Hi everyone. Once again, sorry for the delay. The last week has been crazy, but things should start evening out post-time-wise as we move through the holiday season and I figure out more about the best way to do things. Anyway, on to Chapter 3! Enjoy!
The Frantic Flight
At the sound of the echoing footsteps, Roshan froze in momentary indecision. Like most of the University buildings, the library was a square, stone structure, five stories tall, surrounding a large central courtyard. While there was only the one stairwell to the roof, if Roshan could get to the ground floor there would be plenty of opportunities to slip away. He was running out of time.
Thinking carefully, Roshan took stock of his options. He did not want to be taken in. He remembered only too well Filias’s warnings about researchers disappearing. However, fleeing would mean leaving behind his home for half his lifetime. All of his things, his books, his notes, his clothes, were in his now guarded room -- leaving him with a half empty wineskin, the clothes he had chosen to wear that morning, and his university robe, its voluminous pockets filled with the miscellaneous minutia of academia, and distinctive enough to make it useless outside of university grounds.
Roshan rummaged through these pockets desperately, searching for something, anything that could help. He fingers touched a pair of hard objects, and he pulled them out with a triumphant grin. He would have shouted, but the footsteps were rapidly approaching and he couldn’t risk making any more noise. The two objects were rough, unfinished crystals about the size of clementine and without any Fòrsic carvings. Finished crytals were smoothed, with the runes acid etched for the most efficient transference of Fòrsic energies, but these coarse ones and his penknife would have to do. Working quickly, Roshan scratched a few simple runes and started down the stairs.
He needed to get back to his room, despite Aki’s warning. If he was to leave the University forever, he would need some of his possessions, mostly notes and spare crystals, whether his room was guarded or not. Despite treading lightly, he managed to reach the fifth floor in short order. He opened the door as quietly as he could into a dim, dusty, book-lined corridor with widely spaced Fòrsic lamps illuminating it with a dim, orange light. As he shut the door as quietly and quickly as possible, he could see the guards rounding the corner of the third floor. He turned and dashed down the corridor, his robe flapping behind him.
Heading for one of the secondary stairwells, Roshan pulled up short when he saw the door creaking open. It was a pair of the city watch, dressed in the their traditional [E1] red and yellow striped tunics. They caught site of Roshan, and pointed. “Hey, you, stop!”
Instead of stopping, Roshan whirled and sprinted into the maze of corridors on the fifth floor, where the stacks, full of old and forgotten tomes, were kept. Despite the sneezes he sometimes experienced, Roshan had spent a lot of his time with his head buried in a scroll, and the layout was an old, familiar friend.
Wheezing, cursing his sedentary lifestyle, Roshan took several hard turns at full speed, skittering on the wooden floorboards at every corner. A panicked glance behind him showed the guards keeping pace, and he knew he couldn’t outrun them forever. More footsteps ahead of him indicated that the guards from the main stairwell had reached the floor, and were spreading out in search of him. Time was running out.
Without pausing to slow down, Roshan took another hard right and slammed through an unlocked door. He shut it hard, pulling down an adjacent shelf to block its opening. Hoping this would buy enough time, he ran forward into another crossroad of corridors. Muttering under his breath, he took one of the newly carved Fòrsic crystals into his hand and, with the other, cut a gash in his palm with his pen knife. Rolling the crystal around until it was covered in his blood, he held it out with his dripping hand until it began to glow with a silver light tinged in red. He placed the glowing crystal on the floor and headed down the hallway across from him. Behind him, the glow intensified until the crystal exploded outwards, projecting decent, in his opinion, simulacra of him sprinting away down each of the corridors. Hopefully, that would confuse pursuit, even though he’d lacked the time it would take to instill any permanence in the copies.
Roshan slowed to let the simulacrum in his corridor rush by him, and then turned toward a door in the wall. He opened it onto a small, dimly lit room with barren, empty shelves, and, as he had hoped, an old dumbwaiter in the wall across from him. Cursing his lanky frame, he threw himself into the box, folding up as much as possible. With a squeal of rusted hinges, the dumbwaiter began descending downward, the walls scraping Roshan’s skin raw as he passed.
The box, meant for ferrying books, wasn’t designed for humans, and picked up speed alarmingly fast as his mass overworked the counterweight. He stuck out his legs to slow the descent, his soft-soled boots skittering down the smooth stone of the shaft. Despite his inability to gain a purchase, Roshan managed to slow himself, so that the impact with the bottom of the shaft was merely jarring, rather than injurious. He unfolded himself painfully into a room on the bottom level of the library, a cloud of stone dust following him out.
