The next morning the village was seen in its usual hustle and bustle with the exception to selected groups. Gaius was told that he also had a “day off” from his chores today, either from the looming threat of the kwach’a herd or from yesterday’s ordeal, he did not know. Although Gaius was one of the more skilled harvesters in terms of finding rare ingredients he was not the only one; the other laborers that usually ventured outside the village were also told to stay within its area of protection. Hunters were seen restlessly meandering around the streets as idle hands make them uncomfortable. Gaius did not share their disposition as he was a 10 year-old child, so with unexpected free-time on his hands, he decided to accompany his father for the day.

“How about this one?” Gaius asked his father as he raised a small vibrant crimson vial for inspection.

“Ah, very good. I have to say son,” Duncan said merrily, “Aspect or no Aspect, you’ve inherited my talents in alchemy.” Duncan beamed as he inspected the small vial before him, gauging the color and transparency of the viscous liquid, “How many Bleeding Heart petals did you use to get such a rich color?” Duncan asked while opening the stopper to inspect the scent. His eyes widen at the full aroma.

“Mm. I used 3, like you said.” Gaius smiled at his father’s praise. 

“Oh?” Duncan was shocked to hear that his son only used 3 petals, even he would have a tough time producing such a rich vial with 3 petals, so without trying to alarm his son with his peculiar vial Duncan asked, “Would you mind making another so that I may watch? Just to make sure you’re not developing any bad habits,” Duncan shamelessly added. 

Gaius nodded and he looked around to find another 3 Bleeding Heart petals, along with the other necessary ingredients—a couple of stalks, seeds, and water. Observing up to this point, Duncan nodded in approval as everything his son grabbed was appropriate for his signature flesh tonic. Suddenly, Gaius grabbed some red powder and blue crystals from separate bowls. “Oh? Did he use Nong’s Fury and Baltos’ crystals too?” Duncan asked himself while watching his son concentrate on measuring each ingredient as precisely as possible.

To his surprise, Duncan noticed that Gaius began with grinding the blue crystals into a fine powder, then he combined both the red and blue powder into a cauldron of water over a flame. While letting it boil, Gaius returned to the stalks, seeds, and petals. Although Duncan could see that his son was using the same ingredients that was required of the recipe with the exception of the two powders, the proportion that his son was using for the stalks and seeds were wrong. Trying his best not to correct his son, as he wanted to see how he was able to produce such a fine tonic, Duncan tried his best to remain silent. 

Gaius was fully concentrating on the stalks, seeds, and petals in his hand. He momentarily looked at the recipe his father gave him earlier and frowned. Although the recipe required 2 stalks, 1 spoon of seeds, and 3 petals, the ingredients in his hands didn’t feel like they would mesh well together. The stalks had an inflexible brittle aura, like they were going to break and dissipate at any moment. They needed to be mixed in with seeds to balance each other out, as the seed’s aura was too flexible by nature and was susceptible from being easily masked by another’s aura. So with a good combination of healthy stalks and seeds, he was able to find a good balance between the two and have them benefit each other for his first tonic.

However, the stalks in his hands lacked the abundance of aura the first two stalks had. At a loss, Gaius turned to his father ready to ask him a question, until an idea popped into his mind. Gaius merely sat there locking eyes with his father, but his mind was elsewhere trying to puzzle out this new idea.

Duncan saw his son’s head turn towards him and was excited to see what is going on within his son’s mind, but to his dismay Gaius’s eyes became unfocused as he concentrated on something. Duncan patiently waited. 

Gaius suddenly smiled and looked around the room for more ingredients. After a few breaths, Gaius returned with 2 more stalks and 2 more spoonful of seeds. 

“Instead of finding perfect stalks, why not just get more stalks? And if their aura overpowers the seeds, then just get more seeds until a balance is struck!” Gaius thought to himself at his new discovery. With that in mind, he combined a total of 4 stalks—which happened to be young and therefore not have the refined and rich aura he had seen from his first pair, and 3 spoonful of seeds to balance the new aura. After inspecting the stalks and seeds for a brief moment, Gaius nodded and began chopping and crushing the two until they become a paste. Looking at his paste, Gaius nodded in approval as their two subtle auras were now perfectly combined and they reinforced each other. 

Gaius checked on his boiling cauldron and smiled while he picked up his last ingredient, the Bleeding Hear petals. “The aura from these petals will combine perfectly with the aura from the paste,” he thought to himself. If one was stronger than the other, then it will diminish each other as opposed to reinforce each other. With the paste in one hand and the 3 petals in another, Gaius began to combine them, all under the observing eye of his father.

