An Alchemist Sets Out 1.04

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The wind was heavy as we rode, its howl deafening my hearing and threatening to crumble my world. My fingers threatened to give out in lieu of the intense speed at which the fume beast traveled. The twisted ankle wasn’t helping the situation at all either. But all I could do was grit my teeth as tunnel vision set in and focus on keeping it going at full speed before it became nothing more than a phantasm once its ephemeral life came to an end.

Only the sight of a roaring pyre in the distance gave me a reason to slow it down by pulling the mane of the creature. It was then there was another explosion up ahead. Once the distance was closed, I found my worst fears were mere moments from coming true.

Alice was still alive, for that I was grateful. The sweat dotting her face was glistening from the red light at the tip of her wand, showing she was putting up a fight. However, from the tears in the black blouse she wore exposing her fair skin marred by cuts and scrapes leaking her lifeblood, I gathered it was going badly. Trolls were magic-resistant because of their skin, making them a pain to deal.

She was being hovered over by a towering troll made of pure muscle, gray hide with a humanoid build. It merely gazed down at the witch with crimson eyes that shone like rubies, even in the distance. No, they were more like dying stars that told an ominous tale. Wielding a wooden club twice the length and girth of a human in its hand, it would turn her into paste if it connected once.

More are coming,” Aeria said with her nose twitching as she registered the new scents closing in. “There’s about half a dozen more of them!

From bad to worse, I bit back a swearword and focused on the battle ahead as the troll attacked. Unleashing a battle cry, its weapon descended. The sheer amount of strength behind the attack guaranteed it would be a powerful blow, capable of smashing stone. My heart almost stopped when I realized I wouldn’t make it in time.

Alice dodged with everything she had to avoid being even grazed by the massive weapon and killed. She rolled on the ground, paying no mind to the stains on her clothing and twigs in her hair, to avoid the crushing force of the strike that caved in the ground. Then she came back strong with a spell that generated flames and spiraled them into a thin, concentrated rope emerging from the tip of her wand.

Lashing it, the whip of searing flames connected with the thick wood and sheared through it, leaving only a burnt stub. Coming around again, it struck the troll’s grayish hide with far less success, only scorching the top layer before being dispersed against her will. The troll then brought its shortened weapon up for a second strike, while she was regaining her bearings. Caught off balance, death would be instantaneous for certain.

But I refused to let that happen. Breaking through the tree line and into the clearing, I yelled for her to duck. “Alice, get down!

She did so instinctively upon hearing my voice and, in full gallop, the horned mare leaped over her as I dismounted in mid-air, landing on my side next to her with a grunt. The fume beast meanwhile slammed headfirst into the troll and sent it to the ground before dispersing. The look in her exposed eye spoke of the unexpected.

She clearly wasn’t expecting me. “Why—”

“There are more coming!” I cut her off, followed by a sharp breath as my ankle was filled with stabbing pain. The rattling trees gave way to six more trolls, each as big as the last, which was stirring back up to its feet. “We need cover, now!”

She nodded and held her wand upright, pointing towards the sky as an incantation rolled off her lips with a grace only found between calm and panic. The adrenaline coursing through her veins must’ve replaced the blood leaking from the scrapes and cuts, because she poured everything she had into the conjuring spell and from the wand bellowed a tide of the blackish-gray smoke, hiding us from the trolls by blanketing the majority of the area.

The trolls coughed violently, massive limbs waving to disperse the smoke. Aeria had already manipulated the surrounding space around us to create a pocket of fresh air in the middle of the blanket. I couldn’t see through the veil and only heard the sound of wood smashing earth, but I grabbed Alice by the wrist and pulled her along with me to another safety zone that the sylphid established, staggering as the pain in my ankle mounted.

By the time we broke through the smoke, we were both on our knees and coughing out the inhaled irritant. Magic-users, at least humans ones, weren’t immune to their own spells if precautions weren’t taken. Alice’s clothing had been charmed to diffuse heat from her own fire spells to an extent, but not the smoke created by her.

“We hafta keep going!” she said once her throat was clear, her accent stronger than normal when she was in a heightened state of emotion. It was when she tried to pull me up and a sharp cry left my mouth that she looked down and caught sight of my ankle, swelling thickly. Spells that were more useful at healing were never her thing, so there was nothing she could do to help.

Instead I handed her the Bellatoress Brew and told her to drink it. She did so without even asking what it was and strength returned to her body as the bleeding stopped. With that taken care of I finally asked, in a less that pleased tone, what the hell she was doing here. “Why did you come out here after I warned you not to—were you trying to die?

She flinched at my outburst. “Ah just wanted ta be useful, one last time. Just grabbin’ tha moss and gettin’ out. But ah got lost and it took hours ta find tha exit.”

