This chapter was written by Scylla.
Scylla was always scared of her father’s hounds.
The beasts never failed to stare her down as she walked into the Azys compound. Today, however, they had a particularly predatory look within their scarlet eyes. Her father promised they would never attack her, but there was something wicked and vile to them. They were meant for war and killing, enchanted with various aether enhancements and imbued with shadow energies.
War-creatures were something that Allag had not seen for more than a dozen generations during the Great Peace. Her father was recently asked to accelerate such projects by the Council to counteract the rebellions at the borders.
Her mother’s six month assignment the southern border ships was extended for another rotation. Attacks, although small, had become more commonplace – at least that was what her father and the holo-news said.
Mother won’t be home for another half-rotationat least. Maybe she’ll stay for a little while. But perhaps it’s for best… she won’t be happy when she sees this.
Scylla looked down at her robes, lamenting the streaks of mud and deep lavender stains which also spread in blotches across her elbows and forearms. Though she tried to scrub it out at school, she knew that the dye wouldn’t fade from her skin for another week.
The robes were a whole other matter. Not only were they muddy and dyed, but the hems on the bottom were burnt where that evil long-eared imp caught the edges on fire.
This wasn’t an accident.
Someone had filled her autostylus with explosive purple-bind ink in mathematics class. And then that same certain someone set a mud trap for her on her way home. How he had laughed and mocked her, telling her to go back to her own hound-shelter.
Still, the girl didn’t let Amon’s foolish actions go without her own revenge. How he had howled after finding his brand new Academy rucksack filled with biopellet waste! He had reached in, not realizing the stench would remain… permanently.
The instructors never figured out how that accident happened.
But then, Amon struck back again. During the Level II Aetherclass, Amon set her robes on fire. He said it was an accident and gave his goofy grin as always.
The teacher didn’t even really punish him. By the end, we were having a lesson on aether control!
Of course, she had punished him back.
A jar of clamper crabs dumped on the head was a fitting enough. Last she saw Amon, Clio was still picking them free from behind his ears.
Even the sweetest revenge would not fix her one-of-a-kind hand-woven garments. These were her bloodline’s ancestral robes, carefully preserved throughout the ages through secret aethero preservation techniques.
This was the first year that she was allowed to wear them to class. They were not the common robes synthesized at the supply nodes. Repairing the robes would take serious effort, if they could be cleaned and mended at all.
Thinking about all of this brought a lump of shame into her throat. All of her older sisters had returned with these robes in perfect condition.
Mother is going to be so mad at me! Curse that Amon!
Scylla clenched her fist around the fabric, wrinkling her brow with slitted scarlet eyes.
It’s all that savage long-earred toad’s fault! I’ll have my parents excise him from the Academy for this!
One of the hounds leapt up on the fence and growled, shocking her out of her fevered daydreams. The girl cowered back, letting a guidepost along the opposite side of the walkway brace her from falling. She looked at the creature, her gaze locked to its cold glare.
I’m sure it would kill me, if it could. Maybe we could feed Amon to it… but then it would likely choke on his ears!
It stared at her silently, evil red eyes targeted in challenge to her own. These were the first war-chimera projects that her father had worked on, though he said that he was behind the curve. He didn’t seem to like working on such things.
House-servants and industrial assistants were fine creations. These creatures of bloodshed and fury were anything but.
Scylla rushed back to the path, pretending not to notice the canine heads turning in unison with her motion. She continued down the central path to their large, tree-lined habitation unit.
It was one of the more lavish units in the city, though small compared to the major houses along the Sun-Path. Of course, with the teleporters and aetherytes, no one used the paths for much other than just occasional walks.
She would be alone for a while, free of the bustle and noise of the central Syrcus Tower. It was only a short walk from the transport terminal, so the girl often walked when she needed to think. Right now, the only thing she was thinking about was plotting revenge against that pesky no-good forest snot.
Like all of the royal line, Scylla’s parents maintained a residence here. Of course, the little mansion stood out like an eyesore, with all of the probes and antennae bristling up over the roof. Compliments of Papa’s experiments.
