Given how today had gone so far I was grateful that Chemeia ended without incident as I found myself standing outside the door of the Apothecary Magister’s Office. As class wasn’t in session during the Lunch period that followed, he could reliably be found here. After sending Aeria to guard the workshop, both to keep her out of trouble and to ensure Vancipe didn’t sabotage something there, I knocked on the door thrice.
“Enter,” came from the other side of the door, the voice muffled by the wood but still recognizable.
The door hinges squeaked as they opened and revealed the interior of the office. It was organized, shelves and glass cases filled with ceramic, amber, and clear bottles that were divided up by what they contained, ranging from powders to pill to liquids. The worktables off to the sides contained numerous drawers labeled with the equipment that was stored in them, arranged by their usefulness. It was orderly, which was something that I found to be a requirement when working with various substances.
Sitting at the main desk was Magister Chelde, a pale man with a large frame whose beard was white and his hair hidden beneath a hat of sorts. He sat there with his arms on the desk, his fingers locked together, and his cobalt-blue eyes trained on me as I entered. “Welcome, my boy. Take a seat.”
I did so, taking a seat in the chair in front of the desk. “I apologize for not being present earlier. My various projects have been somewhat time-consuming.”
“Understandable,” he stated, before inquiring, “and how fairs mine in particular?”
“It should be ready by this evening,” I answered. “The Bellatoress Brew should be perfect, as I followed all the steps precisely and attentively…although at some point I would like to try and see if any of the components could be exchanged—perhaps another emulsifier rather than Lecithos.”
The magister brought his hand up to his beard and stroked it at the thought, mulling it over as he looked at me. “Interesting, perhaps a more modern one would yield a better result…but for now follow the instructions as you should. On another topic, I called you here to ask about whether or not you would like to keep producing for goods for the boutique once you leave?”
“I was unaware that I would be able to,” I said. “The program is for current students only, isn’t it?”
He nodded. “True, but there is the option of listing you as a third-party contractor, providing everything is set up on your end. All you would need are the proper licenses, a workshop that passes the standard inspection for sanitation, and meets an appropriate size.”
“I was thinking of opening a shop in the nearest town after I received my license. The place I had picked out was once an apothecary that closed down, so the workshop should be suitable given the size. There should be no difficulties in getting the licenses to be an apothecary and chemist either, as long as I pass the certification exams.”
“There are drawbacks compared to the system we use for current students,” he warned. “For starters, the commission you will earn with be a lower margin than at present. The tuition program was designed for students who couldn’t afford their own supplies or education, and the money would most likely have been cycled back into the academy. Also, the orders will be significantly higher in volume and we will only stock what I and Magister Astat judge as appropriate quality when it comes to our areas of expertise. As you can imagine, we do so on a much higher curb than now.”
“May I ask why?” I inquired. “It would be a great help, of course, but I am curious given my age and year.”
“Naturally, both Magister Astat and I took notice of the quality of what you produced being well above that needed for the boutique when it came to student-made products,” he started with. “Perhaps it is because you can only do a few things that you are able to do them well, but leaving prematurely, even with your credentials, will hinder you in the end. We prefer to see our students thrive in their fields of study, and for it to be known that we provided the grounds for which they learned on and the tools they needed to succeed. This method accomplishes that.”
Considering the expense for the down-payment of the shop and everything else, a source of income already in place would be an immense assistance overall. “I would be glad to accept.”
After that we discussed matters more and I took my leave, traversing the corridors carefully to avoid any trouble as I made my way to my workshop. As I did not have any classes for the time being, I decided to get back to a personal pet project of mine. One that was firmly rooted in alchemy and that I had been experimenting on for some time.
Of course, that was temporarily shelved when I found my contracted elemental playing a game of ‘Toss the very valuable and hard to produce flask of the Essence of the Fume Beast into the air’ and failed to keep my displeasure in check. “Aeria, what are you doing!?”
