Sample ChaptersThe Alchemancer series

The Alchemist's Forge Preview - Chapter 2

The Alchemist's Forge is the 4th book in The Alchemancer series. Here’s chapter two in its entirety for you to read as a preview.




“IF I AM TO TRAIN you properly, I must have certain questions answered.”

Gerwyn pointed at a spot in the grass where he wished Serena to sit, so she removed her sailor’s cloak, spread it out on the ground, and sat. Gerwyn joined her. Jakinda hovered nearby but focused on her martial exercises, moving her hands and feet in a practiced pattern she seemed to know well.

“You can ask me anything, Master Gerwyn,” Serena said, eager to begin. “What would you like to know?”

Gerwyn lowered himself to the ground, sitting cross-legged. Around them, the majestic oaks of the Blackwood Forest stood tall and silent while swallows flew across the copse in swift, irregular patterns. The Griffin was close but out of view. Shortly after the captain and the others had disembarked to find a guide in High Holt, and as the crew settled into their usual routine, Gerwyn collected his charges. Once Commander Briggs granted them permission to leave the airship, they went exploring, finding a quiet glade not so far from the dirigible that they couldn’t hear her creaks and rattles carried in on the afternoon breeze. The air was cool here, and streaks of sunlight filtering between the canopy chased away most of the shadows.

Folding his hands in his lap, Gerwyn said, “I need to understand magic. Not in every detail, mind you, but at least how you conjure and use it. I am only slightly versed in the ways of mysticism, but the magic our shamans command seems much different from yours.”

Serena sat up straighter. This was a subject she knew a lot about. “Sorcery is different, but it’s also the same in many ways. The biggest difference is the magical source we call upon to manipulate the world around us.”

Gerwyn waited for a further explanation.

“Sorcerers use energy from within. Our inherent energy, or sri, we call it. Every person, sorcerer or otherwise, has a specific amount of inherent power. Some have more, and some less, but there is no life without it. That’s why some people call it their life force.”

“The soul,” Gerwyn said.

“Yes, although that term is more philosophical and religious, with other implications besides. Sorcerers prefer to deal in absolutes, namely the aptitude to access one’s inherent power and the quantity of that energy. Aptitude, which dictates one’s ability to tap into one's inherent energy, is as much a measure of skill as natural ability. All the sri in the world won’t do you any good if you have little or no aptitude to access and manipulate it.”

“What about the smelly onion?” Jakinda asked from the other side of the copse, where she engaged in her exercises.

Gerwyn lifted a brow.

Serena sighed. She wished she’d never told Jakinda about that.

“It’s not a smelly onion,” Serena said to Master Gerwyn. “It’s just an onion. Some use an onion as a metaphor to describe the layers of inherent energy.”

“More details, please,” Gerwyn said.

Serena was happy to oblige. “All magic-users possess multiple layers of inherent energy. Each layer has a certain amount of power, with the deeper layers possessing more than the outer ones. Accessing and using the outermost layers is easiest and has the least cost. Most of the time, accessing the outer layer is enough for simple things. But more complex and powerful magic requires sri from the deeper layers. Not all sorcerers can even access those deeper layers.”

Gerwyn nodded in understanding. “As you said, it’s a measure of one’s aptitude.”

“Correct,” Serena said. “Accessing the deeper layers is more difficult, requiring intense training and discipline. Some never achieve that level of mastery. But those who do have the potential to become true masters of the craft.”

Gerwyn furrowed his brow in concentration, so Serena fell silent, letting him sift through his thoughts while she enjoyed the glade’s serenity and admired the swallows darting across the space. Besides their birdsong, Jakinda’s steady breathing and the occasional shout from the Griffin were the only sounds to penetrate their small oasis.

Gerwyn ran a hand across his whiskers. “When you came to me with the idea of training you, you spoke of other masters and their different approaches to teaching. Can you explain how they approached your training?”

