This chapter was written in collaboration with Scylla.
If Amon wasn’t already absolutely frozen, he might have bolted up the stairs right that moment. His face reflected his fear with a deer-in-the-headlights stare. But his ears reflected his mortification, a deep red flush spreading from the tips inward.
Of course the robes had been trapped. Just as he suspected. He had let his guard down, not thinking Scylla would show her tail in front of her own father. But he had been so very wrong.
Amon didn’t know who all these people were, and if they were important people. While running about in his skivvies wasn’t a big deal where he’d come from, he was sure this was not the best first impression to make on anyone in the city.
What did one say at this point? What did one do? He had no idea.
So he went right ahead with his plan, trying to act as if he wasn’t standing before the crowd in his underwear – wasn’t that supposed to be the other way around?
“You requested my presence, Sir?”
Only the quiver in his voice and burning of his ears belied his true feelings on the situation.
The group began to break into a mix of snickering and expressions of pity. Scylla giggled in the background, snorting between her breathy laughter. Diokeles walked up to Amon, leaning down on a knee. His face lightened, seemingly reacting to the drooping ears and embarrassing quandary the boy had been left in.
“Well met, Amon of the Forest.” He choked back a small bout of laughter, before pointing at a corner wardrobe. “But why don’t we see if we can get you into something… a little more appropriate before we talk?”
“Aye, sir. ‘Twould… be… better.”
Amon’s voice grew smaller and smaller, his bravado having reached its limits. He kept his gaze down, his ears honing in on the sound of suppressed laughter that bubbled in the room.
This was far worse than just getting into trouble would have been.
Diokeles frowned around the room, causing the others in the space to quiet down and return to their task of repairing the flight-vehicle.
His gaze was most concentrated on his daughter, who stopped laughing before giving her father a most unceremonious shrug.
“I didn’t know it was the defective robe?” Scylla said with a scowl at the boy. “The ignorant forest lout didn’t even check himself.”
“Scylla…” The man furrowed his brow. “I thought you two were supposed to be friends?”
“Friends?” Scylla huffed as she stomped back up the stairs. “You don’t listen to a thing I say about him!”
“Azyslis women…” The technologist sighed at Amon as he fumbled about a small supply closet. “They are untamable….”
He reached back on the top shelf, coming up with a plain white cotton shirt and a pair of pants. Both were a little oversized on the boy, but they would do in a pinch.
“They aren’t technologist robes, but it is still going to be a while before you grow into these.” Diokeles pointed to his own technologist robes, before kindly patting Amon on the head. “But even the greatest scientists start out as assistants like you.”
“The shirt is more comfortable anyhow… and that way you won’t get your school uniform all messy.” The technologist gave a wink of understanding.
“After all, how are you going to be witness of the greatest project that Allag has known for seven centuries!” Diokeles gave a wide grin showing his potion-stained fingers. “Without getting just a little dirty?”
Amon snapped out of his daze and quickly put the oversized clothes on. His brow furrowed as he proved to be proficient in dressing himself, expression growing more and more puzzled as the man talked.
Technologist robes? Assistant? Witnessing a project? Getting his uniform dirty?
“Sir… I don’t understand.” He picked his words carefully. “I’m not here for a reprimand?”
“Reprimand?” The technologist wrinkled his nose and squinted. “Ah, what’s a few practical jokes amongst friends? I figure that you two are mature enough to work it out between each other.”
“But I was told by the instructors and the Searchers that you have a talent that needs careful development.” Diokeles spun around with a grin, opening his hands up wide to the whole of the laboratory.
“And what better way to inspire the youth of this generation by starting their experiential training early on?”
The technologist put his hands on Amon’s shoulders.
“Allag is dying.” Diokeles grumbled as he pointed around at the node-cast monitors. “You see it in the border node-feeds… Even though they aren’t big losses, we are losing ground to enemies on all sides these days.”
The technologist looked at the holopicture of his wife in the corner.
“Amon, it may not be one-hundred years, or one-thousand years, but Allag is decaying under its own weight. That is why we sent out the Searchers… to find talents like yours to save our world.”
“The reports sent to Syrcus show that your aether potential tested off the chart.” Diokeles drew his breath between pursed lips. “And the aetherologists at the Tower have found ways to further enhance such potential.”
With that, he reached for a bubbling blue luminescent tube on the counter and showed it to Amon.
“I have been told that this will enhance your potential beyond its natural limits.” The technologist rolled the little blue glowing tube in his fingers before putting it in Amon’s hands. “But just having you as a patient seems such a waste for a talented mind. In exchange for a little help around the lab, I could teach you how to run the equipment… it might give you an edge in your practicum courses.”
“You’ll have to discuss it with your parents, as you are not of age.” Diokeles leaned back. “And think it over for yourself. All of this is completely voluntary, of course.”
Amon swallowed hard as he struggled to digest everything the scientist had just told him.
Allag was dying? Why hadn’t his parents told him this? Everything had always seemed thriving and vibrant in the forest. Perhaps, that’s why they didn’t know these things there? It was easy to overlook when everything seemed okay in the forest.
It all seemed a little scary.
Amon knew that he was considered unusual among his people, and that was the reason that he was chosen to come to the Academy in the city to begin with. But to be considered talented among the people of the Tower? Was he really that important?
The boy didn’t understand everything the man told him. But he stared at the swirling aether within the tube, holding it carefully.
Amon then peered up, gold eyes reflecting an innocent sincerity. “Sir… I don’t know if I can save the world. But if you think there’s something I can do to help people, I want to try.”