She made a startled noise and dropped the amber-colored glass flask, leaving me no choice to dive to catch it before the container broke and the contents spill out. She then hovered in the air with her arms crossed, as though she was the offended party. “You scared me!”
I ignored the desire to point out that she should have been able to pick up my scent, had she not been so distracted. “Aeria, what have I told you about playing with things in the workshop? Leaving aside how dangerous it is, have you forgotten how long it took to make this?”
The Essence of Fume Beast was a silvery liquid that vaporized when in contact with the air and gave birth to a tangible vapor. That vapor became an animal based on the type of reactant that was provided. It was a complex work that required expensive materials and, more importantly, attention to detail when being bathed in moonlight over different phases.
The spiritualizing influence of the Waxing Moon breathed life into it while influence of the Waning Moon refined it. Timing was critical, forcing me to shift my sleep schedule so that I awoke before the twilight hours of the morning came and placed it out of the way of the sun, which held purification properties so great it would have completely destroyed the progress in those sensitive phases. It was a masterpiece, my current Magnum Opus that would only be trumped once I realized my long-term goal, starting with getting the Mire Propagate to reach perfection.
Her defense was an unrepentant, “I got bored.”
…I swear, sometimes the child became unbearable to deal with. But there was no time to waste in a pointless argument. Her punishment could come later. “Enough games. There’s work to be done.”
In accordance to the contract, she was required to follow through and help set things up for preparing the Mire Propagate—a ‘Slime Monster Maker’ in plain terms. I got the idea to make it thanks to Magical Zoology, since Magister Diagona had several varieties that she bred and also served as the source from which I obtained my original materials. As Slimes were some of the most simplistic, numerous, and malleable life forms around, it was the best way to proceed on both a moral and logical standpoint.
As far as threat levels went with them, they were still considered a major threat to inexperienced humans and livestock. The reason for this was part-evolution as the simple creatures were ingrained to locate prey by sensing carbon dioxide in the air and instinctively glomping onto the source, which was usually the head of their prey so suffocation occurred quickly. Once the prey was dead or stopped struggling, it would release an enzyme to dissolve organic materials inside itself for sustenance.
Another reason that was even more interesting was that, even if scattered, they could reform to their perfectly homogeneous state as if the core that served as its mind called to its body. This quality made it perfect for testing, since what it responded to could be changed if you killed the connection with a sufficiently hot temperature. Very few people would complain about experimentation on such creatures, and the donations were merely pieces of the whole that it could easily regenerate.
That being said, I made a note never to let the magister see what usually came out as a result of my attempts. Considering that she normally kept them because they were small, only two feet in diameter before they reached maturity in several years, the shock of seeing what I had created would be astronomical. She would most likely be displeased and getting on her bad side was something I would rather not do.
Soon enough everything that was necessary for me to get started stood ready on the table before me. I reached out to the vial rack that held six corked vials, each one containing a squirming sample from one of the various slimes provided by Magister Diagona. Picking up the one with a crimson shade, I noted that it needed to be treated with steam rather than directly over a flame like the others. That was because it was even more flammable than other varieties and direct contact with the flames would make it explode rather than liquefy it.
Aeria set up the portable cauldron, filling it with distilled water and lighting the fire beneath it with a rolled up piece of parchment that she dipped into the bottled salamander’s flame I kept on hand, the magical fire’s properties similar to her own when using the wind. The purifying qualities of it would pass through the heat into the water and steam as the liquid in the cauldron came to a boil. I placed a tin pot that fit perfectly on top of it and used a wooden stirrer to get the jelly-like sample out of the vial and into the pot.
The sample was unable to escape from the pot and the heat from the steam slowly liquefied it. Because it was damaged enough so that the connection with the original source was severed, with the proper medium its movements could be dictated by the commands of another. At the same time, the tin that made up the pot would pass on its rejuvenation properties with the transference of heat, enabling it to remain stable.
