The First Steps – 4.04

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Oh my. Young people are so forward these days.

The amusement in Elsa’s tone left me wanting to bury my head as Aeria regaled her with the story of the firelight dance.  We were still waiting for Mister Rieth to return but I had run out of things to talk about, so Aeria took the lead in conversing with her. Unfortunately, I was finishing my tea when she brought up the kiss between Alice and me, so I couldn’t stop her.

At that point, nothing would quell the desire that had taken root within the Mountain Spirit to get the full story. “Alice sounds like a lovely young woman. You should invite her to come here, so I can meet her in person.

“If I did then she would want to meet my family.”

Then I guess I’ll just have to come visit you then.” Her jovial tone was followed by raising a hand to her chin. “Though it’s been so long since I’ve traveled very far on my own. I hope I don’t end up getting lost along the way.

“Just send notice beforehand and we’ll be ready to receive you,” I said. If there would be no dissuading her, I may as well make it easier.

I’ll show you around! There’s lots of places to visit—and a big forest too!

That sounds fun. I’ll look forward to it… Oh?

I noticed the abrupt shift in her tone and sat up straight. “Is something wrong?”

It feels like Wilhelm is back. Let me tell him that you’re here.” That said, she grabbed the small pouch she brought with her and then went out of the door, shutting it behind her. Less than a minute later she returned with her contracted alchemist in tow.

Wilhelm Rieth was a man who stood tall and proud in posture, adorned in a simple long-sleeved shirt and pants. His hair and mustache were already showing signs of greying as his middling years neared. His brown eyes were obscured by the glint of the light against his square glasses, but the small smile he wore was welcoming.

“It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?” he asked in a modulated voice, briefly looking over to the retort and vial before approaching us. “I trust your work has been going well?”

“For the most part.” I rose to my feet as Aeria took her place on my head and extended my hand for him to shake. “I hope that we aren’t intruding upon you with our presence?”

“This season tends to leave me rather occupied, but I do have enough time to hear out your request.” He gave me a firm shake before releasing his grasp and crossing his arms. “What is it that you needed of us?”

I presented him my research log to examine. “I was working on a potion that could be used to render a body immune to lethal levels mana poisoning for a prolonged period of time. But we’ve hit a dead end in our efforts, so I wanted to ask if it was possible to have it done via commission.”

He began looking through it immediately, not wasting any time. “How ambitious of you when there are medicines that can handle the treatment of mana poisoning already present. But to prevent it all together would require having a means of intercepting it as it enters your body, before it can cause damage.”

There was also outright changing the body’s composition, giving oneself traits that they didn’t normally have. Like the ability to use magic. But there was a reason that granting a person the ability to use magic through such means failed.

For one, it was difficult given the presence of the person’s quintessence interacting with the caster’s. Meshing one with another required a precise touch to avoid rejection. It was part of what made Amelioration spells so difficult, which was why the boutique sold medicines and such capable of doing so, along with the memory tricks that Magister Atra has been pulling off. More of a reason to be wary of her since she had to be doing something I didn’t understand to pull that off on Aeria, along with those on the academy grounds, with contemptuous ease.

For another, by its nature high concentrations of mana eroded spellwork so it would eat away at the spell cast on the person almost instantly and they’d have a case of mana poisoning. Really, if not for discovering Spirit Symbiosis I would have dismissed the possibility entirely.

“It has been an arduous task, given the lack of materials within Aeria’s sphere of influence for us to work with,” I told him, to which he nodded his head in understanding.

For an alchemist, the spirit they were contracted with acted as a gateway that allowed them to interact with the Prima Materia of the item in question. If the quintessence could be considered the intangible essence that contained thoughts and intentions, then the prima materia was the primordial clay upon which the physical object was built upon. With a spirit’s aid, the alchemist could remove extraneous and undesirable elements, purifying the remaining ones while adding others, shaping that primordial clay and transmuting the item into something else.

But the extent to which one could do so was dependent on the spirit in question. Aeria being a Wind Spirit meant that it was with gases and vapors that she had essentially unlimited access to refine or alter the inherent properties. She only had a limited ability to influence things like plants and minerals.

“I see you’ve approached it from a number of ways to try and get around that,” he said, still reading. “You even reduced the unnecessary elements manually to isolate the compound that possessed the property you desired, and then incorporated it into a supplement.”

He was talking about Sorbetum. It was one of a few specific compounds that could absorb mana, extracted from using gemstones as a solute and a certain kind of solvent. The chemical reaction that resulted would break down the gemstone and then bond the individual elements into a precipate that could be extracted once the supernatant fluid was removed.

As for the Supplement, that was basically an alchemic additive. To make one, I used an alchemic solvent called Alkahest that was harmless until it was activated with a spirit’s magic, whereupon it could dissolve the physical form of most materials within it and what was left behind was the liquid clay that contained the properties that had been present within it—prima materia made corporeal.