Her mother had once complained three years ago when she came home to find the ballroom converted to a two-story laboratory bay. It was going to be even worse this year, now that he added the aether down converter for the link to the Tower. The only traditionalist décor was the courtyard gardens and the small, unassuming statue of the Staff of Eldering within.
As expected, Scylla had been chosen to attend the Academy due to the aether-potential of her royal bloodline. She’d been whirled away from her early-childhood home, the Research Sector of the floating Islands of Azys Lla.
The girl knew the tales of the first Allag skymage Azys, and how she had commanded the great islands to float in the sky. Scylla was certain that she too, would make islands fly.
But for now, she choked back her tears and anger as she stared at the stains on her robes.
Some common toad-faced mud-eating long eared creep had to come along and ruin her life! He’d embarrassed her in front of the entire class! Stole her best friend Clio away from her! And worse, even as a first-year, he could manipulate aether well enough to smolder her robes into flame!
Scylla ran down the curving paths, through the artificial forests in front of her home, following the shadow of the Syrcus Tower that loomed over her door. The Azyslis estate was sprawling and luxurious compared to the ancient, rusted hulls of the family ship back on the islands. Still, she found herself terribly homesick for the floating lands, especially when she was experiencing crises like this.
Maybe I should just ask to be transferred. Twelve generations of technologists and archmages were trained at Azys Academy. Why wouldn’t that be good enough for me?
As she came to the front plaza, she scuttled quickly wall-to-wall, having memorized the patterns the robotic watch-bits that patrolled the area.
No. I’ll tell Mother and Papa. They’ll make Amon apologize. But I’ll still kick him out of the Academy! He can be trained to clean pellet waste tubes instead!
She had almost made it past the marble white halls of the transport garage, when several circular glowing blue lines of light surrounded her feet in acknowledgement of her presence.
Scylla winced as the intruder alarm whined in the room and froze.
Papa? He wasn’t supposed to be home yet!
“Look what the Shabti dragged in, Taz.” Her papa’s warm, deep voice sounded from behind his latest hobby project – another revision of the hyper-conveyance vehicle.
He wore his hair wild, letting it hanging in front of his red Allag-noble eyes. His sharp cheek-bones didn’t hide the stubble-beard evident from long hours at the Aetherolabs.
“Lord Diokeles.” TA-Z4, her papa’s Iksalion assistant, lifted his beak over from under the vehicle and gave a nod of respect. “Returned from first week of Academy, the most Honorable Lady Scylla has.”
“Someday, I’m just going to have to work on those Iksal speech patterns,” the bearded man mumbled, before crawling up over his latest project. Then, as his eyes focused on her, he let out a small cry.
She must have looked like a walking calamity to him. Her flushed, temperish cheeks and tear-streaked face couldn’t hide the tidings of a bad start at school.
He leaned down, gaze trailing over the stains and charring on the robes. “Wh….? How did THAT happen?”
“Papa…” Scylla choked back a sob, standing defeated at the door, wiping her nose. This was a final defeat to a long week of hard-fought lost battles.
“What a mess.” The technologist put his tools aside and kneeled down with his arms open. His voice was laced with a small bit of mirth. “Did you get lost and end up in the hound cages?”
“Does this look like something funny to you?” Tears spilled down the curve of Scylla’s cheeks as she motioned to her mud-stained velvet robes. “You’re impossible! Just like the toad-boy!”
“Toad-boy? Scyllllaa?” Her papa’s smile faded into worry.
“Just leave me alone!” Scylla cried all the way down the halls to her room, sprinting away from his grasp.
“What did I say, Taz?” Diokeles threw up his arms. “Four girls, one wife, and I don’t understand any of them!”
Taz just shook his head and slid back under the vehicle frame.
“Next time I have a child, I’m going to have their humor factor increased.”
The servant tilted his almost upside down, a feat rather unique to the bird-creatures. “Another child? Wasn’t this one already later and unexpected?”
“I was just kidding! Can’t I get some laughter at jokes?” The technologist threw his arms up in frustration. “Maybe I need to tinker with your humor factor?”
“A funny master, I would require first.”
Diokeles shot back a frown. “Grandfather always told me that I gave you too much free will.”
