The Odd Experiment
Roshan heard a bang, followed by loud cheering audible even in the hush of the Alsce library. It had been three days since the arrival of Rika, Isa, and the others of Syd’s crew, and the celebrations had never stopped. First it was to honor the opening of the mountain passes, then for Syd presenting the Don with the Foinse-rod. Roshan didn’t know if most of the villagers and other Resistance members understood the import of that, but they knew a victory had been won over the Prime and that was enough to continue the party. He wasn’t sure what the festivities today were in honor of, maybe people had just forgotten how to be sober.
“Can I go to the party now?” Isa asked. She was sitting cross-legged in the center of a ring of Fòrsic symbols, wearing a pure white robe and her customary headscarf. Her arms were bare, their Fòrsic traceries glowing gently against the dark background of her skin. She looked grumpy.
“No,” said Roshan. “Not until we run some tests.” The ring was as secure as he could make it. He’d learned a few things about handling Fòrsic energies safely in his time in Alsce, and he was putting them to use.
“You agreed to this, you know,” said Rika.
“I wouldn’t have, if I had known it would take this long.”
“Do you want to be blown up? Because not taking precautions here is how you get blown up.”
“Hush,” Eithne said. “Let the man work.”
Roshan gave her a grateful smile. Isa made a gagging motion, and Rika rolled her eyes. Surveying his handiwork, Roshan nodded and wiped his chalky hands on his trousers. He arose from his squat and stretched, his back popping. “Alright, I think we are ready.”
“Are you sure you know what you are doing?” Isa said.
Roshan shrugged, “it would not be an experiment if I did.”
“Forgive me if I do not find that at all comforting.”
He smiled, “Do not worry, the theory is sound.”
“That is not very comforting, either.”
“It is very simple, the healing crystal Rika used channeled Earth based Fòrsa with a physical affect. When it rebounded, it resulted in an Earthquake. Same energy, same affect, very different effect. So, if we use a crystal with a different Fòrsa base and a different type effect, but the same thing happens...” he trailed off.
“We have already gone over the theory behind it,” Rika said. “I think what Isa is worried about is what the after effect will be.”
“And what you are channeling at me in the first place,” Isa added.
“Oh, sorry,” he held up a small crystal. “It is my lucky crystal, got me out of Eolas safely. It is water energy and mind affect, it brings sleep.”
“You are not putting me to sleep,” Isa said.
“No water energy,” Eithne said at the same time. “Not in the library. No fire either, for that matter.”
“Fine fine,” Roshan thought for a second, and then rummaged through his pockets. He came up with another, equally small crystal. “How about this one? It is air and spiritual. It is very minor, it just gives you a feeling of contentment.”
“Been feeling down, Roshan?” Rika asked.
“Ah, well,” he dug his toe in the ground and looked down.
“Oh, Roshan, you should have told me!” Eithne put her arm around him. He leaned into it and sighed.
Rika clapped him on the shoulder. “We’re back now, so things are looking up, right?” She looked at Isa.
Isa nodded. “We’ll pick up the slack. Now, I say let’s get this over with.”
“Alright,” Roshan said, nodding. It did feel good to have his two friends back again. He had never had a lot of them, and the ones he did have he treasured. He still missed Aki, and he hoped she was all right. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, he stepped forward. He held up the crystal, “are you ready?”
“What did I just say?”
He smiled and handed the crystal to her. “Hold it close to your chest, close your eyes, and breathe out onto it slowly.”
Isa did as he had instructed, and the crystal began to shine with a warm, golden glow. The effect was almost instantaneous. Isa had enough time to smile widely and say “it’s working” before the tenor of the glow changed. The color of the stone changed to a harsh metallic sheen, and Isa’s eyes snapped open.
There was no pupil or Iris. Instead the glowed a brilliant gold, bright enough to light up the room. “Get the stone away from her!” Rika yelled. Roshan darted forward, but stopped suddenly as Isa spoke.
“THE STONES FAIL,” her tone was flat, lifeless, but her voice filled the space of the library with a stentorian hugeness.
“er, what?” Roshan said into the silence that followed Isa’s pronouncement.
