The Floating City - Chapter 16

The Untold Stories

Roshan returned to the central hall in a fugue, still mulling over the ramifications of his conversation with the Don of the resistance. Deep in introspection, his need to pace had instead led him through the back door and out into the night. The bracing cold felt like clarity as he wandered the outskirts of the village, avoiding the pooling glows of light that denoted people, warmth, and companionship.

Finally, his wandering feet led him back to the meeting hall; right around the time that he had lost feeling in his fingers. As he entered the hall and stamped the snow from his boots, Eithne came to greet him, a worried look upon her face. “Roshan!” she exclaimed. “Where did you go? I was worried!”

“I, uh, went for a walk,” Roshan replied lamely.

“Outside?” Eithne laid a hand on his shoulder and tsked. “You are freezing, let me get you a mug of chicory and warm you up,” she said, taking his arm and leading him away from the doorway. In the warmth of the hall, he realized how cold he had been.

“Thank you,” he said. “Sorry, I had a lot on my mind.”

Eithne patted his hand comfortingly. “It is fine. I know the Don has placed a lot of pressure on you. Just remember that I am here if you need to talk.”

“I…” Roshan opened his mouth to unburden himself, but stopped abruptly, struck with a sudden thought. In his growing sense of unease, he realized that he had neglected to question anyone in the village closely about the Resistance. If the Don ordered him to do something and he refused, what would happen? Would the Resistance members cart him away, never to be heard from again? Would Eithne turn away from him? Was she friendly and open to him because that’s who she was, or because the Don had ordered her to be? Were there other Theorists before him, who had wondered the same thing and then disappeared?

He had been treating Alsce as his own personal research retreat, enjoying the people, the food, and the unfettered access to books to research what he was most passionate about, but ignoring everything else about the political situation. Now his willful blindness was coming back to haunt him, and he was no longer sure how to proceed. However, Eithne was staring at him expectantly, so he decided to change the subject. “Why are you here? I mean, why did you decide to join the Resistance?”

Eithne blinked at him, and then smiled, taking the non sequitur in stride. “I’ve told you some of this, you know,” she said with a chuckle. “Have you forgotten?”

“No, no,” Roshan assured her, “I’m just… looking for reasons.”

Eithne smiled warmly up at him, understanding what he was asking beyond what he was saying. She was quiet for several moments. “It’s about what is right,” she said finally. “Of how difficult my family’s life was before getting I got a job at the library there.”

Roshan nodded, “I remember.”

“Well,” Eithne continued, “I told you that I left Crystalis, and traveled to Dak, where a Resistance member recruited me and sent me here. I never told you why I left Crystalis in the first place.”

“I assumed it wasn’t willingly,” Roshan nodded.

“You assume correctly,” Eithne said forcefully, her voice hard. “Somebody was stealing scrolls, selling them on the black market. It turned out to be a young scion of the Crystalis aristocracy, trying to finance their drinking habit,” Her tone was bitter. “I was new, and he was connected. They had every proof outside of catching him in the act, but still they blamed the theft on me. Someone who felt guilty about the lie came to tell me, and I left before they could arrest me, or worse. On my way, the only help I received was from a Resistance fighter,” Eithne let out a long sigh, and shook her head. “You will hear similar stories from many of the others. The Resistance has given a home to us all, but this life was not one any of us planned to have.”

“I’m sorry that I never asked before,” Roshan said, holding her arm a little tighter. “I’ve been so focused on my research, I have neglected to really get to know anyone.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Eithne replied, releasing his arm. “Most members of the Resistance are content with leaving their past behind them.” Stepping away from him, she unlocked the double doors to the library. According to the locals, the Don had arrived in Alsce more than 15 years ago and converting the villagers to his cause (the story was that he had used Fòrsic weapons to rescue them from a den of bandits lairing in the mountains). Afterwards he had fashioned a two-storied wing to the central lodge, before packing it full of all of the Fòrsic research he had managed to beg, borrow, or steal during his and his soldiers’ travels. Eithne was quite proud of the resulting collection, and rightly so, Roshan thought. Although limited in space, it was packed full of scrolls and books, reaching up to a carved wooden ceiling stretching nearly thirty feet above them. Halfway up, there was a wooden walkway around the edge. There were wheeled ladders at both levels to facilitate reaching the highest of shelves, all of which were made with dark, mountain wood. Roshan thought that in some respects, he preferred it to the great library of Ater-Volantis. That might have been the largest concentration of scrolls and tomes on the continent, but this library had better company.  

