Elydes - Chapter 33
After waking from a wondrous nap, there wasn’t much time left in the day. Kai helped his mother cook dinner and spent the rest of the evening with his family.
Alana had brought Kea around to witness different jobs, but she didn’t show interest in any of them.
“Don’t worry sweetie, there is still time,” Alana said. Kai could clearly see that her reassurances were making Kea more anxious. Their mother was doing what she thought best with the options they had.
It was unfair to put that pressure on a child, but this was how things worked in the archipelago. If you decided late, your odds to get a good profession would plummet. The earlier she got started the better. The only other option was choosing for her, which was what happened in most families.
He wasn’t the only one seeing Kea’s distress. Eleni moved the conversation away from the topic to what she did that day. Kai was not sure how much that helped, considering she started talking about her apprenticeship.
Pearling was a very interesting job in the Baquire Archipelago. The Shallow Sea low depth and the powerful tides created a unique environment. If the tideseers kept the closest eyes on the cycles of the sea, pearl hunters were a close second. That was also how Alana met Ele’s mentor and got her an apprenticeship.
Each time the waters retreated they presented several possibilities. Be it reaching depths previously impossible, exploring underwater caves or just frantically searching the exposed seafloor. The low tide was so convenient to hunt for pearls, there was little point in going out any other time.
Ele’s mentor was teaching her the tricks of deep diving. But until she got a profession, she mainly hunted on the exposed seabed, since it was much safer.
“Why don’t you use Mana Sense?” Kai asked.
Ele talked about several searching skills, but no Mana Sense. It was weird. What better way to find rare treasures than with mana?
Eleni smiled at him, “Not everyone is as good as you with mana skills, little brother. I don’t have the skill.”
“Oh…” Kai said embarrassed.
He forgot how hard it was to unlock the skill without the right conditions. You could also unlock it through the use of evolved skills that used mana, but they were not easy to obtain. Even if his older sister was very mature, she was thirteen. She didn’t have the time to evolve many skills yet.
Ele didn’t seem offended, but he felt bad for asking. “Sorry…”
“Don’t worry. My mentor doesn’t use it either. She says it requires too much training for it to become useful. Plus not all pearls are mana-rich treasures. The largest part of a pearl hunter’s earnings are through common pearls. Mana pearls are valuable, but finding them is up to chance. You can’t rely on them.”
Kai’s hand unconsciously moved to the green pearl at his wrist. Instead of feeling better, he felt worse. He had known the bracelet she gifted him for his seventh birthday was precious, but not how much. Then an idea hit him.
Kai turned to look his sister in the eye, “Hypothetically speaking… if you had Mana Sense right now, would you use it?”
His sister looked at him curiously, thoughtful. She was considering the question seriously, “My mentor doesn’t use it, but she got the skill too late and now has her profession to help her. If I had access to Mana Sense right now… probably I would use it.”
After a short pause, she added, “But I don’t think it’s worth asking your teacher for such a favor.”
She easily guessed where he was going, but his sister misunderstood his intentions.
“I think I can help you without asking for help.” He said in a confident tone.
At his proclamation followed an awkward silence, the whole family had a skeptical look on their faces. Alana was hiding it well, Kea not at all, but no one seemed to believe him.
Ouch… my pride…
It was only a half-baked plan, but he had a plan nonetheless. If the best way to get Mana Sense was being exposed to different concentrations of mana so you would notice the difference. Why couldn’t he use his own mana to achieve the same?
To be honest, it was a bit of a stretch. He had no proof that it would work, but why not try? People with Mana Manipulation were pretty rare. Maybe it was a common way to get the skill in other places.
After he explained his idea, his family still wasn’t 100% convinced. Kea most of all looked at him with doubtful eyes. That did not last long. Kai just had to suggest he could help her get the skill too for her to become his most enthusiastic supporter.
After a little discussion, Ele accepted too. She did it to make him happy, not really believing it could work, but as long as it worked it didn’t matter.
