I’m that insignificant then why are you bothering me and why do I consistently score higher than you in most of our classes?”

The inquiry was met with silence because no matter how wealthy or ancient his family was, he himself was inferior to one who lacked those things. Bullying me because of my heritage did little to stop me from besting him in class. Thus, for all the aggression and ego-boosting he gained from it, it all came crashing back down later on. He, as well as the other occasional bullies, simply couldn’t change that.

For once he saw it as a losing battle and shifted from his usual attempts at intimidation and humiliation to another venue, namely demanding that I do something. Usually it was his homework in a class that he could pass off as his work. I always turned him down, vehemently, and ended up in the Infirmary after being cursed when my back was turned. I knew it was him, but he would have someone else claim responsibility if it wasn’t in front of a magister.

This time it was a little different.

“You are going to prepare this for me,” he demanded, placing down a page torn out of a potions book.

Out of curiosity I turned my attention from the tome I had to it and discovered it was the instructions for an alchemic concoction called the Amour Draught, an extremely potent and highly illegal love potion. It was considered an alchemic art due to the fact that several of the key components, namely the Ishtina Blossom, only reacted when exposed to an elemental’s magic, much like the Hekateil earlier. Considering how he was acting during class, who he planned on dousing with it was rather obvious.

Leaving aside the legality of it, as I had made about half-a-dozen things that had questionable legal status during my time here, I disliked love potions in general because they took away your ability to choose. Denying your free will, they made you enamored to whoever they were keyed to. This one in particular was renowned for being untraceable and undetectable by standard means, so it was even worse than others.

My response was a very clear and concise, “Not on your life.”

“I don’t think you understand,” he snarled, his wand now trained on my face. “I’m not asking you. I’m telling you or I’ll make your life a living nightmare and see to it you suffer…permanently.”

“I’m shaking,” I said flatly. Maleficuim was the standard class for curses or harmful spells, and about what he could get away with on-campus. While he knew some pretty nasty ones, in the end they were all treatable. Not to mention the spell would trip the security measures here as soon as it was released, so he couldn’t shift the blame this time. “Just cut your losses Vancipe and leave.”

Apparently he decided to damn the consequences and tried to curse me regardless. However, given I didn’t recognize the curse he was casting from his usual pool, my instincts told me he may have been planning on making good on his threat. The moment I saw his lips moving, I decided to play it safe and made a low whistle, to which my elemental responded promptly.

An ethereal blur of phantasmal-green darted in front of me, followed by a strong gale. While the measures they had to monitor spells were effective, Aeria was exempt due to what she was and the complications that would abound simply by her existing. The gale slammed into him and sent him tumbling into the wall, his wand laid forgotten on the floor.

He was unconscious, which was my cue to leave before I got into trouble. Knowing him, he would say he tripped rather than he got manhandled by an inferior creature like Aeria or lost a fight to me. Still, it was unusual for him to act this foolhardy or attempt permanent harm.

Perhaps there was pressure on him from his family to court the Adelle girl. Given that he was somewhat of a flirt and she didn’t seem the type to enjoy his company, he probably decided to take the easy route by having me prepare the love potion for him since smuggling it in or leaving a paper trail would leave him in a very tight bind if caught. That way he could shift the blame onto me if something happened, and my word against his would only end with me locked away in a cell so far underground that sunlight would be a faint memory by the time I got out.

That being a thought, I wanted to get out of his sight before he woke up mad and reckless. I folded up the page that held the recipe and pocketed it before I grabbed my bag and left the sanctity of the Library, abandoning the rows of knowledge and flooring of carpet for corridors of stone as I made my way to where the academy’s boutique laid. The students were all bustling with banter and other matters, making it somewhat cacophonous and difficult to focus—

“Heya Kowl, right on time, aren’t ya?”

—but the ambient noise sank to the back of my mind when that soft voice and unmistakable accent reached my ears. With it as my anchor point, I turned to find the woman I was looking for at the counter. My eyes shifted over the frame of my glasses while a small smile emerged onto my face.

Alice Pyralis, my true companion within these walls and perhaps the only magic-user that had any respect from me… barring the magisters when they weren’t catering to their more spoiled students. I wasn’t saying that all of them were bad, but either they did the abusing and bullying, or they stood back and allowed it. She was also easily the most beautiful young woman in the school, but considering I fancied her a bit it could be argued I was biased.

She had just past shoulder-length, wavy, cherry-colored hair. It held two decorations in it and covered the right side of her face, hiding one of her eyes from view. The visible one was jade-green and easy to get lost looking into.

Her over-sized, long-sleeved blouse went down to her thighs and the sleeves hid her hands, while a black skirt stopped at her knees with matching stockings that hid the rest of her legs. On her feet were thick sandals, rather than the normal heels the other witches and female magi wore. Since she was in the building and on the grounds, she also wore her academy-issued cloak, but it was opened.

