For NaNoWriMo 2016!!
...Currently beeng edited...
An excited atmosphere crossed over the two physicians as someone else walked into the room; the surgeon they had been waiting for. On the marble operating table, the fiery red-haired woman from Old Kalu was still awake though her eyes were watching something none of the others could see. The sleeping gas slowly starting to take effect on her body.
The man who had just entered looked at her curiously as he inspected the tools and the orichalc spinal cord. It was the first operation if its kind, and the first time for a complete spinal transplant. The two physicians he had chosen to assist him were products of earlier enhancements within the facility; totally mute, but immeasurably good at surgery.
It would be a long night of pure silence and total concentration he knew, but if this operation worked, his father’s company could take a massive leap forwards with surgery and even the enhancements. Though only if his father would trust him enough to see that side of the facility.
The girl’s eyes were still open, the strange amber, hazily watching her otherworldly visions. Her breathing slowed with her pulse and incoherent words tumbled quietly from her lips. Impulsively, the man sat by her and took her cold pale hand in his. She was trembling slightly; from fear or cold, he wasn't sure as he held her hand tighter.
She’d be furious at him for his behaviour if she was awake and in control of her body, and he smiled as the thought crossed his mind. She'd be furious enough when she discovered it was him that had done the operation.
He despised everything about where the woman came from, and everything about it except for the central library that had managed to keep a hold of all the books when New Kalu had been built. It was covered by constant smog from the Steamlands, always so arid and stale.
He had been thinking about that when he first saw her, and whatever expression had materialised on his face had offended her as though she knew exactly what he had been thinking. All subsequent meetings between them had been particularly icy, a pity he thought, as they seemed to be studying the same thing and he longed to ask her more about it.
“She’s coming.” For a moment he wondered who had spoken. The voice had come from the girl, though it seemed different to how she normally spoke; as though someone else was talking through her. He shivered as he noticed the woman’s eyes suddenly focus and come back to life. A fine sheen of perspiration clung to the woman’s skin like dew and he walked over to the sink for a cold press, realising that she was in the throws of hallucinations and fever.
An unexpected side effect of the gas, and hopefully not a complication. He sighed and tenderly applied the cold press to her forehead, looking down into her eyes that were full of fear at whatever she was seeing. He was still slightly unnerved by the clarity of her words, though he couldn't place the sensation past some omen of foreboding.
“More gas. She needs to sleep.” One of the physicians nodded her head and reapplied the mask to the woman’s face whilst the other merely stood there, waiting for her own orders. Whatever his father had done with them, he wished he’d given them more of a consciousness.
They could do nothing until the girl fell asleep and he was growing concerned that the gas was having no effect on her besides madness. The longest anyone had taken to go under before now was only five minutes, and he knew his physicians had applied the first sedatives an hour ago. His brow furrowed and he sat back down, fingers drumming on his leg impatiently.
“It’s too late…” Her voice grew softer as she spoke again, her voice again though no less haunting as a single tear fell from her unnatural eyes and her eyelids finally fluttered shut as the deep sleep took hold of her.
“We can start now.” His voice was filled with authority and seriousness as he stood up and his subordinates immediately got to work without another word. He put the haunting words from his mind finally attended to his profession as the sun set.
The day was baking hot as the lengthy drought of Melsra continued with barely a breeze to cool the air. Old Kalu was especially rancid as the continual smog shrouded the old stone houses and wooden huts that were closed in oppressively as the old town grew in size, constrained by the Okheala River and the fortified flood wall to the west of the town. Those who lived outside of the wall were the poorest and the most exposed to the floods, so many tried to cram into Old Kalu, building their wooden shanties upwards as best they could wherever they were allowed, resulting in a shambolic array of an architectural nightmare.
Taro shook his head as he hastened his pace down the cobblestone road that was caked in dried earth and coal ash. Many of the residents watched him suspiciously as he passed them without a second glance, no doubt wondering what had brought him down across the Halfmile Bridge. He had dressed simply in tailored, high-waisted linen breeches tucked into knee boots, with a carmine cotton shirt tucked into his black sash in the hopes of passing through Old Kalu in the guise of an Old Kaluan student; without bringing attention to himself, though it was failing dismally.
