"Vaeri! Hurry up with that water, will you!"
"Alright, Harik! I got it, I got it!"
"My last helper didn't take fifteen minutes to fetch a bucket! Just bring it here!"
Vaeri sighed as she lifted the bucket out of the cistern. Her parents had apprenticed her to Harik for the summer, as a sort of "learning experience", the kind which built 'character.' Apparently being shouted at for every little perceived mistake promoted good qualities, like obedience and trembling when your name was shouted. Yes, she knew all about the "character" she was being given; she could feel it in her heart, or was it her headache?
It wasn't all that was aching right now. Her feet and legs were sore as well. All this walking up and down the stairs didn't help her situation; what kind of Dracon had to do this sorta crap anyway? It wasn't like her parents were poor, though they weren't exactly rich either. Wiping the sweat from her scaled forehead, she cursed the pot of water for being so heavy. Who knew that water could weigh so much? Placing one clawed foot in front of the other, Vaeri eventually got the load up the stairs and into the alchemists's laboratory. Why couldn't he place the lab on the bottom of the stairs?
"Here it is" Vaeri gasped, placing the brown clay pot at his feet, being careful not to spill any of it on his fine black robes. At least he had clothing which covered most of him; Vaeri only had a piece of brown cloth to cover her waist, although such dress was common for her species when not in public.
"Good. At least you can perform half a task. Now, return to your own mixtures, girl, I'm busy here." He hadn't even bothered to turn his head; it was as if she was talking to his horns and tail, but then, in the past month, Vaeri had grown to expect that, no respect. She thought that he would appreciate her; he had wanted a girl to help him over the summer. Initially, Vaeri was thrilled that she was chosen over the boys, only to learn that he wanted a girl because females were perceived as more "docile." At least, he respected her in body; not once had Harik abused her physically nor did he take certain liberties with her. Verbally though, he either yelled at her or ignored her completely.
Returning to her workstation on the other side of the lab, Vaeri sighed and sat down on her cushion, crossing her legs so that the three toes on each of her feet were touching, and that the spurs on her ankles were not poking her legs. Once she was comfortable, Vaeri proceeded to her work, grateful that for all his faults as a teacher, Harik kept a well-stocked lab. Alchemy was such a useful skill; it could take one element and turn it into another, and even create an element which had never existed before. This skill was in high demand, and one of a few crafts open to females in the Dracon lands. Vaeri had talent, but without instruction it would go to waste. Since she was young, the girl had always wanted to make a potion to turn her light red skin into a pinkish hue. Now that she was 18, the Dracon female knew better than that; it would look nice to her eyes, but to most other people, she would look like some sort of freak! Still, it matched her pale white belly.
Whatever. Such silly thoughts. She had to get back to proving that she could make a potion capable of dissolving copper. Why copper? Such a stupid task. Harik just did it to annoy her, she thought. He was holding her back. Why was he doing that? Mixing the potions carefully in her four fingered hands, a thought struck her. Setting down the copper-dissolving chemicals, Vaeri took out her alchemy book. Contained within were all the formulae necessary to make potions on the beginner level, but there was a more advanced one written on the last page
something that she had always wanted to try; a truth potion formula, one that she had found lying around on the floor near her workstation several days ago.
Now she would get the truth out of Harik. Just a few drops of it in the water she served him. The next time he asked for a cup, she'd put in the three drops, and *poof*, he'd tell her everything about these stupid tasks. Her copper-dissolving potion, while no harder to make than the truth formula, had proceeded slowly. She had been tasked to make it in three days. When Vaeri complained about not having enough time, Harik claimed he could whip one up in an couple of hours, and that his master had only given him a day to make such a potion.
Working feverishly, Vaeri made the truth tonic, and poured it in a little vial. The whole task had only taken her a few hours, but time seemed to fly; her heart was in her task. The next morning, Harik called for some water, as usual.
"Vaeri! Fetch me some Dihydrogen monoxide! Put it in a cup!" Great. Now he was using the alchemist term for watrt. Moving quickly, she filled a clay cup with water, then discreetly poured in the truth potion. Moving over to Harik, she quickly handed him the cup, then turned back to her workstation. He never thanked her. He never even spoke to her. Come to think of it, it looked like he never drank the water, he just made her bring it in to annoy her, or teach her "character", or exercise his own petty power to make himself feel greater than he really was. Whatever.
This time, world be different. "Vaeri. Come back here." Oh no, he knew she had spiked the potion! She was in for it this time. Vaeri turned towards the master alchemist, taking one step at a time. It was not comfortable; she could feel the heat of a nearby flame on her sensitive skin, and the soles of her feet could also sense it in the warm tiles on the floor.
Looking at her with a stern face, he took the cup in his hands, and in his other hands, held out a strip of copper. Without saying a word, he poured the contents of the cup onto the metal, dissolving it. Vaeri was stunned.
"I'm very proud of you, Vaeri" the alchemist told her. "You have learned an important lesson, one far greater than anything I could teach you with my copper-dissolving liquids. You learned to disobey an unjust authority, and were not afraid to strike back against it. Coincidentally, you also proved that you could make that potion just as fast as I could, you just needed to put your heart into you work."
He had never spoken to her so politely before, and he had told her what she wanted to know after all. This whole setup with the copper and the yelling
it had all been there to teach her a lesson.
"So I did well?"
"You did better than well. Most of my other seasonal apprentices obediently make me the copper potion after taking way too long and they only do it half-right. I drop them the note at their workplace, they get the idea to use it maybe, but either the idea never occurs to them, or, as I suspect, they never get the courage to use it. The formula labeled "copper-dissolving" is just carbonated water with coloring and flavor. As for my conduct towards you... I am sorry. All that yelling was to make you resent me, and to toughen you up. Being an alchemist is hard work, and most of the time, it brings good money but little appreciation. All those people who use my potions? They complain about the prices but go on to use my work anyway. Sometimes, you will be called on to do things you don't want to do; things you don't like to do. Some of the time, you will have to do these things, but other times, you don't have to, and you shouldn't! That is the lesson of being great in our craft."
Vaeri was delighted to hear it, and for the first time since she arrived, her heart rose and after quickly praising herself while bouncing up and down, the Dracon girl regained her composure and asked him; "Wait, what is the lesson again?"
"The lesson of our craft is discretion. Too many times, we alchemists have seen our kind become nothing more than the mere servants of those in power; take our King for example. His palace come with towers, golden furniture, and the royal alchemists, busily slaving away in a hot stone lab, hunched over their work all day and all night, making whatever it is the palace needs, in exchange for very little money, bad lungs, bleached skin, a crooked spine, and an early grave due to some alchemical respiratory illness. No, that's not what we are about. Sometimes, learning how to say 'no' is as important as saying 'yes'.
It was a lesson well learned for Vaeri, who went on to become quite the alchemist herself. When offered a chance to make potions for the king, she wisely refused, and after a few hard years of getting herself established in an independent guild, her potions were the best of any female in her whole city. She never did learn how to make that truth potion...