Sorry for the delay, travel and some personal stuff left me scrambling to get this posted, and I apologize in advance for any typos. Enjoy, and let me know what you think!
The Review Board
Roshan sat on the roof of the University’s library, looking out over the flying city of Ater-Volante and thinking. The last three days had not gone according to plan, and this was his favorite spot for introspection. From the University’s position near the apex of the city, he could gaze down over domes and slender minarets of the wealthier districts. From there, he looked over to the less ostentatious buildings and warehouses close to the city’s rounded edge, and then out to the patchwork fields of Alis Dak a thousand fathoms below. Although even in summer the wind was biting this high up, the midday sun and heated grey stones of the rook warmed him, and he felt quite comfortable – at least, physically.
The bad news had started with his meeting with the University review board about his research findings. Before his discussion with Filias, Roshan had anticipated being awarded a Maestery and maybe even a position at the University for his ground-breaking research. Now… he leaned his head back against the warm stones and shut his eyes, feeling a pounding headache coming on.
He had discussed Filias’s warnings with Aki, in a sound and rune proofed corner of their lab where he was sure they wouldn’t be overheard. Aki had listened patiently, hearing him out, and then asked “But you want to go forward, yes?”
“I do, yes… but this research belongs to both of us. We have to decide together.”
Aki nodded, once. “Let’s do it,” she had said firmly, and that had been that.
Her friendship and the knowledge that he was not alone had buoyed him for the rest of the day, but any hope he had had faded when they stepped in front of the review board the next morning.
It had started out simply enough. Every prospective Maester went before the board, and Maester’s countless times, to defend their findings or to ask for funds for further research. Forewarned by Filias, Roshan had approached their own meeting with trepidation. Usually final defenses like his and Aki’s were held in lecture halls, before the board and their peers in order to grill them before their impending ascension to Maestery. Ominously, for this review, the board had called for a closed session. They met in a stuffy, richly appointed room in the heart of the University’s north tower, one that Roshan had never seen before. Most of the circular room was lushly carpeted, but, in the center where petitioners stood (or the accused, he thought morbidly), the floor was marble inlaid in gold with the Eolas crest. The effect was intimidating, and the light from the Fòrsic-powered lamps kept catching on the gold and irritating the corner of his eyes. The board’s table was arrayed in a semi-circle surrounding Roshan, standing in the petitioners’ marble circle, and he couldn’t help but notice that the board seemed to be made up of the oldest, fussiest members of the University. The only member of the five-person panel that he knew personally was his old logic professor, and where she had been ancient and crusty ten years ago, here she looked positively youthful.
For almost a full bell, Roshan and Aki had stood and explained their experiment. As per their prior agreement, Aki focused solely on the technical elements of their research, leaving the theory and, Roshan hoped, the potential ire solely for him. This hadn’t stopped them from each giving an impassioned summary of their ideas, from the underlying hypothesis of Fòrsic and crystal decay, to Aki’s design and construction of the crystal testing apparatus, to their findings, and, finally, to the implications of those findings for Eolas, for Alis-Dak, and for, Roshan supposed, their whole world. The fact of the matter was simple. If the strength of the Fòrsa was declining, then they needed to figure out why, and fix the problem, immediately. The longer they waited, the more difficult it would become to implement a solution, and the more dangerous Fòrsic constructs, such as the floating city of Ater-Volante, would become.
The review board had listened in a silence that grew stonier and stonier as the hour had worn on. The blank-faced expressions on the old men and women of the board had revealed little, but Roshan had felt the pressure building in the room. When they finished their presentation, the board stayed quiet, the tension stretching out for several agonizing moments. Finally, the dam broke and the questions, and accusations, came thick and fast.
“Why did you start with the assumption of Fòrsic decay, do you want this city to fall?”
“How did you ascertain the crystal decay rate? It’s never been modeled empirically.”
“How can the decay you posit be so dangerous? The rate is tiny!”
“Why pursue this research at all, why not more accepted fields? Do you bear a grudge against our society?”
Roshan and Aki had answered as best they could, but the board didn’t seem particularly interested in their explanations, although they passed by most of Aki’s testimony without incident. Finally, the chair, an elderly man who was fat, bald, and would look like someone’s kindly uncle except for his intimidating beard and his deep-set, predatory eyes, spoke. “Enough.” He said in a deep, resonate baritone. “We have heard your defense, and we will withdraw to deliberate. You will hear from us within a five-day.”
And that had been that. The board had filed from the room, leaving Roshan and Aki standing awkward and alone save for a crushing feeling of failure.
Neither of them had much to say to the other after that. Aki had gone off to get drunk with her fellow engineering students, while Roshan had gone back to his room, his head hung low. There were other Fòrsic Theory students that might have sympathized with him, but he’d wanted to speak to precisely zero of them. He’d been tempted to join Aki, but he had felt the pressure and the desire to be alone with his thoughts.
For the rest of the day, those thoughts tended to be miserable ones. He’d gone over every line of the review board meeting, wracking his brains for something that he could have done differently, something he could have said that would have convinced them that they was right, that this research was important. He’d felt like doing the same thing today, but the morning dawned bright and clear and warm, so he grabbed a couple rolls from the dining hall and made his way to the roof. He had a wineskin with his bread and cheese, and he supposed he would spend the rest of the day there, and maybe tomorrow, until he had developed some sort of idea, some plan, about what to do next.
Roshan had finished his bread and cheese, and was most of the way through the wineskin, when a whirring sound woke him from his reverie. He looked all around, searching for the noise, when, buzzing and clacking, a strange contraption rose up from beyond the edge of the roof and flew towards him. Roshan frowned, and rose to his feet warily. The contraption had a bird’s narrow body with wings of whirling metal reminiscent of a hummingbird, and he could see a Fòrsic crystal nestled within the body’s wire housing. His eyebrows went up, Aki had talked about the potential of clockwork creatures run with Fòrsa, about how they would be more efficient then pure crystal constructs, but he’d never seen one in person before.
The construct darted towards him. Roshan raised his arms instinctively, but it merely circled him, whirring, before landing gently on the roof on a pair of extended metal struts. The head of the construct twisted up from the body, revealing a cavity stuffed with a small role of parchment. Curious, Roshan bent down and tugged it out. Once he held it in his hand, the bird-thing gave a metallic chirping noise, its head twisted back down, and its wings began to move. They whirred in place for a moment, and then the construct rose slowly into the air and darted off the roof, disappearing back down from whence it came.
Roshan watched it go, and then unfurled the note in his hand. His fingers shook as he recognized Aki’s scrawling script.
That was a hover-bird; engineers use them as emergency messengers. I knew you would ask, and I’ll tell you about it later. But now, you have to run. The Prime’s guards came looking for you -- Your friend F tipped me off. They’re staking out your room, searching the grounds. You can’t go back. Leave the grounds and hide somewhere in the city until next set-down. Destroy this note. I will try to contact you when I can. Until then, good luck, and stay safe, my friend.
Heart pounding, Roshan crumbled the note, ripping it into pieces and letting them float off in the omnipresent breeze. He hurried to the door to the roof. Pulling it open, he froze. From the bottom of the stairwell came the discordant sound of iron-shod boots, marching steadily upwards.
Chapter 3 can be found here.