You’re staring,” Aeria said, keeping her voice low and her tone teasing.

I quickly looked away and cleared my throat. “Morning, Alice. Shouldn’t you be getting ready to go to class?”

She turned around to reveal a small backpack. “Long outdoor class this time. Out by the lake to practice water spells. I prefer fire myself, but what can ya do?”

Fire was the one thing that came naturally to her, more so than anything. If I had an affinity to wind because of the contract, she had one to fire. Still somewhat out of it, I let a thought slip. “Considering how much loose fabric you have on, I’m surprised you haven’t burned your clothing off by accident.”

Rather than take offense to that, she put on a mischievous smile and leaned in close to say, “If they weren’t charmed, I woulda. But ya’d like that though, wouldn’t ya?”

I remained silent before I could dig myself in deeper, pushing the fact that the wind spirit on my shoulder was laughing and would most likely tease me out of my mind for the next few days over it.

Alice just smiled before addressing another matter. “Yer order for supplies came in and yer commission for some of the sales is ready. I’ll fetch them for ya.”

“Thank you,” I said. There was a sort of work program for students, which both Alice and I were a part of due to the tuition fees. In my case, I created some potions and things that could be sold as long as they were tested and approved by either the apothecary or chemeia magisters. In Alice’s case, she helps run the boutique since she had experience from her parents’ store.

A minute later she returned with a bag of supplies and handed me a pouch filled with my earnings. “The apothecary magister also told me he’d like it if ya contacted him later today about a project or something. He wasn’t specific.”

“I’ll see him after Chemeia,” I assured her. It must have been about my credentials in that class as well. Placing the money inside the bag hanging from the shoulder strap, I turned my attention to the supplies she bought forth as we prepared to leave the area. What came next was completely by surprise.

There was an abrupt scream from some of the students in the crowd as Alice’s eyes narrowed and she had her wand out. From it came a defensive spell, a wall made of pure magic solidified, springing up behind me less than a second before something splashed against it. Peering through the barrier separating me from the caster, I noted that it was Vancipe who had just thrown what was most likely a curse at me.

“FRESLIGHT!” he bellowed in rage. “YOU AND THAT STUPID CREATURE WILL PAY!”

Aeria took offense to the insult and stood on my shoulder, the air growing thick with malice as her command over it began to whip it up. It was generally a bad idea to insult an elemental and, for all her youth and playfulness, she was fairly dangerous when angered. “Stupid, he said?

Alice stepped between Aeria, Vancipe, and I with her arms outstretched in an effort to calm things down. “Easy there, let’s not do something regrettable. Aeria, gal, ya know Kowl will get in trouble if ya—”

Unfortunately the moron didn’t seem to know how to shut up when he was severely outmatched, earning a chorus of gasps as he shouted, “STAY OUT OF THIS, YOU FREAK OF NATURE!”

Alice was an anomaly amongst the students, the sole witch whose magic wasn’t from birth. She was an enigma and thus an academic interest for the magisters and a target for ridicule for the students at her unnatural circumstances. Given that she also had a somewhat bad reputation, for literally setting another student’s rear on fire when he insulted her at one point in the past, the smarter students still in the hall had backed away.

You could imagine she was sensitive about that and it angered her enough that she forgot she was the one playing peacekeeper. She trained her wand on him and was about to cast, which would earn a punishment for her that she didn’t need, possibly expulsion if she attacked first. I held her back before she could do something that would get her into trouble.

Vancipe took the pragmatic approach when she turned to look me in the eyes, casting a spell at Alice when her back was turned. His wand bucked as the teal-colored bolt flew from the tip of the magical focus. The spell was a simple kinetic force spell, designed to hit with blunt force like being pushed or hit with a stone. Speaking from a personal experience on the receiving end, the worst it would do was break bone with enough power. But, should the recipient be unfortunate, it could cave in their skull with a direct hit.

The spell was mere inches away when it was broken like a droplet hitting a solid wall, slamming into a shield made of spiraling wind courtesy of the sylphid. With a wave of her hand the air around his limbs condensed into bindings that held him in place as Aeria was deciding what to do with him. She never got a chance as, enraged at the blatant attempt at hurting her after the insult, Alice used the very same spell he tried against her and struck him in the torso.

Blunt force overpowered the simple shackles of solidified air, sending his body tumbling into the wall on the opposite edge of the hall. The dirty-blond magus hit with a loud thud, but otherwise he merely seemed aggravated. I assumed she didn’t want to kill him and reduced the power of the spell, although there was no guarantee the next exchange would be non-fatal.

