This is the first part of an ongoing series. I am planning on posting updates every Sunday. Feedback and comments are much appreciated. Enjoy!
The Frightful Discovery
“We’ve got it!” Roshan’s soft exaltation broke the quiet of the observation room. He pointed at the readings on the crystalline screen in front of him. “Look! There’s a clear decrease!”
Aki frowned. She was a sturdy, brown-haired woman, dressed in engineering leathers and with her hair pulled back into a no-nonsense braid. “I don’t know…” she said, leaning forward and tapping her stylus against her front teeth. “There is a decrease in each successive test, but it still could be the crystal failing. It’s not necessarily anything else.”
“Phaugh!” Roshan made hand waving motions. He was tall, lanky, and prone to gesturing excitedly, and his russet-brown skin and green eyes positively glowed with excitement. “You built this contraption yourself, and we both double checked the figures. Everyone knows that Fòrsic energies degrade the emitting crystals over time, so we accounted for it! The decreased efficiency in energy shown here,” He gestured at the crystal tablet in front of him, “has to be from the energy itself, not the crystal. This is it, this is definitive proof!” He pointed outside the observation chamber. In the darkness in the cavernous room beyond came distinct flashes of light, coming at relative intervals but at scattered points around the vast chamber. “Each crystal flashes five times at set, random intervals, right?”
“And we know the decay rate of this type of crystal right?”
“Right” Aki sighed. “Get to your point, I know all this.”
“I know, I know, sorry.” Roshan said. “But look at the decrease!” He pointed to the crystal tablet, its screen crowded with cramped figures. “It’s faster than we anticipated, almost infinitesimally so, but it’s there. Our experiment was a success!” He paused, and said in a softer voice, “whatever the source of Fòrsic energy is, it’s running out.”
Roshan paused outside of the lecture hall, pushed his hair out of his eyes, and tried to calm his breathing. He could hear his adviser, Professor Filias, from the other side of the door, and he suspected that she would look askance at any interruption of her lecture. His news might be important, but it would still have to wait. Slowly and carefully, Roshan opened the heavy wooden door and poked his head inside the room. The lecture hall was a bowl-like chamber sunk in the rock of the university’s foundations. Professor Filias stood in the center, surrounded by rising rows of students in the brown robes of acolytes. As a senior level journeyman, Roshan stood out in his own robe of blue lined with gold. Professor Filias was a middle aged woman, with brown hair in a bob and liberally streaked with silver. Like Roshan, she wore a different robe from the acolytes, and looked resplendent in the scarlet and gold of a senior maester. She was also the foremost theoretician in Alis Dak, maybe even on the whole continent. With a smile, Roshan ducked into an open seat in the top row of the room. The lecture was just beginning, and listening to Filias expound on Fòrsic theory would give him time to get his own thoughts in order.
“What do we know about Fòrsa?” Filias asked the room. Silence answered her, and, with a pause, she continued. “We know of its discovery, and we’ve talked in this class about how it came about. But what do we really know about Fòrsa itself?” She pointed to a brown-haired girl in the middle rows.
The girl stayed quiet for a moment, thinking, and then answered rather hesitantly, “well… we know how to use it, how to draw power into the crystals.”
“Ahhh yes, the crystals. Truly unique, they are the only known way of channeling Fòrsic power.”
Filias pointed to a blond-haired boy in the front row. “How do they channel this energy?” she asked.
“The Runes”, the boy answered promptly.
“Ah, but why those symbols, and why these specific crystals?”
The boy frowned in thought, he seemed to be weighing his options. Finally he answered, “I don’t know, sir.”
“Exactly!” Filias exclaimed. “We know the how. How certain runes cause certain effects, how to combine runes for different effects, even what mental muscles to flex to start the process and channel power through the runes and the crystals themselves. What we don’t know is the why! We don’t know why only these types of crystals, out of all the minerals in the world. We don’t know why these symbols, out of all the written languages in the world. We don’t even know where the Fòrsa, the power, comes from!” She paused, and pulled a small crystal sphere from the pocket of her robes. “Watch this.” And she threw the sphere at the first row of students.
Before it could reach them, crystalline wards inscribed in the floor blazed into light, and the sphere shattered on an invisible wall that sprung up around the students. A huge wave of flame leapt from the broken sphere and broke against wall, before it abruptly fizzled out. The lecture hall sat in shocked silence.
Filias began lecturing again as if nothing had happened. “We know enough about the physical nature of the world to know that every action should have an equal and opposite reaction…” she paused again, looking out at her rapt audience. “You should probably write that down, it’s important.”
As the students broke out of their spell and furiously scribbled notes down, she continued. “The energy for that flame has to come from somewhere. Fire consumes fuel to burn, that’s how it works.”
She pointed at another student. “What fuel did that flame just consume?”
The student, a flaxen haired girl, shrugged. “Air?” she asked diffidently.
Filias grinned appreciably. “Pert, but more or less correct, fire does consume air or an element within it. But then why did it, as it were, flame out…?”
