With a wave of his hand, a new cauldron was summoned as the scalekin explained:

“The potion brewing test is similar to the poison concocting one, with only a few changes. As far fewer types of potions exist, there is a larger focus on pure potency rather than diversity. Hence, the second part will not focus as much on how many different potions you can make but how potent they will be. The final part will also not require you to recreate potions but will present to you three lifeforms, and you are to craft potions optimal to them with the provided ingredients. The test begins when you infuse mana into the cauldron.”

There was no fluff or extra information, just the same thing as before. Jake nodded in acknowledgment as the projection disappeared and he got to work.

The first part began as expected, and Jake made all the potions he knew how to… which wasn’t a lot. He made health, stamina, and mana potions and then finished off by making a few antidotes he had learned to create a good while ago. He also attempted to make some potions with the ability to soothe the mind and kind of succeeded.

As for the second part, it was just more of the same as Jake experimented with the many products given. He discovered a lot of ingredients with interesting affinities and energies, and it was clear the task was to transform those into potions. Jake already had some experience with making arcane mana potions, so couldn’t he also make fire mana potions? Water mana potions? So that is what he did as he created potions of many different affinities, and he even made one able to restore blood energy for vampires. He did have to admit, though… this part didn’t go well.

Of the three parts – heck six parts if you count the poison test – the final part of potion brewing was the most interesting. Three lifeforms that looked to be in statis appeared, and Jake instantly noticed how peculiar they were. One was a dark elemental with some wind affinity mixed in too, the second was a plant-like lifeform that looked like a mass of tentacles of bark, and the final was a Risen, but not a normal Risen. Instead, it was someone who had clearly attuned himself to the death affinity. More than usual undead, at least.

This was when the word “optimal” came into play. All of them could use pure mana if given, but it would not be as effective as a potion pre-attuned to their affinity in question. None of them appeared to have vital energy either, and as far as Jake knew, none had stamina either. The elemental ran on pure mana of the dark and wind affinity, the plant-like lifeform used a vital energy Jake was not familiar with but was clearly closely related to the life-affinity, and the Risen used their unique energies too.

He inspected the three of them thoroughly, not minding the creepy situation that was him studying three naked time-frozen individuals. Once he felt confident, he began crafting, starting with potions for the Risen. He quickly made a death-attuned mana potion and moved on to make mana potions to the two others. Luckily he had a lot of experience with the dark affinity, and the wind affinity also wasn’t unfamiliar due to his closeness with Sylphie.

With that, the elemental got a potion he was quite proud of. Jake then correctly identified the plant-like lifeform that just used normal regular affinity-less mana together with the life-energy, even if it didn’t have a big pool of it, so he made one of those too. Finally, he returned to the Risen and began working on creating a potion restoring spirit energy – the unique resource of Risen and other undead.

He quickly found the ingredients and worked on making it, but the time ran out as he was about halfway. The cauldron just disappeared from between his hands as the projection appeared again. Jake had now failed to craft everything two tests in a row.

Jake once more slumped down, a bit disappointed in himself. “So, how badly did I do?”

“A very mixed bag. Your ability to create basic potions is respectable, but in every other area, you seem lacking. Tell me, what do you craft potions for? What is the purpose of the products you produce?” the projection asked.

“Well… to drink them?” Jake asked, a bit confused.

“But am I correct to assume that the primary customer of your alchemical creations is yourself? There is a connection between your alchemy shown in all tests so far and how they all seem to focus on personal benefits. You have clearly never crafted a potion explicitly for anyone else but only on making what is useful to you. On the good side, your high Perception and ability to adapt and control energy does allow you to quickly pick up and create new types of potions, but that is no substitute for experience and actual knowledge.”

Jake slowly nodded. Yeah, he did create potions for himself. Same for poisons. While he made some to sell, his motivation for crafting potions wasn’t to make highly marketable products but to make something more useful to himself while fighting. Right now, that wasn’t a problem as everyone around him were humans and beasts, but he could see it be problematic if he wanted to make something for Casper as an example.

Had he made money from selling potions? Sure, quite a lot. But he could no doubt have made way more if he focused on making money. Perhaps the biggest proof of his selfishness in crafting was how he had never bothered to really learn how to make antidotes. Jake himself had the legendary Palate skill, so why would he?

“Overall, these two tests have shown you have a powerful foundation to build upon, but instead of building a tall tower one floor at a time, you erected a few large pillars you then just keep adding onto without solidifying that foundation. You need to learn to craft a lot more things, not for others, but for yourself.”

“Yeah… I am beginning to realize that,” Jake said. When he picked up any new product, he had to start from the beginning, but if he had experience with similar creations, it became easier to pick up something new and improve quickly.

The projection looked at him and nodded. “Are you ready for the last elective test of transmutation?”

“Just two seconds,” Jake said as he chugged a potion. “Should be good now.”

He couldn’t use potions during the actual tests anyway, so he may as well just use them in between.

“On that note, your consumption of potions is incredibly liberal,” the scalekin projection said as he turned a bit more serious. “Just a fair warning: that may become more difficult down the line. The required ingredients will get rarer and more expensive, and while you may have a lot of money to spare on them, it will be wasteful and obtainment difficult.”

Jake shrugged. “I have a feeling it will work out. Even if it doesn’t, that is something I will face when the time comes.”

“I guess that brings me to the next topic splendidly. You are recklessly impatient, a mentality that is not healthy in most alchemical work. You waste a lot by neglecting to reflect on the work you just did but just rush on. So no, you are not ready yet for the next test. Sit the fuck down, meditate, and consider what you screwed up in the prior tests and can improve on. See you in a few hours.”

