He helped Michela cart the pillar back to her workshop before going back to his workshop to further experiment with the gem, only to find Shu in there. She was leaning over the gem, looking it over with a magnifying glass.
“Ah, the Bronze Alchemist graces my workshop. Tell me, why did you get that name again?”
“The acid I used to burn through locks with wouldn’t react to my lab-coat, which could be perceived as bronze.”
“Ah, if only I had been named as such. The Golden Genius, on account of my mechanical limbs and my chest.” He tapped the big clock that was linked to his chest.
“What is that thing for, anyway?”
“What are you doing here?”
“The dust is alive,” she said absent-mindedly, “in as much as bacteria is alive.”
“It took you this long to find that out? I would assume that by–”
“The particles are playing dead most of the time. Or are dead, unsure, but they only come alive in certain conditions.”
He took a breath, trying to control himself. He so hated to be interrupted. Falk wanted her to know, however, that he hated being interrupted. So he made the pause last and his sigh audible.
She pointed to the side, at a petri dish she had carried down to one of his desks. It still had a microscope mounted next to it.
“Proximity,” she said, not without a good amount of spite to her tone.
He nodded in understanding. She had spent days trying to figure the dust out, kept out of reach only by the fact they had separated the dust from the gem. That had to be frustrating, to find out it only became active together with the gem. Since the woman actually carried compounds with her that could hurt him and his gadgets, he decided it was in his best interest to keep his own patience in check.
“Good job,” he said, instead of suggesting she should have checked that earlier.
“It’s remarkable, really. The bacteria is still alive in the blood samples, more or less intact.”
“Really? That would mean it survives the circulatory system?”
She was talking to him, which meant she actually welcomed the brainstorming that he was offering. Finally, she was allowing him to assist, which meant that they could finally arrive at some relevant results.
“But for what? I don’t think the bacteria is…doing anything to their bodies.”
“Which would mean it’s in them simply because they ingested them. But they didn’t drink or eat them, they breathed them in.”
“Which would mean it was carried over to their blood like oxygen,” she continued, “they might be made of some chemical element we don’t have here on the surface, which our lungs just happen to treat like oxygen.”
“But not the rest of the organs…” Falk nodded, intrigued. “Since they don’t absorb it. What an interesting conundrum. Perhaps it’s of interest for me to note that I just found out the pillars were digging into the ground, sucking dirt particles and grinding them into dust before spewing them out. I assumed the gem was doing some supernatural conversion to them.”
“I would say that’s highly likely, seeing how it affects the particles.”
“What do they do, exactly?”
“They convince oxygen to become whatever they are. They convert it.”
Falk paused, wondering how the host body remained healthy in that case.
“The circulatory system is too fast, it processes oxygen that’s breathed in before they can convert.”
“Ha,” he smiled, “great minds ask alike,” he quoted, “but then that would explain the terraforming. We’re all carbon-based, after all, but oxygen is the main thing keeping us going.”
“There’s some deeper more complicated behavior, you remember the Shadow’s warnings?”
“She says shadows stop appearing,” he reminded.
“That’s it exactly. These particles are tiny, but if you bundle them up, they have the same radiation effect as this gem. I think that as they transform oxygen, it naturally starts bundling up. And it’s not that it’s coating things, it’s simply enveloping them. It’s air.”
She pulled her face back and looked at Falk gravely.
“They’re replacing the main component of air with whatever this is,” she gestured at the gem, “little tiny atomic versions of whatever this is.”
“Atomic?” He smirked.
She rolled her eyes.
“Yes, Falk, I read your work, can we focus?”
His mind clicked.
To the sound of a sun exploding into being, all the answers he needed burst into being inside his vastly superior mind.
Falk locked hands behind his back, suddenly taller.
“Oh, but you already revealed to me everything that is happening, oh great Alchemist.”
Her expression dropped, obviously not a fan of his ego which, of course, was too big to care about whether it had any fans or not.
“With time, we might be able to really understand how the gem works, but lacking that, it’s enough to know what it does. And taking into consideration how desperate the Beasts were to retrieve Jakariah’s amulet…”
She followed his gaze to the only other point of his workshop that was of any note, a desk where the amulet, retrieved by the Hunter, twice, was standing.
