This chapter was written in collaboration with Scylla.
If you asked Scylla, the construction on the machine was proceeding on pace with expectations. However, according to Amon, she was always working too slow… too cautious… no matter how many times she explained that his head would explode into flaming aether if they got the numbers off.
Of course, there had been a few setbacks, whether due to missing pieces, broken Allagan technology, or Amon’s bad handwriting, but for the most part, the build was proceeding well. But everything had to be tested. It had to be perfect, if the bard’s life was to be saved.
Scylla found herself on top of the machine, wiring up the power source for the main terminal. It wasn’t hard work, but Amon would often find his large hands (or ears) tangled up in the web of wires. Amon would run the test equipment, and they would make the needed adjustments and test again, often stretching for hours and days, only to make even finer adjustments.
Scylla sealed up the fire crystal in the back of the unit, waving at Amon to signal the readiness for test.
“Okay, Maxears… All good up here. Start up the test!”
This time it would work for sure.
It had to.
Test after test after test after test.
How could anything be so buggy? How could so many things need fixing? How could it all be so wrong?
Amon went through the now-familiar motions of checking the switches, then slowly increasing the aether-flow dial, allowing the contraption to begin drawing energy from the crystals.
As the lights began to flicker, the Elezen remembered to pull up his protective lab goggles – a habit he was never good at keeping, even back in the Allagan labs. His hands were shaking again, he noticed as he put the eyewear into place.
So little time.
How much life did he have left to him?
Every time they fired up a new test, he felt his insides coil, winding tighter. Eventually it wouldn’t be a test. It would be the real thing – carried out on himself.
The process could kill him – he hadn’t tried to calculate the possibility of failure. But to not go through with it was 100% certain death.
Amon’s lips pursed as he watched the reaction within the machine, eyes searching for his savior in the cold metal and shimmering aether.
Scylla hopped down from the contraption, and watched as the aether-channels began to light up. She pursed her lips, looking at the readout on the small tablet.
“Well… so far, so good.” The mage scratched her chin. “Now we just have to wait to see if it holds up to the spectral analysis runs.”
Amon was still staring up at the machine as still as a statue, gaze frozen at the gauges and alarums. Only his shaking hands betrayed the peaceful illusion. He still tried to hide it with his brash behavior and snarky, arrogant remarks, but she knew better. Amon was afraid.
And though something in her mind thought it might be deserved vengeance to watch Amon debate life and death, two hours of it while the routines ran, would even be too much for him. She tapped his shoulder.
“Amon…. why don’t you go and have a seat? We’re going to be here for a while.”
“Hey, Maxears, I’m talking to you!”
He stared up at the aether-readout without even so much as turning his head.
Scylla gave a frustrated groan.
She knew one thing that would get his attention. Something that she had done to him many times in their youth to get him flustered. She reached up with her hand and grasped his ear and tugged downwards.
“Amon! Pay attention!”
He might have been zoning out, the sounds of the machine drowning any spoken word, his complete and undivided attention on the readings as they started to come in. No, he was most definitely zoning out. However, that did not excuse the following behavior.
A sharp tug at his ear sent a jolt of reaction through his entire body. Immediately, he turned an incredulous look upon the Princess who stood demanding his attention.
Did she just—
Amon pulled himself upright, as if that would remove his delicate ears from her reach. One hand cupped his offended ear protectively as he spluttered. “What exactly do you mean by that?!”
“You are ignoring the command of Allagan Royalty! Be pleased that your princess is so merciful to spare you a worse fate!”
Scylla rolled her eyes, and waved to the chair in the corner.
“It’s going to be a while. You might as well have a seat while we wait for the results to come in. Besides, if something goes wrong, you don’t want your clothes set on fire, do you?”
She gave a smirk and took a seat for herself.
“Wouldn’t that be a sight?”
It finally registered upon him that Scylla was trying to get him to sit down. Perhaps she was right. He was feeling quite stressed from all of the endless testing and tweaking.
It wasn’t like him. Working in the lab had once been a source of his greatest joy.
Amon took a breath through his nose, and still keeping one hand protectively over his ear, moved to the chair and sat down. He pursed his lips at her with a slightly sour expression, indicating that he hadn’t forgotten how irreverent she’d just been towards his aural appendage.
“’Twouldn’t be the first time garments were set on fire,” he noted, half to himself. Completely oblivious to the danger he was stepping into. “’Twas usually highly amusing.”
Scylla wrinkled her nose, crossing her arms.
“I had just as much fun watching you run around in a panic with frozen blocks of ice around your ears. Until you had to go to the Syrcus Infirmary.”
She sighed, looking up to the ceiling in thought.
“I didn’t know that your ears would have to be bandaged up for weeks?” The mage lamented, squinting to recall a distant past.
“We both got grounded for that one. We had to sweep up the lab from top to bottom for months. Dad made me clean out the pellet waste receptacles. You were always getting me in trouble, and you enjoyed every moment of it.”
The woman brushed her hair away from her brow and looked at the readout on her datatome.
“Now you’re stuck here with me, with your life in my hands.” She had a slight edge to her voice. “Maybe none of this would have started if you didn’t act like a snot in the first place!”
“Wait a moment. Me? ME? Act like a snot?” Amon’s eyebrows lowered instantly. “Who was the uppity Princess who had to go throwing ‘hound ears’ insults at me even before I’d had a chance to step on Syrcus property? MMMMMMMMMMMM?”
Sure, he’d done his share of bad things to her when they were younger.
But she most certainly and definitely started it.
“Perhaps I wouldn’t have acted as I had if you hadn’t introduced yourself as Queen Mega Snot.”
“That’s not the way I remember it…” Scylla took a sip of tea and began to recount her memories of the past.