It wasn’t really a surprise that there weren’t an abundance of alchemists in Lunson to choose from. The whole country was underdeveloped, given that it wasn’t a suitable location for the vast majority of people to cultivate. Even those who practiced two elements might find themselves more suited to a location strong in any of their single elements. However, when a cultivator practiced three or more elements… that was where the clear advantages came about.
Unfortunately, that required reaching the Soul Expansion Phase to properly pull off- though limited use of additional elements was possible without a totem. With cultivators of all sorts lacking, the support structures were as well.
Thus, John had the choice of three alchemists in the whole city, and it took some effort just to track down those few names and locations. The most prominent was Alchemist Oden. By the standards of Lunson he was rather picky about his customers, but it was difficult for him to refuse to meet someone who came along with a Consolidated Soul Phase cultivator.
His shop was neatly organized with everything behind nice glass displays and clearly labeled. “What do you want, sir? I have concoctions for every possible situation.”
“Actually, I was hoping you could make something to order,” John said.
“Certainly,” the man replied. “What do you want?”
John pulled out one of the flower stalks. “I was hoping you could make something with this her. Some sort of condensed potion or a pill.”
Oden took the flower John presented him and looked it over. “This is just a weed,” he said, summoning a small bit of fire element and burning it to ash. “Next time don’t let anyone fool you into thinking something has value.”
John very nearly let his spiritual energy flare up, but ultimately it was just one stalk of a common plant, despite him paying a more reasonable price for it. “If we are offering advice, then I shall give you some as well. Next time, don’t destroy things that belong to potential customers. And learn to sense spiritual energy.”
He swiveled on his heels and left the shop behind. He could force the man to pay for it, but what was the point? The few coins wouldn’t be worth the sort of reputation he would gain. Of course, there was a delicate balance there- if it had been something that people in general perceived as having value, not seeking revenge might lower his position in the eyes of others. But John was still establishing his position in Lunson, and there was no need to menace one of its more well respected members. Besides, Oden would be more than paying for that in the future, since he would never be getting any business from John and any of his ventures. Oden made no attempt to apologize as John made his way, so even if he realized his mistakes in the future it wouldn’t be enough.
Crystin also had a comment. “That man has far too elevated a view of his own position. I wonder if he was brave enough to act like that around the Molten Sea cultivators.”
“Likely not. But I doubt they brought him anything novel. It would have been things either familiar or matching his elemental abilities.”
“… Should alchemists be pure fire cultivators?” Crystin asked.
John shrugged. “I hear that precise control of flames and temperature can be important. Though one would think they could simply have a functional furnace or stove. The Tenebach clan seems to produce reasonable enough results refining elements of darkness into usable forms.”
Second on the list was an up-and-coming alchemist by the name of Durga. Her shop was similarly nicely organized, though with significantly less glass. Just poultices and potions of condensed spiritual energy laid out on the shelves. Her personal appearance was less well maintained, with messy hair and stained robes. She looked surprised as John and Crystin entered. “Don’t often get people like you here.”
“What sort of people?” John asked.
“Stronger cultivators,” she said, clearly referring to Crystin. But she also picked up the fact that John was the one doing the talking. “Is it some sort of emergency? Oden burn down his place?”
“Oh, he burned some things. But he won’t recognize the consequences for a while.” John pulled out another stalk with a bundle of flowers atop it. “Can you make something with this?”
“… Isn’t this white alyssum? I’m not aware of any recipes this could be used in.” She was already one step up on Oden, though admitting she didn’t know what to do with it didn’t bode well for actually getting anything.
“I was hoping the spiritual energy within could be refined into a condensed form.”
“I mean…” Durga shrugged. “I could. But it’s not going to be very potent. Seems like a waste of time. I could sell you whatever element or elements you want for a price similar to what I’d have to charge you for the labor of extraction,” She gestured to her shelves.
“I’ll consider my options,” John said as she handed him back the stalk. She might be able to do what he wanted, but he couldn’t be certain she wouldn’t lose more potency during the process. He might return and explain what he wanted in better detail, but he might as well check to see if there was a better option.
Even if that option happened to be the least renowned and hardly recommended individual in the city that bothered to tall themself and alchemist. John had to double check the sign above the door as he found the place, because although it did say Raul’s Alchemy, it looked more like a grocery. Bundles of garlic and onion hung down from the rafters, but that could at least be vaguely related to alchemy. The bin stuffed full of lettuce and the haphazardly placed jugs of milk were another thing.
A young man that didn’t really look old enough to run his own shop stood up from behind the counter. “Welcome! We just got some fresh eggs in, if you want.”
“… Maybe,” John said. If he did any cooking for himself, it would be useful. “But I came here because it was said you are an alchemist. You are Raul, correct?” There wasn’t anyone else in the shop, nor nearby.
“Oh, yeah. That’s me. I do alchemy.” His face brightened slightly. “What do you need?” John produced the stalk of flowers, and Raul carefully examined it. “What element do you want?”
A surprisingly promising response. “All of them,” John said.
“Oh, yeah. That’s probably way more efficient,” Raul said. His senses lingered on John for a moment. “You want all of them? I could also pull out the light element if you want. What’s better depends on what you want to do with it.”
