Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Maker's War ~ The Saga Continues

Aaaaaand, it's time for Chapter Two in "The Maker's War" Steampunk Serial ~ we follow Professor Aether as he attempts to learn more about this Brass Maker, even though time isn't necessarily on his side. We find him waiting for an appointment with the Brass Master at the Metal Makers College:

(The Calling)

Standing in the side court of the Metal Maker’s College Aether watched a Gold Master show his First Year students how to locate and Call forth gold.  The students’ faces were screwed up as they attempted to imitate their teacher and call the gold. The teacher happened to catch Aether’s eyes and grinned. The First Years’ were always unintentionally humorous in attempting their first Calling.
Aether grinned back even as he heard soft footsteps approaching. He turned, consciously keeping the arm muscles of his right arm relaxed. He was safe in the Makers Colleges, it wouldn’t be good to accidentally set off the Armtraption strapped under his coat sleeve. He relaxed further as he recognized the Sixth Year who was approaching as the intern for the Brass Master.

“Professor Aether?” the student intern confirmed he’d found who he was looking for. “The Brass Master will gladly see you. He is in his garden and asks you to join him there.”
Nodding, Aether smiled. “Thank you.” And he followed the young man as he led him past various courts that had classrooms facing out onto them. Some had their windows open so the teachers lecture floated out on the still air. Some were sealed tight so no elements leaked free as students experimented with their various Makers’ Gifts.

After a walk of several minutes the intern paused at an iron gated shaped into beautiful scrolls and flutes, accented with every metal known to Makers. Opening it, the intern gestured Aether through with a slight bow.  He closed the gate gently as Aether stepped forward.
“Aether?” Boomed a rich, resonate voice. “I’m with the mint and rosemary. C’mon back.” The speaker’s tones rolled out, full and round, from further in the garden.

With a slight smile, Aether walked through the lush greenery toward the voice. 
“I hear you’re looking for a former student of mine.” The voice continued. “Has she done something to land her in trouble?”

“No, Brass Master. No trouble.” Aether responded formally.
He rounded a Bleeding Heart bush just as the Brass Master snorted loudly and forcefully enough to blow flower heads off the lavender plant he was tending. He turned and eyed Aether, then seemed to look inward for a moment before focusing on his guest again.

“There’s no one around. You can drop the formality, brother.” He eyed Aether tolerantly.
“Have to be sure you receive the respect due your rank, Theller. Never let it be said a simple Inventor failed in all the civilities due one of your rank and position.” He responded solemnly, fighting a laugh.

Theller rolled his eyes. “You’re never going to let that go, are you.” He stated. “He’s a pompous twit and doesn’t know we’re brothers.”
“He’s your assistant.” Aether pointed out.

“He’s excellent at his job. He’s still a pompous twit.” Theller waved a hand. “You do that to me every time. You’d think I’d learn by now.”
Aether let loose the laugh. “I hope not. I love hearing you admit Toller is a pompous twit.”

Another snort and Theller turned a gaze of a similar shade of blue as Aether’s his way, once more solemn. “So, why are you seeking one of my former students? What’s going on, ‘Ther?”
With a sigh, Aether brought him up to date on all the King and his Messenger had told him.  By the time he was done, Theller was twisting a corner of his beard as he frowned at the bed of rosemary in front of him.

“And they’re sure of this?” he clarified.
“As sure as they can be.” Aether nodded. “Something blocks the full vision of the Chief Sight Maker. She claims this Brass Maker can open a Portal to another… place …and those beings who reside there can see what our Sight Makers cannot.”

Theller sighed. “Yes, but there’s a tale to this Brass Maker.”
“There always is.” Aether’s reply was wry. “Will you help me? Will you tell me what I need to know in order to gain her cooperation?”

“Yes, I think I will.” He stood and wiped his hands on his mud-streaked garden apron. “Let’s go in, I’ll clean up and we’ll have tea while I tell you what you need to know.” And he turned and led the way into his home.

Ten minutes later, Aether wandered through his brother’s library as he awaited his return. Nearing the door, he heard voices and moved closer to try to hear better, unashamedly eavesdropping.