Once it was sufficiently liquefied enough, I poured the formerly gelatinous mass into a matrass, a round bottom flask with a long neck, and let it settle on the bottom before I placed a stopper on it and moved on to do the same with the rest. With each addition to the matrass, different colored layers were formed as the different samples were immiscible despite being exposed to the same treatment.
That was when I removed the tin pot to get to the water that was still boiling and reached out for a pouch containing dried Yalaso bark. The Yalaso bark came from a hearty variety of trees from the south region of the continent. It had a magical property that enables it to be used to mix together that which wouldn’t necessarily do so on its own. “Aeria, you’re up.”
Hovering over the bark, the sylphid sang nature’s melody. It responded, taking on a light glow. Once she had finished releasing the magical properties within the bark, I dropped it into the boiling water and lowered the heat of the flame so it simmered for an hour to make a concentrated decoction to serve as an emulsifier. Then I added it to the matrass, capped it off, and swished it around while the heat from the recent additive liquefied the contents once more until they settled together into a single color.
“This is the last phase…” I muttered while holding an un-welded ampoule with a set of tong in my left hand, while the capped matrass was in my right. The ampoule had a single solid object inside it, crystallized blood the size of a small stone. It would serve as the anchor that controlled the mass once it came to life, linked to me through the blood being my own. “Aeria, like we practiced, I need a vacuum between the outside air and the inside so that it doesn’t expand on contact with excess oxygen because of the addition of the emulsifier.”
The young elemental did as asked with utmost concentration as, once we were at work, the binding condition of the contract allowed her to utilize her abilities to their fullest. She solidified the air around the ampoule and the opening of the now-uncapped matrass before siphoning most of the oxygen out of the matrass with a tube-like construct. Once enough of the oxygen was gone, the thinly gelatinous fluid was suctioned out and into the ampoule.
I placed the now-empty matrass down, reaching for a glass cap to seal the ampoule. Once it was in place, a small vacuum space gave it an iron grip on the bottom half and sealed it shut. With that in place I set it down and sighed. “Okay…the final part…”
“I’m tired,” Aeria whined.
It wasn’t a surprise. The level of control over the environment and atmosphere she had was enforced by the contract binding her to me, giving her the concentration needed to be successful at a heavy price. While it was an inborn talent that would only improve with age, despite already surpassing a level that most human magic-users would require a lifetime to reach, she didn’t have the stamina to keep it up.
I held up a lit wooden stirrer, the salamander’s flame dancing on the end. “Just give me a torch to finish and you can sleep.”
The sylphid blew out pure oxygen in a manner resembling how one would blow out a candle and the fire became a torch. The flame seared the point where the glass met glass and the intersecting points turned molten-gold. It welded the two pieces shut.
“We’re done,” I told her, signifying the end of the contract’s enforcement.
Aeria fell to her knees on the table and yawned, too tired from the effort to even try to fly back to the place where she normally slept. She curled up and went to sleep in short order, leaving me gaze upon the Mire Propagate and wonder about how it came out until I could test it.
To be honest, this was something that I was proud and ashamed of indulging in. The creation of artificial life was a touchy subject when it came to alchemy, so much so that they didn’t teach it here directly. There were only obscure bits and pieces of information in the Library that I put together, but it seemed to do the trick as I successfully took mere pieces from the natural creatures and used them to make something greater.
True, I was giving birth to what could only be considered a biological weapon, but it was something that I couldn’t help but do as a step towards my end goal. I was going for what was said to be the pinnacle of alchemy. That was the creation of a Homunculus—an artificial human that surpassed humans.
With that done, I gently placed the ampoule down and looked to the clock on the wall. It was well past the time that Alice’s class normally ended, yet she hadn’t dropped by…strange. I hope she hasn’t decided to avoid me because I didn’t tell her that I was leaving until now.
I imagine it seemed like I was abandoning her, after being friends since our first year. We were the outcasts, someone who couldn’t use magic and someone who shouldn’t be able to, both attending an academy for those who would use it. I was a peasant who consorted with creatures beneath humans and she was a ‘freak of nature’ in the less than savory words uttered by those like Vancipe.
