The Scientist's Apprentice: Part One
Dr. Darren Rickshaw sighed, staring at his laboratory set-up somberly.
At just twenty-five, the chemist had already accomplished more feats than many of his senior colleagues. For instance, he had won the coveted Neopie in Chemical Science by synthesizing Neonimun Hydroxide only a few months after graduating from Brightvale University.
The blue Ogrin had used his prize money to buy his current home and laboratory, an old mansion located in the middle of the Haunted Woods. It was a large brick building with rounded towers, gargoyles on the waterspouts, and a stone medallion inscribed with the words "Hartwick Hall" above the entryway. The building had been a number of things in its past, including a library, a dance hall, and some sort of school, but it had been abandoned for almost seven years when he decided to purchase it.
Darren didn't exactly need all the space—he lived by himself—but he had been enchanted by the observatory attached to the east wing. As for the rest of the house, he made several alterations. He hired a cleaning team to dust furniture and scrub floors, restoring each of the numerous bedrooms to a living condition. And he recruited several members of the Neohome Planning Committee to remodel the basement into a high-tech laboratory. He now had everything he could ever need to perform his various science experiments: a storage room filled to the brim with glassware; a gigantic lab lined with fume hoods, work stations, and sinks; whiteboards galore; and a variety of other devices imported from Virtupets that could interpret data, run specific reactions, and record his observations. The lower level laboratory was stocked with everything he could possibly need.
Darren Rickshaw sighed, staring at the empty bowl in his hand. No matter what they did, the Neohome Planning Committee just could not find a way to install a working ice maker anywhere near the eastern edge of the house. The water simply refused to freeze. It had puzzled them all for weeks, and eventually they had just given up and installed the ice maker where they could: on the complete opposite end of the enormous house on the second floor.
The blue Ogrin sighed, picked up his ice-less bowl, and began his trek. "I really shouldn't be complaining," he murmured under his breath. "It's just ice." And yet he couldn't help but feel just a bit bitter about the stupid ice machine that refused to work in his beautiful new laboratory.
It was as he was climbing the stairs to the main floor that the entire building reverberated with the sound of a deep gong. Darren jumped, startled by the doorbell. He had only heard it rung once, and that was when he had first purchased the place and had tested it out himself from the front porch. He hadn't realized how loud it was on the inside.
Darren blinked. "Someone's at the door," he realized belatedly. "Oh Fyora." Quickening his pace, he darted up the stairs and started jogging down the carpeted hallway, making a beeline for the front door, all the while wondering who had decided to pay him a visit at this time in the evening.
He was breathing heavily by the time he opened the thick wooden door and was greeted by the sight of a silver Shoyru. He looked as if he was in his late teens, yet he was staring at him as eagerly and as nervously as the youngest of children. He had the widest pair of grey-blue eyes Darren had ever seen.
It was only when Darren managed to look away from the Shoyru's wide eyes that he noticed the teen was wearing an elaborate navy blue cloak embroidered with fine silver thread. Yet he smelled absolutely horrific: a mixture of mud, filth, rotten vegetables, and sulfur that made Darren wrinkle his nose.
"Er..." Darren started dumbly, completely bewildered by the stranger. "Can I help you with something?"
The boy immediately bowed his head. "Sir, I've traveled across Neopia in the hopes that you will take me on as your apprentice."
To say the blue Ogrin was stunned would be a gross understatement. No one had ever approached him requesting anything of the sort. And Darren was young himself; the idea of taking on an apprentice was, in his mind, ludicrous. And is it even considered an "apprentice" when it comes to chemistry? he thought. Last he had checked, there were apprentices for all sorts of occupations in all sorts of fields, but he was fairly certain chemistry was not one of them.
"Er..." There you go, being woefully inarticulate again, his inner voice scolded. All the meanwhile the boy looked at him with his eager blue eyes, awaiting his answer.
"Er... why don't we discuss this inside?" Darren finally managed.
The boy bowed his head. "Yes sir. I would be much obliged."
"Er, yes. Obliging," Darren murmured.
He led the Shoyru through the great hall to library, one of Darren's favorite spots in the old manor. It had high ceilings crisscrossed with beams, tall bookshelves, and several beautiful paintings on the walls. Darren led the boy to a couch by the unlit fireplace—it was summer, after all—while he took his favorite seat in an armchair original to the home.
The boy had incredible posture and sat with his back straight and his fingers laced. Darren immediately felt self-conscious.
"So," he started. "What is your name?"
"Parlan Alexander Yielding, sir."
Darren nodded, refraining from making a comment; the name was a bit antiquated. "Alright, Parlan. My name is Darren Rickshaw, though I assume you knew that already."
Parlan's face crinkled at the name. "Rickshaw, sir? Not Hartwick?"
"Hartwick is the name of the building."