“…since we were kids, Toller. Long before anyone received rank of any sort. He is allowed to continue that friendship.” Came Theller’s exasperated tones.
Aether grinned, realizing Toller had complained about Aether’s being left, untended, in Theller’s Inner Sanctum.

“My lord, please, he is beneath you in both rank and personage. A mere Inventor claiming friendship with the Grand Brass Master!” Toller’s voice, contrary to his personality, was a pleasant baritone. If he weren’t so concerned with currying the favor of those of rank, he would be a tolerable fellow. But he judged a person on perceived rank, never bothering to look past that to the person beneath. Rank was all that mattered, not the person and what they might contribute to Society, great or small. It was one of the reasons Aether enjoyed baiting Toler. The pompous prig!
“Toller, I’m going to tell you something that, as my Personal Assistant, you’re required to keep in confidence.”

“My lord, have I ever failed in any of my duties, least of all the keeping of any confidentialities required?” Toller managed to both whine and sniff in offense.
Aether winced and silently begged Theller to not reveal their relationship.

“As young men, Professor Aether Pendragon saved my life. The circumstances are unimportant and you don’t need to know them. Suffice it to say, that deed gives Aether the right to anything within my power to give him. He wants my friendship, nothing more. Treating him as kin is no difficulty and I will continue to do so until he no longer wants to be friends which your behavior and attitude, I might add, may bring about sooner rather than later.”
“My lord!” Toller gasped.

“If that’s not enough, let me point out one small matter to your rank-mad little mind.” Theller continued relentlessly. “He is a Diploma’d Professor at the Inventor’s Guild College, and a Master Inventor. In rank, he is far above a mere personal assistant, even the Grand Master Maker’s assistant who, may I say, treats him with much greater deference than you. You should take lessons.”
There was silence but, by this point, Aether was laughing so hard –and trying his best to hold it in – he was shaking from head to toe and could barely hear Toller’s reply when he finally spoke.

“Well, with all respect to the Grand Master Maker, his assistant is not known for her discernment of a person’s character.” He spoke in a slightly conciliatory tone but Aether still had to slap a hand over his mouth to muffle the guffaws. “However,” Toller continued, oblivious to Theller’s gargled non-response. “Due to this… Inventors sagacity in knowing how valuable your life is, and saving it, I will make every attempt to be more… tolerant, my lord.”
Finally, Theller’s voice came. “Please, Aether. Please let me say it.” He begged.

“What –“ Toller began  but, still laughing, Aether threw open the library door, startling Toller.
“You! What… were you listening!?” he demanded.

“Of course. I was practicing the time honored art of eavesdropping. One learns so much that way. Oh, don’t frown, Toller. I’ve caught you at it often enough.”
“I… why, you… I nev-… how dare you, you Inventor!” Toller drew himself up to his full, thin-shanked height.

Suddenly weary of the sniping at what had always been considered an honorable profession, Aether locked gazes with Theller and nodded.
With a smile of combined relief at getting to tell the truth and malice for the shock his pompous assistant was about to receive, Theller called him to order sharply.

“Toller!” he barked. To his credit, Toller snapped his mouth shut and turned to Theller.
“Toller, you know who I am, correct?”

“Sir, you are the Grand Brass Master of the Makers’ College.” He replied.
“What else?”

With a slightly smug glance at Aether, Toller replied. “You are the younger brother to His Majesty, Selinger Pendragon.”
Theller stepped closer to Aether. With a smug smile of his own he made his announcement. “This man, too, is His Majesty’s younger brother.”

It took a moment for the information to filter through Toller’s inflexible brain, then his jaw fell, his pupils dilated, and his face paled.
“And my elder brother.” Theller added, causing Toller’s jaw to snap shut so hard Aether was certain he heard his teeth crack.

“I’ll hear no more about rank, Guilds, or who is a better judge of men from you ever again, Toller.” Theller was somber, now. “You never know who is what or where they’re from. Most of a discreet character tend to keep things quiet.
“As well, if others learn of Aether’s real relation to me, I will know it comes from you and you will be fired without a reference. Are we clear?”

