The boys stared at Professor Heinrich’s desk, slate pads in hand. Carefully they marked the dusty, black slabs with chalk, sketching and shading pictures of two apples. The apples rested side by side on the desk while Heinrich, in his academic robes, paced behind it. One apple bore a succulent and ripe reddening of its skin, the other was wrinkled with a large brown and white flecked bruise spreading over its sagging form.
“Enough. Slate and chalk down.” Heinrich ordered. He plucked up the rotten apple and held it before the boys. “Here we have an apple that has aged, it is no longer edible, no longer safe to eat. What I am about to show you is the principle mechanic and the fundamental law that guides all alchemical practises.” He put the rotten apple back down on his desk. “We will be returning the apple to its edible state. You’ll see here I have carved out the necessary alchemical formula,” he gestured to some markings on his desk, “and placed the apple within, I have also placed this ripe apple in this position, commonly known as the tributary position.”
The boys in the classroom leaned forward in their seats to see the surface of the desk. A few nearer the front of the class began to sketch copies of the formula on their slates.
“There’s no need to take notes of this formula, it is far beyond your current comprehension level and is only serving as an example for today’s lesson. Now watch carefully as I activate the formula.” Heinrich removed a small vial filled with a black ichor from a pocket. He removed the lid, to which was attached a tiny pipette, and squeezed a single drop of the liquid onto the formula. It seeped into the formulaic carvings and immediately elicited awed sighs from the watching pupils.
The rotten apple began to swell, the skin stretched over its new girth removing the dry wrinkles and giving it a glossy shine. The brown bruise retreated back across its surface to a mere speck before disappearing altogether leaving the fruit succulent and fresh as if it had just been plucked from the tree. Meanwhile the ripe apple had sagged, its skin bunching and browning until it became a rotten replica.
“Now then,” Professor Heinrich picked up the newly ripe apple and took a deep bite of it. He turned it to the class so that they could see the white, juicy flesh of the fruit. He said, after swallowing, “As you can see the apple is fresh, ripe and ready to eat, but what of the tributary apple?” He put the bitten, ripe apple down and pointed to the rotten one, highlighting its new bruise and clumps of wrinkled skin. “It has become old and worn, in particular you should notice that the bruise that has now formed on it is near identical with the one that was previously on the other. Please compare with the sketches you drew earlier.”
After a brief pause for the pupil’s examination of their sketches he continued, “The important element of this experiment is that it reflects the basic principle of alchemy, which is…? Yes, Johann,” he said pointing to a boy. The boy stood up and his eyes flickered to the left as he recited the principle.
“Alchemy is the transformation of a material from one state to another, it cannot create or destroy, only change that which is already there.”
“Indeed, you may be seated Johann. Yes, so in order to return this apple to its fresh form we must sacrifice another apple causing it to rot. While this makes an effective display it is nonetheless useless for feeding the masses.
“That concludes this lesson, clear up your writing utensils and follow me to laboratory three B.”
The rustle of implements being pocketed and chairs scraping over floorboards followed Professor Heinrich into the corridor. He swept through the pathways of the Alchemists’ Academy and descended three flights of stairs before arriving on the laboratory floor. Inside room 3B was more rustling and scraping echoing the exiting of the previous classroom until every boy was seated once more. Laid out for the practise of educational alchemy the room was divided with four tables around which the boys sat, the tools needed for the day’s experiment already laid out before them by a servant. Heinrich seated himself behind a desk at the head of the room as before, he too had the implements to demonstrate the boy’s experiment.
Before each of them was a burner under a mesh tripod and a broad pan. Beside this was a bowl of pre-weighed flour, a cup of sugar, some yeast and a tumbler of water. In the centre of each of the four tables was a single vial of black ichor.
“Who can tell me what the ingredients here might be used to make? Yes, Balthazar.” A boy had shot his hand up.
“Correct. If you recall we developed the formula for bread last week, I trust you have committed it to memory however I shall inscribe it on the black board to be sure.” There was a long silence as Heinrich meticulously scraped the blackboard with a stick of chalk, the knock and slide of the stick giving the only sound to measure the passage of time.
“Our first step is to create the bread dough, how would this ordinarily be done? Anton.” Heinrich singled out a boy. The pupil hesitated before speaking.
“T-the flour and water and all is mixed together, then you knead the dough a lot, then you leave it for four hours, then you bake it in an oven.”