Eithne bustled him into one of the plush leather armchairs situated throughout the room and lit several glowlamps before busying herself preparing two mugs of chicory using a Fòrsic cooker and a few sachets she had squirreled away throughout the room. The warmth of the room restoring feeling to his fingers, Roshan tried to get up and help, but she only shook her head and pushed him back down into the chair again. Sitting, he tried to enjoy the languid feeling of warmth overtaking his body, but mostly was preoccupied with how pretty Eithne looked, and how the low light sparked fires in her hair.

Finally, the drinks were ready, and Eithne settled herself down into an armchair near to his. They spent several moments in companionable silence, before Roshan spoke. “You were right about the energy distribution glyphs,” he said, finally.

“Oh?” Eithne arched an eyebrow.

Roshan grinned. “I don’t mean to sound surprised,” he teased. “However, it’s not sufficient to bear the Fòrsic load.  Any other ingenious ideas?”

“What, and rob you of your chance to do your own research?” she asked archly.

“Well,” he replied, “you are a librarian. I would just be… taking advantage of your talents.”

Eithne grinned, “Oh, is that what you call it in Ater-Volantis?”

Roshan blushed, or at least as much as his ochre skin would allow. “I, uh, didn’t mean to, I mean to say I had no intentions of….”

“It is all right,” Eithne reassured him, laughing. She stood up and grabbed a massive, ornate, leather bound tome off of a nearby shelf and dropping it with a heavy thud on the small table between their chairs. “Take advantage as much as you like,” she said with a wink as she flipped the book open. “It’s Focati’s glyph compendium. Undoubtedly there will be some clue in here.”

Roshan bent over the musty pages with a smile. Here, talking theory with Eithne, he had almost forgotten his earlier conversation with Alistair Gaunt. It was a shadow on an otherwise pleasant evening, and if he tried hard enough he could blot out the dark possibilities that shadow portended.


The following morning dawned sunny and beautiful, although Roshan only caught the tail end of it. He had stayed up talking with Eithne until the early hours of the morning, and had only just beat the rising sun to bed. However, as it was a rest day, he could sleep as late as he liked. Their small team lacked the amount of crystals required to test theories every day. Instead, they tested once, or twice at most, every week, leaving him plenty of time between each test to relax, and to refine his current theories on Fòrsic energy transfer. When he was with Eithne, he was usually doing both at once, even if it also led to his staying up far too late. Roshan was housed with other visiting Resistance members in another recently built wing of the central lodge, and it was easy to, after throwing on some old clothes, a pair of stout breeches, and a heavy wool sweater, wander down to the kitchens to scrounge a late bite to eat.

After he was well fortified with freshly baked bread and venison sausage, Roshan wandered through the lodge. He admitted, if only to himself, that he was not sure what to do next. After all, the Don had done nothing beyond make some remarks Roshan had interpreted as mildly threatening. Roshan therefore did not think that any precipitous action on his part seemed a wise idea. Burning his notes and riding off into the sunset in defense of his research seemed righteous enough, but he had nowhere to go and no survival skills worth mentioning. Moreover, he was not even certain if the Don was planning to appropriate his research and use it for his own ends. For that matter, Roshan had produced his theories using the Don’s own materials and with the Don’s backing. If the Resistance had been a socially legitimate organization such as a University, no court would have upheld Roshan’s protest about the perversion of his research. Practically speaking, he had nothing to go on but a vague feeling of unease growing about his work with the Resistance.

Roshan sighed. The only conclusion that he could draw was that he needed more information. The lodge, and the village of Alsce, was the headquarters of the Resistance, and there were many members there who were reporting in or awaiting assignment, and thus had little to do. They tended to congregate in the main hall of the lodge, and it was there that Roshan decided to head.

“Roshan!” Harshun called out in greeting when Roshan entered the high-ceilinged hall. He was sitting with a long-haired blond man from Hascillis whom Roshan did not know, and a pair of dark-haired women from Demiard named Hana and Bira. He hadn’t seen the two of them in a few weeks, and presumed they had been out on a mission. “You’re up late,” Harshun continued. “Keeping Eithne company?” He gave Roshan a lusty wink.

“No, no,” Roshan said, blushing slightly. “I mean, she did pull some interesting runes out of the library for me.”

“I am sure,” Harshun said, smiling broadly. He waved a hand at an empty seat next to Hana and Bira, across from him and the blond man. “Have a seat on the bench, we were just lingering over lunch. “Have you met my friend Sebastian?” he gestured at the man next to him. “He just arrived from Alis last night with Hana and Bira.”

“I’m afraid I haven’t,” Roshan said, reaching out and clasping arms with Sebastian. “Had you been there long?” 