“I…I… yes, my lord. My lords.” He corrected himself.
“Professor Aether will do, Toller, without the snide tone or remarks.” Theller corrected. “I’m very serious about your dismissal if, by your word or actions, Aether’s identity is revealed.”

“Of course, my lord. I will go make sure the tea is ready.”  He turned to go, and then paused. “My lord, does the Grand Master’s assistant know?”
“The Lady von Greyson does not judge worth on rank but on character.” Toller stated. As a look of superiority entered Toller’s eyes, he finished. “However, she has been a friend of the royal family for years. We were all children together.”

Toller’s face fell and he nodded, and then left. Theller expelled a breath and turned to his brother. “Let’s sit and wait until our tea is served before we continue our conversation.”
As they headed for the chairs by the fireplace he cocked an eye at Aether. “Have you really caught him eavesdropping?”

“Trying to. Your doors are too thick unless both parties are standing right next to it.” Aether shrugged.
Theller was scowling as he seated himself in the comfortable brown leather chair he preferred. “I may need to have a further discussion with him. Eavesdropping!” he finished in exasperation.

“Oh, let it go, Thel. It’s how an excellent personal assistant anticipates his masters’ needs.” He sighed and stretched out his legs toward the empty fire place as he adjusted the dark brown, serge kilt he wore.  “I think we’ve got more to worry about if Meirnath is right.”
Just then Toller returned with a footman carrying the tea tray. Clearing the small table between the two men, Toller motioned the footman to set the tray down carefully and dismissed him.

“Anything else, my lord?” He paused and then added in just the right tone of reluctant deference. “Professor?”
Both men smiled brief approval as Theller answered for both. “No, Toller. That will be all. I’ll ring if we need anything. Otherwise, please see no one disturbs us.”

“My lord.” He bowed and left.
Aether gave Theller a grin. “He does learn fast, I’ll give him that.”

Chuckling as he poured tea for both of them, Theller handed a cup to Aether and sat back. Aether sipped from his cup as he settled back and waited for Theller to gather his thoughts.
“Several years ago,” Theller finally began. “A young woman came to the Maker’s College. She was vibrant, excited, and enthusiastic. She had a little ability in many areas of Makering but had a special affinity for brass. It took her no time to learn to Call brass, to form and shape it to her Call and will. She could do things with it, and her Maker’s Fire, none of us had seen before. Eventually, she could Call other metals, though brass remained her greatest skill.

“One day, she attempted to merge and meld several metals in one Calling. It was beautiful to watch as each piece melded seamlessly into the other, following her will as she formed them in her Fire.  But…” he paused, then shook his head. “I’m still not sure what, but something else happened.  No one else has figured out what, exactly, she did that day, either.
“While she was still forming all the bits together a… a blackness formed in the midst of the piece. The blackness seemed to grow and gather into itself and every gear in every mechanism in every building on campus began to run, even if they’d never run a day since their creation.

“While we were still confused by all the commotion going on she screamed – like one in the throes of a fiend-filled nightmare. It silenced every person for three classrooms in all directions and we looked at her. She was staring at that blackness and, in the center of it all, we saw an eye.”
“An eye?” Aether interrupted.

“A devilish eye.” Theller confirmed. “A sickly green at the outer edge of the iris shading to a bright gold at the pupil. The lids and surrounding skin we could see were a dark, frightening, scaled red.”
“What was it?” Aether asked, leaning forward intently.

Theller paused, struggling for words, then sighed. “It was alive.”

A smile tugged briefly at Theller’s lips. “You sound like a parrot, ‘Ther. Yes, alive. That’s all I can say about it with certainty. It blinked its lids and looked around at all of us before focusing on my young student. None of us heard anything but it was apparent it spoke to her. Her face paled and her lips moved though no sound emerged. The next moment the entire creation imploded, knocking everyone in the room unconscious from the change in pressure.  When we came to, my student still lay on the floor, alive, eyes open but no spark of consciousness there.