“Too late to fix that, it is now.” The Iksal chuckled, pointing a feathered arm to the hall to Scylla’s room.
“Yeah, yeah.” The man looked down the hall to Scylla’s room with a sigh. “I suppose I better try to play Dad. Sometimes, I don’t think I get any better at it.”
The technologist strode from his lab, and rounded the corner along the marble hall. Blue lines glowed in long patterns on the walls as he approached Scylla’s room. There, he found his daughter sobbing quietly, her arms wrapped around a soft colorful hug node.
“There, there.” Diokeles sat beside her on the bed, cradling his arms around Scylla’s shoulders. “It couldn’t have been that bad. You love school… all your friends, and Clio! You haven’t seen her all summer!”
“It was completely and utterly horrible!” Scylla moaned. “There was this new kid. It’s his first year, but he’s not sitting with the kinder students.”
“A transfer then?” He reached out, brushing his fingers through her lavender hair.
Third-year transfer? Second year transfers are rare enough. I wonder…
“Yes!” Scylla pouted loudly. “First he sits in my reserved seat on the transport — near the window!”
“Why didn’t you get the mammet attendant involved?”
“Clio reprogrammed the mammet attendant!” Scylla muttered into her arms. “She came back… different… from vacation. I wanted to talk about the latest collection of hug nodes, and all she wanted to do was talk about the latest clockwork controller. Who cares about that stuff?”
That Clio, always messing with the operating systems! I thought that the Curator deleted her latest hack to the security keys. But that kid always finds a workaround.
The nobleman mused to himself and chuckled.
Amazing what you can do with the newer models of clockwork controllers, even in the hands of a child. But they just updated the protocol, and she already broke it. That girl is going to make something of herself one day.
“Again?” Diokeles tried to hide his smile. “I told the faculty to rework the security protocols on those infernal machines. I suppose I’ll have to bring up this poor performance in the Security Council.”
“And she said she didn’t want to come to my hug node parties anymore!” Scylla gave a pouting face.
“Scylla, I thought we talked about this. Sometimes friends drift apart over time, and come back together again.” The man brushed a hand through his beard. “Why don’t you just give each other some distance until you figure things out.”
“I know… but she made friends with HIM.” The girl emphasized the last word, face turning beet red as she stood up. “I told her if she was friends with HIM that I didn’t want her at the parties anymore anyhow!”
“Banishment from hug node parties? This must be pretty serious!” Lord Diokeles reared back. “Now come on, he can’t be that bad.”
“Yes he can!” The girl rocked on her heels. “She likes him! Clio didn’t back me up when I said that he smelled like a hound!”
“He smelled like a hound?” Diokeles plugged his nose playfully. “Did Clio break the sanitation assurance node too?”
“She probably did! Just to get me mad!”
The technologist gave her a knowing stare. “Scylla.”
“Okay, so I really didn’t smell him… not really.” Scylla bit her lip.
“Fibbing only begets more pain down the road.” The technologist advised.
“But his ears stuck out like a hound! They stuck way out, Papa!” She motioned with her hands, as if drawing her ears out.
“Scylla!” The man stood up in shock and put his hands on his hips. “What did I tell you about judging a tome by its cover?”
“Do the Iksal deserve any less respect because they have feathers and talons?” He had argued for the beast-servants rights often in court, but often was a laughingstock for thinking of freeing his creations. “Does Clio deserve any less respect for her… injury?”
“Well, no.” Scylla looked up, rubbing her eyes. “But that’s different. He’s an evil-zen. He comes from the dark forests where monsters live.”
Elezen? I wonder if this is the boy-child they found in the forest… the one in the restricted file?
“Elezen.” Diokeles corrected, voice perking up.
Oh, this is too perfect! He’s in class with my daughter!
At his peril, the technologist decided to probe a little deeper.
“Scylla?” The man looked in his daughter’s eyes with a squint. “Does your ear-blessed friend happen to have a name?”
“Amon.” Scylla seemed unimpressed. Her expression was flat. “He isn’t my friend.”
Amon! That’s him!
“Ah, yes! He’s from the deep forest sector, isn’t he?” Diokeles’ voice bubbled with excitement. “How was his skill? Did they rate his incoming aether quota?