Kai had not regenerated much mana from his afternoon training, but it was enough for a couple tries.
Sitting across from each other, Kai put his hand over his sister’s. Thinking a larger surface was probably better, he molded his mana into a rough flat circle. He had found there was one advantage of a lower mana density. The less ambient to contend with meant an easier time with external mana manipulation.
Stabilizing the mana construct he pushed it toward her hand.
“Tell me if you feel something.”
As soon as his mana entered into contact with her skin, he lost control over that part of the construct.
He expected that, but the sensation of having his mana wrenched away from him was still unpleasant. Ambient mana had no intent and was already hard to deal with, it made sense that another person’s imprinted mana was much worse.
He tried to make his mana hover against her skin, not really touching her. After a few tries, it became clear that making their mana clash was the easiest way for her to feel a slight ‘tingle’. Unfortunately, that did not seem to be enough to get the skill.
Having only enough for another try, he moved to Kea, who was eagerly waiting her turn. The process repeated in about the same way. The only difference he noticed was that he was able to push his mana a little deeper before losing control. Maybe it was Kea’s lower stats or her lower race grade.
She said she could feel a slight prickle, but still no luck with the skill. Kai wasn’t deterred. They agreed they would try each night till it worked. He and Kea were serious, Ele probably thought he would get tired of trying after a while. She was underestimating him, he was not the type to give up so easily anymore.
I can at least do this much for them.
The next morning Kai jumped off his bed more eager to start the day than usual. The skill strain from Inspect was finally gone. He couldn’t wait to try all his new ideas.
Unfortunately, he had to wait a bit longer. First, he had his routine to maintain. Meditation, stretching exercises, physical training and weapons training.
He wanted to skip it so badly and get to what he really wanted to do, but he knew it would be the wrong choice. If he were to make an exception even one time, it wouldn’t be long before the next. Some good excuse would always come up. He was determined to maintain his diligent streak for as long as possible.
After a thrifty breakfast, he went out to complete his usual routine. He ignored all the looks the people threw his way as he trained. Once he would have cared, now only his goals mattered.
Two hours later he laid on the beach covered in sweat, smiling. He was done for today. He took a quick hop into the sea to cool down, choosing the salt over the sweat. He was already covered in it from the morning swim anyway.
Walking home and getting cleaned up the best he could. He was reminded of how much he missed the tap water of the estate.
Wasting no time, Kai was ready to start his mad scientist arc. He reached into the expanded space of his alchemy chest with his whole arm and took out the equipment Dora had prepared for him. Cauldron, burner, several pieces of glassware and a number of small knives and other tools to process ingredients.
He had left most of them in the chest since his room didn’t have much free space and he didn’t want to risk breaking them. After preparing all the materials and tools he planned on using on his small workbench, he got to work.
His senses and skills keen on the herbs as he experimented how to extract the properties he wanted from them while destroying the toxic or useless parts.
From yesterday’s notes and inspirations, Kai planned to try thirteen new ways to treat herbs and five experimental recipes. He was hoping to create two healing balms, one powder to keep pests away and two different potions. One with invigorating properties similar to the energizing tonic but with cheaper herbs and the other, the most ambitious one, was a potion to clear the mind and increase focus.
To be completely honest, all five were modified recipes from Dora’s book rather than completely original ideas. He wasn’t good enough to create miraculous potions from scratch, not yet. He also lacked the large quantities of ingredients needed for wide testing.
With his limited materials and funds, he could only repeat an experiment so many times. If he was too ambitious he risked not getting anywhere.
With a plan in mind, he started testing his new processing methods with no hesitation. Even in the best-case scenario, he wouldn’t invent something revolutionary, but it was good training. Dora always told him that a proper alchemist had to go beyond the proven recipes and venture into uncharted territory.
His mad scientist dreams had to stay humble for now, but you had to start somewhere. It was a good test of his new skills without Dora’s guidance.
