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Alchemy is loosely defined as the scientific process by which component materials are combined in such a way as to produce an effect that none of the composite ingredients alone can replicate. Broadly speaking, it is both a magical process and a chemical process, and neither a magical nor a chemical process. Like magic, alchemical effects are often otherwise impossible and often dramatically so. Like chemistry a given set of ingredients combined in a given process will produce the same result no matter who performs the combination. Unlike magic, the results of a given formula are the same regardless of the scale of the production, and without needing to adjust for individual casters' abilities. Unlike chemistry, alchemical products generally only work on sapient beings, drawing on their magics to affect change.

 

On the surface, Alchemy is a branch of magic that closely resembles mundane chemistry, or a branch of chemistry that closely resembles magic, depending on how much you know about all three. In truth it's a third, discrete branch of science that works by using a chemical reaction as a catalyst to affect a magical change. And with that core definition out of the way, we need to define a few more terms as they relate to alchemy.

 

A user is a sapient being who eats or drinks a wafer, tablet, capsule, syrup, tincture, potion or other solution, has a poultice, unguent, salve, powder, or cream applied to him or her topically, or has a solution infused or directly injected into the veins, fat, muscles, skin, or joints.

A product is the final result of following an alchemical formula.

A formula is the ratio of composite materials and instructions on how to prepare a given product, including the equipment, temperatures, and times needed to attain the desired result. Notably this is a RATIO of materials, not a recipe, and therefore it is generally assumed to produce a single dose or a batch of them based on a single unit's worth of the least used reagent. The scale should be noted in the formula.

A composite material is one of the ingredients that are physically used in the formula, and are a part of the final product.

A reagent is a type of composite material that could be considered the primary ingredients. It is the reagents that give most products their effects.

A medium is a type of composite material that serves more as a delivery method than a true ingredient. Most formulae that call for a medium can have any other medium substituted fairly easily, but the medium usually gives the final product its consistency and viscosity.

A catalyst is either a type of composite material that caused or facilitates a reaction and then precipitates out and is left behind, or refers to a final product that causes the user to undergo a change by drawing on internal magic rather than natural processes.

A wafer is a solid state product that has been wrapped in a thin sheet of paste to protect the user from its taste without interfering with delivery. Alternately, some products are ultimately compounded into wafers that are meant to be held on or under the tongue or against the cheek in order to take effect through the mucous membranes.

A tablet is a solid state product that has been compounded into a brick small enough to swallow by itself.

A capsule is similar, but is a container to control the delivery of powdery or liquid products.

A syrup is a liquid product that has been given a thick consistency, and usually has been sweetened after distillation in order to offset the taste.

A tincture is a liquid product that has been distilled in alcohol, usually because the product would otherwise be very susceptible to spoiling.

A potion is a liquid product that has a consistency closer to water where the fluid is the final product, not merely a medium.

A solution is any product that has been dissolved in a liquid medium.

A poultice is a product meant to be packed or caked onto the user with cloth when exposure would cause the product to erode or spoil.

An unguent is an oil-based product meant to be rubbed into the skin or coat of the affected area. Most useful when the user will be exposed to water between application and effect, such as sweat or swimming.

A salve is a thick product meant to be smeared over the skin or coat of the affected area.

A powder is a solid state product that is either contained in a capsule, mixed into a medium, or applied topically.

A cream is a product meant to be rubbed into the skin or coat of the affected area using water or alcohol as a medium.

An infusion is either the process of steeping a component in a medium in order to steep the helpful properties into that medium, or it is that product itself, or it is the process of slowly allowing a product to enter a user's veins over a long period of time (generally a couple of hours)

Leaching is the process of steeping a component in a medium in order to leach out unhelpful properties from that ingredient. The medium is usually discarded.

Distillation is the process of purifying a product by changing the temperature, usually either by boiling off impure substances or by boiling off the final product and leaving the impurities behind.

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Alchemists come in many stripes. Although the majority of them are driven by either scientific curiosity or compassion for their fellow ponies, some take the art up as an idle hobby or a business with an eye toward profit. However, it is far more common for ponies and zebras to become alchemists than other races. Alchemy is in fact closely related to zebra potion-making, though alchemy is far more precisely controlled.

 

Alchemists of all species need to be careful though, because it's not difficult for their inherent magics to interfere with formulae.

Most susceptible to this are unicorns, whose spells frequently 'close gaps' without their awareness, causing products to have an effect that they would not ordinarily carry, such an improperly assembled formula succeeding in spite of missing or botched steps.

Pegasi need to be careful not to allow their weather manipulation to spoil or 'save' formulae as well, such as causing a current in a bottle to pull impurities along with the product.

Earth ponies must be careful not to internalise the effects of a product, causing it to have or fail to have whatever effect they were hoping for due to their bodies' interference.

Zebras can sometimes create potions using the wrong parts of certain ingredients, as their magics are based as firmly on the belief that the part is the whole, and the whole can be found in the part. (A fascinating branch of magic in and of itself and one of the key differences between it and alchemy)

Gryphons possess less internal magic than ponies, but frequently allow instinct to override adherence to a formula (which still creates viable samples, but are somewhat problematic to duplicate.)

Qilin sometimes allow their breaths to infuse nascent potions with full-blown magic when all they intend is to use it for temperature regulation.

And Longma face some of both the Qilin and Pegasus issues. 


That's not to say that any of these cannot or should not be alchemists. Merely that all alchemists must take care to not 'cheat' their formulae.