Her glowing eyes turned on him. He found the effect to be very unsettling. “THE STONES FAIL,” Isa repeated, and then said a third time. “THE STONES FAIL. THE ROCK FALLS. THE BEGINNING IS IN THE END,” her body seemed to rise into the air. Against his better instincts Roshan stepped forward, but as he did the glow in her eyes abruptly stopped. Isa’s eyes rolled upwards and she collapsed toward the floor in a dead faint.
Surprising himself, Roshan caught her before she hit the ground and lowered her down gently. Rika and Eithne were at his side moments later.
“What in the Two Moons was that?” Eithne asked, her eyes wild.
Rika said nothing, but her mouth was thin line and her brows were furrowed. She knelt down next to Isa’s prone form and put her ear to Isa’s face, and then to her chest. “She is still breathing and her heart is still beating, but look at her arms!” She pulled Isa’s robe over to reveal that the Fòrsic scarring had reached her shoulders, and loops and whirls were starting to grow inwards towards her chest. “I knew we should not have been experimenting,” she said, wiping at her eyes.
Roshan put what he hopped was a comforting hand on her shoulder, “we had to know. Now we can find a way to make it better.”
Rika turned on him. “And what did we find out, exactly? Other than some strange words at the cost of risking her life?”
“Sorry, I just thought…”
“You should have thought harder!” Rika paused, there was a short, brittle silence, and then she gave a long sigh. “I am sorry. I feel like I have been on edge for months now.”
Eithne gave her a quick hug. “We will figure it out. What the three of us do not know about Fòrsic theory and Fòrsic history is not worth knowing.”
“Did we learn anything, though?” She said to Roshan. “What happened to her?”
“I really have no idea. Some sort of prophecy?”
“I thought those were just in stories?”
“Using the spiritual affect is still not very well understood,” he shrugged. “I suppose some sort of glimpse into the future could be possible…”
“Or contact with a higher power.” Rika said.
Roshan turned to her, surprised. “What do you mean?”
“Her voice did not sound like her own, maybe it was something speaking through her?” She shrugged.
Roshan nodded, “it did sound very strange.”
Eithne tapped her fingers, thinking. “We pray to, and swear by, the two moons, Alos and Dar-Alos. I had never considered them as beings who took an interest in us, however.”
“Maybe something has changed?” Rika said.
“I am not a theologian, I am a theorist,” Roshan declared. “I do not know if gods exist, but I do think that I can do something about Isa,” he looked down at the prone woman, “is she still out?”
Rika checked her vitals again, as she did, Isa made a snorting noise. Rika laughed, “I think she is asleep.”
“Are you sure?” Eithne asked.
“I would know that dumb snore anywhere,” Rika said. “I have heard it whistling in my ears on far too many nights.”
“Good, then we have some time.”
“How can you possibly think you have a solution?” Rika said.
“For the last few months I have done nothing but study Fòrsic energy transference. If energy in causes a reaction, what happens when we take energy out?”
“You think we have not thought of that?”
Roshan shrugged. “Why didn’t you try it?”
Rika paused, then said, sighing, “We were not sure of the right runes.”
“Right. But I am sure,” he thought for a few moments, “Well, pretty sure.”
“I do not think ‘pretty sure’ is going to be good enough.”
“Trust me,” Roshan said, “she is my friend too.”
Rika looked him in the eyes for several long seconds, and then nodded. “Fine. What is your plan?”
“First, we need the Foinse-stone.”
“Foinse-rod,” Rika corrected him.
“Foinse-rod, then,” he looked at Eithne. “Can you get it from the Don?” Roshan sighed. “You might as well bring him along too, he’s probably going to want to see this.”
“Is this related to what he wanted to talk to you about the other day?” Eithne asked. When Roshan looked at her, surprised, she said “I am an historian, not an idiot. Besides, you are probably the worst dissembler I have ever met.”
Roshan smiled. “I guess I am,” he sat back and sighed heavily. “For a few months now, the Don has been pressuring me to take my research in a… different direction. Namely, finding a way to drain Fòrsic energy rather than replenishing it.”