“You could have simply placed the order,” I pointed out. “It wasn’t that urgent and you knew better, so what possessed you to skip one of your favorite classes, with one of the strictest magisters, despite my warning about the dangers?”

She grabbed her shoulders and looked away. Her mouth opened and closed several times in succession as she tried to spit it out but, when she was about to say something, the roar of a troll that broke through the smoke and barreled down on us cut her off. Its crimson eyes were furrowed in rage and its fist was raised, ready to deliver a crushing blow.

I didn’t waver, acting on instinct. Drawing the two corked vials of the incomplete explosive concoctions, which lacked the moss Alice came to retrieve ironically, their explosive properties would be hampered without the Illumines Moss. Nevertheless, I toss them directly into the creature’s head by muscle memory.

The vials shattered on impact, exposing the agent to the oxygen-rich air. The reaction was nearly instantaneous. An orange explosion rocked the air from the force of the blast, with the troll’s head caught in the center.

Here was a fact: Its skin was magic-proof and could hamper a magic-fueled explosion by diffusing the magic that supported it on contact. The same skin did little against a chemical explosion and the mixture of the substances prior to sealing it caused a chemical reaction, rather than a magical one.

The smoke from what I was positive to be a disfigured, at the very least, face obstructed the view as the troll’s body stumbled back a step, before falling to the ground still as a rock. I was fairly certain it was dead. If not from the heat, the shockwave turned its brain to mush.

Alice decided against saying whatever she was going to and stood guard over me, her wand at the ready. The smoke had begun to thin and the obstructive creatures were surrounding us. Escape was out of the question since she couldn’t carry me and run fast enough to get away, since they were surprisingly swift for their size.

I reached for my throwing knife, fresh out of explosives. It felt surprisingly heavy in my hands. The weight of what could be our darkest hour, surrounded by a total of six more trolls, was upon the blade. I turned to the sylphid. “Aeria, any chance you can suffocate them?”

She shook her head. “I’m pretty tired because you woke me up early. Not to mention it won’t work because they can simply escape the area or diffuse my magic. All I can do is slow them down, and give your weapon a minor blessing.

Placing her hands above her, a small orb of luminous green formed and spiraled in place. Taking hold of the air around us, it began to stir into a small windstorm. The wind itself would wash off the hide of the massive creatures with ease. However, the loose debris and dirt that were entwined within the cyclone created a dusty veil, which slowed the opposition through sight, sound, and smell.

“Alice, aim for their mouth or eyes. Those parts are as vulnerable as a human’s,” I told the witch, before raising the flat knife towards the sky for Aeria to bless. Her song resonated with the blade and the pure magic of the sylphid flowed through the knife, summoning wind that overlapped the steel and extended the overall reach of the weapon to that of a sword forged of razor gales. Gifted by the elemental, it became sharp enough to pierce stone. Finally armed, I forced myself up to my feet and stood ready on a trembling leg.

The pounding of blood in my ears managed to dull the pain and clear my head as we faced death when the first enemy broke through the dirty veil with a mighty roar. Piercing crimson stars focused on me. The massive creature of muscle and gray flesh ran forward to kill me, the grip on its weapon absolute as it intended to unleash all its might in one blow.

I would be nothing but a multicolored stain in the ground, seeping into the cracks and crater made from the impact if it hit. The thought made me swallow in primal fear, especially knowing the blade of wind wouldn’t pierce the magic-resistant hide of the towering creature thrice my size. Honestly, I felt like an ant meeting a boot. Regardless, I stepped in to confront it as only death awaited those who hesitated.

The troll roared a final time once it was in front of me and the club descended like the hammer of a god, threatening to smite me from above.

I dodged. Twisting my body, I avoided death for the moment at the expense of a sharp shooting pain from my ankle and thrust the blade like a rapier. Without mercy, I drove the extended blade of wind into the left eye and pierced it until it ran through the brain, bypassing the skull entirely. Death was sudden and unexpected by the troll, and it landed face down next to me.

I fell to my knees, clutching my ankle that had taken too much abuse and left me unable to stand on it again. It left me vulnerable and unable to react properly when another roar reached my ears as a third troll broke through the defensive screen. The weapon it wielded swung down almost instantly and my vision froze as my body was crushed…

At least that would have happened had a sizzling bolt not flown overhead and struck the opened maw of the troll. Alice put a lot of power into that spell, considering the impact had enough force behind it to knock the balance of the creature off enough so that the weapon crushed the ground three feet away…while its head was basically gone.

Once the body of the third dead troll fell onto the ground with a loud crash, I looked to see Alice in action. She refused to sit still, actively dancing around the fourth troll that assaulted her. She jumped back when it tried to sweep her away; she dodged to the side when it tried to crush her from above; she rolled when a diagonal strike would have killed her.

Yet she was unaware of the fifth one barreling towards her. It had learned from the death of the others not to roar as it struck. Intelligence among trolls was merely uncommon, not nonexistent.

