“I-is anyone here?” I nervously asked, climbing up the staircase leading to the final level of the tower.
It was a castle tower, sure, but it almost felt like a world of its own separate from all the decadent adornments, paintings, and décor that littered the rest of the castle hallways. It felt almost militaristic and barren.
As typical, I had to ask directions several times before I finally made my way to the tower that was supposed to house the man the king had named Reinhart. He was one of two men I planned to meet today. The other was an enchanter although the enchanter did not live in the castle as the alchemist Reinhart did. Although calling this part of the castle was a little questionable.
The tower sat apart from the rest of the castle, a towering remnant of a previously smaller castle that was demolished as the capital city grew. It was down a long rocky pathway and looked completely apart from the rest of the castle. I had thought that Reinhart would live on the first floor, but upon entering the tower, I found myself in a dusty room that would have looked abandoned if not for the various footprints heading up and down the stairway. Well, the man had to come out to eat once in a while, after all.
Thus, I found myself climbing up a rolling staircase that would have been roughly the equivalent of a five-story building. Surprisingly, I wasn’t gasping for breath by the time I reached the top as I might have once before. I glanced at my status and shook my head in wonder. My strength and endurance were nearly four times the points from when I got to this world. I took that to mean that I had four times my original strength and endurance in reality as well.
Then I frowned for a second. Most people started out at level 1 in this world as a baby. In their teens, they spiked from a level 4-5 to a level 30 by the time they reached adulthood at the age of 18. That meant everyone’s stats were likely an average of 30 or more. In that case, I was actually really weak compared to other people in this world. Was everyone in this world 6 X stronger, smarter, wiser, etc… than people from my world? Wouldn’t industry flourish if that was the case? Even with monsters that seemed like that should be the case.
There was just so much I still needed to know about this world. Of course, that’s why I was in this tower which smelled like sulfur and formaldehyde… I wanted to be able to learn more. I reached the top of the tower, opening a door without knocking before taking a step into a room. The room looked like a laboratory. Perhaps not like the ones I had seen in college, with clean black countertops and lines of glassware, but definitely one with a certain mad scientist quality to it.
“Excuse me?” I asked again, looking around.
A man came out from the backroom. He had dark black hair, a tight, long face, and big ears. He wasn’t ugly, per se, but compared to the attractive princes and the king, his looks fit better on a bandit. He was wearing a leather apron, and about the only thing he was missing was a pair of steampunk glasses to satisfy the look for the cosplay fangirl inside me. As he approached me, I opened my mouth to speak, but then he walked right past me.
“I’m busy… whatever you need, write it on a note and leave it at my door.” The man disregarded me immediately. “If you can write, that is.”
That last part wasn’t necessary. He kind of had an air of condescension about his person. It wasn’t the same kind of condescension that the nobles I had met, namely Sylvia, gave off. Instead, it was more of an annoyance. It was a kind of intolerance for stupidity. A few professors at my school had a similar attitude, so it only put me off a little.
“I’m a- Cornelia… Cornelia Bartrum, princess of Drophe, your ally. While I’m staying here, I was hoping you could teach me more about alch-”
“I don’t have time to waste teaching noble brats how to play house. If you want a potion, buy one from the town’s potion shop. If you want a good potion, leave a note with the quartermaster, he’ll put in the request with me, and I’ll have it for you next week.”
He spoke very quickly while his hands continued to move around the workplace. He seemed to be assembling a glass apparatus. It was a bubbly fluid that he appeared to be trying to distill something from. It looked like a classic distillation through a condenser. However, something about it was bugging me and I couldn’t think of what.
“No… that’s not it. The king mentioned me? I want to be able to help. I was hoping you could mentor me, lend me books, let me use a small part of your la-”
“The king did mention you. And I don’t care. I have too much work today, and you’d just get in the way… whatever you name is. wh-wh…” He squinted at me for a second. “Aria…”
My body froze up a second later. “A-Aria? No-no-o, I’m Cornelia Bartru- “
“Yes… I thought that’s what you said…” He frowned, picking up a flint and a black rock before turning to me for a second. “But I can see right through frauds… a little special ability of mine. Your name is Aria… Aria… the Lesbian Lover… Hmm… not the strangest title I’ve ever seen.”
“…” I lowered my eyes, not quite sure how to respond to this sudden development.
The guy knew my name, my cover was completely blown! This was bad, this was very bad! At best, Nova would kill Jenai, and I could be killed too. There was no choice. I had to use Seduction on him. I had to beguile him and turn him into my puppet. It was the only way to protect myself now.
“So… I’ll tell you what. The only reason I’m not sounding the guards this instant is that I don’t care. I see the cursed ring on your finger… that thing should be a national treasure, but it does tell me you’re probably not a willing participant. So, I’ll give you until tonight to flee the castle and tell your master it failed. Better luck next time.”
“He’ll kill me…” I spoke nearly a whisper, preparing to strike with Seduction.
“Not like I care…” He waved his hand, turning back to his work.
He had a small candle dipped in oil. The thing in his hand must have been steel and flint to start a fire. However, something was… that’s right, there was an odd smell I had been sniffing since a while back. Oh, wait!
“Natural gas, wait, stop!” I let out a warning.
A second later he struck the flint and steel. A fireball erupted from his hands. There was the sound of glass shattering and the heat hit my face which I then had to shield my eyes from. It was over in a flash, and dots were dancing in front of my eyes in the aftermath.
There was a lot of smoke, and a second later, I heard the chair scuffle as a man covered with soot stood up, waving his hand in front of his face as he coughed. It looked like his eyebrows had been singed off and there was a gash on his cheek from something that went flying, but he was otherwise fine.
