The distillation process was well underway as I went through the recipe book that Elsa provided me. The volume contained several alchemic recipes that had been compounded over the centuries that she’d been alive. She left it in my care after departing with Miss Bancroft, returning with it and the materials we needed to make the medicine, and then departing again to do her part.
The pages themselves withstood the test of time due to being composed of rag paper that she had personally woven at some point. Her contribution to see that the collective wisdom of Mister Rieth’s family wouldn’t be lost. Tangible knowledge they wished to be passed down for future generations.
It seemed that they had two solutions for dealing with Bloudflies. The older method was cruder and more time-consuming in comparison to the more recent method. Naturally, it was the latter which we would be using to get the medicine ready in time.
The two biggest issues were killing and removing the Bloudflies. Because the eggs could be implanted just about anywhere, and they fed off the blood of the host, the medicine needed to be able to increase blood circulation and carry a strong antiparasitic agent throughout the body. In addition, it had to be potent enough to kill a monstrous species.
Most antiparasitic herbs weren’t strong enough on their own to get that sort of effect. Or rather the essential oils within them simply weren’t potent enough. We’d have to extract and concentrate it from dozens of bundles of Adsewort roots to make a concentration strong enough normally, which would take more time and materials than we had. Thankfully, Elsa allowed us to bypass that through her own dominion, so Aeria and I could get it done in a matter of hours instead while she and Mister Rieth handled the portion of the medicine that dealt with the removal of the corpses and neutralizing the toxins.
The old method involved applying what amounted to a salve that would cause the organic material beneath it to harden into stone through mineralization. That way they could extract the entire section entirely without fearing the leakage. However, it essentially killed the organic material and replaced it with minerals, and that could cause a myriad of medical complications even with proper preparation.
The modern method instead presented a way to modulate the toxins and corpse into a water-soluble mineral. That was to say it could transmute the foreign, non-living elements in the body into something harmless that could be easily absorbed by the body and then urinated out. And it could be done indirectly through ingesting the medicine, rather than directly applying it onto the afflicted area.
It was impressive, to say the least.
Looking at the name of the one who came up with the solution, I could see why Elsa spoke so highly of her previous contractor. It was an advance technique when it came to material alchemy, even by my standards. I would have loved to have met the man and learned from him directly, but alas…
Regardless, once Mister Rieth and Elsa finished their supplement we could combine them into the medication for the children. They would finish without question given their greater experience. We needed to match their pace.
To that end, the portable burner with a round surface provided the heat needed to drive the Alembic we had set up for the task.
The glass cucurbit had a wide curvature that narrowed so that the bottom could rest onto the burner with ease, a long neck feeding up to the attached head. The ‘cap’ was double-stacked, shaped like a gourd, where both would receive the resulting steam from the boiling water and was supported by additional rigging. When the materials in the bottom section of the cap was exposed to the steam, it would cause the oils inside of the plants to vaporize and be carried upwards with the steam. It would then hit the top and the particles would seek to escape through one of the two attached spouts, where a fragment of Glaciem was set into the slots above them to condense the gases back down into a liquid state as they passed through.
“Doesn’t that hurt her?” The inquiry came from the child at the stove, in the midst of cooking. Her eyes were drawn to the sylphid inside the Alembic with dancing, viridian streamers flowing through the veil of steam that surrounded her body.
“Her magic is protecting her from the heat,” I answered. Steam was just super-heated water vapor and such a small amount was well within Aeria’s domain of control. Infusing her magic into it, and thus gaining full control over it, meant that she could then freely separate out the oil vapors and send them into the spout with the smaller container while the larger one filled with water. That would save us time that could be spent on the refining process.
My answer seemed to incentivize her into trotting over to the setup, rather than assuaging her curiosity. “Then why does she look upset?”
“Because cramped spaces seal her off from the surrounding air and she doesn’t like that.” I spotted her reaching out to touch the spouts where the fragments condensed the vapor into liquid form again. Considering it was cold enough that ice was forming despite the steam flowing through the interior, it wouldn’t end well for her. “Don’t touch that.”
She redirected her finger to the glass vessel that was filling with the extracted oil instead and asked, “Are my brothers going to drink this one or the other one?”
“Neither. One is just water that I’m going to pour back into the Alembic for the next batch. The other contains the essential oils of the roots at a concentration so strong that it’d most likely result in their deaths.”
She frowned. “I thought it was supposed to make them feel better?”
“It will, once we do a more stringent extraction of the compounds we need, reduce that to a single-property supplement with an Alkahest, and then that will be mixed in with several others and a catalyst to make their medicine—”
I cut myself off when I noticed the confused expression on her face. Right, probably going over her head. I had to rephrase it in a way that the ten-year old child with no extensive knowledge would understand.
“Aeria and I will take the stuff that’s good in it and use that to make the medicine to help your brothers. We just need to get it out first from the herbs that Elsa gave us to do that. That’s what we’re doing now.”