“One can quite easily infer what it does, and in return, what we can do with it.”
Shu raised an eyebrow, her impressive brain trying to work out the puzzle Falks’ already had, on account of being vastly superior.
“Oh, Shu, that is what happens when you specialize your brain to live in one domain of knowledge alone, you lose the ability to think laterally. Outside of what you know.”
“Can you just get on with it? Haven’t we lost enough time as it is?”
He smiled wider, victoriously.
“The ground. Dirt, rocks, they’re all imperfect. They have pockets of air stuck and dead inside. The pillars grind them free in the presence of the gem, which converts them into your elemental bacteria.” He turned and strutted towards the amulet. “And as we will quickly prove, this beautiful gem, also known as the Amulet of Jakariah, does exactly the opposite.”
He had opened it, of course. Someone had encased the gem into a white shell of porcelain, but breaking that, one found an irregular diamond-shaped crystal much like the none-reflecting dark gem that had been in the terraforming pillar. Only that one? It reflected every wavelength in the visible spectrum, thus being an absolutely white gem. An item, he imagined, that would have been perfect as a supernatural amulet representing Holy Light. White like nothing else in the world could be.
“We can reverse it.”
“Oh yes, eventually, but don’t think so small, my dear.” He grinned heavily. “We can weaponize it. We can turn what they breathe into oxygen, possibly. Their metal can be weakened, transformed back to normal. We can hurt them in the way conventional weaponry never would be able to, while being able to hurt them with conventional weaponry.”
Dramatically, the Mad Genius enveloped the gem with both hands and looked upon it with devious intent. Its faint glowing reflected off his goggles.
“Obsolete, they called me.” He chuckled.
Falk laughed, and in his enthusiasm, it did come out maniacally.
“Wow, you’re actually doing the laugh?”
He ignored her, however, which was an easy thing to do in the cusp of ultimate success: ignore little minds and their lack of understanding.
It occurred to him he might be repeating himself, but it didn’t matter because, that time, the words had a scientific blueprint behind them.
“I will show them obsolete!”
Shu acted appalled at first, but she quickly got into the work. Falk told Michela that whenever she understood the pillars behavior, he’d want to replicate it, and got to work on experimenting with the amulet.
The basic plan didn’t require much work, it was simply switching one of the dark crystals with Jakariah’s amulet, but there were other things they could do meanwhile, and one he wanted to do.
First, they had to verify the theory. Much as Falk was certain to be right, a true inventor fact-checks even certainty.
Second, he was curious what would happen if he was able to use the white gem as a fuel of radiation. After all, if the crystals were transforming oxygen particles just by being near them, or influencing them at least, it stands to reason they were emitting some kind of radiation, even if it was a sort of supernatural effect that only behaved like radiation. Falk wanted to figure out if there was any way to channel that.
“Its nature is irrelevant, only its behavior matters.”
“The Beasts are here.”
He looked up, from both the piece of the machine he was hammering and his thoughts, to catch sight of Shu reading from the scroll.
“They’ve appeared,” she stated.
“How much time ‘till they get here?”
“The Norwayakans showed up as well, up north. To fight. I’ll ask.”
“Norwayaka? Oh, the clown was sent to recruit them, wasn’t he?”
“Yes. Hm, Eliza says two days. Three max, depending on how fast they can find us.”
“Jamie hasn’t had luck finding Griff but he believes he saw members of the LBA,” she added.
“Did he?” Falk asked as if it had nothing to do with him. Because it didn’t. “That stands to reason, they have to be somewhere and if they want to stop us…”
“The girls have been sent to help the Norwayakans since they have little regarding scouting ability.”
“Shadow and Hunter.”
“Well yes, obviously, I was just pointing out it’s quite odd of you to call them that. A tad too personal, no?”
“No further information.”
“Let them know we’ll have a way to weaken the Beast’s hide by the time they reach here.”
“What?” Shu sounded not in agreement at all. She was, in the end, one of the more cautious scientists.