Serena puffed up her cheeks and blew out a breath. “Well, the first spent a lot of time telling me what I shouldn’t do. Don’t touch this, don’t touch that. Oh, and don’t try invoking anything called the Inferno because you’ll lose control and burn down half the city. In hindsight, he was right about that. My other master...” Serena paused, thinking. “Mostly, he had me do a lot of cleaning around his laboratory. He was a horrible person, draining people of their life force so he could alter his attunement and gain mastery over the Fifth Element. His lessons were all about embracing the potential energy within to unleash it on the world. He was a bit of a power monger, now that I think about it.”

Though Gerwyn said nothing, Serena saw the krill’s expression change from curiosity to confusion to horror, all in succession. She wanted to say more about Persimmius, how he was always kind to her and how he tried his best, but his specialty was pyromancy, and Serena had always considered herself more of a generalist, so their learning styles had clashed more often than not. As for Ansanom, he was a crazy old man who only wanted her family’s money, so Serena never felt his tutelage had provided much benefit. In fact, now that she considered her experiences with both masters, no wonder her magic often got so out of control.

“Jakinda, come here and sit,” Gerwyn said.

Jakinda stopped in mid-pose and came over. Serena made room on her cloak, whereupon Jakinda plopped down without ceremony so they both faced Gerwyn.

Gerwyn raised one hand with fingers extended and made a fist with the other. Then he slapped his fist into his open palm. Jakinda did the same. They both closed their eyes. Serena considered doing the same but wasn’t familiar with the ceremony, so she stayed still and watched.

“Clear your mind,” Gerwyn said, “and tell me what you hope to gain from today’s training.”

Jakinda said nothing right away, giving the question the consideration it deserved before speaking. “Today...” She paused, hesitating.

Gerwyn’s words prompted her on. “If you cannot speak your goal, then you will never achieve it.”

With her eyes still closed, Jakinda squared herself and said, “Today, I wish to become braver.”

Gerwyn opened his eyes and nodded. Jakinda sensed the change and also opened hers.

“You speak of the battle with the skeva,” Gerwyn said.

Jakinda said nothing. She didn’t need to.

“Do you think bravery is something I can teach you?”

“Can’t you?” Jakinda asked. “You’ve taught me so much already. I owe my skill to you, master. Before we met, I was an unedged weapon. Now, I am something more.”

Gerwyn grunted. “At least you acknowledge that much. Yet you also see that having skill is not enough. Knowing how to wield a blade in practice is one thing. But in a real battle, when the stakes are at their highest? That is something entirely different.”

“Teach me, master,” Jakinda said. “I want to learn what it means to have everything on the line.”

Gerwyn shook his head. “This is not something I can teach you, Jakinda.”

“Then what am I supposed to do? I train, and I train, and I train, but you said it yourself. It’s not the same thing.”

“It isn’t, but neither is it wise to court battle so openly. Perhaps you will learn no more of it, and for that, I shall be eternally grateful. But you have seen danger already and will soon see it again, I fear. Soon, you will learn what you need to know. But above all else, do not wish it to come sooner. Real stakes mean real consequences. You could be maimed or even killed.”

Jakinda shot up. “You think I don’t know that? I saw the look on my opponents’ faces. I know they wanted to kill me.” Her gaze drifted as she relived those memories. “I’d never felt such fear. I still do. If you can’t help me, I don’t know how I’ll ever overcome it.”

Gerwyn sighed. “I can try, Jakinda. But for now, return to your warmup routine. In fact, you see the top of that hill?” Too many trees obscured the view, but they saw the ground sloping upward. “Run to the top. The effort will clear your head for what lies ahead. We shall begin the day’s lesson once you finish. In the meantime, I have more to discuss with Serena.”

Jakinda huffed, but she did as she was told. She ran into the trees, disappearing from view and leaving Serena and Gerwyn alone.

“Now,” Gerwyn said, “there is nothing to clean here, nor is there anything for me to tell you not to touch. But I think I have an exercise I want you to try.”