When added to another substance and activated with a spirit’s magic, it impregnated itself into the very foundation of what it was being used in. It transmuted the very building blocks already present into holding the desired traits and properties, provided they could be instilled. There were limitations after all depending on what the object was, but it was still a necessity in most forms of alchemy.

“It wasn’t enough though. Trying to refine it further failed until we reached this point. It’s disheartening, to say that least.”

Yeah, we tried so many things. Even trying to turn it into a gas so I could make it stronger. But it wouldn’t work.

He shook his head slowly. “That’s only natural, given it doesn’t truly exist in a physical state of matter. Such things are dissolved away by the Alkahest, and what’s left is only a primordial, amorphous substance that can’t interact with the physical elements themselves.”

“I understood that, but we had reached a point where we were desperate. It was the closest we’d come to achieving a breakthrough since it could be added to medicines, creams, and even other physical objects, making it ideal for the task. It was just that the inherent effect was so weak and slow to the point of being useless, and I lacked any sort of catalyst that would accelerate the process.”

Elsa tilted her head. “Well, it would be within my ability to give you higher quality materials to work it.

“That would take care of the first obstacle,” I conceded. It was only one step in the critical path. The most important one, but still only a single step. “After that, it would be a matter of incorporating it into a substance that could saturate the bloodstream and have the capacity to hold the mana without leaking it into the system.”

“And then there’s the matter of flushing it out afterwards.” Mister Rieth finished reading, closed the book, and handed it back with a sad smile. “You’ve done a lot already, but I can’t accept the request for a commission on such a project.”

But why?” Aeria asked, her voice betraying the casual nature of our approach until now. “This is stuff you can do, right?

“Theoretically, yes,” he told her with an inquisitive look. “It does fall into my area of expertise when it comes to mineralogy, herbology, and medicine. However, most of my experiences are with practical medicines and the like. The practicality of this project is outweighed by the time and resources I’d need to invest into it, the former of which I’m quite pressed for given that there are a lot of people who still require things of me this season.”

Our priorities were naturally different. With Elsa he didn’t need to really concern himself with funds, so instead he was focusing on helping the people who needed him locally by giving out medicine for free largely. To him, aiding the others took precedence over a commission for something that would be impractical under normal circumstances.

But if we don’t get it then something bad will happen!

And what’s that?” Elsa asked, causing Aeria to clamp her tiny hands shut over her mouth at the slip up. A moment too late if anything. Now the Mountain Spirit was suspicious, and her attention shifted to me. “Now that I think of it, why do you want something like that?

“Forgive us, but we can’t say why,” I said, inclining my head apologetically. “It’s nothing you need to worry about though. We’re simply exploring the options we can take to further our knowledge, and this was one of them.”

It wasn’t the response she wanted to hear, given how the sporophytes that composed her moss gown bristled as she grew upset. “Sweetie, I can’t help but worry you’re both doing something risky to need that sort of thing. Please tell us honestly what it’s for.

“Elsa, don’t press them on it,” Mister Rieth told her, removing his glasses in the process to offer her a comforting gaze. “Everyone is entitled to their secrets and responsibilities. We should respect their privacy as their peers in the same field, not as children to be babied. Besides, I can’t imagine Kowler rushing into things without considering the risks, so I don’t think they’re in any trouble.”

The Mountain Spirit didn’t seem convinced but the moss dress she wore settled down, so she was at least deferring to his wishes. “Fine.

He then looked back to me. “As I said, we can’t make it for you given the impracticality of it and the effort involved, even as a commission. I can’t even begin to predict the amount of time it would take, even if we had the necessary components or an existing recipe. However, we can make refined Sorbetum if you’re willing to trade services for it. How long will you be here?”

I breathed easier that he was letting it go in the end. If I had to lie it would have soured things even more. “My sister’s wedding shouldn’t be until the end of the week, meaning I will be here until then. What would you have us do?”

“One of the people I met with today was a woman who wanted to have a sleeping aid made, along with something to soothe the usual coughs that go around here, so that her children could sleep easier. I had intended to use liquid medication but, given the size of her home and the number of children she has, an aerosol would be better.”

An aerosol would be able to enter the lungs and respiratory tract without influencing the other systems. It’d naturally work quicker since it didn’t have to go through the digestive tract, meaning that there would be no need to add in a catalyst to speed up the absorption rate. Aeria could also create a carrier gas that would maintain the potency, allowing the effect to last longer.

“If you two are willing make the aerosol to the best of your ability, we’ll make enough refined Sorbetum that you won’t be lacking for quite a while,” he finished. “Is that fair enough for you?”

“That offer is more than enough given the secrecy involved on our end,” I told him. “If you can tell me more about the patients, I’ll come up with a suitable herbal formula to use in the aerosol.”


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