He knew down here in the old town that his father was largely unpopular after opening up the Lightning Plant ten years ago, forcing the steam workers almost entirely out of work as New Kalu no longer relied upon the steam power they had provided for industry. The Lightning Plant was the first to harvest lightning from the frequent storms, and a mystery to everyone outside of his family for how it truly worked; a secret his father guarded relentlessly.
The power supply wasn't perfect though. Those who had access to the lightning power supply could only utilise it via the hefty conductive chains that ran beneath the ground, and smaller chains throughout the houses. There was still the issue of the power being limited to small appliances that were connected to fittings and somewhat cumbersome, but on the whole, the power was unrivalled.
Utilising the mysterious lightning power, Taro’s father had built up a great hospital on the highest point of Kalu’s monolith, the larger part of the hospital being carved out of the olivine basalt stone in subterranean chambers. During this process, they had uncovered a cave with fallen menhirs which had since been moved to the surface and repositioned in his father’s private courtyard of Newkeep, much to the chagrin of Kalu’s lower inhabitants who had been employed for the construction.
Many people travelled from all over Sirin for treatment at his father’s hospital, known as the Olivine Sanitarium. As a result of the mass influx of travellers, many of the merchants in New Kalu had boomed in industry while others opened up the fanciest guest houses for people to stay in. The once small and humble town of Kalu had suddenly appeared on maps of Sirin, from Oraman to Mynahejn and everywhere in between. The Emperor had even dubbed Kalu as the sister capital of Daehilu after hearing the stories of Kalu and visiting the facilities for himself.
Whilst New Kalu was powering ahead, Old Kalu was being left behind, having to rely largely on trade from the river and even priced out of farming by the superior upland farms. If they were lucky, the travellers to Kalu would visit Old Kalu out of curiosity and the novelty of the old steam town would tempt them to the docks, or the plaza where old-fashioned traders still kept harking to the old ways and the market struggled on.
Somehow all of his father’s business and reputation affected Taro too, causing people to fawn all over him or despise him with every breath wherever he went; meaning he rarely went anywhere other than his work within the hospital or visiting his mother in the sunken garden when he had a chance.
It was work that had him hurriedly walking to the library now. He had dreamt of a crystal that could store the lightning energy inside of it far better than the old conductive rock they were currently using, and if carved correctly, could power remote objects. He'd thought it impossible until he had told his mother about the dreams that kept coming to him, and she had told him it was possible.
Once when the Spehirikin had still lived, there was a small sector of the race known as kaehin, master architects and artisans that could fashion the unelmalin into reality and imbue even the most unsuspecting objects with unparalleled magic. The last kaehin had died many hundred of years previously without even a lesser demun or daemun being born since, and he hoped the library may have some information and history to start him off. Liretika would be the best place to go, but only people with an invitation were permitted entrance to the great library, and such an invitation was never heard of.
He was happy to finally reach the library, even if it did look tired and soulless on the outside. The once gleaming peach dolomite bricks were now coated in over a centuries worth of coal dust, and the copper clad roof had aged into a mess of oxidised green copper, moss and lichen that mingled with the soot. Inside of the library was a total extreme; the walls were pristinely white washed with the black wooden beams of ebony giving off the faint smell of beeswax. The flagstone floor of polished marble sandstone emitted a soft light of its own, some enchantment from the first librarians that had gathered the immense collection of knowledge spread over five floors. It was saddening that only the college students and masters of varying professions spent time in the silent company of words.
By the time he had ascended the stairs to the fifth floor, Taro was slightly out of breath and his head was spinning from the tight spiralling motion of the central tower and baubles of light that accompanied him through the dark stairwell. As he stopped to catch his breath by a vast panoramic window, he looked at the view of Old Kalu sprawling through the low-level smog to the old curtain wall.
He was struck suddenly by how beautiful and foreboding the old defence was, with its ramifications and large access arches that were closed off at night by great iron portcullises. Old Kalu had once been the flower of North Daehilu before the money had moved to New Kalu; the town divided by the wide river and stone bridges that also closed its iron gates at sundown. From there, the countryside rushed through the Flatts before rising and falling away like green stone waves as he followed the course of the Okheala. The high Talvaeshe Mountains reared out of the ground as the river passed into shadow, the bleak grey caps that would soon be dusted with the first elthraen snows touching the tendrils of white cloud that meandered through the azure skies.