Finally, something concrete. “I’m ready, Master Gerwyn.”

“When first we spoke, we discussed balance.”

“I remember.”

“Good,” Gerwyn said, pointing to a rock on one side of the copse. The stone was about two or three hands wide and half that length tall. “Lift that rock. Using your magic, of course.”

“Of course,” Serena said. With a thought, she did as requested, lifting the rock into the air. She kept it there, hovering about five feet from the ground.

“Now, lift the one over there.”

Gerwyn pointed to a similar-sized rock opposite the first on the copse’s other side.

Serena lifted that one.

“How much effort is it to hold them in place?” Gerwyn asked.

“They’re not heavy,” Serena said, “so not much.”

“Good,” Gerwyn said, nodding. “Now, lift two more. That one and that one.”

He pointed to two others, also on opposite sides from each other and equidistant from the other two so that, once she had raised those two, four stones at each of north, south, west, and east directions all floated in the air.

Gerwyn stood. “The stones are in balance, with you at the center.”

Serena stood with him. “Should I lift more stones?”

Shaking his head, Gerwyn said, “Make each rock spin, but do it so they remain in balance with one another.”

Serena thought she understood what he meant, so she made the first stone spin one way and gave the second the opposite spin. Then she did the same to the third and fourth. Making them spin was rudimentary, but keeping them moving, especially in different directions, required some concentration, so when Gerwyn again asked Serena about her level of effort, it took her some moments to respond.

“It’s manageable,” she said. “But if I stop concentrating, they’ll stop spinning.”

“Or fall to the ground,” Gerwyn said.

Serena nodded. “That too.”

Gerwyn crossed his arms. “Now, while the stones are spinning, rotate them around the circumference of the copse.”

“You mean send them into orbit around me?” Serena asked. Though she was confident of his meaning, buying herself some more time didn't hurt. While the effort of levitating and spinning the stones remained low, the level of concentration did not. Once Gerwyn had acknowledged her question in the affirmative, she took a shallow breath, focused her sri, and made the stones rotate as directed. She focused on them as pairs, making sure the first was in a stable rotation before starting on the second. But by the time she concentrated on the second pair, the rocks from the first already approached the others, almost colliding with them before she got the second pair rotating. While the individual stones of each pair remained in balance, the four as a whole did not, so she had to speed up the second pair, all the while continuing to rotate all four. When she concentrated on the second pair, she lost focus on the first, only for a moment, but it was enough for the stones to start sinking to the ground. But she caught them, holding them in place and restoring them to their proper elevation. They’d stopped spinning, so she got them moving again in opposite directions. Serena wanted to flash Master Gerwyn a smile and say something snarky, but it took all her concentration to keep the stones levitating, spinning, and rotating. Finally, with beads of sweat forming on her forehead, she settled into a sort of calm as she realized she’d done it.

“There,” she said, flashing Gerwyn that smile now. “Have you ever seen anything more balanced than—”

“That hill gets really steep toward the top!”

Jakinda half ran, half stumbled into the copse.

“Hey,” she said, her breathing labored. “What’s with all the— Watch it! Ow!”

“Oh!” Serena said, her hand going to her open mouth. “Sorry!”

Serena tried lifting all the stones higher so no more connected with her friend’s head, but raising the first and then the second, which together were not in the same pair, created a new pattern she could not latch onto fast enough as, confused, Serena raised the second stone and, thinking about balance, lowered the next. But that sent it straight at Jakinda, who saw it coming for her at the last minute. With another curse, she dove out of the way, safe for now but unwilling to stand until the stones stopped moving.

“Perhaps that’s enough for today, Serena,” Gerwyn said.

Serena agreed. But stopping their motion took as much concentration as starting it, and she’d set them moving up and down and all around until their orbits were so out of whack one almost hit Gerwyn and another nearly connected with her.

“Serena!” Gerwyn shouted, his intent clear.

“I’m trying!” Serena shouted back.