Unlike the common pedigree of the stalks and seeds, the Bleeding Heart flower was a bit less common. So their stock on such supplies are generally limited, and with that being said Gaius was told earlier that day that he was not to waste too many petals. His father thought to let his son have some fun in his workshop while the kwach’a threat loomed overhead. Duncan was all smiles as he gave his son a handful of petals as he recalled fond memories of teaching his son the basics of milling and distilling a couple of years ago.

To Duncan’s confusion, his son did not place the petals in the mortar but instead laid the 3 petals atop his outstretched palm.

Gaius, trying not to waste a bit of the aura from the petals coaxed the aura to leave its physical confines and enter the paste. The aura of the 3 petals immediately flew out of his palm and straight into the paste and like a sponge, it greedily soaked the petals’ aura. With a brief smile and nod, Gaius looked over to his cauldron. He noticed that the water was almost gone, leaving behind a white-blue powdery residue stuck to the sides and bottom. Unknown to Gaius, his father’s mind was in a state of panic and confusion, not willing to believe what he had just witnessed. “Did his son just manipulate the Aspect of Wood?!” 

Gaius continued in ignorance to his father’s turmoil, and he scraped the cauldron ensuring that he got every last gram of powder. After inspecting the aura of the white-blue powder, Gaius smiled and threw the paste and powder together and started to mix them. With the cauldron clean, Gaius carefully measured 3 cups of water into the cauldron and placed the mixed-paste into it—ensuring that it fully dissolved. He then placed the cauldron over the flame and let out a sigh of relief. All that was left for him to do was monitor the water level. With a smile-filled face, Gaius turned to his father expecting praise but was instead met with a distorted and frowning face.

“Did I do something wrong?” Gaius thought to himself. 

Duncan lost in his thoughts, saw his son’s worried expression and realized that he was the cause. He immediately smiled and said, “Well done son!” although he only has an idea of what his son just accomplished he knew it to be monumental. 

“I’m curious. Why did you use 4 stalks and 3 spoonful of seeds?” 

“Well, at first, I wanted to follow the recipe, but not all of the stalks have the same aura. Some are richer, but most are weak and brittle. So instead of trying to find two stalks that have a good enough aura, I decided to use 4. Was I wrong to do so?” Gaius asked worriedly.

“Ah, no, no. You did well, I was just curious is all,” Duncan’s mind churned vigorously as he tried to digest what his son was saying. “How did you know 4 stalks would be enough? What if the aura is too strong?”

“Ah, I had to think about that for a while. And I realized that it doesn’t matter how strong the stalks’ aura is, so long as I balance it out with the aura of the seeds, right?” Gaius sought affirmation to his original idea.

“Ah, yes. Yes, very good son. Have you been practicing without my knowledge?”

“No, not really.”

“Then how did you know to seek balance in their auras?” Duncan probed.

“Well, I just felt like the auras of the stalks and seeds should complement each other and not fight each other.”

Duncan barely heard his son’s response as he already guessed what it was, his son’s ability to sense and discern auras was frightening. Duncan was trying to figure out how to best ask how his son was able to manipulate the aura of the petals when another question popped into his mind, “Why did you use Nong’s Fury and Baltos’ crystals?” though all of the other methods his son performed were within his realm of understanding, this was a curiosity.

Gaius answered sheepishly, “Oh. With the stalks, seeds, and even the petals being filled with the Aspect of the Wood, I thought using the Aspect of Water from the Baltos’ crystals would be a good idea. It felt like a good one anyways.”

It wasn’t a new concept to supplement reagents in the refining process with complementary Aspects, it was just extremely hard to find the right measurements. What he was curious about was why his son used Nong’s Fury, since it had an element of fire. “What I mean is, why did you use the Fury powder?”

“Oh. Um, if I used a pinch or a single grain of Baltos’ crystals it would have been too much water, and it would have overpowered the paste. So I decided to negate the aura of water by mixing it with a bit of the powder. That way, there is only a tiny bit of water aura left, which will combine perfectly with the paste.”

Stunned by his son’s reasoning and tremendous intuition, Duncan found the nerve to ask the one question he cared most about, “How were you able to extract the petals’ aura?”

“I pulled it out,” Gaius immediately answered as if it was the most obvious statement in the world.

Duncan almost fell to the ground as his son answered him. Trying his best not to be alarmed, he clarified, “Who taught you how to do it?”