Without giving Jake any chance to respond, the scalekin just disappeared again. Jake stared a bit at where it had been as he took the words in. Was he rushing? Perhaps he was trying to go faster than needed. He had already been told there was no penalty to taking breaks, so maybe he should.

Jake decided to listen to the advice, closed his eyes, and entered meditation. He considered both the tests he had been through as he internalized what he had learned. The tests had allowed him to try out a lot of new ingredients and methods, something he had no chance to normally. It was all made possible by the cauldron and special circumstances offered by the dungeon, so when he thought about it, wasting this test to also learn was just stupid of him in retrospect.

He was at an academy… so it was only right to spend his time learning, right?

“He is the Chosen of the Malefic One?” one of the other projections asked, clearly skeptical to the level of finding the sentiment comical.

“Seems improbable, he is only D-grade and not especially outstanding. The only truly outstanding thing shown so far is the arcane affinity and his Identify-blocking ability. Also, he is human,” another one said, at least thinking about the possibility for a moment.

The scalekin projection appeared among them again, already aware of what had been said. “He is the current Chosen of the Malefic One, I have no doubt about it. As for how outstanding he is, I doubt we will be able to discover through these tests. I do agree that as an alchemist alone, he is nothing outstanding. At least not yet. He hasn’t even done alchemy for more than a year or two, so who is to tell what the future holds?”

“Even so,” another more skeptical projection said. “Those possessing such talents in alchemy must be numerous within the Order. I think everyone present here were as talented back in their heyday as this supposed Chosen is. So while he may be talented, he is not Chosen material, not at all. I am looking forward to the combat portion, though. He must be a powerful mage with his level of energy control.”

The scalekin just sighed. He still couldn’t voice that his belief in the human being the Viper’s Chosen was based on his brief interaction with the Malefic One. Why else would the Malefic One give direct instructions on not only what they had to hide on the test result itself, but even hide information from the Chosen?

While the notion that he was more likely to be a Chosen because the Viper hid things from him seemed preposterous, to the scalekin, it was not. What other explanation would there be for the Malefic One to hold any noteworthy interest in the human’s growth? Genuine, personal interest.

It would all be so much easier if they had the ability to see Blessings, but alas. It had been decided that would not be allowed to not favor those blessed.

But one thing was certain… they were all looking forward to the combat portion. First, the suspected Chosen would have to reflect a bit, though. The Malefic One had not elected to teach his Chosen any actual alchemy so far, which was not for the scalekin to question.

And the Viper had commanded them to treat and evaluate the human as everyone else during the tests, so that was how it would be done. So teaching him a bit should be fine, right? If it wasn’t, why would he even enter the academy at all?

A few hours later, Jake opened his eyes as the projection appeared. He had to admit… taking a while to actually reflect on things and think wasn’t dumb. Jake also felt more mentally refreshed for the last of the three selected tests too.

The projection observed Jake a bit before it spoke. “The last subject you have chosen is transmutation. As transmutation is such a wide field of alchemy, the test will also be relatively diverse and quite a bit different from those prior.”

“Will it be based on transmutation using Touch of the Malefic Viper, though? That is the only transmutation skill I have,” Jake asked, a bit nervous. He already knew he did transmutations in a weird way, so he really wasn’t sure if he could even do this test halfway decently.

“It is indeed one such option, but it isn’t necessary. There are many different ways to transmute, and Touch is merely one of them. Just do your best, and we’ll see,” the projection said.

Jake nodded in understanding as he motioned the scalekin to continue.

“The transmutation test has three parts just like the two prior. The first part relates to your ability to transmute items into desired affinities. Don’t worry; these will only be affinities you actually possess, based on what you have shown in the energy control test. You will be tasked with transmuting as many items into the correct affinity as you can within half an hour. The second part will require you to transmute the provided materials into ones more useable in a presented half-done creation. Note that you can skip any creation you doubt you can do in the trade for a thirty-second penalty. This part also lasts for thirty minutes, or shorter, based on how much you skip. The third and final part will evaluate your ability to transmute weapons or equipment into improved versions through whatever means you desire using the supplied materials. This last one allows you to truly show off what you are most skilled in when it comes to transmutation, as you can merge and mix as much as you want within the thirty-minute limit. Questions?”

“None,” Jake answered, having decided to just see how it would go.

“Time begins when you touch the first item,” the scalekin projection said as he disappeared. At the same time, a gem of some sort appeared on the table, which was clearly the target to transmute. Finally, a screen appeared both in front of Jake as a system notification of sorts and on a large magical screen right above the table.

Earth Affinity -> Fire Affinity

Jake went over to the table and sat down. The instructions were simple, and he took a deep breath as he prepared himself mentally and reached out with both his hands as he grasped the gem and used Touch of the Malefic Viper. The gem quickly changed color, and less than ten seconds later, it disappeared as he was done.

The screen popped up again as a piece of metal appeared this time, telling him to transmute the fire mana into lightning mana. It took him a bit longer as the metal had some innate resistance, but he got it done rather quickly. This continued as the items kept popping up and getting more complicated. Equipment and weapons began appearing, and some even held multiple affinities where he had to change one or both to something else. Jake kept up his focus as he even half-entered meditation, just bringing the items to him with a string of mana so he could focus using the effects of Serene Meditation. Not the Serene Soul part, as there was little gain in doing anything within his Soulspace.

As the first part of the transmutation test approached its end, Jake had thought: I’m actually not shit at transmutation?

A note from Zogarth

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