Moiety could not work without a lab partner. It’s not that she lacked the skills—her five years in the Alkenia Academy of Alchemy and subsequent apprenticeships had brought out her talents and left her as one of the finest alchemists in the Kingdom—but it was negligence and frivolous errors that kept her fume hood fuming. Moiety knew this fact all too well. After too many charges to count for broken vials and spilt potions, she always made sure to schedule her work hours with the other alchemists’. She wasn’t even sure why it helped her; her partners never reached a hand into her bubbling setups. Maybe it was their positive presence. Moiety never knew. She didn’t need to know. All she needed was someone to work in her vicinity so she could actually get something done.
This morning, Moiety skipped breakfast. The sun was just beginning to filter cold light through the leaves of her redwood, but she was already out the door. Every other elf in Alkenia was sleeping, getting a good night’s rest before the Carbenic Festival later that evening. But Moiety was slinking away into the cold, vacant laboratory for a day of hard work. For whatever reason, the secrecy of her project gave her a sense of distilled composure that kept her from her usual experimental flukes. This pensive clarity and ability to actually complete what she loved was perhaps what she valued most in her world, so, missing the Carbenic Festival was a worthy price to pay.
Not to mention, of course, the magnitude of what Moiety was about to achieve. As she opened the door and slid into her lab coat, stained with photoluminescent streaks of stereoambrosia and amyl oils that could have just as easily destroyed the delicate skin on her forearms, she remembered her former Academy lab partner who went off to serve the General. A mighty archer, he was nonetheless claimed, like many other honored Elven warriors, by the war with the Salmoneus Dwarves which was now entering its 192nd year. The legend goes that the war started when an Elven trader dropped a vial of isoamyl extract into the Salmoneus River estuary, causing the dwarves’ fish to taste mildly of banana ever since. Moiety cleared her thoughts. She was nearing a breakthrough. Seven years of incognito lab work had brought her to this point, and now, to finish the potion that would neutralize the isoamyl extract, all she needed was some peace and quiet.
Moiety fished her notebook from her coat’s concealed pocket. Six vials of effervescent color clinked tastefully as she took them out of an unmarked wooden drawer and placed them on the polished stone countertop. Taking a focused breath, Moiety opened her notebook. She remembered her next steps clearly, but reminding herself anyway eased the tension that her project built. She wiped away the beads of sweat that caused her hairline to glisten.
Precisely at this moment, Moiety’s fly-wire trilled, active with energy, jolting her and nearly knocking down two of the precious distillates. Was solitude on the day of the Carbenic Festival too much to ask for?
“Awake already? Appropriate.” It was the General.
“Yes, sir, how can I serve today?”
The military was the most prestigious institution in the Kingdom. It was only natural that they should wire Moiety first for an alchemic challenge.
“What you are about to hear is classified.”
“Good. Tonight, we will perform an ambush at Salmoneus River, as the dwarves feast and drink behind lowered defenses. We need you to craft six flasks of enantiomer potion.”
Six flasks. Already an unrealistic goal, but on the day of the Carbenic Festival? The General felt the silence and heard the logistic fear coursing through Moiety. The General continued,
“I understand the difficulties. But I am calling you for a reason. Nobody can work with enantiomer extract better than you can, and understand: your work will allow us to mirror the Dwarven resonance potions’ effects and put this war down once and for all. I am putting my trust in you.”
If only the General knew.
Moiety contemplated her predicament. Letting out a helpless sigh at being held back from completing her research, she flipped back in her notebook. Enantiomer potion. It was a jungle of side notes and crossed out lines, but she could do it. She just had to maintain full composure, not ruin any step of the process, and maybe then she could finish her isoamyl neutralizer. Good luck.
Silver dust was in the scintillation cabinet. Cyclic alder root she always kept in a special box above the desert chamber, so it wouldn’t sprout. Nine other ingredients assembled themselves in the center of Moiety’s hood. The lab miraculously had exactly the 4 vials of enantiomer extract Moiety needed as the key ingredient for the concoction. These she handled like spirit’s eggs as she extracted them from the back of the dusty top shelf in the rare compounds tree.
For each distillation, Moiety checked the temperature thrice. Every stopcock was doubly greased, and not one tube carried frothy ethers without first getting secured to the root web at the back. Moiety’s hood turned into a war of attrition: a superposition of uniformity and frazzled hair as she constantly battled against her tendency to make the inevitable stupid mistake and spoil her procedure. Her arms were time and focus. One painfully slow and triple-verified transfer of chemical after another, Moiety fought her battles. The morning turned into the afternoon, and the afternoon into evening, as she conquered the mistakes looming above. She came to the final battle.
Adding the enantiomer extract was the final step. Highly reactive, the extract must be added in small aliquots while stirring in a motion that was the mirror image of the addition pattern. Many alchemists have tried, and failed, with violent reactions that have left them seeing inverted for the remainder of their lives. But Moiety, with her transpose ambidexterity, was particularly good at the motion.
Moiety prepared the vessel and ivy glass stirrer. She lifted her arms in synchronous, poising the extract vial above her vessel, ready to begin. Her mind distilled into a single-file progression of thought, her quavering heart dropped to a slow metronomic beat, her shaking hands stilled, as a calming excitement diffused through her arteries. Her forearm rotated into place, and a crescendo of broken glass and spilt extract emanated from the hard stone floor, resonated through the still air, through her recognition of failure where there could be none, through her deepest fears and insecurities about her own alchemy.
The Enantiomer Woods lay northeast of the Elven Kingdom in Alkenia, so called because they were the only place known to the Alkenic kingdoms where enantiomer plants grew. The woods were not dense, but were prowled by the racemizers, black scaly creatures with yellow eyes and mirror image pupils. The racemizers did not take well to the enantiomers getting rearranged. Alkenians passed through the forest often and with ease—some of the richest pike estuaries lay through the woods—but any soul misfortunate enough to brush up against an enantiomer plant awaited fight, flight, or fate. Moiety was not ready for this challenge.
The General’s orders were what they were, however. The sun had just set and elves were milling, populating long tables in the trees with pungent roasts and drinks from the farthest corners of Alkenia. Unnoticed, Moiety slunk out through the city gates.
The moon was rising, and the Elves in the Kingdom halls celebrated, expressing their merriment with rounds of drink. Smells of the fruit and gravy filled their nostrils, sonorous conversation and song filled their ears, and everyone was so engulfed in their own cacophonies that not one eye drifted to the empty chair awaiting Moiety.
All except, of course, the General, who marched the armies through the night, without one potion, each soldier knowing.
In another two days, the working cycle resumed. What before were mysteries elucidated when Moiety’s notebook was discovered open at her bench, the glass arranged for the final operation, the extracts evaporated into the now-etherial laboratory air. The lab held its breath as search parties investigated the Enantiomer Woods, but as the days drew to a close and the parties returned with nothing but empty heads and somber hearts, the only thing left to do was remember. The light and cool air in the lab no longer brought joy as Moiety’s hood stood idle with its sash closed, empty but for her notebook: a memory immortalized in loops of neatly winding black ink on treated parchment.
No alchemist could follow her process for another four years, so fine was the work she carried out in her clear solitary moments. But on the 196th year, the General carried, solemnly and alone, the vial which neutralized the isoamyl extract. The war between the kingdoms ended, and Moiety’s memory lived on in both kingdoms. The forest is now called Moiety Woods in her name, and, to this day, calling a lab partner a moiety is the greatest show of respect and admiration.