Before anyone else could go further I pulled out an ampoule and tossed it so that it smashed against the floor next to him, scattering the purple concoction onto the stone and Vancipe’s clothing. The liquid began to froth and bubble, spreading in an instant and encompassing him in a gel-like substance that quickly solidified. It left him pinned against the wall by the abnormal formation, which he quickly learned there was no escape from as there was no leverage and his wand-hand was bound as well.

With him taken care of the next threat was the sylphid. I pulled out Aeria’s favorite snack and thrust it into her hands, thankful that she was easily distracted at the prospect of the candy. She shifted from vengeful to joyful and consumed it.

Last was Alice, who looked like she wanted to set him ablaze. I gripped her shoulder to regain her attention and shook my head. “It’s done. Don’t do something you’ll regret.”

She hesitated for a moment, but ultimately she put her wand down just as a loud noise echoed around the hall and drew the attention of everyone to the entrance, where a group of older students were gathered. Each had a small metal badge that represented their authority. They were the Enforcers—the rule keepers of the academy as a whole, second only to the magisters.

The Head Enforcer trained his wand on us. “FRESLIGHT! PYRALIS! VANCIPE! There is no dueling or maleficuim spells to be used in the walls of the academy unless explicitly allowed by the magisters! Both spellcasters involved will be punished accordingly and, since the elemental fell under Freslight’s command, he will be punished as well!”

“These two were the ones who attacked me!” Vancipe bellowed.

“He tried to hit me when my back was turned!” Alice snapped back at the proclamation.

I felt I should add my own opinion as well. “Not something a prestigious family like his would tolerate, since it would tarnish their image.”

That got more of a reaction from Vancipe, considering there were witnesses from families of similar stature. Not only was attacking someone from behind considered cowardly, but he lost at that. Word would spread as gossip back home and this incident would paint him in a bad light as a representative of his family name.

Personally, I didn’t consider it cowardly but pragmatic. That being said, I wouldn’t tell them that I found the notion of fair play to not only be ridiculous, but stupid. He had the right idea, but he was an idiot for doing so for trivial reasons with witnesses present.

“If you file a report on violence, all those involved will be punished and their families notified,” I rattled off the basic protocol. Both Vancipe and Alice winced, knowing that punishment was in order for him for besmirching his family name officially and Alice’s parents would be disappointed in her. “Since you’ll have to take the testimony of all witnesses present it will make them late to their classes. The paperwork involved would be rather time-consuming as well…”

The light murmuring of the crowd at the thought of the delay and excess work made it clear that it was not appealing overall. The Head Enforcer stared me down impassively before nodding and turning to the others. “I didn’t see anything. Did anyone else see anything?”

Various negatives were given in hopes of having the matter dropped. There was no damage done to the academy, so as long as everyone kept their mouths shut and dropped the subject we all walked away with our hands clean and reputations intact.

“So be it,” he said, motioning for the others to start freeing the idiot. “Now, it would be best if everyone cleared out as the next class period is starting soon.”

We didn’t need to be told twice. Alice and I began to walk out of the corridor. As we passed the enforcers that were preparing to use a fire spell to free the idiot, I decided to give them a fair warning.

“That gel is flammable, so I wouldn’t try to free him that way.” The binding formation was composed of portions of a slime monster that was treated with reagents that caused it to expand and solidify when in contact with the air. It was an unexpected derivative from my pet project that I weaponized. “Hose it down with high-pressure water or let it breakdown in a half-hour.”

The last sound we heard as we left the area was the incantation of a spell and Vancipe screaming as he was hosed down. He would be furious, but it would still take a couple of minutes. Even if he hadn’t learned his lesson, we’d be long gone.

Alice had taken to spinning her wand in her hand as we walked the narrow, lantern-lined pathway. This one led to a split between the wing where my class was and the outdoors where her class was taking place. It was a semi-conscious habit of hers and she usually wasn’t even aware she was doing so until it was pointed out.

Aeria had sat herself on top of my auburn hair, pretending they were reins and she was riding me like a stallion. The sylphid was immature at times and intelligent at others, changing on the drop of a hat much like the wind changed directions. It was a trait of their species and at this point I was used to it.

Yet, a scowl marred my face the entire time we walked as I reviewed the inventory of supplies that I ordered. The attack earlier was masterfully handled, but it was neither a victory nor something I could just brush off. If I hadn’t subdued the situation, I had no doubt that only the two of us would have been punished for self-defense.

More importantly, Vancipe had recklessly escalated things in a manner that was out of character for him. Comparing the incident in the Library and just now, he was legitimately becoming dangerous rather than a simple bully.

Alice noticed the look on my face at a glance and read me like a book. “I don’t know what his problem was, but I’m sure things will get better next year. The Head Enforcer was at least willing to listen to ya and we handled it.”