“It took two days with the doctors and nurses fussing over her for her to awake and then it was to immediate and prolonged screaming. They had to sedate her to stop the screams, though she still groaned and thrashed in her sleep as if in continued terror.  Not even the school’s Sight Maker could reach her.
“We finally called the Guild Master of the Sight Maker’s College.  She closed herself in the room with her for a half a day. When she emerged she was pale and a residual terror lingered in her eyes. She told me my student was better and that she had a touch of the Sight Maker gift in her blood. That, during her Calling of the metals, she had managed to make another Calling to another…. call it a dimension.

“Dimension?”  Aether interrupted once more. The fingers twisting his eyebrow stilled and he straightened. “A world existing beside ours as the Thealodes suggest is possible?”
Theller shrugged. “I am a Brass Maker, no more. I leave such theories to Sight Makers and Thealodes. I’m only telling you what the Guild Master said.

“Anyway, I was told my student had Called into another dimension and… something… responded. We don’t know what.” He forestalled Aether’s next question. “The Guild Master told us the… Being touched my students mind, asked why he was Called. Frightened, not knowing such a Calling was even possible, she had frozen. The… Being then told her the time would come when she would Call others of his kind to battle an enemy from within. They would be allies, but they could only show the evil that might befall us, not how to defeat it or who would win. We would need to learn the ways of War and how to turn defeat to victory.

“Then the Guild Master said the skills my student would need to learn for this were not here, but the Sight Maker’s College and she would be transferred there.”
“You let her go? Without a fight, not even an argument?” Aether raised an eyebrow in surprise. “That’s not like you, Thel.”

Theller shrugged. “It’s difficult to argue with the Sight Maker Guild Master.” He replied with a twisted smile. “When she wants something, one obeys. Politely.”
“Scarier than Meirnath?” Aether prodded at an obvious sore spot with his brother.

“Yes!” Theller snapped, then chuckled. “And you’d do well to remember that, should you chance to meet her. Back to the story?”
“Y’know, you’ve never mentioned your students name. Just referred to her time and again as ‘my student’. I’m assuming she does have one?”

“Yes, yes.” Theller waved a hand airily. “I’m just…”
“Possessive of her?” Aether suggested.  “Sounds like you’re in love with her. At least a little.” He added hastily at Theller’s sharp look.

Slumping a bit further down in his chair Theller nodded just slightly. “We all were, to some degree. She had the kind of open, honest, pure, sweet personality that draws people to her. Makes them love her even if it’s just a little bit.
“As to her name, well,” he paused with a reminiscent smile. “We called her ‘Steamy’ for a short time because her last name is Steamington, but it didn’t stick. Her affinity for brass soon had the other students calling her Brassy, or Dr. Brassy when her skills grew, and Brassy Steamington she became. She reveled in it, actually, and refused to answer to her original name, only Brassy.”

“Hm.” Aether gave his brother a humorously skeptical look but forbore any further teasing. “So, it appears I need to go to the Sight Maker’s College, next. Anyone I ought to speak to regarding this Brassy Steamington?”
“Well, our youngest sister, Merither, is there, as you know, and is now a Fourth Level Sight Maker.” He smiled with quiet pride. “She can probably tell you better than I who can help you learn more about Brassy. But, why ask more questions, ‘Ther? You’ve learned the basics, you know where she is, why not just go?”

Once more slouched in his chair, fingers busily twisting his eyebrow, Aether frowned slightly. “I can’t really give you a good answer to that, Thel. It seems like the right thing to do.” He abruptly slapped his thighs and stood. “You’ve got a point, though. I’ll speak to our sister and see what she says. Fourth Level, now? She’s doing well.” He smiled.
Theller grinned. “Yes. Father’s near impossible with pride.” He chuckled. “Let’s eat dinner, get a good night’s sleep, and we’ll tackle our little sister tomorrow.” He rose, stretching to relieve cramped muscles.

“We?” Aether looked at his brother in question.
Nodding, Theller reached out, pulled him from the comfort of the chair, and shoved him toward the door. “We!” He repeated firmly. “You don’t think you get to have all the fun, do you?”

The brothers argued amicably all the way to dinner over who would be going where.