Roshan stood up slowly and felt every one of his vertebrae give a satisfying pop. He looked at the brown robed acolyte, now covered in white dust, who was staring at him in astonishment. “Some days…” Roshan said, and gave a shrug. Roshan hurried from the room and out into the library proper before the acolyte could say anything, leaving him standing in shocked silence. The three main floors of the library were a beautifully windowed space, looking out onto the central courtyard. Sunlight streamed through the window, as acolytes, blue robed journeyman, and other university members hurried to and fro, studying at the various desks and reading books from the copious shelves overlooking the balconies of the upper stories. No one commented on his dust coat. He’d been a student here, and he hadn’t thought that anyone would. Everyone remained focused on their own studies, unlikely to react to anything that didn’t directly involve the topics at hand. However, the watch running through the building might certainly peak some interest, so he hurried across the library and out through one of the side doors before anything else could happen.
Eolas University’s campus was, like the rest of Ater-Volantis’s neighborhoods, set in a series of concentric rings. The biggest ring was around the edge of the city, the rest gradually shrinking in diameter as they moved up the hill towards the Palaces of the Council and the Prime. Normally, Roshan enjoyed the panoramic views the University’s high position allowed, but today all he cared was that the smaller ring gave him less of a distance to scurry along its circumference.
He didn’t run, instead hurrying as fast as possible along the grey-cobbled walkways of the University. The campus was in a riot of color and growth, as the various trees and flowerbeds flourished in the warm summer sun. He loved to stroll sedately along the paths, admiring the sights and smells, but now he merely walked as fast as possible, resisting the urge to glance over his shoulder with every step and ignoring the other students he passed. He hoped he didn’t meet anyone he knew, although he suspected that if gossip about his standing had spread, they would be avoiding his eyes.
Despite his accelerated pace, it was almost a quarter of a bell before he reached the journeymen’s dormitory, set in a wide and squat stone tower on the south end of the University campus. Roshan hesitated as he approached, finally deciding to leave the path before he came into sight of the dormitory’s doors. Hiding behind a tree and peeking out at the entrance, he congratulated himself on his forethought, as there were indeed another two guards stationed outside of the archway. Moving carefully, he made his way through the shrubbery until he was back on a different pathway. Several yards down, there was a small stone outbuilding containing a service entrance to the University’s underground tunnel system. Because of the city’s height, snows and winter weather were brutal, and it behooved the university to find an alternative way for their students and faculty to get around. During the summer, however, the tunnels were unused and empty -- just what he was looking for.
The door to the tunnels was unlocked. Roshan waited until the path was clear of passersby before slipping down into the darkness. Like the fifth floor of the library, the tunnels were illuminated by diffuse orange-yellow light of Fòrsic lamps. The service tunnel was much narrower and more cramped than the public tunnels, and he was glad when he reached the main passageway. Moving cautiously but quickly, he soon reached the entrance to his building, and was delighted to find it unguarded. Blessing his soft-soled boots for their muffled steps, Roshan made his way up the stairs as quietly as possible, until he reached the door to his third-floor corridor.
Cracking the door open, he peered down the hall. His room was at the far end, around the curve of the building, but he could see the arm of one of the guardsmen stationed there. Roshan crept down the hallway until he was just a few doors away. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the second of the now-etched Fòrsic crystals. One of the trickiest bits of working with Fòrsa was how to stipulate when the crystal would begin to draw power. There were all kinds of extra glyphs and symbols one could add to the runes to denote when the effect should take place, but Roshan hadn’t had time for anything fancy. Instead, he’d partially carved the runic sequence that brought sleep. Now, in view of his room, he took out his penknife and completed the remaining lines before tossing the crystal around the corner. There was a shout of surprise, and then the corner filled with silvery light. There was a pause of several seconds, followed by the sound of two bodies slumping to the ground.
Roshan waited anxiously, counting down the seconds until the glow faded away. As soon as it began to diminish, he brought out his room key and dashed down the corridor. As the light hit his eyes, a feeling of overwhelming drowsiness stole over him, but the fading nature of the spell allowed him to shake it off. He went to unlock the door but found it open, the hinges smashed. Peering inside he gave a shocked gasp.
The room itself had been ransacked. Furniture, paper, and ruined experiments lay everywhere, strewn haphazardly across the small space. Roshan stood in furious silence for several moments, tears of rage trembling in the corner of his eyes as he surveyed the damage. This was years of his life just lain to waste, although he supposed it didn’t matter since he was leaving anyways. Looking around, he couldn’t see if anything was missing, though most of his experiments and spare crystals had been smashed. Picking through the wreckage, he turned up a small rucksack, which he quickly filled with spare clothes, and any remaining whole crystals that he could find. Ditching his robe and most of the junk in its pockets, he instead swirled a brown, staid looking cloak around his shoulders. Cracking the door again, Roshan peered out into the corridor. The guards were still asleep. Although the light from the crystal had faded, it was still intact, surprising for such a small, unfinished crystal. He pocketed it, before turning and making his way back into the tunnels, leaving the University, and his shattered life, behind.
Chapter 4 can be found here.