There was a collective groan at the pun and Filias waved a hand in acknowledgement. The flaxen-haired student answered again. “It ran out of whatever it was using for fuel?”
Filias’s grin widened. “Very good. What was your name again?”
“Elspeth, sir.” The girl replied.
“Well Elspeth, you are quite correct… under normal circumstances. The average flame can be snuffed out through starving it of fuel. In this case, the wards on the floor did that for us. But, the point stands. We can draw this rune” she chalked the rune for flame on the slate board behind her, “on this crystal,” as she held up another one of the crystal balls “and it will produce this reaction. We rely on this. Our society is built on this. And we do not know why it works the way it does!”
Roshan waited until the last of the students had filed out of the room before going down to speak Professor Filias. She heard him clomping down the stairs in his heavy lab boots and turned from packing away her things to smile up at him. “Longing for simpler times, Rosh?”
He smiled back, “Always a joy to watch you pound knowledge through thick acolyte heads.”
“As you know from personal experience, if I recall correctly. Did you need something, or were you just brushing up on your Fòrsic theory?”
“I do, actually. We’ve got significant results!” He grinned hugely, and then sobered. “They are… worrying. I wanted to run them by you before Aki and I did the final write up.”
Filias looked around the nearly empty lecture theater. “Is it what you expected?”
She frowned. “Alright, let’s talk in my office.”
Professor Filias’s office was small and wood paneled, tucked away in the back of Eolas University. The walls were lined with shelves packed with scrolls and books, and to Roshan’s nose the whole place smelled of parchment and varnish. It felt like a tinier version of the great university library, and it felt, for him, like home. The walk to the office had been spent in companionable silence, save for a few forays into small talk. Once they arrived, Filias shut and locked the door, touching a crystal set into the frame above the door so that it glowed with a soft, gold light, before offering him a seat in one of the comfortable leather chairs arranged in front of her desk. Once he sat down, she took a seat behind the desk and said, “Right, show me your results.”
He took a scroll out from a pocket hidden in the lining of his robe, and passed it to her across the desk. “What’s with the secrecy?” He asked.
“Oh?” Filias had put on a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles and was peering intently at the data Roshan had passed her.
“The locking the door? The, if I am not mistaken, rune against eavesdropping?”
“Ah… yes.” Filias was silent for several long moments. When she spoke again, it was halting, measured tone. “Your… research has the potential to be… upsetting for several… important people. Not the least the University review board.”
Roshan felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. “Oh?” it was his turn to say.
“If you like, I can run your preliminary findings by the committee, so that they can offer edits in order to have your dissertation be more… widely accepted.” Filias said, her face twisted in a sour grimace. “This is not coming from me, you understand, but…”
“I understand.” He said bitterly. It came out harsher than he intended. “They want to cover-up my findings.” He gave a soft laugh, and shook his head. “No wonder I could only find scraps on the topic. This isn’t the first time this has happened, has it?”
Filias shook her head sadly. “No, it’s not. My own Maester’s research was on a similar subject, but I allowed myself to be… encouraged… into following a different direction.”
Roshan sat back, a shocked expression on his face. "Why didn't you tell me about this?" He demanded. "You knew about this from the start, you even encouraged me!"
"I had hoped," Filias said regretfully, "that your results would be other than what you have found." Roshan snorted, but she held up a hand to forestall him. "I hoped also that certain... attitudes towards this line of research would change. I have been advocating such a shift with my not inconsiderable influence, but" she shrugged, "alas."
Roshan was silent for a long moment, his expression twisted up in a strange mix of emotions. “But this is important!” He finally said, anger coloring his tone. “Our whole society rests on Fòrsa and the use of the crystals… if they are failing, it could impact the entire world!”
“I know, I know!” Filias sounded frustrated too. “But this is the way things are. I strongly suggest you follow my advice. We can… mitigate… your research, and you can still publish! The information will still get out, people will still know… just… not as forcefully.” She was pleading now. “Roshan… It’s better than nothing!”
Roshan shook his head slowly from side to side, disbelief in his voice. “You always said that knowledge, that truth, was sacrosanct. Why are we here, if not to advance knowledge?”
“There are many kinds of truth.” Filias said softly, sadly. “Roshan, this is for your own safety! People have… disappeared pursuing this research. In fact, the last person I knew...”
“I never thought that you were a coward.” Roshan interrupted harshly. “This potential danger to our way of life must be published! I will not allow my research to be watered down. It’s been my entire life for FOUR circuits. Aki and I have put everything into this project. I am going to the board with this, and that’s final. I will deal with any consequences, but this information must be out there - Maker’s breath, the only reason this city exists at all is from Fòrsic Crystals!” By the end he was standing, and shouting, and when he was done the office rang with a brittle silence.
Filias sighed explosively, and seemed defeated. “Fine” she said finally. “I can’t stop you. But please, I beg you, be careful.”
“I will” Roshan said, his voice still harsh as turned on his heel and left, slamming the office door on his way out.
Chapter 2 can be found here.