“Isn’t it as simple as—?” Jakinda shouted from her belly as a rock slammed to the ground right in front of her.

Another fell, and another, and, finally, the last, until all was still inside the grove once more.

Sighing, Serena said, “It isn’t simple at all. Sorry. Are you both all right?”

Jakinda stood and lifted a hand to her head where the rock had glanced her. “Fine,” she said in a tone that meant it was not fine at all as she brushed leaves from her clothes. “Though it would have been nice if someone warned me you were going to throw rocks at me.”

“I wasn’t throwing rocks at anyone,” Serena said.

“Could have fooled me.”

“I actually thought I was doing quite well until you arrived and ruined my concentration.”

“Me?” Jakinda asked. “You almost took my head off!”

“That’s enough!” Gerwyn growled. “Both of you. Serena was acting under my instruction. Luckily, no harm was done.”

“Except for my head,” Jakinda said, rubbing at the spot where the rock had hit her.

“Is it bleeding?” Gerwyn asked.

“No, but it still hurts.”

“Are you dizzy?”

“No, but—”

“Good. Since your mind remains unclear, run up the hill and back again.”


“No buts. Go.”

Gerwyn’s tone allowed for no argument. Jakinda muttered something under her breath but started making her way up the hill for a second time.

When she was gone, Serena said, “Sorry, Master Gerwyn. I didn’t mean to lose control like that. The exercise was going so well, too.”

“It did, but distraction, confusion, and even chaos are all things you must consider. The warrior—or the sorceress—cannot hope for perfect conditions, so you must train your mind to deal with all distractions, whether they take the form of someone running onto the scene in ignorance or someone intentionally trying to harm you. I told Jakinda I feared she would test herself in combat again, and soon. I say the same to you now. For better or worse, Fate has intertwined your destinies.”

“It seems that way, doesn’t it?” Serena sighed. “I’ll try to do better. I want to do better.”

Gerwyn said nothing more, which Serena was grateful for since it allowed her time to sink into her private thoughts. She’d lost control before, and this time wasn’t much different from those other instances. Fortunately, she didn’t hurt anyone or destroy any property, and she’d reined in her power on her own, with no one needing to slug her to pull her back to the here and now.

“I have one more question,” Gerwyn said. As if reading her mind, he asked, “When the Griffin was falling to the ground, you did something.”

Serena remembered most of that episode, but not all. The airship was losing altitude, so she tried to help. Despite her best efforts, Serena couldn’t recall getting cracked across the jaw by Jakinda, nor did she remember what she was doing right before that.

“I tried to help lift the ship,” Serena said. “Levitation, basically.”

Gerwyn nodded. “But the power you sent coursing through the vessel was too much for it, and, more to my point, you started glowing. What was that?”

Something else Serena had wondered about. She remembered focusing her sri, willing the airship to rise. But the dirigible plummeted from the sky so fast, and it was so heavy she had to pour more and more energy into the effort. The next thing she knew, she woke in her bunk with a splitting headache and a sore jaw. As much as she could tell, the glowing was a side-effect of drawing too much of her sri. She knew what happened when wizards pushed themselves beyond the limit of their abilities and, more importantly, their available life force. Put simply, they died, usually in a fiery expenditure, or sometimes they shriveled away into nothingness. Aaron had witnessed as much when Norwynne’s cadre of sorcerers had attempted to stop the crashing waves from destroying the city-keep. Even with Elsanar at their head and the others lending him their strength, they had failed and paid the price for their expenditure. But, recalling Aaron’s recounting, he’d said nothing about any of them glowing, which made sense because when a sorcerer spent all their reserves of magic, they didn’t shine like she did. They fizzled out. Despite the amount of thought she’d given to the subject, an answer eluded her.

“I don’t know,” Serena said, which was as close to the truth as she could get. “It isn’t normal, and not like anything I was ever taught. We’re told from day one about the dangers of drawing too much from within. But no one ever said anything about glowing. That usually doesn’t happen.”