It was a late night when we first met. I could still recall with perfect clarity the black-satin sky that was littered with white stars and the radiant moon above. Its silvery rays shone upon her as she wept silently to herself in front of the window of this very classroom that served as my workshop now. The sudden change in her life had left her weak and vulnerable, the notions of friendship a fleeting dream.
I was in the same boat, although I was harder to break. Even then I realized that I couldn’t change what the other students would do, and resigned myself to being friendless as I clawed my way through my education. Perhaps that was why we originally clung to one another, the small talk that was born out of her spotting me as I stared at her for a moment too long leading to our origin stories.
I told her how I would read stories of alchemist in the local library. At the time I figured, since I could never be a magic-user, I could do the next best thing. When the topic of how I met Aeria came up, I told her I found the sylphid while exploring a forest near my home and entered into a contract with her. After receiving an unofficial mentorship under another local alchemist for some time, I enrolled here.
In Alice’s case, her parents were middle-class shop owners who were surprised that their daughter suddenly developed an aptitude for magic the moment she ‘borrowed’ a customer’s wand. That occurred after an accident that she wouldn’t go into detail about. They went to experts and traced their ancestral roots as far back as five generations, but no record stated they had the blood of magic running through them.
They sent her to the best academy they could afford, which was here. In order to alleviate her debt to her parents, she took a job in the boutique with the experience she grew up with. It was safe to say she never reported the abuse she received as I never told mine either.
We grew…close. Or as close as we could be, given how I rarely showed affection outwardly. It just wasn’t in my nature. But we were comfortable being with each other, enough to have absolute trust in one another…until now, because I hid this from her.
After another five minutes passed and she didn’t show up, I decided to go find her myself. I figured that the main hall, where the boutique was, would be the prime place to start looking. When I got there I noticed something was wrong immediately.
The crowd of students was on high alert, shifting and murmuring as though frightened. Enforcers were standing like sentries at the entrance and a few of the magisters were roll-calling the students. Something must have happened. Walking up to the Head Enforcer, I asked him what was going on.
“Trolls were spotted some time ago,” he stated. “It forced the outdoor classes to return earlier than expected and the campus is on lockdown while we account for everyone…”
He hesitated to speak the next few words, but ultimately told me the words I absolutely did not want to hear. “So far, only Pyralis is unaccounted for out of the assembled class here.”
A knot formed in my stomach and my voice dropped as I asked, “If she’s not here, then where is she?”
“That is what I would like to know,” a new voice chimed in. Turning around, I faced Magister Atra. She was Alice’s teacher for the period, someone who Alice often talked about as someone she looked up to. The magister was a pale-skinned mature woman, clad in black robes that matched her hair flowing down her back in waves. Tapping her wand against the palm of her empty hand, her sapphire-colored eyes stared into mine.
It felt like they were peering into my soul. “Alice Pyralis told me she was heading back to retrieve her wand from your workshop, yet she never made it back even before our trip was cut short and has been missing for roughly four hours or so…”
My blood ran cold. It felt like ice was moving through my veins. If they were going by the lake and she split away, then…she couldn’t have really been so foolish, could she?
Of course she could, she was upset already from the news I gave her. Since when do people act rationally when upset or angry?
The magister seemed to have noticed when the realization dawned on me. “Mister Freslight, you appear to have some idea as to where my wayward student went. Anything you wish to tell me?”
I debated whether or not to tell the truth. Under normal circumstances skipping classes were just a detention for the first offense. This wasn’t normal circumstances and I had no idea what repercussions telling her might have. But hiding information could get her killed, so I divulged it in short order. “Teable’s Maw.”
The female magister shook her head before a strained sigh left her lips. “The Headmaster has stated he’ll send a search party for anyone missing, but realistically he can’t risk the students getting involved. Not to mention the rest of the magisters are ensuring everyone else is here and the academy is secure, should the trolls attempt an attack. It may be hours before we can search.”