Eithne frowned, “That is more than just a different direction; it is completely contrary. Did he say why?”
“He was talking about using it as a weapon, but…” he gathered himself. “But that is not what I set out to do,” his voice came out more emphatic than intended.
Roshan expected them to laugh at him, or question his support for the Resistance. Instead, Rika nodded in agreement. “I know what that is like to have your research, your passion mistreated. It was why I joined the Resistance in the first place,” she put a hand on his shoulder. “The Don is wrong to pressure you this way, but I cannot believe that he does not have a good reason,” she was silent for a moment, moving, then added “although the weapons thing must be a misdirection, he should know better.”
“I have thought the same,” Roshan said. “He must know that any solution with the Foinse-rod, however necessary, is limited in scope. It cannot be the battlefield weapon he claims he want. It makes me… question his motives.”
“That is understandable,” said Eithne, “but you should not be too harsh on him. The man bears a hard burden.”
“A burden I appreciate, though I wish I knew its origin,” Roshan shrugged, and gave a half smile half grimace, “I guess he will get want he wants, in the end, if we are to cure Isa.”
“It will be all right,” Eithne said, giving him a kiss on the cheek. Roshan reddened, but said nothing.
“I do not think it is that urgent,” Rika said, looking down at the sleeping Isa fondly. “Let us put her to bed, Eithne. Roshan, find Syd. She has known the Don longer than any of us, and should be able to allay your worries,” she met his eyes, “tell her the truth, she will listen without judgement.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Roshan said, nodding. It was certainly a better idea then any he had thought of.
“Come on, Eithne,” Rika said, stooping down and putting Isa’s arm over her shoulder. “This lazy girl needs her rest.”
“…uhh, what’s that?” Isa yawned, blinking sleepily as Eithne took her other arm and with Rika hauled her too her feet.
“Never you mind,” Rika said, “it is time for you to go to sleep.”
“I was asleep,” Isa said, but she laid her head on Rika’s shoulder and allowed the two women to lead her from the room.
Roshan smiled as he watched them go, but as soon as they were out of the room his expression faded. He didn’t particularly want to talk to Syd about his concerns about the Don, but he wanted to talk to the Don even less. It was for a good cause though, so he took a deep breath, and set off into the lodge to find Syd.
Finding Syd, however, was easier said than done. All the common spaces in the lodge, and most of the streets outside of it, were filled with drunken revelers. Resistance members and townspeople mingled together, and the din was such that Roshan had trouble hearing himself think. Eventually, he retreated to the lodge’s residential wing, but Syd wasn’t to be found there, either. As he turned to go, however, he heard a voice hailing him.
“Oi, Roshan!” Roshan turned to see Trentor coming out of one of the rooms in the hallway, he looked slightly disheveled.
“Trentor, what are you doing here, I thought you would be out carousing?”
“I could say the same thing to you, lad,” Trentor said, smiling. “I am getting too old for this myself. Two days of revelry, fine, but better to hole up with a wineskin and a pretty girl on the third.”
Roshan grinned back. “Fair enough. I was looking for Syd, have you seen her?”
“Why would you be looking for that sourpuss? I can’t think of anyone who hates fun like this more.”
“I have something I need to speak with her about,” Roshan did his best to sound casual, but Trentor didn’t seem to care.
“Well, good luck,” he said. “I would try the roof, anywhere outside and away from people, really. Myself, well, I’ve got the pretty girl,” he gestured toward the room he had left, “now I just need more wine.”
“Check the storeroom to the right of the kitchen,” Roshan advised. “One of the main cooks, Evan, told me there was a supply of bottles there.”
“Thank you kindly, lad,” Trentor said, clapping him on the shoulder. “I’ll do that,” he headed off down the hall. “Good luck!” he called back down the hall as he rounded the corner.
Roshan headed off in the opposite direction. Thanks to Trentor, he had a good idea of where Syd might be. The Resistance’s lodge in Alsce had a high, peaked roof, to slough off the heavy snows common to the region. There wasn’t a flat place to stand anywhere around it, but there were a few balconies high up by the eaves, and he was sure that she would be in one of them.