"Oh." The silver Shoyru rouged slightly. "I apologize. I assumed you were Sir Hartwick."
Darren couldn't help but laugh. "No, no. Just Dr. Rickshaw."
Parlan nodded. "I'm sorry about that, Sir Rickshaw."
"No harm done."
The boy spoke with an accent that Darren couldn't quite place. He suspected Meridell, and yet his speech lacked the strong twang of the region. It more closely resembled the speech of those who lived atop Darigan Citadel, and yet Darren had trouble imagining Parlan hailing from the dark land. "You said you traveled across Neopia to get here. Where are you from?"
"The Angleton Isles," he said. "They're located a few miles off the coast of Meridell and Brightvale."
"I've heard of them," Darren said. His roommate at Brightvale University had spent a summer there and had come back with a suitcase full of souvenirs and enough odd stories to entertain him during several study breaks. "Quite a lot of tourists visit there, correct?"
"Actually, it's a fairly quiet place," Parlan contradicted, but he managed to look impressed. "Most people have never even heard of the isles since they are rather remote, but still, it was my home, sir."
Was. "Did something... happen over there?" Darren asked with a bit of trepidation. The Ogrin prided himself on keeping up to date with the latest scientific breakthroughs, and yet he found himself woefully behind on other current events.
Parlan shook his head. "No, sir. The isles are the same as always. I only speak of it in the past because... I am seventeen sir." He glanced away. "I need to finally begin work on my craft to make a living for myself. I want to one day repay my mother for all she's done to raise me." His face was a near beet red. "Which is why I traveled here, sir. To speak to you about the apprenticeship."
Darren was at a loss for words. He drummed his fingers on his chair, unsure of what to do. He had never planned on taking on an apprentice, yet this boy had traveled across Neopia just to work with him. It was undeniably flattering. But would he be able to teach him? Most of what he knew of chemistry he had learned in his university classes, and yet this boy was too young to have attended.
"Do you have a background in—?"
"Yes," the boy quickly cut him off—and then rouged again at his outburst. "I'm so sorry, Sir Rickshaw," he apologized quickly. "I shouldn't have interjected..."
"No, it is fine," Darren said, holding back a bit of a laugh. The boy had something to him. A charm, it seemed. "But you do know the basics?"
"Yes sir. I've been learning all I can on my own, but I'm afraid I've reached my personal limit. I came here to learn more."
The scientist shifted in his chair. He was still unsure, but he couldn't find it in his heart to turn the silver Shoyru away. "Well then," he said finally, standing up, "why don't we give this a shot? I'll take you on for a few days, and at the end of the week, we'll see how things have progressed and go from there. How does that sound?"
Parlan's eyes widened. "Sir, that sounds absolutely magnificent." He reached out to shake his hand; Darren was surprised by the strength of his grip. "Thank you, Sir Rickshaw. I promise you will not be disappointed. I will be diligent in my studies and assist you in every task. I will make you proud to have chosen me as an apprentice."
Darren felt something stir up in his gut: excitement. He hadn't felt like this since the eve of his most recent chemical breakthrough, a full three months earlier. "It is my pleasure, Parlan. So... would you like a quick tour of my work? I know you must be exhausted, but—"
"I'd love to," the boy said, standing up.
"Alright. Follow me."
He led the boy through the grand hallways, and Parlan eagerly looked around, almost as if expecting to see others roaming the halls. Darren didn't blame him; the house was most definitely too large for one person, but it worked perfectly as a lab.
After leading Parlan down a flight of stairs into the basement, Darren gestured to his laboratory. There were fume hoods along the walls, lab benches with sinks and drawers for equipment, and of course all of the safety precautions: eyewashes, fire extinguishers, and the notorious power shower.
The room provoked a response from Parlan. Eyes as wide as ever, he said, "I never imagined it to look like this. It's so... different."
Darren frowned. His laboratory, though lavish, was fairly standard. I wonder what the labs on the Angleton Isles look like? he thought.
"Anyway, Parlan, let me show you what I've been working on recently." He gestured to a large set-up laid over several lab benches. Several flasks were supported by ring stands, linked together by tubes and connected to wall nozzles that shot out water. There were also few burners here and there, along with a scale and several small plastic containers of chemicals.
The silver Shoyru took it all in, but he looked nervous. "Sir," he started, "I... I must confess that I didn't dabble in alchemy as much as the other arts..."
Darren immediately wheeled towards the boy. "Alchemy?" he repeated in shock.
Parlan nodded. "I spent a lot of my time on casting and rune drawing, and not as much on alchemy and potion-brewing because of the limited materials on the isles—"
"Parlan," Darren interrupted him, his heart beating heavily in his chest. "Do you think... I'm some sort of magician?"
"Oh no sir!" Parlan protested indignantly. "I would never insult you with a term like that! I know you're a sorcerer."
To be continued...