“You still remember nothing?” Gerwyn asked.

“Not past a certain point. I wish I did. Remembering might help explain what happened.”

“Perhaps,” Gerwyn said. “Sometimes the mind protects us by forgetting.”

“But why do I need protection from the truth?”

Gerwyn had no answer to that.

Jakinda returned, though she remained on the outskirts until she knew for sure no rocks headed her way. Gerwyn then laid out the afternoon’s activities for them both. He spoke once more about balance before sending Serena to one side of the copse to practice her mental discipline with smaller and fewer rocks while he and Jakinda sparred with stout clubs the weapons master had borrowed from the Griffin’s stock of weapons. Hours later, Serena and Jakinda were exhausted, so they both sighed with relief when Gerwyn finally called an end to the day’s lesson.

“Return to the ship,” Gerwyn instructed them. “I will be along shortly.”

Back on the Griffin, they made a brief stop in their shared room to clean up before heading for the crew’s mess, where they had an early supper. At first, they ate in silence, giving Serena time to consider Gerwyn’s lessons as she played back the day’s incident in her mind. Without thinking, her hand drifted to her jaw where Jakinda had hit her.

“Still hurt?” Jakinda asked.

“Not really,” Serena said. When Jakinda said nothing else, Serena asked, “Do you think the captain found a guide?”

Jakinda shrugged. “Maybe. Guess we’ll find out when they return.”

“I wonder what High Holt is like,” Serena said. “I’ve heard many things about it. None good, mind you. People in the Four Fiefdoms do not speak kindly of the Freelands. They say it’s a lawless land ruled by petty thieves, mercenaries, and lowborn lords of little station. High Holt, especially.”

“Some of that is true,” Jakinda said, chewing on a piece of stale flatbread. “But it isn’t so bad once you get the lay of the land.”

Serena shot up, excited. “You’ve been there?”

Jakinda nodded. “High Holt was our first stop after we left Panthora. Ingrid had some business there, and since she was teaching me the mercantile trade, I spent a lot of time following her around, listening to her negotiate and make deals before we finally left for Alchester. Back then, a host of mercenaries wasn’t camped outside the walls, though inside was still pretty chaotic. Gerwyn insisted on coming everywhere I went, so no one bothered me. But rogues and mercenaries definitely have the upper hand there.”

More often than not, a blade spoke the loudest, or so Serena had heard.

“Even if it is a little dangerous, I’d still like to go there.”

Jakinda chewed her lip, leaned in conspiratorially, and whispered, “What if I said you could?”

Serena’s gaze darted to the cook and the handful of airmen who’d come into the mess, but none paid them any attention, so Serena leaned in too and whispered. “What do you mean?”

“I can get us into the city,” Jakinda said. “I know my way around. You can see for yourself what it’s like.”

“What about Gerwyn? And the commander? I doubt either will allow us off the ship. In fact, I know they won’t.”

Jakinda shrugged and leaned back. “I wasn’t planning on asking for permission.”

Serena sat back, too.

More airmen, coming off their shift, entered the mess, laughing and talking. They headed straight for the cook, who greeted them with a warm smile as he ladled stew into bowls for them.

“If you’re coming,” Jakinda said, speaking normally since the newcomers' noise drowned out her words, “meet me on the starboard deck in thirty minutes.”

Then she rose and, without looking back, left the mess.

Serena finished her stew while she considered the idea of leaving the ship. If Jakinda was even half as resolute as her father, Serena knew she was going with or without her. While she didn’t like the idea of sneaking away into the night, Serena also didn’t like the idea of Jakinda going alone. Realizing she’d already decided, Serena deposited her bowl with the rest of the dirty dishes on her way to get ready to leave.

Read Chapter 3.

Where to Buy

Join my reader's group and get The Hall of Riddles (An Alchemancer Prequel) and The Assassin's Dilemma (An Assassin Without a Name Prequel) as a welcome gift.

Where to Buy