He was right, although he had to check several of the balconies before he found Syd and Simon. They were both drinking wine and looking out at the rash of stars above him. Simon turned around first as Roshan opened the door. “Roshan, what brings you out here?”
“Oh, uh,” he hadn’t expected Simon to be out here as well, although now that he thought about it he didn’t see why he was surprised, the two seemed to be inseparable. “I was looking for Syd…” he trailed off as both Syd and Simon looked at him expectedly.
“Well,” Syd said finally, “you found me. What do you want?” Her tone was welcoming, but her expression was anything but.
Remembering Rika’s advice, Roshan decided to just go for it. He took a deep breath, “I need advice about the Don,” Syd and Simon exchanged glances. “Please,” Roshan added, “it is important. It is about potentially curing Isa.”
Syd nodded “Simon, would you please go fetch us some more wine?”
“You sure?” Simon said, rising and grabbing the wineskin that lay between them.
Simon headed for the doorway, giving Roshan a look on his way by that seemed to say “good luck.”
She waved it off, “I was thirsty. Now, tell me what is going on.”
“Well…” He launched into the story, starting with the first conversation he had had with the Don several months ago, and what he had learned from the experiment with Isa that afternoon. Throughout the whole retelling Syd was silent, an inscrutable look on her face.
As he finished, she just sat back on her stool and nodded.
Roshan looked at her for several moments, waiting for her to say something. Finally, he prompted, “well?”
“Well, well what should I do? You know the Don best out of all of us, can I trust him with this power, so that we can cure Isa?”
Syd shrugged, “do you have a choice?”
“That is not a very comforting answer.”
“It is not always a comforting world,” she leaned forward, and looked Roshan right in the eyes. “Alistair is a noble man, with noble virtues. Those virtues include honor, but they also include ambition, an indomitable will, and a thirst for vengeance.”
“So you know where he is from, why he started the Resistance?”
Syd sighed. “I am not sure anyone knows that. Many years ago, my village was burnt to the ground by a rival tribe backed by the Prime and his cronies,” as Roshan started to speak his condolences, she waved him down, “it was a dispute over water and mineral rights in the desert, and it escalated, as those things tend to do. We were not blameless, either. I survived, and ended up in Dak, penniless with just my sword and my horse to my name. It was there Alistair found me, searching for fellow malcontents in his war against the Prime.”
Roshan was shocked, it was most he had ever heard Syd speak about herself. “So he had already started the Resistance?”
“Yes. Even then he was charismatic and brilliant, and the mystery of his background added to his legend. His accent, however, gave him away.”
“His accent?” The Don had one of the most un-notable accents Roshan had heard. He could have come from any of the six cities.
“Back then he had not completely rid himself of his original. He is of the… upper crust, as it were, of Ater-Volantis.”
“Ater-Volantis? So he must be someone the Prime has wronged personally.”
Syd shrugged, “that is all I know. He is doing a good thing, with the Resistance, regardless of his reasons for it.
“So, can I trust him?”
“That is not the right question. You can trust him to do what he deems necessary, but that may not always be the action you think it is.”
“So what is the right question?”
“The right question is: can you afford not to trust him?”
“I…” Roshan said, and then paused, thinking. What was he afraid of, that the Don would take his research with the Foinse-rod and run? Using it as a negator of Fòrsic energies would be limited, just as restoring crystals afflicted by Síosar would have to be done a few stones at a time. On the other hand, if Roshan didn’t trust the Don enough to ask to use to Foinse-rod to cure Isa, then he was putting one of his only friends at risk over a matter of principle that was more a gut feeling than anything else. “Thank you.”
“You have decided what to do?”
“Yes, I need to go find the Don now,” Roshan stood up and turned to leave.
“He will likely be in his office. Oh, and Roshan,” Syd said as he opened the door.
“Trust, but verify.”
He gave her a sharp look, but her expression was as impenetrable as ever. Feeling more sure of himself than he had in a long while, he turned away and headed down the narrow steps in search of Alistair Gaunt.
For Chapter 22 click here.