A grim pout crossed my face at that. Brutal honesty was fine when I was saying it, but hearing that Alice was just left to die was…wrong. “In other words, she’s being left to possibly die?”
“I find no pleasure in telling you this, nor do I like the fact that a promising student may meet her end so soon,” the magister stated honestly. “However, her lie has placed her in this situation. If she is lucky she may only be lost inside the maze of the caverns and we can find her in due time…otherwise I’m afraid that she may have dug her own grave.”
I wiped the emotions off my face and nodded. “Very well…”
Yet, it was as if she read my mind. Her eyes grew colder as she gave me a warning. “All the lower entrances are sealed off with magic. Do not even think of attempting to leave through them. Regardless of your stature, you are a student and should be protected as such. We cannot lose another.”
“I understand,” I said before I walked back to my workshop with a scowl. I had every intention of going after Alice, but I understood that the ground entrances were sealed off through magic. It was logical given that there weren’t enough Enforcers to guard every feasible escape and most of them only thought of using doors to get out. I was willing to bet the rooftop would work fine though.
Slamming open the door to my workplace, I marched over to where my equipment and supplies laid. The throwing knife, the bone knife I had as a back-up, the Essence of Fume Beast, a Feather Weight potion, the Bellatoress Brew, and more. I took everything that could plausibly be usable in the circumstances and placed them in the utility belt.
But, since I was less than quiet, the noise I made woke Aeria up. “What’s with the racket?”
“Alice is in trouble,” I told my sluggish elemental companion as I put on my half-cloak. “Can you pick up her scent from the rooftop and find a trail?”
Aeria nodded and rubbed her eyes. For all her faults and inexperience, she had liked Alice since they met and would be a great help in tracking her down. Taking ephemeral flight, she landed on my head and we took to the stairs until we came to the exit that led to the flat surface of the rooftop.
From there I peered over the edge and calculated the distance of the drop. It was a fatal distance if I jumped it without precaution, and I would be no good to Alice if I were dead. I brought the Feather Weight potion just for this, since it would make me float down like a feather and from there I could take off.
Reaching into my utility belt, I pulled out a vial of clear yellow liquid—
“I’ll take that!” said an all too familiar voice and, as if an invisible hand yanked the potion out of mine, the corked vial flew and landed securely within Vancipe’s free hand while the other aimed his wand at me. Why now of all times did I have to deal with the pompous jester?
“I have no time for this, Vancipe!” I warned him, my hand flinching as it reached for the throwing knife. Precision throwing was something I worked on as a means of self-defense and he stood between me helping Alice. Every second spent trying to argue with him meant one that could be pushing her closer to death. I could tolerate his behavior when it was simply petty, but the life of someone I cared dearly for was in jeopardy.
He held the vial out and shook it, knowing that if it slipped from his grasp it would break and the potion would be useless. “On your knees with your hands up, Worm. If you or that stupid creature makes a single wrong move…”
I took a deep breath as he let the threat hang in the air and told Aeria to stand down, which she thankfully did rather than summoning a gale that could knock the potion from his hand. I then got down on my knees and raised my hands. “What do you want for the potion, Vancipe? The Amour Draught?”
“No, the ship has sailed on that end,” he stated, keeping his wand on me. “I’ll just use a lesser love potion to buy enough time to order it some other way. Even though it will cost a small fortune, there are ways to get it without going through proper channels. Right now this is about my family honor, which you have stained by humiliating me earlier.”
“Kowl,” Aeria said. “The air is screaming as it burns in the distance. I can feel it.”
She meant that Alice was using fire magic, meaning she was fighting. I was running out of time. My body grew tense and I growled. “Alice is out there, Vancipe. I need that potion to reach her in time. What will it take for you to hand it over?”
“Hmm…” The arrogant fool shook the vial around even more before he looked at me with narrowed eyes. “For everything the pair of you have done to me, I want you to…suffer.”