The testing of the thirteen new processing ideas proceeded smoothly. It wasn’t like he could truly fail while using stable pseudo-mana herbs. The success hinged more on how much better or worse the final result was compared to using standard methods.
He had two mild successes, seven failures and four cases where his new ideas made no difference. Kai was… okay with the results. His aim to integrate Inspect in his Alchemy had been a full success. Even when he failed, he felt he learnt a lot and understood why that happened thanks to Inspect.
Writing down his discoveries on the decreasing pages of his notebook, Kai was ready for round two.
After a brief lunch, Kai rushed back to his room to continue. He had reached the fun part: attempting to modify six recipes. They had more steps than simple processing and were very demanding on his concentration and mana, but he hoped to try each of them at least once today. He didn’t want to get to the evening with no more mana left in the tank.
This morning Kai had tried to restrict his use of Inspect, now he stopped holding back and tried to observe everything he could. The longer and more complicated the process, the more things could go wrong. Even just finding where the mistake lay could be a challenge.
As the hours passed he discovered two things: one good and one bad.
The bad one was that he might have been a bit optimistic with the mana required. With proven recipes you didn’t even need to intervene at all if you did things correctly. When you improvised and tried new things, the story was entirely different. Put simply, things tended to go wrong. A lot. And you needed an equally big amount of mana to salvage things.
On a more positive note, this brought him to the good news: he wouldn’t need to practice Mana Manipulation exercises today! He had no more mana left in the tank and was already below 60%.
There was no moment when something wasn’t going differently from what he predicted and he had to crudely use his mana to prevent the concoction from imploding. It felt like trying to stop a house from collapsing with duct tape and prayers.
Whenever he managed to stabilize something, something else started going wrong in a never-ending cycle. Most of the time he didn’t even know why or what had gone wrong, only that something most certainly had.
Testing five modified recipes in an afternoon? His mad scientist persona needed a big reality check. He barely managed to try two and they were the easiest.
His mind was completely spent. He had once again pushed Inspect beyond the limit. His only wish was to lie down and wake up in a week.
With a last effort of will he wrote down his observations while they were still fresh in his mind. He had so many questions and wished Dora was here to explain to him what he did wrong.
Kai had known having a master alchemist watching over you was a great blessing, but he had not realized how much. How many times Dora had slightly nudged him in the right direction and made him avoid pitfalls without even letting him know? He had to make sure to tell her how much he appreciated her when he got back.
The next few days proceed more or less in the same fashion. Kai continued his experiments. Had nightmares of peacefully brewing over his cauldron when something went wrong. He didn’t know what, but everything he tried only made the situation worse until it exploded in his face and he woke up in a sweat.
Stupid mind, you’ll have to do better than this. I’m going to have my mad scientist phase whether you like it or not!
He had planned to try and sell his potions and remedies at the market to buy more herbs and continue his experiments. But nothing could ever be easy. Who could have predicted that people were very skeptical when a child tried to sell them suspicious-looking potions they brewed themselves?
Being a child really sucked.
His marketing strategy needed a few adjustments. First, he was only the mailboy of an old and wise apothecary who couldn’t be bothered to go to the market himself. It wasn’t a great story, but it was the best he could come up with. He hoped that it would become believable enough after people saw his potions worked.
Second, he changed his experiments towards the products with the highest demand: healing balms and remedies for fevers and infections. Poison to get rid of pests was also very popular with the farmers.
It wasn’t easy to deceive seasoned merchants, but a bit of acting and using old Selly as an intermediary, helped him sell things at only a small price loss.
He wasn’t the only apothecary in town and people preferred a reliable source when they bought their medicines.
If things went according to plan, he would start earning soon as he improved and became more efficient with the brewing. So he could leave the money he earned to his family when he had to go back to the estate.
In the meantime, Kai continued to try help his sisters get Mana Sense. They had no luck so far, but he was confident they were getting closer.