I reacted. My knife was thrown underhanded. Cutting through the wind with the extended edge, it entered the right eye and pierced through. Looking back at Alice upon hearing an explosion and seeing a flash, I saw her own endeavors were successful.

The other troll was missing the upper portion of its head, a macabre sight to behold that I was sure stemmed from a blazing bolt that ruptured inside the mouth, taking out everything above it. The witch trotted over to me and tried to help me up as I took a mental count. Five were dead out of the original seven, with the two remaining preparing a frontal blitz…

Not bad for two students, but things looked grim in the long run. Alice was still going from the concoction I gave her, but if she had to protect me then she would falter and die before I followed. Aeria’s magic was dwindling and would be gone in five seconds at the most. I myself could no longer move and was now weaponless…

No, I still had one weapon left, a final card to play.

Alice seemed to think the circumstances over and came to a decision. She kneeled down and looked me in the eyes. Then her lips planted a forceful kiss upon mine. Despite the fact that we were facing death in mere seconds, my mind grinded to a halt at the kiss that sent a blazing heat through my face until she pulled away.

A surge of emotions welled up, but I suppressed them as I felt the wind around us die. Then I saw her tense up, as if she was actually going to attempt to charge the remaining trolls in what could only be considered suicide. The wind storm nearly faded away when my hands shot out and grabbed Alice’s arm in a vice grip since there was no way I was letting her throw away her life like that.

The muscles of the trolls’ bodies tensed as the windstorm died and they charged as I pulled out the ampoule that I had just finished not even an hour ago, the biological weapon that had yet to be tested in its current state, and threw the sealed gel towards the leading troll. The club it wielded came around in an arc and shattered the container, causing the freed gel to spatter across the grass and troll’s skin…

And it came alive.

Writhing, the scattered drops began to hum with life and shone like blue beacons in the darkness that halted the attack. The droplets pulsated with the blood-crystal, which began to throb. They expanded rapidly, swelling larger than one could possibly believe from the miniscule droplets, lurching toward the crimson crystal and piling on top of each other until it gave birth to a towering slime creature, whose body oozed out and ran freely.

The natural creatures were small gumdrop-shaped masses of smooth gel. This was a rolling, dripping, gelatinous, heterogeneous monstrosity that was more akin to a nightmare. That was only compounded as a shrill cry came from a maw that looked as though it was ripped into the body and tendrils of the same substance emerged from the mass thick and strong, flailing wildly in the air.

My blood linked it to me. It was a rough connection, only passing base intentions along. But that was enough for now, since my intentions drove the creation to act in accordance to feeling particularly murderous towards some trolls.

The trolls acknowledged the new threat. Charging in, they swung their clubs in an attempt to scatter the creation. They banked on their brute strength being enough to overpower it…

They were wrong.

The body itself had a high viscosity that easily entrapped the weapons, forcing them to abandon them or be drawn in. The tendrils entrapped them and forced them into its maw and body. That was where they suffocated to death, thrashing helplessly as their end came.

It was already established that trolls were fairly strong and magic-resistant. Even full-grown wizards, witches, and magi would have trouble penetrating their skin. However, they still needed to breathe and the dissolving enzyme that my creation secreted acted through chemicals, not magic. Once their corpses were still, it began releasing the enzyme to consume them…and lost control, bubbling like water over an intense flame.

Alice stepped away from the squirming blob. “Isn’t this…kinda bad?”

“Don’t worry, it’ll resolve itself,” I said and turned my back on it, not wishing to see what happened next after the small scale test back in the academy with the last few batches I made prior to this one. There was a reason biological weapons were frowned upon being crafted by alchemists in the modern day and the processes not taught openly. They were somewhat sentient but unnatural, meaning they had a very short expiration date unless they were absolutely perfect. I thought increasing the amount of samples and the regenerative properties of tin would stabilize it, but it seems I was wrong again and it was just luck that it lasted this long.

It shrieked in unholy pain and then came loud pops as sections were being purged and slowly evaporating, sizzling even. Much like most slime monsters would react to fire, the creature bellowed in anguish. The death throe it let out was simply sorrowful and the squealing only ended once it evaporated completely, leaving only tinted wisps from the smoldering carcasses of the trolls.

“I’ll have to find some way to stabilize the next few in the future,” I told myself, undeterred by the set back of its horrifying death. “Maybe find some way to return it to a base state rather than dying out like that.”

It could be argued that I was a madman for planning to continue tampering with the natural order, for both attempting to perfect it beyond the bounds of what was the role of evolution and biology, and for creating such an abomination as a living weapon. But was that not the original role of an alchemist, siding with nature in the form of elementals and using their aid in reaching new heights and perfection?

