The Scientist's Apprentice: Part Six
The next morning, Parlan's roommates escorted the silver Shoyru down to breakfast. It was held in the large dining room that Parlan had seen in the future, though back then he and Darren had shared the room by themselves. Now the large table seated about thirty apprentices down its length, and Sir Hartwick sat at the head.
And Darren was nowhere to be seen.
Parlan took a seat between Bennie and Thomas, while Marlo sat across the table from him. There was china set out on the table; Parlan had never seen silverware and dishes so fine. In the future, Darren had been partial to "paper plates;" Parlan could not understand how those had caught on.
Sir Hartwick tapped his glass at the head of the table with his fork. "Attention," the grey Gelert announced. "For those of you who are not observant, we have a new apprentice in our midst." He gestured down the table, and Parlan felt his face rouge as thirty pairs of eyes landed on his face. "Everyone, please treat Parlan Alexander Yielding with kind respect, and welcome him into our band of brothers!"
There was a spattering of applause, which only made Parlan's face warmer.
Sir Hartwick smiled amiably, and announced, "Now everyone, grab hands."
Parlan was confused for a moment as Thomas and Bennie took his hands in theirs. Marlo smirked at him from across the table.
"What's going on?" Parlan mouthed to the orange Wocky.
"Summoning spell," Marlo mouthed back with a grin.
And before Parlan could ask him to clarify, the entire table of apprentices, Sir Hartwick included, began to chant. The apprentices all seemed a bit bored by the ritual, and their eyes flitted to Parlan, watching him.
Assessing me. Wondering if I know anything, Parlan realized. It's another test.
Luckily, Parlan had in fact learned the summoning spell when he had taught himself some basic sorcery at home, and after a confused start, he joined in. Thomas squeezed his hand in congratulations as the table settings began to vibrate, and a high-pitched whine filled the air.
Once the final syllable of the chant had been spoken, all of the plates on the table were suddenly filled with food. Eggs and bacon, string beans and tall jugs of tchea juice. Parlan's eyes widened.
"Enjoy!" Sir Hartwick announced, and all the apprentices dug in eagerly.
Parlan picked up a fork and speared a piece of asparagus. "So we summon food each morning?" he asked.
Bennie nodded through a mouthful of scrambled eggs. "We all take turns cooking. This week it's the Solar Dormitory." He gestured to a group of boys down the table who looked a bit sweatier than the rest of the group, and marginally more tired. "We're up in two weeks. But yes. Instead of all going to the kitchen to get the stuff, we summon it. Sir Hartwick wants us to practice as much as possible."
"Got it," Parlan said, sipping his glass of tchea juice. Now this was the food he remembered, not the weird assortment Darren had given him in the future.
But where is Darren? Parlan thought, his eyes sweeping the table. He hoped that, wherever he was, the blue Ogrin was doing okay.
* * *
Darren, in fact, was only somewhat okay. He stood in the basement of Sir Hartwick's, nervously watching as the apprentices filed down the rickety stairs.
The blue Ogrin fiddled with the sleeves of his lab coat, and did his best not to yawn; he had been up all night, trying to figure out a way to do some alchemy. He had first spent a few hours scouring the mansion's library, and he did find several alchemy books, but Darren had never seen such confusing protocols. Stir seven times counterclockwise? Spit into the bowl after clearing your throat? Prepare under a waxing moon? None of it made much sense to him.
To make matters worse, Sir Hartwick had clearly asked for a demonstration from the future, so using any of the spell books in the library would be a dead giveaway that Darren knew absolutely nothing about alchemy in Year 16. So at about 3:00am, the scientist had changed tactics.
Now if only this works.
The thirty apprentices pooled around Darren in a semi-circle. The Ogrin noticed that Parlan was mixed in the group; the Shoyru finally looked liked he belonged somewhere, with his midnight blue robes and silver pendant.
And I am dreadfully out of place, Darren thought, hoping that he would get through the lesson in one piece. That way, he could focus on finding a way to get back to his time, and away from this weird world of magic.
"Everyone," Sir Hartwick announced with a clap of his hands. "This here is Sir Darren Rickshaw, a sorcerer who specializes in rather advanced techniques of alchemy." His eyes glittered with something that Darren could only interpret as excitement.