“Since the end of the summer,” Sebastian replied, sitting back down. His voice was a low, resonant baritone, but his accent reminded Roshan strongly of Rika. “Although some of that time was spent as a… guest of Prime. Hana and Bira here had to get off their comfortable seats at headquarters to come and fetch me.”

“This fool got caught eavesdropping on the city council,” Hana griped. “We do not begrudge him – nothing like a mid-winter jailbreak to get the blood pumping!”

“Did you discover anything?” Roshan asked, curious.

Sebastian shook his head. “Nothing major, but tensions are high throughout the region. Our men--”

“—And women,” Bira added, and Sebastian tilted his head at her in acknowledgement.

“Our men and our women,” he amended, “are riling up the populace in exemplary fashion.”

Roshan nodded. All of this was news to him, but he refused let his surprise show. “The Don’s plan is well underway then?” He asked casually.

“I assume so. The man never shows his glyphs,” Sebastian shrugged, “We’re all here to seek justice, in one form or another. We trust that the Don is leading us towards it.”

“Oh,” Roshan said, trying to keep his excitement about the direction of the conversation from showing. “What brought you all here to the Resistance, if I may ask?” At Bira and Hana’s quizzical expressions, he added, “I’ve been so embroiled in my own research that I’ve realized I don’t really know the specifics of the conflict here beyond the basic ‘us good, Prime bad,’” he chuckled self-consciously, sweat beading in his armpits at the thought that someone might call him out for his ignorance or lack of zeal.

Instead, Sebastian just bobbed his head. “I hear you,” he replied. “We often get caught up in our own tasks and lose sight of the bigger picture. Of course, I assume that is part of the Don’s plan as well, since no one can reveal what they don’t know. Still, it is good to have a general idea.” He sighed, and seemed to be thinking. “For me, I joined when my mother died. My stepfather stole my inheritance, and parceled it out to his own children. Since he was a friend of the village headman, he got away with it, and I was left destitute. Living on the streets with the other orphaned children I met a Resistance recruiter. He,” Sebastian paused and took a breath, “he saved my life.”

Harshun patted his arm. “It’s alright, my friend, everyone here has a similar story. It is what fuels us, each in our own way.”

The rest of the group nodded. However, Roshan was still searching for answers. “It’s why we fight,” he echoed, “but does anyone know why the Don fights? How did the Resistance start? I mean, I have heard stories, but…” he trailed off.

There was a pause, and then Hana said “that’s all there are, really, stories.” She pointed at Bira. “We came here almost nine years ago. There’s hardly anyone still here who predates us…”

“Maybe Syd and Simon,” Bira put in.

“And a few others,” Hana continued. “We’re some of the senior members, but the Don was here for almost a decade before us. Some of the older villagers remember when he arrived in Alsce, but no one knows where he came from. He’s got a slight Volantian accent. I always figured that the Prime had his parents killed or something like that, and things crystallized from there.”

“I’ve never noticed his accent,” Harshun mused. “He’s too fair skinned to be from my city, but he could be from Alis. I thought he was a member of the old ruling class there. The unification of the Alisian and Dakian cities happened six generations ago, but there are some who are still bitter, especially from Alis. With the Prime’s corruption, and the fact that his family used to be Dakian, there is a logical point of contention for someone with the right background.”

“Wait,” Sebastian said. “The Prime is Dakian?”

“Well, not anymore,” Harshun temporized.

Bira clicked her tongue at Sebastian. “You’ve forgotten your history,” she chided. “The war between the nations of Alis and Dak ended with the Dakian sack of Old Alis while an Alisian force threatened Dak. Both sides sued for peace, and Ater-Volantis was created as a neutral capital. The first Prime was of Dak, but he married an Alisian woman to seal the alliance. Each successive generation married the nobility of a different city, so the current Prime belongs to no city, really. Except maybe Ater-Volantis.”

“Ah,” Harshun added, “You forget. The previous Prime married a Dakian man. This Prime is more Dak than anything else. A diehard Alisian might resent that.”

“Phaugh,” Hana shook her head. “You southerners and your grudges. The war was of generations,past,” she shrugged. “I do not know what drives the Don, but it’s not a dispute that has been over for more than a hundred years.”

Roshan shook his head too, lost in thought while the others continued to argue back and forth. Sebastian’s story, and Hana’s and Harshun’s theories had filled in some missing pieces, but there was still so much he did not know. The mantra of the Resistance was ‘Justice for the Overlooked.’ Everyone here seemed to agree that the only way to achieve justice was to overthrow the Prime, or at least to create enough unrest to force him to make serious concessions. It had all seemed so straightforward in Ater-Volantis, but now he found himself questioning everyone’s motivations – even his own.

Chapter 17 can be found here.