The Bronze Alchemist was, for lack of a better word, touchy. All great minds get touchy once they start failing expectations that have been placed on their brilliance. Once they start failing the estimations they themselves set for their goals, and Shu was a couple of days off to understanding the beast’s transmutation technology, they get even worse.
As such, she was in the middle of the meeting, taking part, but still bent over the microscope so to continue inspecting the effect of a serum on a blood sample.
“There is no news,” she answered, “Michela continues her works. You continue your work, or we expect you have continued…and so do I. The Scavengers have yet to locate any more persons of note, and the Wild Felid’s leader is still missing, and because of that, they are still unable to act.”
“Even though the Hunter has been acting all the while,” Falk pointed out, sarcastically.
“They assume that, much like the Shadow, she is no longer affiliated with them.”
“It matters little,” the Hunter spoke from the balcony, “they will kill her in the end. And the more time they keep her, the more chances that that will happen.”
Is it me or is she talking a lot more these days? She would’ve just stared darkly in the past.
“Honestly, that will not matter at all. Reports are that the beasts will hit our coasts within the hour.”
They all looked at Eliza with shoulders handling the full gravity of the situation.
“We need to do better. Everyone will continue to focus on what they have been focusing; I just thought you should know we have run out of time.”
“Shouldn’t Brithan be forcing people out of here, then? Like the Don did?”
Everyone looked at nothing.
The Shadow shifted in the balcony, looking away from the room and into the mystical horizon. She had gone back to find him, despite the unwillingness of the rest of the group. She was doing a lot of that, recently.
Lazaros’s right-hand man said odds were high he was still alive, and if that were true, it would give the Shadow Conclave a fourth individual with the beast’s dust inside their system. That was the logic she used to convince them, even though Falk was certain she would’ve gone in any case.
She went with the Darkness and the reports they brought back were haunting.
The Shadow had described a shattered city. Chasms had opened across the ground, and the buildings had fallen into ruin. Flames remained, flickering existences that seemed to be feeding on nothing but rotting corpses for days on end. She described a big breach, within which many of the beasts’ bodies lay, melted and dead.
They found the Don standing in an office at his mansion.
Even in death, the man was standing upright and looking ahead with a dedicated frown. A beast killed with the handgun Falk had left with him, stood dead in front of the Don who had his body impaled by its claw.
Falk had to admit, it was quite an image to leave behind.
Eliza coughed to rein in the conversation. “We do not need to, people are leaving by themselves.” She stole a glance from the phone, which was impressive since it was an inanimate object and thus had no glances to give, and then walked out. “Focus on your tasks. And no more personal projects.”
She didn’t look at Falk but that’s who she had directed the additional comment at. And it was fine, Falk didn’t plan to need any more private time. Things were going well.
“Should we not see to Norwayaka? Lend assistance as we did in Igtahlia?”
“No,” Eliza swiftly responded.
“But we are idle here,” the Shadow argued. She had not looked away from the horizon, but she was still making a case for being at least somewhat useful.
That was definitely something Falk could respect.
“Well,” Falk ventured, deciding to extend an olive branch by sharing his thoughts, “you could join the Scavengers in their search? It’s highly likely your leader, Hunter, is in the country somewhere.”
She looked at him with thoughts in mind, probably trying to find a couple she deemed worthy of voicing aloud.
She found none.
“Fair enough,” Eliza said, “go to the coast, where the beasts will appear. You can be there on hand for when you’re needed, and you can stay in touch.” She turned to leave again.
Falk walked to the Bronze Alchemist, Shu. The senior woman remained stalwart and stubborn in her effort to find something groundbreaking in the next couple of seconds, a desire that had been active for two days.
“Eliza literally just asked that.”
“Well yes, but perhaps you have hit an interdisciplinary threshold of your research, at which point I might be of assistance.”
She glanced at him, purely annoyed. It served her right, after implying Falk was incapable of matching her knowledge of chemistry, of the elemental compounds and how to research them. He felt the need to constantly remind her that if she were to allow him to head her little project…
“I may be taking longer than I thought I would, but that only means you’d never even make it in time.”
He frowned heavily, enough so that she tell the danger implicit in his facial expression.
“Are you implying I’m incompetent?”
“No. Again, how many times do I have to, I’m just saying you’re not an expert in–”
“Falk, you should listen more.”
“I listen to the appropriate amount. It doesn’t matter what domain of knowledge you were about to refer to – it was chemistry – I am an expert.”
Shu sighed, containing herself, as well she should.
“The dies are cast, so they say. See to your own project, Falk.”
He intended to, of course, but Shu needed to be reminded of the mistake she had made when she declared not to have a need for Falk’s intellect. Michela was much better in that regard.
“That goes without saying, I would just prefer for yours to succeed as well. After all the trouble the Shadow went to–”
“Just leav’er alone already.”
Falk, very much caught off-guard by both the interruption and the tone with which it was made, turned to face the madder than mad Jester who had uttered it, only to find him looking down at himself in an equal measure of surprise.
The Circus Freak looked around, confused and seemingly frightened.
“I agree,” the Shadow supported, “you should allow her to concentrate, she does the same for you.”
Falk watched as the Circus Freak glanced at the Shadow, failing to do so covertly, before running off without further word or, even more surprisingly, a laugh or some other strange noise.
The whole moment was utterly disconcerting, leaving everyone who was still in the room by then, him, Shuu and the two in the balcony, out of sorts.
Falk cleared his throat.
He didn’t find a comment worth the spoken words, so instead he scratched his chin.
He left as well, heading to his workshop.
When all else fails, get to work.