Darren smiled weakly as the apprentices looked up at him.
"Sir Rickshaw has offered to show us exactly how he does some of his particular alchemy," Sir Hartwick continued. "In fact, even I am in the dark about what exactly he is going to show us." The Gelert smiled. "And so, this will be a great treat for us all. Now, Sir Rickshaw, if you will?"
Darren cleared his throat. "Th-thank you, Sir Hartwick."
This is it, he thought. Show time. Be confident. You can do this!
Darren tried to stop the shaking in his knees. He had given guest lectures several times at local universities; he just needed to pretend this was the same thing. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them, he was ready.
Or at least as ready as he could be.
Darren gestured to the set-up behind him. He had spent a chunk of his morning running around the mansion, trying to scavenge up suitable glassware. In the end, he had found a set of tiny pewter cauldrons, which he had set up over small bowls with glowing blue flames. He didn't know if the magic flames would upset his reaction, but it was the best he could do without a Bunson burner. He'd also found a mortar and pestle—luckily, that technology hadn't changed much in two hundred years.
"So," Darren began. "This is my... alchemy set-up."
Already, a skinny Lenny shot his hand into the air. "Sir," he asked, "may I ask why you chose that particular alchemical formation? We were taught that when you have multiple cauldrons, the line should always orient towards the Northeast. Yours run East to West."
"Er... That's because this... spell requires an East-West orientation," Darren invented, and the Lenny nodded his head, satisfied with the answer.
Another hand shot into the air, this one belonging to the orange Wocky standing next to Parlan. "And why are the cauldrons suspended over the fire traps as opposed to touching the flames directly?"
Darren glanced over at his contraption. He had done his best to create ring stands with the collection of fireplace pokers he'd stolen from the library. "It's to stop the chemic—ingredients from burning."
With the Wocky appeased, there were no more questions, and Darren was able to begin his reaction.
Darren only needed two ingredients for this particular reaction, and of course, they were the two things Sir Hartwick had not had in his massive supply cupboard. Not that Darren blamed him—what he was about to do was not alchemy at all. He was going to synthesize Neonium Hydride, a compound that was first synthesized in the 120th year of the Great Peace. Or rather, only one year earlier. Darren hoped that Sir Hartwick did not keep up to date on current scientific breakthroughs; if he did, he was in trouble.
But Hartwick had seemed intrigued rather than suspicious earlier that morning when Darren had asked for him to send an apprentice to find chunks of igneous rock with silver veins and several hydrangea plants.
"These are our two reactants," Darren said, pointing to the flowers and rocks set on the table. He had given up correcting his speech; switching "reactants" with the word "ingredients" took up too much of his concentration. "First, we need to extract the Neonium from the igneous rocks," he said, tapping the veins of silver lodged inside the rocks.
The apprentices watched as Darren did his best to crack open the rocks, using one rock to break open the other. Some of the apprentices carried scrolls with them and took notes. Sir Hartwick, meanwhile, just watched with curious grey eyes.
Once the silver chunks were freed, Darren picked them up and placed them in the first cauldron. "Now, we need the Neonium to be extremely hot. Boiling actually. So while we wait for that..."
He reached for the hydrangeas, plucking the periwinkle petals off several flowers and placing them in the mortar and pestle. He ground them into a paste, and then added them to a second cauldron, this one already filled with boiling water. He stirred the pot with a spoon—one of the boys in the Solar Dormitory had leant him one while they had been cooking breakfast—and the liquid turned pale purple.
"We need to extract only the liquid," Darren said, carefully tilting the cauldron over a final bowl, this one covered with a piece of cloth. As the boiling liquid fell through into the bowl, the remaining pieces of ground up petals were filtered out.
Darren removed the cloth and tossed it to the side. He then checked the cauldron with the Neonium—the silver liquid was now bubbling merrily—and he took the hydrangea water into his hands. "And now, we're going to pour this onto the Neonium..."
Please work, he prayed as he tilted the bowl and the water fell over the bubbling metal.