“You heard about him too, then. He was rated Aether Rank 5. The instructors thought the equipment was broken, but it’s real.” The girl’s face was turning red in frustration. “What does this have to do with me?”
Rank 5? Amazing! And untrained! I will have to get my hands on this child. With such aetheric potential, he could do just about anything! The council indicated that he was selected for prototype enhancement. But a supervisory investigator had yet to be picked.
“I wonder if he has a study-track yet…” The technologist seemed lost in thought.
The council would be foolish to pick anything other than my lab. We’ve had the highest level of success in aether enhancements.
“PAPA!” Scylla stomped. “He hurt my feelings and ruined everything!”
He requires enhancement, for certain. Not the standard ones… the new prototype ones. Ten times more effective than the last. To think that he was Rank 5 this early in age! To think, the greatest aetheromancer potential since the founding of the empire is in my daughter’s class!
“Yes, yes. I will have to take a look as his file. Make sure he is signed for aetheric enhancement treatments.” The man was mumbling to himself, taking notes in his mind.
“He doesn’t need anymore help!” Scylla pleaded. “He manipulated aether right there on my special royal robes!”
“Bah, new robes can be synthesized.” Diokeles countered.
“Not these ones!” The girl was visibly downcast. “These ones were special robes, made by hand. Mom had them made for the class visi-images.”
“With the right denature potion, I can clean up any stain!” The nobleman winked, standing tall.
Scylla gave a doubtful gaze as her last hug node been an unwitting victim of his denature potions.
Diokeles pulled Scylla up in his arms and gave her a tight squeeze. There was a pang of guilt, as Scylla’s dilemma would be the catalyst of possibly capturing the most important aether-enhancement experiment in all of Allag.
With Amon in my hands, I can finally get the eye of the Emperor.
“Third year is a wonderful year!” The technologist spread his arms out and bowed down to Scylla. “You’ll start to learn the foundations of how to truly manipulate aether.”
Scylla wiped her nose, looking up at her father hopefully.
“No more of that baby elemental stuff.” He tickled her into laughter before picking her up into a swinging hug. “And why don’t you try to make friends with that boy? He’s probably just lonely and homesick.”
“PAPA!” Scylla huffed in exasperation. “I don’t want to be friends with savage monster-thing!”
“I’ll have you know that some believe that we descend from those savage monster-things. We share nearly a complete genomic and aetheric blueprint with the Elezen, even to the point that we can parent compatible offspring.”
“He’s not a normal Elezen!” Scylla looked disgusted. “And we don’t need more of his kind running around!”
“Scyl-la!” The technologist called her name in displeasure. “Those of the royal Allag line are not supposed to talk that way. You’re an Enlightened One, remember?”
“Sounds like a label and an excuse.” Scylla sulked, half-disappointed. “So, you aren’t going to send Amon to Sanitation training?”
“No.” The technologist shook his head. “Of course not. I have other work-plans in mind for him.”
“The pellet-waste pits?” Scylla raised an eyebrow.
“You could call it that.” Diokeles pointed a gloved finger at her. “But I do know of a girl that needs training… Experiential Training, of course.”
The noble paused for effect.
“At the Confectionary Dispensary with your personal instructor, Lord Diokeles – Ice-confectionmancer.” He swirled about, picking her up under his arm, before putting his daughter on her feet. “There still remains several million combinations of flavors of ice-confection to try!”
“Yay!” Scylla gave a cheer, instantly breaking into a smile. He knew that was one of their special things to do together, something that held over from the times back in their old home.
With a flourish and bow, Diokeles hurried to his laboratory, to send out inquiries about the Amon, while Scylla changed into recreational gear.
Scylla is right… the boy does require a punishment of sorts.
The technologist bit his stylus as he swiped words on his tomephone. The boy already had a compiled record in the Academy disciplinary datastores. It was obvious that he was lashing out, or bored.
Community service in the aetherolab would be the perfect opportunity for personal growth.
A smile crossed the technologist’s face as he looked at the tubes of glowing, fizzing liquids.
A little aether-enchancement push wouldn’t hurt the boy either.