“Welcome to a new semester,” Professor Jules said from the front of the class as she drew a diagram of the viscometric device on the obsidian board. Turning around she gave them all a solemn look. “Welcome to you all, whether you’ve transferred from other schools, or are from here at Generasi. I am so glad to see so many of you who’ve made it to the second semester of my class.”
“So many of you?” he muttered, turning around to look at the class.
POTI-1200—the second semester follow-up to POTI-1000—used the same classroom as in semester one, which allowed Alex to see exactly how many faces he recognized and by default, how many had gotten the minimum 70% passing grade.
The number of faces he didn’t recognize surprised him.
Last semester, nearly every seat was filled: some students had looked bright-eyed and enthusiastic, some nervous, and some like they didn’t want to be there. Early in the semester several had dropped the course and switched to another one, which had decreased their number, but overall, the class had still been fairly full, including on the day they’d written the final exam.
Now, at least a quarter of the seats were empty, and a good number of the filled ones held new faces—students that had transferred into the second semester course from other institutions of wizardry from around the world. That meant that even more than a quarter of the class had failed. Among those missing were the young man who drank quicksilver and his friend.
‘So many of us passed?’ Alex shook his head. ‘If Professor Jules meant that a high number had passed first semester this year compared to other years, then how many had failed in previous years?’
Luckily—and unluckily—there were still familiar faces here and there.
Kybas the goblin, with his little crocodile familiar—Harmless—was sitting beside Alex humming to himself and kicking his little green legs against his chair. He seemed to be checking over a potion recipe in his notebook, but turned his large head and grinned toothily when he saw Alex looking at him.
Alex grinned back, then glanced over his shoulder.
Carey and Derek were sitting beside each other in the middle of the class. It seemed that Derek had been able to pass this time and—if he’d outright cheated—he’d gotten a lot more clever with it. Or maybe a mix of taking the class before and studying with the talented Carey London had gotten him through the worst the exam had to offer. Or maybe he’d just started trying and doing the work. Alex didn’t know him very well, but he didn’t seem thick-witted, just tricky and maybe lazy.
Maybe he had what it took after all. Either way, Alex was glad that he seemed attached to his new victi-er, study partner and not him.
“So, many of you made it,” Professor Jules said. “That is the good news. The bad news is that POTI-1200 is significantly more challenging than first semester.”
A wave of murmurs and groans swept through the class.
“I know, I know.” Professor Jules smiled bitterly. “But that’s not because I am aiming to make it more difficult, it is that you’re now approaching the tail end of what could be called ‘the basics’. This semester you will graduate from crafting first-tier to second-tier potions, and that will be significantly more challenging. More importantly, though.”
She tapped the diagram of the machine on the board. “You will start to learn your tools far more intimately.”
Alex’s interest piqued: that was something that the textbook hadn’t talked much about. Dexter had been written to go into great detail about the arts of potion craft, but hadn’t really been in-depth on the tools used in potion craft. Their use was discussed, as well as correct procedure and protocol, plus some of their history, but aside from that, the potions textbook was about, well, potions, as opposed to the tools that were used in the art.
He glanced back at Derek: since he was taking both semesters of first year potions all over again since he'd been caught cheating in his first year, he should…
Derek looked puzzled.
‘Oh, maybe this is new for this year,’ Alex thought.
“Alchemical tools are advancing incredibly quickly,” Professor Jules said. “When I was your age, there was no such thing as a mana spectrometer: to understand the composition of a substance, we had to engage in a process known as Saunderson’s Distillation.”
She drew what looked to be a curtain on the board.
“One would use a solvent to break down a part of a substance and then one would boil it in a cauldron or other such device where the steam would rise onto a special curtain woven of Willowhorn. After the cloth had absorbed the mana-infused steam—a process that often took upwards of twenty minutes of constant boiling—we would then hang it up to dry for two hours and then measure how much distance each component of the compound had travelled up the curtain and consult several…”
“…very lengthy tables to guess which element was which. It was a hot, lengthy, though fairly accurate, process. The mana spectrometer is far quicker and more precise. My teachers learned Laplace’s Summoning: a dangerous art where one conjures a demonic sage and bargains with the creature to have it call upon its otherworldly knowledge and reveal what a substance did, or have it check a completed potion for impurities.”