It was a question with no real answer as each person had their own. My answer came to me at the realization of why I couldn’t stomach watching my creation die. It was because I brought it into this world through my own hands.

I was its creator and thus I felt for it. Those who willingly crafted such things and felt nothing when their creations died tended to not have any reservations about taking the life of another in experimentation. They were the madmen, the ones who only brought misery to the world, not I…

Then again, how many people truly think of themselves as such, even if they actually were?

Phew…” Alice huffed as she took a seat next to me, breaking me from the train of thought. She reached into a pocket of her robe and pulled out a jar of glowing moss. Setting it down between us, she closed her eyes and sighed. “Ah swear ah—”

She cut herself off and cleared her throat to rid herself of her accent unnecessarily. “There’s yer moss. I swear I ain’t doing ya anymore favors like that again.”

I had completely forgotten I needed that in the heat of things. Moreover it was now useless since I used the explosive solution to save her. The irony didn’t escape me, but since the adrenaline was wearing off I felt too tired to argue that I expressly told her not to come here in the first place. We survived, so that was enough for now and I took it without complaint.

But there was still a question I wanted answered. “Say, Alice?”

She opened her eyes and turned to face me, a rather soft expression on her face that looked relieved that I was still next to her. “Yeah?”

“Ah…about earlier…” The question was not easy to ask, so the words were caught in my throat that seemed dry all of a sudden.

Aeria had no such problems about broaching the subject without an ounce of subtlety. “You guys finally kissed! It was so romantic!

There was a moment of pure silence after the declaration. Then Alice looked away, a crimson hue painting her cheeks as she struggled for words. “Ah—ahem, I thought we weren’t going to make it so…”

My eyebrows edge up slightly and she seemed unable to continue until I prodded her on it. “Alice, tell me the truth…”

She sighed in resignation and confessed. “Ya were my first friend. The person I knew like the back of my hand. Was there any surprise I felt the way I do?”

So it was the culmination of what she felt and the desperation of being in our darkest hours that spurred her to act and kiss me. “How long had you been feeling this way?”

“Ages,” she confessed. Pulling up her legs and wrapping her arms around them so she was curled while upright, she sighed again. “I just…never said anything because it was always work with ya and I wasn’t sure if it was mutual. And now yer gonna leave me behind.”

I opened my mouth to say that I did love her. Or at least I would be willing to be in a relationship with her. Then I thought about how hard it would be to be with her since the academy was a boarding school and, provided I could enter campus, it would be business-only.

Then again some of the other students lived in the nearest town and commuted everyday to either save on the boarding fees or for privacy, as long as the parents notified them and made the arrangements. The question was how I was going to get her parents to agree to that without it looking shady or indecent. For as reasonable folks that they were, her father could crush me like a grape and had made it known at one point during a conversation.

Before I could say anything, however, Aeria decided to speak for me again. “He does! He does! He likes you too!

“Aeria! Silence!” I reached up to try and grab the sylphid, only for her to dodge and continue regardless.

He even hurt that mouthy guy and jumped off the rooftop and—” This time I managed to catch her and place a finger to her mouth to silence her. Honestly, the child could at least let me explain things in my own way rather than just blurt it out. Now it took a great deal of effort not to squirm as Alice’s eyes fell onto me.

She pointed her wand to my swollen ankle and then the burnt hole in my half-cloak. “Is that how this happened?”

I raised my hands in an effort to pacify her. “In my defense, the magisters sealed the entrances to the building barring the roof and I had a Feather Weight potion until Vancipe interfered. Using Aeria without the contract bolstering her control still worked out fine. As for Vancipe…well, he’s still alive…”

If anything it seemed to agitate her more, placing her head in her hands. “Kowl, ya risked everything to help me, didn’t ya? What about yer future plans!? What if this interferes with yer credentials and all that!?”

I attempted to move a little closer to her, but a sharp stinging sensation ran through my leg now that the adrenaline was gone. Sucking in a sharp breath, I grabbed her shoulder and squeezed lightly until she looked at me. “Alice, I made a choice and I don’t regret it. Whatever happens…it happens…”

Her expression softened at that and she moved in closer to me. There was a pause in the middle of the motion as she took a deep breath. Then she closed her eyes and neared…

It was then Aeria squirmed in my grasp, using her free hands to pull away my finger as she sniffed the air. “I smell some of the magisters and enforcers coming.

Oh sure, now they pop up,” Alice muttered in annoyance, retracting herself from trying to get another kiss.

I found myself somewhat agreeing with her. Really, now they show up after the problem is taken care of and we were in the middle of a confession. “Okay, we need a cover story since I would rather not explain what just happened in relation to the gelatinous monstrosity that has just vanished without any trace. Some people might find that whole thing…disturbing.”

Alice said nothing, but nodded and we quickly came up with a suitable lie for why we were sitting in the middle of scorched and scattered earth with several large corpses.

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