 

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Alchemy labs need a lot of ventilation, negative pressure in the lab itself, and doors that can be made air-tight if need be. These are because the fumes and vapors that the process creates can sometimes be harmful, and letting these escape the alchemist's control is far from ideal. If the alchemist has the resources, the best lab should have multiple pressure layers, with the lab itself at slightly below normal air pressure, a set of chambers that are well below it, and then the outside, to prevent cross-contamination in either direction.

 

Many alchemists also maintain a greenhouse, herbarium, and/or garden in order to cultivate herbal, xylal, and/or fungal materials they cannot or don't want to purchase (or as a hobby; many formulae have long 'downtime' periods that would otherwise be spent waiting).

 

Some ponies also incorporate thaumic dampening or insulating architecture in their labs so they can limit magical interference as ambient magic, while able to be accounted for by experienced alchemists, can often ruin or overcharge formulae for the incautious or those performing experimental alchemy. As in any magic, lead and aluminum are fair insulators against magic, though using gold to channel it into a specific use is the preferred method. Ponies unused to this sort of dampening sometimes describe being in a properly insulated lab as 'dull', 'sterile', 'spooky' or 'lifeless', as it is very difficult to find an area in nature that is devoid of magic. (note: herbaria, gardens, and greenhouses should not be magically insulated, as their thaumic properties are sort of the whole point.)

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Alchemical formulae often include directions in jargon that's developed over years of refinement, so alchemists frequently must apprentice with other alchemists to learn how to read the formulae at all. Alchemists are METICULOUS about setting down these formulae since precision and duplication are the primary goals. It is considered bad form to force somepony to guess what you mean when you use a term, however this does make alchemical notation somewhat difficult for layponies to decipher. Most of the jargon and notation styles were established by Starswirl the Bearded, though Nickerless Flambé and Sydneigh Lulamoon expanded on them.

 

There are subtle differences between a fast muddle and a simple muddle, or a grind and a powder and a pulverise. There is a specific meaning to 'fine granule', 'dust', and 'powder'. A set rotational speed is indicated by 'whisk', 'churn', and 'stir', and only very rarely does 'whisk' require an actual whisk. Every few years a notable alchemist will invent or coin a term or technique and host a seminar to demonstrate it, generally with a lot of pomp and ostentation.

 

Some of the differences, such as those between 'whisk', 'churn', 'stir', 'beat', 'agitate', and 'mix' (in a fluid) are purely technical. (whisk being faster than stir but softer than beat, stir being in a uniform spin while agitate intersperses or reverses the spin periodically, etc.)

 

Others are meant to indicate a quality of the reagent or product, such as 'pulverise', 'powder', 'grind', and 'crush' (all indicate how fine the final solid powder is meant to be.) or 'grit', 'dust', 'powder', and 'clods' (which all indicate the same, but as nouns describing a given fineness. And these can also be refined further into a 'fine grit', a 'soft dust', a 'thick powder', etc.).

 

Still more indicate an understood ratio, such as "half-normal", "normal", or "double" (all relating to the ratio of pure salt to water in saline {.45%, .9%, and 1.8% respectively (9g salt per 1L)})

 

Even certain classes of magical output have subtle differences, such as "transmute", "transform", and "morph" (which imply respectively that the base materials are changed somehow but the overall structure is not {the mythical bar of lead to bar of gold is the most famous example, but more mundanely converting a silk flower into a felt one, or a wax fruit into plastic}, that neither remains the same {converting a silk flower into a living one, or a wax apple into a real one}, or that the base materials are the same, but the structure is different {Most medical applications, such as broken bones mending, as well as more mundane uses like taking batter and making it bake instantly}.)

 

Most of the jargon and notation styles were established by Starswirl the Bearded, though Nickerless Flambé and Sydneigh Lulamoon expanded on them. 

 

However, a note: Aspiring alchemists be not afraid, most alchemists take apprentices, and many rather enjoy the process. Typically apprentices learn by observing and asking questions, then being called on to explain what the master alchemist is doing, then by performing under master supervision, then performing some, and then all, tasks unsupervised and being asked to explain the steps taken, and finally to producing on their own. Individual instructors vary both in the timing and order of which tasks are demonstrated, as well as terminology used to describe the teacher/pupil, master/apprentice, or instructor/student arrangement. Official documents and conversations near-universally use master/apprentice as a rule, mostly out of tradition and recognition of the overall trend that alchemists are meticulous about what their terms mean and generally understand that the master/apprentice designations have a subtle nuance that is different within the craft and lacks the exploitative themes developed elsewhere.

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Every few years a notable alchemist will invent or coin a term or technique and host a seminar to demonstrate it, generally with a lot of pomp and ostentation. Frequently, a given alchemist will also find that her equipment is inadequate for a task and invent a new piece that is more suitable, patent it, and send copies of its design out to her fellows. 

 

About once every five years, Alchemists who've paid dues into the Academy of Alchemic Arts and Achievements convene to select the formula, technique, process, or piece of equipment from the previous cycle has had the greatest impact on their craft. Entrants into this competition must have been patented or demonstrated prior to the previous winner's announcement to prove that it truly had impact and was not merely trendy. Once selected, the creator is honoured and usually awarded a medal. (Historically speaking, this will not be the first medal such a pony has been awarded, as often the impact of the winning entrant is felt well outside the Academy, and the Princess is quick to honour ponies for their achievements.)

 

It is worth noting that though it is rare in recent years it is entirely possible for the honouree to be an alchemist who is not a member of the AAAA. 

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