She looked at each student, probably making note of who was paying attention and who wasn’t. Her eyes fell on Harmless. “Before that, wizard’s often resorted to gruesome experiments where they simply fed some of their alchemical substances to a victim and watched for a reaction. Some would even use their own familiars...as you can imagine, this was a practice filled with its own drawbacks. ”
Kybas clutched his crocodile to his chest protectively. The little reptile chirped in his grasp.
“Now, back to modern tools: these make alchemy far more humane, safe and reliable, but they come with a price.” She began drawing ten strange looking components onto the board. “Can anyone tell me what these are?”
She glanced around the room.
Alex squinted at the board, then looked to Kybas.
Both of them shrugged: neither had an answer.
One student raised his hand. “Are those parts of a mana spectrometer?”
“Indeed! Very good!” Professor Jules said with an excited twinkle in her eye. “And where did you learn that?”
“Uh,” he said, turning slightly red. “I saw one in a shop…and uh, my friend, accidentally knocked it off the display and broke it and some pieces fell out, so I recognized a few of them.”
Several members of the class burst out laughing and even professor Jules giggled.
“Oh dear, that sounds like a costly accident! How much did your friend have to pay the merchant for breaking the device?” she asked.
“Er,” he gulped. “Ten thousand gold coins.”
Alex gasped, thinking he would have died on the spot if it had been him.
Horrified, he remembered himself and Amir bringing the heavy apparatuses to The Cell for his experiment.
One slip of either of their forcedisks and-
“Ah yes, that sounds about right.” Professor Jules pointed back to the board. “Oh, by the way, these ten parts? They are ten of forty-two components within a mana spectrometer. Now what happens when this complex bit of machinery breaks down or when it falls apart, and before you say ‘I’ll just use mending magic!’, well yes, you can. But what if it isn’t broken, what if some of the parts are simply misaligned. Or a new discovery requires one of the parts to be replaced to increase efficiency? Or, perhaps more simply: more complex objects need higher tier mending spells in order to be fixed, and what if you don’t know one? And, let me calm you as I see some of you starting to think of what I might be getting at and are looking like you’re considering running in horror out the door-”
She looked at some of the students, who shifted in their chairs.
“-but while this is not an ‘alchemical tool crafting course’, it is still valuable to know the inner workings of your equipment in case you need to make a quick and simple repair, part replacement, or upgrade. There aren’t many wizards who can craft these yet, and you might be in trouble if you discover one has stopped working—mending magic seems to not be fixing it at all—and you find the crafter that made the model is so busy, that they need to book you six months out. Which brings us back to the viscometric device.”
She pointed to the diagram. “It is fairly simple compared to many other apparatuses, and so we will be starting with it. These will be valuable lessons for your future. Remember, just as a wizard is limited by the spells they know and a potion is limited by the ingredients available, the alchemically inclined wizard is limited by the quality and working order of their tools and methods. Therefore, keeping your tools in good working order is key.”
Alex nodded at that, focusing while Wizard’s Hand was quickly jotting down everything the professor had said. He was pretty damn excited to learn more about how these devices were put together. Since he wasn’t sure where he’d end up after graduation—if he went back to Thameland or somewhere else far away—he wouldn’t be able to rely on simply strolling down to the nearest alchemy supply and repair shop for his tools.
He’d need to be self-sufficient and maybe even learn how to craft spare parts for his devices.
That said, it was also good to take advantage of knowledge and resources when one had them.
He watched Professor Jules closely.
And even if he didn’t tell her about the dungeon core, she’d still be able to help him out with one question that had been bothering him.
“Well that’s a strange question, Mr. Roth,” Professor Jules mused after class. “Do substances that come from incredibly evil creatures remain evil after the creature has been slain and dissected. What brought this on?”
“Well, I was thinking about that demon,” he said, which wasn’t a complete lie. “The big one: other demons flowed out of its wings, and its breath was cold like ice. I was thinking that materials from such a creature would be really useful for things like teleportation effects or cooling effects. But…y’know, it’s a demon.”
“Well, first of all, not all demons are evil…and even then, that would depend on your standard of ‘evil’,” she said.
“Oh? What do you mean?” Alex asked.