The oils in Adsewort roots contained several different compounds aside from the ones we wanted, some like the hypotensive ones being detrimental to the health of the children. It was safer to extract the compounds from the oil vapors based on if they possessed the ‘antiparasitic’ property within their foundation, which was only possible when it was in a gaseous form for Aeria and myself. By doing such a stringent extraction and then embedding the collective compounds in the Alkahest, we would gain a potent enough Antiparasitic Supplement to kill the Bloudflies.
“And how long will that take?” she asked,
I looked over to the portable timekeeper pulled from my kit. It was powered by a small-sized spellstone that twisted some kind of contraption inside to keep the time. I wasn’t an artificer, so the exact process eluded me, but it worked. “…Another five or so hours, depending on the circumstances. Within another two hours the medicine that I’d given your brothers and the soporific Elsa did when she dropped off the materials will have worn off.”
A soporific wasn’t the best thing to give them for their insomnia since it forcibly suppressed their nervous system. A calmative would have been better by far since it would have led to a natural, restful sleep and recovery. But they were in a large amount of discomfort and time was of the essence, so it was more reasonable to forcibly put them under for now.
“And you can’t go any faster?”
“No,” I stated bluntly. “Alchemy is reliant on having the equipment and materials prepared ahead of time, and the affliction your brothers are suffering from wasn’t something we were ready to deal with. It would be a different story if we had known a few days ago or even last night, but I’m afraid we can go no faster.”
That answer seemed to have quelled her curiosity for the moment, so I turned my attention back to the book in front of me.
The Rieth family devoted most of their knowledge by experimenting with recipes that were solutions to medical issues that cropped up over the years with Elsa’s assistance. Either they modified an existing recipe and created a derivative, or when a new problem arose they formulated a method of dealing with it. It wasn’t a stretch to say it gave them a great deal of depth when it came to medicinal uses for plants and minerals. But, at the same time, it limited the breadth of knowledge they had outside of herbal medicines.
Sure, there were some recipes that were for sundries instead. Simple things that made life easier, such as the insect repellent satchels she’d planned to give away. Or even mineral fibers that could be woven into articles of clothing, the inherent effects of the ores used actively by Elsa.
But the previous contractor’s contributions seemed to be far beyond that. Rather than a natural progression or logical recipes designed to resolve commonplace problems, several of them deviated from that pattern. A few of them even had elements of spiritual alchemy, which was a field that Elsa had admitted to not having experience with when I consulted her a year prior when I was looking for references to make the Fume Beast.
Spiritual Alchemy was more complicated that its material counterpart and less commonplace. Rather than just tampering with the physical properties and compounds, it involved the more immaterial ones, which required an even more expensive alchemic additive than the commonly used Alkahest to capture. Things like the Fume Beast and my own imitation of the Entwined Lotus could only be produced with alchemy of that nature, which I usually dabbled with as a hobby.
It bothered me somewhat that some entries logically made sense but were composed of materials and techniques that I’d never heard. The way he wrote his entries didn’t have the orientation of an academic education either, yet the knowledge he possessed was definitely above of his predecessors from what I could gleam. Where did he gain such wisdom?
I’ll have to talk with Elsa about it when we’re done, I mused when a sound abruptly reached my ears and drew my eyes from the pages to the child, still standing by the Alembic. It came from her stomach. “Have you not eaten?”
She looked somewhat sheepish as she shook her head. “I’ve been helping my brothers since I woke up.”
“Then you should eat before it gets to you. I believe Elsa brought snacks when she presumed their symptoms wouldn’t be so bad that they couldn’t eat solid food at the moment.”
She refused my suggestion, looking towards the stove. “My brothers wanted those, so it wouldn’t be right to eat it without them. I’ll be done cooking by the time they wake up, so I’ll eat whatever is left over from the pottage after they had a chance to eat.”
The pottage she was making with some ingredients Elsa left behind was meant for her brothers. It would be thin enough for them to drink since they were in no condition to eat otherwise and would at least satiate their hunger, since they were starving as well. Then the second round of soporifics to put them back under until we were done entirely.
I was willing to let her stand by her decision until her stomach growled even louder. The noise was a distraction. That and the fact that she curled over in discomfort did little to suggest that letting her go another two hours without eating something would be a wise decision.
While I didn’t bring anything suitable to fill her stomach, I did have something that should at least tide it over. So, I reached into one of the smaller drawers of my kit and a pouch there, pulling out something for her to snack on. “Eat this.”
She gingerly plucked the beeswax-coated paper bundles that were the length of her thumb and untwisted the ends, staring curiously at the near-golden confectionery inside of it. “What is it?”
“Candy that I made from honey,” I explained. “If you still have reservations about eating them then see it as tasting them to measure if your brothers would like them. If so, I’ll set aside three each for them.”