Caution, Falk found, often got in the way of true progress. He didn’t argue, of course, why would he waste the breath? He simply took out his own scroll.
I will have the means to weaken the Beasts by the time they reach us.
Fight well, everyone.
He smiled at Shu just as she looked back, manifesting ill portents in her expression. She glanced down at the scroll again.
“Eliza asks if it’s true,” Shu pointed out.
“She can read it again,” he said, quite unceremoniously.
“Falk, don’t you think it’s dangerous to promise something like this?”
“I don’t know about you, but I have been sleeping wonderfully these past few days, last night especially.” With Amanda having contacted him and deeply caught in his trap, it had indeed been a very restful sleep. “And I do not know about you, but I can accomplish much in seventy-two hours.”
“That’s the optimistic estimate.”
“My dear, you only think that because you do not understand exactly why Griff wanted Norwayaka actively on our side.”
Shu raised an inquisitive eyebrow, and Falk went back to hammering.
“Now. Having some sort of elixir to help with mental stamina. That would be even better.”
“I’m a chemist, I think you want the grand cook.”
“No,” he smiled, “I think you might want him.”
The Grand Cook was one of the participants in the Shadow Conclave, and an early recruit of the Shadow Conclave once the Beasts emerged. He was basically Shu’s version of a master of foods, he was the one that had helped concoct the healing potion that had restored the Hunter’s health so quickly. While he had already produced a sort of fried fruit that replenished one’s stamina, Falk was sure improvements could be achieved by partnering with Shu, the Bronze Alchemist.
“You don’t need me,” she said coolly. And sharply.
“Oh, my dear. I do. How else will I stay perfectly awake and alert if not through some sort of… artificial performance enhancer. Preferably of the sort I can ingest. Oh, and if it could taste of blueberry, that would be magnificent.”
He was pushing it, he knew.
He was being arrogant and slightly belittling her. However, what he was building was going to change everything, and Shu’s part in its construction was all but over. She was just a chemist, after all. So, to make his position of power and importance felt to her so that there would be no doubt he was center to all that would follow, he had to treat her as such. That meant sending her to the kitchens where she would be useful.
And Shu, unlike him, had too small of an ego to say anything back. Instead, she swallowed and put due effort into being the bigger woman.
“I will be watching the scroll. Call for me if you need me. I’ll see to this potion and more.”
He nodded and waved her along, and she gave little reaction beyond a short and insulted inflection under her breath before walking out of his workshop.
Shu’s position was that of someone who knew she had outgrown her prime usefulness. She had thus to sit backstage to someone else due to her lack of ability. Falk knew and recognized such a situation, not because he had ever experienced it himself, but due to the fact he often made others experience it.
He continued working in the isolated quiet of his workshop, no doubt while others died by the hundreds every hour, just to give him that time to work. He didn’t think about that all that much, everyone did their part, after all. The common had to suffer and die so that the brilliant could get on with their work and advance – or in that case save – the world.
After half a day was past, he pulled up the scroll. He all but ignored all the content that he was not keeping up with since he knew that if he needed to be informed of something, he would be in person. Instead, he just wrote completely out of context.
BA. Come to my workshop once you get a chance and check on the beast particles.
They should have changed back by now.
Long minutes later, the Bronze Alchemist entered without ceremony or word, seemingly angry at being treated like a lab assistant who had nothing better to do.
Alas, that was exactly her newfound position, far as he was concerned.
She walked over to the petri dish and looked through her microscope. Next to the petri dish was the white crystal.
“You attitude really is very infuriating, Falk. It makes it quite hard for me to actually be happy about our successes.”
“That’s perfectly fine, my dear, smaller minds than mine easily get upset by being made to compare their well of limitations to the vast depth that is my lack of them.”
She groaned and kind of aggressively slammed a tiny bottle holding a liquid that contained a somewhat purplish hue.
“Here. That’ll keep you awake enough. We should come up with something stronger soon.”
“Good work, Bronze Alchemist. Much obliged.”
“Ugh.” She walked off.
“And the Beast’s particles? Have they?”
“There are no more Beast particles in the petri dish,” she said, against some sort of irrational desire to be declaring the opposite, “you were right.”