There was a loud hiss as the water made contact with the metal, and small sparks shot out of the cauldron. A few apprentices let out soft 'whoas, and when the steam faded away, Darren peered inside the cauldron and saw exactly what he had wanted to see: a grainy purple powder.
"And here we are!" Darren said proudly, scooping the powder out of the cauldron and onto the counter so the apprentices could see. "Neonium Hydride!"
There was a spattering of applause from the assembled apprentices, but the orange Wocky again raised his hand. "Sir... May I ask what it does?"
"I can show you," Darren said, and he took a cup of water and dripped it onto the powder. Suddenly, the powder was alight, and tall purple flames reached towards the ceiling.
"Whoa!" the sorcerers repeated, this time more loudly, and the applause intensified.
Even Hartwick was clapping his hands. "What an interesting alchemical reaction, Sir Rickshaw. Very wonderful. Was this a spell of your creation?"
Darren could feel the sweat dripping down his back, and he shook his head. "No, I'm afraid not. Another... alchemist created this one. But I did figure out how to synthesize a different compound, Neonium Hydroxide."
"Neonium Hydroxide," Sir Hartwick repeated, savoring the word on his tongue. "Would you be willing to show us that reaction too?"
Darren skin warmed as he felt all the eyes fall on his face, but Matilda's voice in his head was much too loud: Don't reveal too much.
In the end, he found the courage to shake his head. "I'm sorry, but that reaction is a bit... newer. And I can't really share my secrets yet. I'm still working on the... rights and such."
Sir Hartwick looked at him for a moment, but then nodded his head. "Of course. And beside, we've already had one demonstration for today. That is enough." He clapped his hands together. "Thank you, Sir Rickshaw, for sharing that with us. You are free to either stay for the remainder of our lesson or find something else in the mansion to keep your mind occupied."
Darren gave a short bow. "If you don't mind, I think I'm going to... retire to my room." His lack of sleep was catching up with him; he had never felt so tired.
Sir Hartwick nodded in approval, and the blue Ogrin left the basement, feeling inordinately relieved. Parlan gave him a reassuring smile as he passed by, and he grinned back.
I did it! he thought to himself as he walked up the grand stairway to the second floor and unlocked the door to his bed chamber. I convinced Sir Hartwick I was an alchemist without compromising the future!
It was that happy thought that he fell asleep to, congratulating himself as he slipped off into dreamland.
* * *
Unfortunately, Darren's dreams that afternoon were not too pleasant. He dreamt that he was walking through the dark woods in robes that were much too big for him. They trailed on the ground, tangling with tree roots and dragging him back as he tried to walk.
As Darren yanked at his robe for the fifth time, he heard Parlan's voice from above.
"Time travel is really quite simple," the silver Shoyru was saying. Darren looked upwards and saw that Parlan was seated on a tree branch next to Sir Hartwick, oblivious to the blue Ogrin below. Parlan held out his hands and vials of ingredients materialized out of thin air; Darren recognized them as the ingredients they had bought together from Matilda's shop.
"Parlan!" Darren tried to yell. "You can't tell him!" But his voice was raspy, and the wind seemed to blow it away from the boy and into the blackened sky.
"DON'T SPEAK!" came a wild cry, and suddenly Matilda flew into view. The green Zafara was riding a rickety old broomstick, her hair wild. She darted around Darren, her fingertips alight with green flames. "DO NOT SPEAK!" she shouted into Darren's ear as the flames jumped to his cloak and caught the threads on fire. "DO NOT REVEAL THE INGREDIENTS! DO NOT REVEAL THE SPELL!"
Green fire began to consume Darren's robes, yet Parlan didn't even glance down at him. Instead, the boy kept conjuring more and more ingredients out of thin air, passing them over to Sir Hartwick as Matilda's shout turned into a high-pitched scream.
Darren jolted awake, his heart pounding in his chest as reality settled back in. Sweat beaded his brow, dripping down past his cheeks. "Thank Fyora," he muttered, taking a deep breath. "It's just a dre..."
But he trailed off when he finally caught a glimpse of his surroundings. He was no longer in his bedroom. Instead, he was lying down on a cold slate floor, surrounded on three sides by walls made of thick stone.
The fourth wall was made of iron bars.
To be continued...