She plopped one into her mouth rather hastily. I couldn’t tell if I was that convincing or if her stomach gnawing at her from the inside out decided the outcome. But she ate it regardless. “I’s oud. Uu ade dis?”
“Don’t speak while chewing.” After all, it wouldn’t do for her to start choking because of that. “And yes, I did. Since Aeria takes sweets as the terms of our contract and to keep herself energized, I learned how to make various kinds from various people. In the case of that one, I learned from an acquaintance I met in school.”
Miss Taun knew a few confectionery desserts that used sugar and baking. Elsa knew how to make both alchemic-based snacks and modest ones that involved fruits and plants. But since Alice and her mother lived in a place that harvested honey, beeswax, and flowers for a number of different things, they both showed me how to make them.
This batch had been made not too long ago, with a jar of honey that had been sent to Alice from her parents. I was grateful given how quickly Aeria went through treats and how expensive sugar in large quantities was. Even making sweets through alchemy cost more than it should because of her rampant sugar-binges.
The child swallowed the first one I’d given her and then licked the wrapper coated in beeswax, used to keep it from sticking while it was cooling down. “Since you can do magic, did they have people who could use magic too at your school?”
“I’m an Alchemist, not a Wizard,” I corrected her. The distinction was important. “But yes, nearly every other student could use magic to some degree, given it was a school predominantly for them.”
“That sounds fun.” She began unwrapping the second one. “I wish I could do magic so that I could do something more to help my family, like my older brothers.”
I suppose she would find the thought of school being ‘fun’ since she hasn’t had schooling from the sounds of it. Her mother was already supporting her two eldest children through their guild-training. Sending her or the younger children wasn’t likely something she could afford to do at the moment. Nor was it necessary since basic reading and writing could be taught by her if needed.
“It’s not an uncommon dream for those who don’t have it. Even I wished to be able to do magic when I was younger. But I found alchemy more interesting in the end and I’m quite proud of my decision, despite the hardships I’ve faced since then.”
“What’s the difference between them?” she asked. “They both use magic, right?”
“A magic-user’s magic is their own while an alchemist borrows magic from a spirit like Aeria or Elsa,” I said, simplifying a long and arduous explanation greatly. “You have to be born with a magical core to use magic, while nearly anyone can forge a contract with a spirit and become capable of alchemy.”
She chewed on that thought while doing the same to the second Honey Taffy I’d given her for a moment. Then she swallowed it and asked, “So, even I could be an alchemist?”
“That’s n—” I stopped myself from answering off-hand, leaving the child to tilt her head inquisitively as she fiddled with the wrapper for the third taffy. Considering the criticism that I faced prior with her mother for being blunt, I then tailored my answer accordingly. “You would need to find a spirit willing to enter into a contract. Nothing else can be done if that first step isn’t accomplished.”
“I’ll do that then,” she said with optimism that only a child could possess. Then, putting the last of her snacks into her mouth, she went back to tending to the pottage and left me alone.
…I didn’t lie to her, at the very least. Theoretically, only luck was stopping her from finding a spirit and forging a contract, which would give her the ability to practice alchemy. Uncontracted spirits were hard to find now, but it was technically possible for it to happen in her lifetime.
But realistically, even if she could find a spirit, it would be difficult. Leaving aside the expenses involved for the profession, alchemy required a high degree of knowledge in one’s field to be effective. Whether it was through experience built up over generations like with Mister Rieth or through a formal education like myself, you’ll never find an alchemist who couldn’t explain why their craft worked the way it did.
Because of that, this child most likely wouldn’t be so fortunate. Even if she somehow found a spirit that was willing to partner with her. Even if that spirit was one that had more use in practical alchemy. She simply didn’t have the time, nor the finances needed to afford the education needed to make her a decent alchemist—at least not without a sponsor of some kind.
I can only assume that when her husband was alive both he and Miss Bancroft decided to save their earnings where they could to invest in their older sons. They would be capable of earning more through skilled labor and would be obliged to repay and support their family, if the child’s adherence to eating Elsa’s snacks with her brothers was any indication. Even now, with her husband dead, Miss Bancroft worked towards that end while ensuring that her youngest children would be taken care of by her daughter.
It could take several generations, but they could move up in the world slowly and steadily with such a method if things worked out. The uneducated or unskilled mostly lived to labor, but the educated or skilled could find a way to live in comfort without magic or being in a higher social class. The future generations would have far more opportunities in the long-run if that happened.
But it meant that this generation had to serve as part of a foundation for that to happen, and their roles were set in stone unless extremely fortunate circumstances came about. Chained by the decisions made by their parents, the children had to do what had been laid out for them. Otherwise, everything that had been sacrificed to this point would have been for nothing.
The notion of becoming an alchemist would fade from her mind as quickly as it came once she considered that. It would be relegated to a passing whimsy. A fair exchange to maintain the loving family she has now.
In that regard, I suppose maybe she was quite fortunate after all…