“Yes, though proving typically only takes one hour, maybe more, maybe less. We will only be carrying out this experiment as far as combining and kneading the dough, to carry on further would require knowledge of temporal transference the dangers of which we have discussed previously.
“Come up here Anton,” the boy obeyed. “We will demonstrate the process first then you may all begin. First you must inscribe your formula on a suitable surface, in this case the pan in which the dough shall be made.” Heinrich handed a metal stylus to Anton. The boy began scraping the formula on the pan, constantly turning his head to compare with the blackboard. Occasionally the professor would stop him to point out an error and the boy would correct it, blushing furiously.
“Now add the ingredients to the pan, remember that we designed the formula to combine these ingredients at a slow and even pace so that we do not have to do so ourselves. Add a drop of the ichor to begin the process…”
As the class watched the ingredients seeped together, the water spread through the flour, sugar and yeast and congealed with minimal motion into a dough, it then swelled up and deflated finishing with a kneaded consistency.
The boy Anton was breathing heavily, he quickly recovered and composed himself.
“Now Anton, please describe how you feel to the rest of the class.”
“Um, I feel tired.”
“Perhaps you feel as though you have just performed some form of rigorous exercise?”
“Er, yes, I-I guess.”
“This is an example of the core of alchemy and the reason we make all students of alchemy perform this rather simple task. To make the dough a baker will mix these ingredients by hand and knead the dough. Not a taxing task in practise but as you can see with Anton, when that energy is taken from you in a single instance it can be quite a lot. This is why we don’t use alchemy for such simple, every day things. When the task is performed normally we expend our own energies at an even rate and it takes a long time before we overextend ourselves. Now take note, because this is the most important lesson you will ever learn. Undertaking an alchemical action that expends more energy than you have WILL kill you, and once you begin the process there is no stopping it.”
Heinrich paused for effect, watching the looks on the boy’s faces, some turned pale with worry and shock, others muttered amongst themselves and a few cocky or oblivious boys stared blankly back, those would be the ones who either made a mistake or worse exhibited such natural talent as to have an excess of confidence.
The rest of the lesson passed without particular incident, a few mistakes and deformed bread batches. Professor Heinrich had an impassive face and, though no one would ever be able to tell, was eager to escape the day’s lessons. He had an experiment of his own he was working on, one that no one would have approved of. One that he desperately desired to complete, to know not only that it had worked, but to have in his possession the product of such an act.
As soon as the practical was finished Professor Heinrich ushered the boys out, the day’s lessons over they would retire to their dorms for personal study, or more likely slip into town and around the academy grounds. Heinrich headed straight for his own quarters and slipped into the adjoining study.
The walls were lined with books, Heinrich’s own personal journals as well as various academic works. He selected one with an ivory spine, ‘A Theory of the Sentient Essence’ by Johannes Kunckel, and pulled it down. The case slid to the side to reveal a secret room, the design had been common in an earlier century and many such rooms had been refurbished within the academy, removing their secretive nature. Heinrich had been lucky to acquire this office with an, as yet, undiscovered secret room.
The book which he had affixed to the entrance lever was a discourse on the subject of ghosts and wish-fulfilment. More specifically it detailed a theory that not all ghosts were wandering souls born forth from a corpse and that some were in fact creations of the mortal mind. The idea being that sentiment, most often in the form of desire or wish fulfilment, gave birth to a wandering sentience. The concept of a ghost with unfinished business was thus explained as being created by someone who wanted said business finished and similarly a poltergeist created by a desire for attention of action.
The inside of the secret room was a more advanced laboratory than any of the pupils at the academy could have imagined. Heinrich’s personal project combined many advanced alchemical concepts, many as yet unexplored and unexplained. He had trod into highly dangerous and radical territory where experimentation was reduced to trial and error.
A dull green light filled the room, cast from a sconce on the wall filled with alchemist’s fire. It burned low, using up fuel at a lower rate than a candle would. The walls were lined with hooks holding various implements and tools from wrenches and spatulas to forceps and tweezers. A few boxes filled with materials Heinrich had used in earlier attempts sat in the corner. A few clay limbs dangled out of an urn. Another box stained red and thankfully empty was used to store his failures until such a time as he was able to discreetly dispose of them.