Sadly, I found her words to be hollow. There was no way I was coming back as a student. Magister Diagona had a point that I couldn’t put off telling her anymore, so I decided to just say it. “Alice, I don’t plan on coming back next year.”

Clack. The soft clacking sound of wood hitting the stone floor echoed in the passageway. Her footsteps became nonexistent as well. Looking back, I found she was frozen in place with an eye that desired answers.

I couldn’t keep a sigh from escaping my lips, a minor bout of guilt for hiding my intentions from her for some time. I knew she wouldn’t take the news well, but I continued. “After three years here, I can safely say the courses here aren’t suited for people like me, despite their advertisement about being a foremost authority in alchemy and magic alike. Not to mention dealing with people like Vancipe.

“I spend the majority of my time in my workshop or the Library, since those are the safest locations…” I trailed off, picking her wand up off the ground. “Truthfully, I had been planning this for some time. Between the tuition and incidents like before, it’s just not worth coming back when I can just skip ahead.”

Alice bit her lips, a sign I recognized after so long as her attempting to hide her sorrow.  “Don’t ya need a degree from here in order to be an official alchemist?”

I shook my head. “That’s what I thought as well, but no. Turns out alchemist have to take an official exam determined by a council that’s independent of the academy—and that’s only if I decide that I want an official title or a job in the government. I’ve already discussed getting my credentials in certain topics, with a few of the magisters volunteering to vouch for me so my age isn’t a factor, so as far as I’m concerned I’m just jumping ahead by a few years.”

Her exposed eye drifted to the floor, unable to look at me otherwise. “What are ya going to do when ya leave?”

I stroked my chin in deep thought. “Well, I’ve got a bit of money saved up from my freelancing with the boutique and I can get a loan for more with my parents. So I thought I might start a shop of my own.”

“Kowl,” Alice cupped my cheeks and forced my eyes to meet her jade-colored one. As her face neared mine, the sweet scent wafting off her stripped me of my guard. “Are ya just gonna leave me here alone?”

Somehow I found facing Vancipe again would be easier than this. I was never good with upset women. “Listen, you’ll be able to reach me whenever you want, and you aren’t a helpless little girl either. Unlike me, you can actually learn something here and defend yourself.”

“I won’t be able to convince ya otherwise, will I?” she asked, completely crestfallen because she knew what my answer would be. She just wanted to hear it from me.

I smiled at her bitterly, running my fingers across her skin to brush aside the hair hiding the rest of her face. Gazing into her hidden eye revealed that it was red rather than green, a sign of heterochromia. It added to her beauty. “No.”

Alice closed her eyes and released me, wiping away the tears that formed in short order. “Alright, fine. But ya better contact me every day.”

“I will. I promise…” I trailed off as a stray thought crossed my mind. Reviewing a mental checklist, I noticed something was missing. Doubling back over the supplies I had bought only confirmed it. “I forgot to order Illumines Moss.”

The moss grew in caves and caverns where darkness was pronounced. Trace amounts of light would barely reach it, so the moss would absorb the photons until it gathered enough to glow brightly. It was to act as a component in one of my more explosive concoctions. You could never have enough of those around.

Alice’s redirected her focus, grabbing her wand and tapping it against her cheeks in thought. She probably relished anything that would get her mind off what we were discussing prior. “Doesn’t that stuff grow in the Teable’s Maw?”

The thought crossed my mind as well, since I originally learned about it from Magister Flourish. Teable’s Maw was named as such because the entrance resembled a Teable dragon’s mouth. It was on the academy grounds, but only fifth-year students could freely explore them under normal circumstances.

I lacked magic, so I couldn’t go, while Aeria tended to get into trouble if she strayed too far from me and was easily distracted. I wouldn’t ask any other student since I only trusted Alice, and I couldn’t ask the magisters either, since it was not only an inconvenience but it had recently become summer and a lot of dangerous creatures were present then.

Still, I shouldn’t have been surprised when the cherry-haired witch offered her assistance. “I think my class is heading that way to the lake. I’ll say I left something and double back to get yer moss when no one is looking.”

“No.” I told her firmly. “Absolutely not, it’s not safe since its summer time and a lot of nasty things like to lurk around those caverns. Even the magisters don’t venture there during this season for trivial reasons. Not to mention that place is like a maze from what I hear and it took one person who got lost in there three days to get out.”

My gaze drifted to a clock hanging overhead. It was nearing noon. “We’re running late and I’ve got to go to Chemeia class. After that I’ll need to see about the Mire Propagate since it’s almost done, so I’ll skip Lunch as well. Can you place an order for the moss at the boutique when your class ends?”

Alice bit her lips again but nodded. “Sure…”

Next Chapter

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