The Beginning After the End (Vol. 8.5): Amongst the Fallen
Indentured in Darv (Part 2)
Indentured in Darv (Part 2)
Dec 16, 2021
"Wasn't the steam ship Arthur Leywin's design, though?" I asked my mentor, genuinely curious. The Dicatheous had been designed before I'd started working with Gideon, but I'd seen the completed ship and the blueprints it was based on.
He gave an exaggerated roll of his eyes. "The basics, perhaps, but I'm the one that made it work. Perhaps Arthur could have effected some real change if he'd focused on generating more such ideas—fighting back against Agrona with his head instead of prancing around pissing fancy spells everywhere he went, but there you have it."
I wanted to talk more about Arthur, but Brone had recovered from his coughing fit and had walked up to us, his beady eyes bloodshot and a trail of snot running from his hooked nose to his lips. He wiped his face on his sleeve and glared at Gideon.
"You did that on purpose," he choked out before coughing again.
Gideon's eyes went wide. "Dear Oleander, each and every day is one of experimentation, of trial and error! You, as an inventor yourself, should understand that as well as I. You've asked me to unlock the mysteries of the dwarven fire salts," Gideon said, practically shouting as he lifted the hot ember from the salt-tray with a heavy pair of pliers, "and to help you find a way to utilize the incredible latent energy locked within each of these little grains"—Gideon waved the fire salt ember in Brone's face, causing the Instiller to flinch and hop backwards—"and I've done just that!"
The pliers and ember clanked back down into the tray, and Gideon turned away from Brone. "Besides, I told this buffoon to create a current moving precisely five meters per second across the ember, but clearly such careful casting is beyond him!"
The glowering mage took a step away from the wall and pointed toward my mentor. "Now listen here you old loon—"
Brone waved the mage to silence. "Don't rise to his bait, Albin. Gideon specializes in being terribly frustrating, don't you, Gideon?"
"I strive to be on the level of maddening some day, but for now, yes," Gideon snapped. "Now, I have prepared several more experiments today, most of which are likely to get us all killed with this sledgehammer of a Caster working beside us, so there's no reason to chit chat anymore."
The Alacryan mage, Albin, turned his frown on Brone. "Sir, a word, please?"
Brone's face twitched, but he waved the man outside. A thin trickle of smoke leaked back into the room as they left, and I could hear Brone coughing through the door.
I sighed and rubbed at my sore eye again. "Gideon, why are we doing this? You know they're—"
"We've been over this," Gideon grumbled. "If we don't make ourselves useful, eventually my genius won't be enough to shield us, and we'll both be executed for—"
"—high crimes," I finished.
"Exactly," he said, nodding so that his frizzy hair bobbed around his head.
"But anything we create for the Alacryans will only be used against our own people—"
"My inventions have already been turned against us!" He was talking about the Dicatheous, I knew. He had been incredibly shaken when we found the Alacryans' crashed steam ship, a near-perfect replica of his own design, on our eastern shores… "But that hardly matters. The war is lost. Our deaths can't serve Dicathen now. The only way to survive is to go along."
I said nothing as I watched my mentor bustle around, picking up a tool then setting it down somewhere else, shuffling through hastily scrawled notes only to throw them back into the clutter and move on to something else.
"Besides," he muttered so that I could barely hear him, "at least I'm finally getting to investigate these fire salts." He turned back to me suddenly, his finger wagging. "The real problem, you know, is these Alacryan middle men! They're not giving us the resources we need."
"I don't think Brone likes you very much," I said with just a hint of sarcasm.
Despite Gideon's words, I was certain that his work on the fire salts was a ruse, some way to trick the Alacryans into giving him exactly what he needed to escape. It was just such a Gideon thing to do. He hadn't confirmed anything about his plan, but I knew the old inventor wouldn't just give up.
Gideon swept a handful heavy iron tools off a secondary workbench with a crash before spreading out several pieces of soot-stained parchment, ignoring my question.
The lab door burst open and Brone glared around the room before noticing the mess. His eyes rolled up to the ceiling and he took a deep breath, coughed weakly, then stalked over to me.
"Pick those up, girl, and sort them on that rack over there."
I made myself busy, doing as Brone requested and then moving on to organizing Gideon's clutter where possible, and keeping my distance from the Instiller.
I'd reorganized the tool shelf three times before the lab door opened again. My stomach rumbled expectantly, but it wasn't our breakfast.
Two manacled dwarves carried in a thick metal box. The dwarves wore stained leather aprons, heavy leather gloves, and a sort of coif that protected their beards. Each one held a handle at one end of the box, which was glowing with a subtle orange light.
"This delivery is ten minutes late," Brone said matter-of-factly as the dwarves shuffled across the lab to set the box into a specially designed furnace array, where the fire salts would be kept at a natural temperature until we were ready for them.
Gideon was right behind the dwarves, already wearing a thick glove himself in order to lift the lid from the iron box. He peered into it, then slammed the lid shut and snorted in disgust.
"Oleander, can you tell me how I'm supposed to do what you've asked when you only give me half of what I need!" Gideon's forehead wrinkled as his non-existent eyebrows rose. "Five grains, Oleander! I asked for twelve. Do you think that I—"
Gideon's tantrum cut off as the two workers both choked out pained yells and collapsed to the floor. Runes along their manacles glowed violently red. The dwarves' eyes rolled back in their heads as their limbs twitched in agony.
I had to look away, my eyes darting around the room in an effort to avoid watching the dwarves' be tortured. My gaze landed on Gideon's face, which was blank and detached, displaying none of the squeamishness and anxiety I felt.
I knew my own feelings were written plainly across my face, but I was equally aware that Brone would only derive pleasure from seeing me squirm.
After letting this go on for several seconds, Brone fiddled with something in his pocket and the runes went out. Both dwarves were gasping for breath, tears and snot streaming down their faces, but they stood shakily and gave Oleander deep bows, their noses practically touching the floor.
"You heard Gideon. The delivery is not only late, it is light as well. Perhaps Clan Lastfire's expertise in the art of fire salt mining is less than was promised." The Instiller gave Gideon a cruel smile. "Not to worry. I'm sure we can find other ways to make use of your clan, should you prove inadequate for your current assignment."
The dwarves both bowed again, mumbling their apologies before grabbing the empty iron box that had contained yesterday's fire salts and hurrying out the door.
Brone gave Gideon a satisfied look, his thin-lipped smile still plastered on his smug face. "So, what will we be working on today?"
The war between Dicathen and Alacrya is over and Arthur Leywin has vanished. In the uncertain aftermath of this decisive loss, a few familiar faces navigate peril both political and moral as they are now forced to make a difficult choice: accept life under Vritra rule or keep fighting despite impossible odds? As Dicathen falls, Mica Earthborn, Lilia Helstea, Emily Watsken, and Jasmine Flamesworth must each answer this question for themselves.
NOTE ABOUT READING ORDER: to get the best reading experience, Amongst the Fallen should be read after volume 8 of The Beginning After the End (make sure you've read up to episode 868).