His workshop was acceptably set up. His tools were laid out on a rack, over a table cloth setup to catch the dust and oil left on them. There was a sink to wash anything that needed to be washed, and of course, the pedestal he had built to hold the crystal.
The pitch black diamond had one very particular property, the nature of which still eluded Falk, and that was that it did not reflect light. At all.
Standard knowledge would thus dictate that it was absorbing all radiation in the visible spectrum. One could not see the gem for that particular reason. Humans could see it only by not seeing it. Normal human perception noticed it was there by noticing it as a dark nothing that blocked whatever was behind from being seen.
Falk could discern it thanks to his left monocle, which was built with a simpler version of something the Eye had. It allowed him to see a few wavelengths outside the visible spectrum.
He looked upon his high-intensity blowtorch as it worked on the gem itself, to no avail. He turned it off and enveloped the gem in his mechanical hand for a few seconds. He pulled it and looked at it, seeing no signs of heat. Then he so touched with his left.
His initial hypothesis was that the metal the Beasts used was actually made out of that stone’s material, it was obvious however it was not. They could cut the Beast’s metal, given enough time, and had even come up with a way to puncture it, but the gem was absolutely impervious.
It had a purpose, however, it does something.
He looked left at the pieces of the pillar that had been holding it, particularly the one that had been the top, with the holes through which the mist was being expelled. He had a working hypothesis that stated the Shadow had not simply brought the pillar down out of the ground, but actually broke whatever it was connected to. The mist had to come from somewhere.
That was, however, not a helpful train of thought. Better to explore the ones that can be explored.
Being a true-bred scientist and inventor living in a world that contained people who could teleport and inhabit the “shadow stream” necessarily brought on a different mindset. Michela was preoccupied with purely mechanical things, and thus did not require such a mindset. Shu was still coming to terms with the full nature of the mist and what it does to their world and environment, by examining what it does to their bodies. A walk through the unknown more so than through the supernatural, but he was starting to think that is what he was dealing with.
Thus, a more helpful hypothesis presented itself
What if the pillar was not connected to anything…only to the gem.
The gem had an irregular form. It was reasonable to assume it had been extracted from some rock as is, much like any other crystal formation would. A train of thought that he could run with was one where the pillar and the gem were all of it. The entire mechanism.
That would work if…the mist, the mist…is just a little ways away from being dust…ground.
He had cut the gem apart from the pillar and had cut the top of the pillar, that had the holes, but Falk had yet to take a look at the body of the pillar. Reasonable expectations assumed it would be hollow, more of a simple conduit pipe, but if it wasn’t…
Perhaps the pillar sucks from the ground. Grinds it into dust…and then spews it out as mist…filtered. Filtered dust, filtered by the gem.
He looked back at the gem, then back at the top of the pillar. He looked back at the forgotten corner of his workshop to catch sight of the body of the pillar.
“That girl and her beginner’s luck,” he smiled, “she actually took everything I need to work it all out.”
Falk grabbed hold of his custom-made blowtorch, a big thing on top of a counter on wheels, and rolled it up next to the pillar’s body, grabbing a mask on the way there. He took a breath and put the mask on while turning the machine on, with the quickness of movement of someone who had done the same thing a million times before.
Obviously, the mask was custom-built to attach to his monocles.
He tried to cut only the casing, turning the pillar around with his mechanical arm – which had the strength to do it quite absent-mindedly – so to keep whatever was inside intact. After almost an hour, he shoved his mechanical fingers through the crevice he made and pulled, undressing the contraption. Or trying to, it was stuck on the bottom.
Casing hard-attached on top and bottom. Okay.
After another near hour, he had successfully undressed the pillar and looked upon its innards with left arm around his chest to hold up his right so it could lightly scratch his chin. It was, indeed, not hollow. He bowed down so he could reach his goggles and spun them, turning on the same type of visual aid he used to be able to discern the gem.
Okay, nothing other than what I can see with my own eyes. He turned it off and brought a lamp over, even if the room already had a lot of lighting. He still needed more.
There was some kind of mechanism at work, and notably in a spiral. And though he would need to cut up more to achieve confirmation, he was certain he was seeing signs of mechanical teeth much alike those in a meat grinder. At the base on the bottom, he also observed blades connected to gears which circled the base of a big tube which was almost the width of the pillar before it funneled, at around the center.
Falk grinned with success. Many would say science often fails you, that you get somewhere by being persistent and looking for more and more theories until one finally works. That was why many looked up to Falk because he had never needed to go wading through the swamp of bad theories and ideas, they never really occurred to him.
“I still want to continue examining the crystal, however. I believe I will put Michela into figuring out the minutia of details behind this mechanism.”
He officially put the welding mask down, turned off the lamp and walked out. Turned right, walked by two doors, which took around two minutes, and finally arrived at Michela’s workshop.
This place is far too large. It’s inconvenient.
He opened the door to find the old girl putting her whole weight into bending a dark steel beam.
“COME ON YOU…AUUGGHHHH!”
“WAHH!” She let go in a reactionary spasm that threw her hard onto the ground. She tumbled against a shelf, crashing in what many would consider a comedic fashion.
He had worked with her a few days while in Igtahlia, so her clumsiness came as no surprise to him.
“I have uncovered important new data on the terraforming pillars, Michela. If you would be so kind as to follow me, I believe I can put you to better use than…” he glanced at the beam, unbent, “whatever this is.”
“I was working on making a shield that can handle a Beast charge,” she replied, scratching her behind, still sitting on the floor, “oww…”
“A useful endeavor but, as I suspected, not the best use of your time. Come.”