As Taro slowly moved through the rows of books and searched for the metaphysical section, he was drawn to another awesome window that opened onto a large balcony, watching over the central plaza and all the way to the Okheala that cut deeper down between the twin towns, it’s muddy brown waters rushing through the canyon as the fast flowing Raedhal River added to the swell.
He returned his attention to the task at hand and returned to the shelves of books before him, suddenly realising he wasn't alone on the fifth floor. The rough and callous accent of Old Kaluans reached his ears from a group of students not too far away that were praising some strange vessel from the Steamlands called The Sajtaru. His nose wrinkled at their rambunctious presence as he was reminded of where he was, and the stench that was already lingering on his clothes from the smog outside.
As he stretched for a book on the top shelf that looked promising and his fingers clasped the buttery leather spine, he caught sight of the group causing a disturbance, one in particular as she watched him back, her face full of loathing as she flicked her long fiery red hair behind her shoulders and turned away again, wheeling herself in the direction of the balcony.
He realised his distaste for where he was must have been written clearly all over his face, and he had made himself even more unwelcome in old Kalu without once opening his mouth. He stared at the spot where she had been long after the group had passed, wondering how her skin was so pale for one living in such a sun-baked country. Her eyes had stolen all of his attention too; in a world full of brown eyes, hers were such a fiery golden amber and he remembered what his mother had said about no Spehirikin having been born for hundreds of years. His feet subconsciously drifted after the group for another look at her, forgetting for the first time what he was meant to be doing.
He sat just out of site, listening to the group talk about the girl’s father in particular who was due to return with The Sajtaru in the next couple of weeks. The man was obviously a merchant from the Steamlands, one wealthy when steam had been the workhorse of industry and trade. Mostly the group talked about what he’d bring back from his travels, or what they would do when they had finished their various studies.
His intrigue for them faded away and he stopped listening entirely after a few minutes, refocussing on the book in hand titled The Voyages of the Sajmudrae Ritnae. Hastily, he flicked through the pages that chronicled the ship’s many journeys around Sirin and the tales that the two captains had picked up. The tales were mostly myth, though he was fascinated by the one about a bonsai lightning tree discovered in Sogno. Perhaps his mother could help him with that the next time he went to visit her. There was nothing amongst the words that he didn’t already know, only occasional mentions descriptions of spehirikin crafted objects.
"Are you still seriously writing a piece on lightning ore and soul crystals for your final studies?” The one male amongst the group had suddenly changed the subject of the conversation and with it, grabbed Taro’s attention back. He peered carefully around the bookshelf to see who was being asked and more clearly hear the response.
"Yes. Why? You make it sound ridiculous when you ask like that.” It was the girl in the wheelchair that replied. She was leaning on one elbow with her nose still in whatever book she was reading, barely taking her attention away from her studies as her fingers drummed lightly on the oaken table.
“It’s not ridiculous. I just don't know how you research something a thousand years old when there is so little written or known about it.” The male replied again. Taro silently agreed with him; his attempts over the last few weeks had been futile and he wanted to know how she was discovering anything.
“You should see her room. Everything father has brought back connected to the Sykajume is hoarded away in there and the walls are completely covered in notes and maps!” A younger girl with sleek chestnut hair suddenly looked up from her own work and joined the conversation.
“Arael! That is not true. It's only a few notes and the lightning clock, but that has been returned back to Liretika so it doesn’t count. We only had that on loan.” Taro’s heart stopped as he listened. Not only did the red-haired girl have more knowledge on lightning stone, she had actually seen some and had it loaned to her by the great library somehow. His mind raced through ideas of how to befriend her and find out what she knew if he could. Then he remembered the look of disgust in her eyes earlier, showing him it wouldn't be an easy task. He wondered if their paths had crossed once before, the look of distaste from her seemed much more than a momentary snub reaction, and yet he couldn’t place her at all in his few memories of outside the hospital.
Quietly closing the Voyages of the Sajmudrae Ritnae, he contemplated going over to the group now and introducing himself but stopped himself as he heard more laughter burst out from them. How could he possibly integrate himself to them, being the outsider and an unpopular once at that? Instead, he silently stood up and returned the book to its home with its brothers and started to make his way back to New Kalu, his head full of even more questions than before as he desperately tried to figure out a way to find the information he desperately needed.