“Demons are creatures of chaos in a way that few things are, except for perhaps the shoggoths and their kin. They are beings of ultimate freedom: unbound by law, morality, emotional bonds or hesitancy. When a demon has a desire, it acts upon it most of the time. The thing is, boundless chaos and freedom is often evil by our standards,” she explained. “A demon murders often not out of a desire to ‘make the world evil’ but because it was acting on a momentary urge and saw no reason to contain itself. Devils are the opposite: creatures of law where one’s word, pact or contract trumps everything else. This includes morality, emotional bonds or hesitance.”
She shrugged. “Both kinds of creatures can exhibit altruism, it’s just that those extremes often negate such behaviour. Each creature has their own preferences, after all.”
Alex recalled Hobb’s contention that mortals were cute and that he was bound not to attack or steal souls from students. He shuddered.
“Okay, okay,” Alex said. “So a demon is a being of ultimate chaos…does that mean that every material harvested from one contains that chaos?”
Professor Jules took a deep breath. “Yes and no: a demon’s soul will contain overwhelming chaos and evil, if harvested, but its claws are just sharp bits of bone. One can harvest the claws in such a way so that they are infested with their former owner’s chaos and evil, but one can easily not do so as well.”
“Right.” He nodded. “What about a mana vampire’s ability to drain mana? Would its body parts retain that ability…you know, if it didn’t melt when you killed it?”
Professor Jules shook her head. “No, actually: the gas that a mana vampire dissolves into has been harvested before, and it does show a major ability to absorb and store mana, but it on its own has no ability to drain mana. An item crafted with the express purpose of draining mana would benefit from the remains of a mana vampire, but the remains have other applications as well.”
“Alright, alright.” Alex spread his hands. “Okay, so. Say I killed a demon.”
“Please don’t try it.”
“I’m not gonna try it, but say I did. Let’s say I then decided I wanted to make a flesh golem.”
“And I took the demon’s flesh, rendered it down, and made a flesh golem out of the remains. What would happen? Would it be super chaotic and have its magical abilities from when it was alive?”
“No.” Professor shook her head. “It would not express any of the magical abilities it showed when alive, unless one specifically built mana circuitry within to specifically reactivate and mimic those abilities. No, it would not suddenly remember its old life, and no, it would not become a full demon again just by using the material. Such happenings are the subject of bad stage plays and ghost stories that wizards tell other wizards. Demon scale, flesh and bone are valuable ingredients for a number of potions: even their inner chaos is absent unless one uses a catalyst that mimics the chaos of a demon soul. Such as chaos essence.”
“Okay, then, that takes care of my curiosity. Thanks professor.” Alex smiled.
“It’s quite alright…” she paused, looking at him suspiciously.
“…what is it?” Alex asked, looking as innocent as The Mark made possible.
“Oh nothing,” she chuckled. “It’s just that I have a feeling you will end up one of those wizards that won’t be satisfied until you craft something truly horrifying one day.”
“Yes. You, naturally. Somehow I can imagine you in a smokey dungeon somewhere shouting ‘it’s alive!’, ‘it’s alive!’ after building some sort of blasphemous homunculus,” she said.
“…maybe in the future,” he chuckled.
“Well, alchemists are supposed to craft horrifying things, so there is no judgement from me. As long as you do it correctly and as safely as possible, Mr. Roth, what you do with your gifts is your choice. That is the point of training wizards.”
“Well, I’ll try and make you proud, Prof,” Alex said, remembering her masked figure riding around on her skeletal horse. “And make something truly horrifying.”
‘Probably sooner than you might think,’ he mentally added.
What she said about materials not sharing their old allegiances and magically destructive nature supported the mad scheme that he had in mind.
If he finished his analysis on the dungeon core, and its properties proved to be proper, then—with its similarity to chaos essence—he should be able to use some of it in fashioning his golem core.
The idea of bashing The Ravener’s monsters with its own material thrilled him.
There was one problem concerning the golem he hadn’t quite solved yet: powering it. The initial activation of the golem core—if he really wanted this golem to be of high quality—would need far more mana to start it than he was capable of providing himself, and if it didn’t have enough from an outside source, then the golem core might suck the fire-gems dry in an effort to activate itself.
It was a problem he’d have to continue working on.
For now, though, he’d need to plan out his next analysis session. Oh, and prepare for his other classes this semester.
In the next little while, it would be time for his first second-year class; MANA-2900: The Intermediary Teachings of Mana Manipulation.