John didn’t think he was up to attempting to train with light at his current point. “Everything but the light would be best, if it doesn’t lower the potency of the rest.”
“Uh, it shouldn’t,” Raul pondered for a moment, resting his hand on a pile of nearby potatoes. “Might shorten the shelf life, though.”
“How long would it stay potent?”
“Not sure exactly. At least a few months, though. Without special containers or anything, and depending on the environment. Planning to export it?”
“I’m planning to use it here.”
“You should be good, then,” Raul said, sweeping with his hand. “No problems.”
John began to pull out the couple dozen stalks Filimena had sold him. “How long would it take to process all of this? And how much would it cost?”
“Cost? Oh yeah that’s a… good question…” John could see the young man rapidly wracking his brain.
John named a price. “Twice that if the quality meets my standards.” It wasn’t that much, similar in price to what he’d paid for the flowers to begin with. It was something he could afford to lose, if Raul turned out to be incompetent as an alchemist. He was only at the seventh rank of the Spiritual Collection Phase which didn’t say much for his cultivation, but he was also young. As for evidence of alchemical skills… John saw none around them.
“Yes. Great. I can do that in three, no, two days.”
“Three would be fine,” John said. “No need to rush.”
“Great, uh. Could I…”
“Here’s a down payment. For processing costs and the like.”
John had the feeling he might be missing some equipment. At least he knew the young man wouldn’t starve with a shop full of food. Worst case scenario, he had Filimena gather some more or went out and got it himself, then gave Durga a try.
John spent the next few days familiarizing himself with more parts of the city. He’d been to Lunson more than a few times, but he didn’t really come for goods and services. He was either passing through or participating in the tournament.
Every aspect was lacking. But not because of the people, for the most part. Instead, John judged it to be a matter of poor spiritual energy and no way to draw in those with wealth or knowledge. At least, the area seemed poor in spiritual energy. If one was using only a single element, that was definitely true. Though if you could convert the allied elements at a decent rate, it was at least able to match any general countryside.
John could personally buy and sell some amount of the goods in the market to make a profit, but he would have to get enough matching the right element to bring to another country. And ultimately, he didn’t intend to serve that role himself. The opportunities were there, but he didn’t know if it would be enough. Ultimately, he had to take advantage of the natural resources of Astrein that seemed useless to others if he wanted to see anything significant happen in a short time.
On the third day, John got a knock on the door of the inn he was currently staying at. The offices weren’t set up for that, and he appreciated having meals prepared. It was early morning, but John was used to waking up as needed. He opened the door to see… well, an urchin was about the nicest description he could give.
“Hello, sir,” the youth said. “Are you… John? Raul sent me.” Once more John had given his old name. He wasn’t quite sure why. Maybe it was just time for a change. And a sign he wasn’t afraid of people knowing he was a Transmigrator. The biggest threat he was aware of, Sitora, was already in the know. And ultimately, it was just a slightly abnormal name. “Your goods are finished, sir.”
“Thanks,” John said as the urchin stood there… expectantly. “You have a name, kid?”
John flipped the kid a coin. “Good work. Now you should probably get out of here before the proprietor catches you.” John very much doubted that the owner of the inn let a dirty kid in. Not that there was anything inherently wrong with being a dirty kid, but many people with wealth cared about a certain kind of perception.
Back at Raul’s shop, John was presented with a small bottle, maybe the size of a shot glass in volume. “Here is the extract,” Raul said. He was smiling in a hopeful fashion.
“There’s not a lot of it,” John said.
Raul shrugged, “There wasn’t a lot of material either. I didn’t want to dilute the product with something so… this is what you get.”
John had the feeling that Raul might have also lost a small amount. Perhaps due to shoddy technique. But the spiritual energy he felt within was strong, and a nearly uniform mixture of five elements. Perhaps the barest trace of light, but John wouldn’t find a small amount too troublesome to deal with. As far as such things went, John was satisfied with the product, paying Raul the greater amount. “I’m going to make use of this,” John said. “Perhaps in the future I’ll have more work for you.” He wasn’t going to commit to anything just from looking at a vial of clear liquid, after all.
“Thank you sir,” Raul said. “Happy to have your business.”
At various points in his life, John had learned that liquids could be burnt. Or at least have remnants of such things within them. This was also the case with the liquid Raul produced, even if it was slight.
Still, a few drops was filled with enough spiritual energy for John to spend half an hour cultivating. He wasn’t disappointed with the quality, even if he knew it could be better. He couldn’t exactly expect Raul to have as much experience as those he was used to working with, especially since the young man was probably less than twenty years old. He would have had to be five times that age to match the century or more of experience some people had. Though not all experience was equal. John, for example, had a greater cultivation- or used to have a greater cultivation- than most people a century of age or more. And he would return there soon enough, in the grand scheme of things.
Ultimately, Raul had still been successful. And it might be better this way, because John could see if he would actually improve or if he simply lacked the talent to get any further. Or maybe it would be a matter of knowledge, since people didn’t necessarily share what they had learned, leaving aspiring individuals to retread the same paths. But John hoped Raul would do well, since he would doubtless find more than simple flowers to work with and he wanted someone that could properly sense mixed elements.