The main feature of the room was the slab like altar, reminiscent of a morgue table but lacking the expected cadaver. Along its surface and down the sides had been carved a complex alchemical formula, one attempting to detail hundreds of different environmental factors that might impact on the product.
Heinrich’s goal, his desire, was to create life. Not just any life, but the love of his life. He was in all his heretical practises attempting to create a wife for himself, one to end his loneliness, one through whom he could share himself and one in whom he had complete faith and understanding.
A large part of the formula inscribed upon the altar was dedicated to the shape of the body, aside from aesthetic features modeled after Heinrich’s idealism there was a lot of internal architecture to the human body that demanded attention in order to create a working structure. It had taken a lot of research utilising cadavers and medical tomes as well as several practise attempts turning wet clay into statues that could be pulled apart to examine if the internal aspects had formed correctly.
On the altar, amidst the formula, sat a contraption of several vials filled with various bodily fluids and a central recess that when a catch was pulled would mix the liquids together. The two most important vials contained the life giving fluids Heinrich had obtained at great expense and humiliation. Behind the altar, sat in a large bucket of ice, was a container full of animal guts, muscle and tissue ready for transference.
The Professor had planned for this for years. There had been many failures, many mistakes before this but now he was confident this was the way, this was the one that would work. He knelt and prayed to God, aware that his heretical activity may have placed him far from his deity’s gaze, but still hopeful for acceptance and forgiveness.
When he had finished, he checked over the formula and the ingredients again, then retrieved from the boxes in the corner a large flask, filled to the brim with the black ichor. He steeled himself as he stood over the altar, then reverently poured the contents of the flask over the altar. The black fluid surged over the stone and the carvings, seeping into the lines, thick and viscous. It poured over the sides and down to the floor stopping at the edge of the formula. Quickly Heinrich released the catch on the vials and the coloured liquids fell to the central reservoir. Inside the mixture blackened then surged and frothed, a lump began to emerge in its centre. The container tipped over and the lump fell onto the altar.
Heinrich snatched away the empty container then pulled on a large, tubular bag at the side of the altar. He pulled it over obscuring everything from sight. The bag was made of animal skin that allowed it a certain amount of elasticity to stretch and flex over the altar like a membrane. Holes had been punched through it to which tubes were attached and Heinrich set about pouring more fluids down through them. The whole process was an attempt to recreate the conditions of a woman’s womb.
The project wore on deep into the night, hours after it had begun. Despite several ‘safety’ equations Heinrich was beginning to feel the toll on his own energies. But his desire kept him watching and waiting and maintaining, long after he would otherwise have collapsed.
He sensed another change in his body, one that seemed to weaken him spiritually. He did not feel pain from it, it was as though he was afflicted with a depression or an anxiousness, one that slowly built up within him and gnawed at his consciousness though he could not identify the cause.
A noise sounded inside the cocoon, a faint gurgling sound. Heinrich stumbled forward eagerly. He checked the formula over until he was content that not a speck of ichor remained on its surface. The process was complete.
He plucked the tubes from the membrane then tentatively reached across and clasped its edge. Nervousness trembled throughout his weakened body. Slowly he pulled back the skin covering. On the altar, drenched in the nutritious fluids was revealed the body of a woman who held in her form a beauty beyond any other to Heinrich’s eyes. Her naked body lay still for a moment until the air reached her unprotected form.
Suddenly she took a large breath and her oak green eyes flickered open to look at Heinrich. In that moment he felt such a huge pang of happiness and sadness. In that moment he realised and understood what had been missing from his formula, what had been weakening him and what had thus been taken from him. His life force.
In his last few moments he leant over the girl of his dreams, “Galatea…” he whispered before kissing her lips. He fell back on the floor motionless. Galatea panicked and rose from the altar. She stumbled ungainly off of the slab and to the floor trying to rouse Heinrich, to bring him back to life.
Some semblance of memory and sentience drifted through her hazy mind and she attempted to scratch away some of the formula attempting to stop the already completed ritual.
She had knowledge of these things, though faint and vague, because she had not been born with this experiment. Galatea had been conceived at the first moment of loneliness Heinrich had ever felt and she had grown with his loneliness and desire to end that loneliness until this day when he had created for her a body.
And though he had seen his wish fulfilled for a few moments, Heinrich paid a price for his folly and lay glassy eyed on the floor of his heretical laboratory. Galatea wept over him, her naked form clutching his body as the heat drifted away from it.