He dropped the vial and cast a spell at the same time, sending a streaking orange bolt towards my head. The spell was a minor fire spell, which could create a small explosion on a solid impact with enough power put behind it. A blow to the head would be fatal. He was trying to murder me.
Aeria managed to block the spell by putting a solidified block of air along the path, saving my life. But she couldn’t stop the vial from hitting the roof and shattering right before my eyes. The contents were spread along the section of the rooftop, now useless and leaving me without my primary method of getting down and to Alice.
The next thing I knew I saw red and my hand moved. Silver glinted as steel cut through the air, only narrowly and clumsily avoided as the fool received a gash for his efforts. Vancipe took a moment to note the dripping blood trailing down his cloak before he saw me charging in a rage and fired another searing bolt.
The second shot managed to clip my half-cloak, burning a hole through it as I stepped in range with a weapon in hand, the second knife made of bone. He had purposely condemned Alice to death. He had tried to kill me. Now I was going to repay the favor and aimed for his throat.
Vancipe stumbled back and raised his arm in panic. Then he screamed as I plunged the knife through it, cursing that the blade had been too short and brittle to go through his bone completely before snapping off. It was all that saved his life since I was out of knives. Instead, I bought my fist up and slammed it into his face to shut him up.
The bones that made up the human face were well-designed for taking blows. My fist felt a great deal of pain, since only the thin, fingerless gloves protected them. It didn’t stop me from unleashing a second blow leaving him out like a light with a black eye. I wanted to make him pay, and I had just long enough to retrieve the throwing knife and slit his throat before someone came to investigate that scream seconds ago.
It was when the steel was in my hand again that Aeria put her body on top of my clenched fist and spoke. “Alice wouldn’t want you to do this for her! What would she think if she learned you killed him for her?”
Her words gave me pause. I was facing expulsion for the attack alone, if not criminal charges. If I killed him it would be a death sentence, but I could handle that. It would be worth it to avenge her.
What wouldn’t be worth it was that Alice would be the key reason and the blame would shift onto her, her name forever entwined with that of a murderer’s reason for killing the spoiled brat. It would never wash away, whether she was dead or alive. That wouldn’t be worth it. “No, she wouldn’t.”
I placed the throwing knife back in its holster and instead fixed my gaze on his wand. Everyone who had one said that having them was like a part of your body that you never knew you were missing, until you had it in your grasp. The sound of it snapping like a twig was immensely satisfying. I tossed the pieces next to their owner and made for the edge. “Can you cushion my fall?”
“Not completely,” Aeria stated as she landed on my head.
“Try anyway,” I told her. Then I jumped without a second thought, the sylphid clutching my hair on the way down. The ground came up before I had time to register it, but the wind cushioned my fall at her command, allowing me position myself to land on my feet.
I grunted with teeth clenched at the sudden burst of pain as I collapsed onto my knees. The cushioning wasn’t thick enough to completely stop the descent and my landing was off, causing my left ankle to take the brunt and get twisted. I wasn’t running anywhere, but I had a faster means of traveling anyway.
Pulling the amber-colored glass flask filled with luminous silver vapor from my bag, it gushed out as the cap of the Essence of Fume Beast was removed. The contents formed a swirling cyclone that washed over the grass and rattled the nearby leaves. Once the excess smoke cleared, out stepped a silver, translucent, horned mare that seemed like a ghost. Waves of white fog rolled from the creature and slid over the grass, while it clopped against the earth in waiting.
Mounting it was a pain, given my ankle, but I got on. “Aeria, lead the way. Go as fast as you can!”
The sylphid became an ethereal blur as she did as ordered and the horned mare made of solidified smoke whinnied as it took off into the forest after her. Thankfully it could navigate through the dark terrain as Aeria guided us by following Alice’s scent, but the shockwave of each clop against the earth rippled through my body and made the pain in my ankle even worse. I wanted to scream, but I put it out of my mind with herculean effort and focused on the task at hand.
Together, we galloped towards a friend in need.