Linza had attended the most prestigious university on the continent, The Jorunnr Schools of Magical Inquiry. It was abbreviated JSMI and pronounced affectionately as ‘yizmy’ and derisively as ‘jizz me’.
The school was centuries old, a stalwart fortress of hand-carved stone, a city-within-a-city nestled in the heart of Harburich, the kingdom’s capital. The university’s moat and walls had once protected the invaluable libraries inside from a decades-long siege even when Harburich’s walls had fallen. Now, they protected little but the egos of the school’s snootier members.
All throughout her stay there, those ancient libraries had enchanted Linza. Not literally, of course — the School of Enchantment was actually two buildings over from the library.
She herself had majored in the School of Transmutation. It was one of the more technical degrees available and required close study of not only of magic but also mathematics and the science of matter.
Linza was as talented as she was studious. Though she blushed whenever someone said it, even she had to admit, she was a bit of a prodigy.
Given that she completed her work more quickly than most of the other students, she could have taken the extra time to rise from third in her class to first.
Instead, she opted to take a minor in a different school entirely — Illusion.
Where alchemists learned classical mathematics, illusionists learned the fine arts.
The halls of the School of Illusion were nothing like the School of Transmutation. Instead of laboratories, there were studios. Students carried charcoals and paints, not text books and abacuses. The whole School was colorful, lively and bright. Music filled the hallway and dazzling lights filled the air. There were art shows and theatre productions and weekly storytelling feasts.
And when the School wasn’t throwing parties, the students were, so that the School’s dorms remained boisterous late into the night.
Linza was always happy, then, that she hadn’t majored in the School of Illusion. After sunset, the School of Transmutation was so quiet that you could hear quills scratching away as students labored away at their homework. She preferred it that way, so that she could sleep well and meet the next day renewed.
Those four years passed with agonizing slowness and yet all too quickly. The heavy velvet robe that was the traditional attire for graduation felt about as heavy on her shoulders as the weight of the expectations now upon her. And the conical hat with gold trim just made her feel silly.
The dean had presented her diploma with a bow, and she had picked up the rolled parchment sheaf with a mix of apprehension and wonder. It was finally time for her to set out into the world and make a name for herself.
In the following months, Linza learned that all of the promises of swift and gainful employment that had been lavished upon her by JSMI’s admissions staff four years prior had been — as she was all to familiar with from her minor — mere illusions.
The loans that she had taken out to pay for the degree were, however, far too real.
JSMI had been correct that alchemists were in great demand, but only alchemists ‘with at least two years of experience in a professional setting’. Laboratory after laboratory assured Linza that she should think of them again in a couple of years as they handed her a rejection letter.
She made her way further and further down her list of potential employers, increasingly convinced that JSMI had been a bit of a scam. Of course, all the rich children landed prestigious jobs right away, regardless of their actual competence.
Linza had few connections in the capital city other than the friends she’d made at JSMI. Her father was a sewer and her mother was a scribe in the royal navy. She’d enjoyed a modest and warm upbringing. Though she’d hoped to buoy the family with her new career, she started to fear that her debts would sink them all.
Linza persisted and eventually found a laboratory that was willing to hire recent graduates. She would technically be doing alchemy, yes, but of the most menial possible variety.
Her homework at the university had seemed droll and repetitive. Compared to her new job, even that homework now seemed exciting.
She scrubbed cauldrons. Re-checked derivations. Sorted salts. Pre-measured reagents to precise weights. Calibrated scales. Polished crystals.
It paid just enough to cover her room, her food, and the minimum payment on her loan.
Though her new boss assured here that there were ample career opportunities, Linza was not so sure. Several other people in her department had worked there for five years or more and had not yet been promoted. When the laboratory had thrown a party at the local tavern, Linza had sipped diluted wine while the senior alchemists got thoroughly sloshed. She’d sidled her way into their conversation and probed for clues about their salaries.
They barely made more than she did. After twenty years!
Linza resolved that she would wait out her two years scrubbing cauldrons until she could transfer to another laboratory where the prospects were better.
But if she was going to last those two years, she needed to find something else to do with her mind so that it did not melt of boredom and dribble out of her ears.