“You did.”

This time Duncan couldn’t stop his shaking legs and immediately dropped on his butt. Seemingly unfazed by his father’s antics, Gaius continued to monitor the water level in the cauldron. 

“What do you mean I taught you? I never taught you how to extract auras.”

“Well, when you’re busy distilling, I sometimes watch you. And I can see the aura flow from one place to another. So I thought I could give it a try, and it worked.”

. . . 

If Gaius knew that he could only manipulate auras pertaining to the Aspect of Wood and only small amounts, and more importantly—only after years of training, then he would be as shocked, confused, happy, and sad as he was feeling now. Trying to calm down, Duncan asked, “How often did you practice extracting aura before today?”

“Today was my first time.”

. . . 

. . . . . . 

“WHAT?!” the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Despite his son’s ability to detect, sense, and discern auras as finely as he could, Duncan could overlook such an amazing ability because his son wasn’t able to condense an Aspect; so he thought the universe was fair—crippling his son in one area while allowing him to excel in another.

But being able to extract as much Bleeding Heart aura as he did, and on his second try, that was too much for him to handle and Duncan was lost in turmoil.

Gaius was startled at his father’s outburst. Staring at his father’s bulging eyes, Gaius sat there dazed and confused, unsure of what he did wrong. All of a sudden his father grabbed a single Bleeding Heart petal and presented it in front of his face, “Extract the aura from this petal,” his father commanded. 

Almost on instinct, Gaius pulled all of the aura from the petal expertly. With nowhere for the aura to go, it dissipated. “That is the 3rd time in ALL OF YOUR LIFE, that you’ve done something like that?”

Gaius meekly nodded. Unknown to Gaius, he had been subconsciously extracting auras from the amber stones within the forest. The only time besides today that he had been able to actively manipulate aura was during yesterday’s spar. But what happened yesterday and what he could do today in the workshop were two separate things, or so Gaius believed, but his father knew better.

Duncan’s eyebrows furrowed as he was deep in thought. 

Gaius noticed the cauldron’s water level and immediately tended to it while his father sat to the side like a statue. Gaius then poured the concoction through a sieve and into a small glass vial. After inspecting his creation for a bit, he grinned widely and nodded in satisfaction. 

Without even inspecting the vial in front of him, Duncan immediately condensed his Aspect and a soft bright brown orb hovered above his outstretched palm, “Son. I want you to make this orb go away.”

Surprised at his father’s sudden request, Gaius went along. He concentrated on the orb in front of him, trying to make it ‘go away’—whatever that meant.

Duncan was concentrating with his senses open, trying to notice anything. Then all of a sudden he felt it, a small tug. “Was that my imagination?” with that in mind, Duncan loosened his control over the orb, and it began to lose shape but it still maintained a loose spherical form. “There! I felt it again, stronger this time. There’s no doubt.” Duncan stared at his son in awe. He then quickly dismissed the orb and stood up while grabbing Gaius by the wrist and walked out the workshop. 

“This is weird. I don’t think I’ve ever seen father like this,” he thought to himself, he began to worry. After a few awkward minutes of silence the father-son pair finally stopped at the edge of the village. At the eastern part of the village and before a watchtower, Duncan shouted for his wife. Although she was the captain of the guard and did not necessarily need to personally be on patrol duty, she always felt that the best way to set an example for the troops is by doing it yourself—as the commander. 

Over the edge of the watchtower, a beautiful but confused face peered over the edge. After a few muffled words, Tulia jumped from the top of the watchtower and appeared before the two with a worried face. 

“What’s wrong? Are you two okay?” Tulia asked, she knew her husband wouldn’t carelessly bring their son outdoors with the looming kwach’a threat. 

“Honey, I know this is weird, but I need you to condense an orb.” Duncan stated while opening up his own palm and condensing an orb himself, as if to show her what he meant. 

Tulia looked at her husband’s expecting face in confusion and decided to trust her husband and condensed an orb.

“Son, I want you to try to disp—er to make it go away.” Duncan hurriedly told his son.

Gaius was just as confused as his mother, and he looked at her for clarification only to see a confused face staring back at him. So he decided to comply and tried to make the orb ‘go away’ again. While Gaius was concentrating on his odd task he didn’t notice the change in his mother’s face, going from confusion to shock, then to delight.

Duncan and Tulia looked at each other. Duncan wanted to find out if his guess was wrong, but looking at his wife’s face, he knew that he was right. His son was an Antimage.

 

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