“Are you okay?” I moved over to him, my hand grabbing his arm.
“I don’t see any acid burns. I was afraid with a corrosive it’d destroy your face, maybe even cause blindness. You can see, right?”
He looked a little dazed, but he was also waving his hands, trying to stop my attention.
“I’m fine, I’m fine. I can see. I couldn’t count how many times my eyebrows had been singed off, this is just normal.” He felt his face and when his dirty hands touched the open wound he grimaced. “That’s going to need to be sewn up.”
“Wait, I have something better!” I leaned forward and immediately activated the cat’s meow, licking his cheek in one swift motion before he could react.
“Ah… it tingles.” Then he touched the area, which had instantly healed, and he gave a look of wonder. “Abilities like that exist too… my experiment!”
He stood up, pushing me out of his way, and moving up to flasks. The explosion had caused half of the glassware to fall over and crack, but one or two pieces were salvageable. I waited as he picked through the stuff before he finally sighed.
“An entire afternoon wasted.”
“I-if I might ask, what were you trying to do?”
He sat down, rubbing his face, which only smeared the soot, before talking. “This vial is full of a sulfur slime residue. You can extract the magical essence from most slime materials, but sulfur slime… as you can see, is a bit explosive. I thought if I could distill away the liquid, I could remove the gas safely. I suppose you don’t have any ideas, do you?”
I frowned for a second and then nodded. “Maybe… First off, the distillation you’re using is leaky. It’s because you don’t have any glassware grease between the junctions.”
“Grease? Something like that might get into the reaction.” Reinhart frowned.
“Well, if it’s something like petroleum jelly, it’s hydrophobic in nature, so it won’t mix.”
Reinhart’s frown increased. “Petroleum? Is that… rock oil? I’ve seen it before. Some use it for burning, but I’ve never seen its jelly.”
“Oh… no, well, the jelly is just a byproduct of its… refinement.” I started to lose my voice as he looked at me with an increasingly curious face.
A moment later, he spoke up, “And the second thing?”
“Perhaps if you set up a release, right about here, with maybe a fold kind of like this, you can create a gas trap. Release the gas farther away from the flame. Preferably, you can pipe it outside the window, since we’re in a tower, we’re high enough it shouldn’t be dangerous to anyone below. Either way, the point is to diffuse the released gas safely so it won’t be volatile. If you try to just block it, the pressure would build and it would blow, anyway. At least… that’s what I was thinking.”
As I spoke, his eyes seemed to widen, and then a smirk appeared on his face. “You… just who are you? My skill tells me something strange. Seductress? That doesn’t sound like an alchemist to me.”
“Well… I used to train as a chemist.” Then I waved my hands. “Um.. but I never got much experience. I was never even in the lab, but I trained for two years.”
He scratched his chin, thinking. “Chemistry… is like alchemy?”
“Err… it didn’t use magic, it was mixing non-magical things.”
He frowned. “Why would you mix nonmagical things?”
“Lots of reasons, like the petroleum jelly, I guess.” I scratched. “Oh, I think I have something that will work.”
I reached into my dress where I had Min sew a small pouch, and pulled out a small vial, handing it to him. He cautiously took the vial, opening it up. He took a sniff, then stared at it a bit, before an eyebrow raised.
“Male enhancement lubricant?” He muttered. “Made of… Pigman semen?”
“Ah… heh… you can see that, huh?” I rubbed the back of my neck.
“Fetched it yourself, did you?” He twisted his lips, dipping a finger into it and scooping out a dollop. “It’s thick.”
“Oh, well, it comes out kind of thin, but once you boil until the smell disappears and it thickens like that,” I explained.
“Splendid.” He looked at the whitish gunk on his fingers. “Help me set it up again, will you? The glassware is over there.”
I ran to the cabinet and began setting up the apparatus. When it came time to put the ill-fitting pipes together, we used copious amounts of Pigman “jelly” to seal the holes properly. As I worked towards getting the experiment set up, Reinhart watched over my shoulder, making occasional commits, but otherwise nodding his head.
When it was finished, we ignited the flame once again, bringing it under the distillation chamber which held another bottle of sulfur slime. This time, the solution began to bubble, and the gas smell did not return. A moment later, we had a product leaking down into a new tube. When we finally finished collecting all the droplets, Reinhart poured it into a tube. I looked at the tube using Examine.
Vial of Minor Magic, Grade C
Potion Making has increased to level 2.
“Oh, it’s a grade C!” I said excitedly. “And, I went up in potion making!”
“What level potion making are you? He asked.
“Um… just level 2… just now…”
“Grade C with just level 2…” He muttered. “Do you have any other skills? Magic? Cooking? Cleaning?”
“Um… magic is level 3. I don’t have any cleaning skills, but I can clean. Cooking… you’d be better off with a cook.”
Reinhart sat back down on a nearby chair. He seemed to be thinking about something intently. A moment later he appeared to make up his mind.
“What you’re doing… or whatever this person wants you to do… assassination?”
“N-no! No… he just wants me-”
Reinhart put up his hands. “The less I know, the better. Ah… I can’t believe I’m considering this. Fine…”
“I’ll teach you. I needed an assistant anyway. But when you get caught, I’ll play dumb. If it’s you or me, I’m throwing you under the carriage.”
I broke into a smile and a second later I threw my arms around him as he tried to give me a firm look. I then preceded to kiss him on the lips. He pulled away, seeming flustered by that.
“A seductress, huh?” He gave a wry smile.
“If you can teach me… I can do more than just be your assistant. You can have me any way you want,” I offered.
His eyes twinkled for a second, and then he gave a smirk. “Sounds… good, let’s go to my bedroom.”