CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 57 ♦ Bloom
The kingdom was the gloomiest it has ever been. The death of the former king had left dark pits in the hearts of the people who loved him as their sovereign. While it was not unexpected, considering how blatant and desperate the rushing was of King Bertram’s coronation, some could still not wrap their minds around the fact that a great monarch had passed. Yet, for sure, he was elated joining his wife in the afterlife.
It took a few weeks until the people got back to their usual routine and Bertram, unable to grieve, buried himself in his work so deep he ended up nearly suffocating. Thankfully, with the unconditional support of the people around him, he was able to get back on track easily.
His golden hair had grown past his nape. With it grew his patience and perseverance not only with the many tedious matters he attended to everyday but with the way he dealt with stressful matters. One would say he was slowly fitting into the large shoes his father had left behind, but there still remained a large gap to fill.
Today would test his learned temperance more so than anything ever had. Just hearing the news and reports from Lord Aeron and the Celeste Dispatch Division had left him rattled enough. While on the way to see to the urgent matter, his knees were knocking beneath his long and elaborate robes. His mind burned itself thinking how to resolve the problem—pulling out as many ideas as it could, laying down many possible scenarios that would occur if his thoughts were correct.
He emerged from the academy’s portals, followed by his entourage and most trusted knight, Yvart. Upon arrival, the headmaster and the many staffs greeted him, bent at the waist and eyes on his shoes. He bid them to rise and approached Kylon, brows meeting with a crease. A drop of sweat travelled down the valley of his back before he formally greeted the headmaster with a nod.
“I apologize for my tardiness. There were many things I had to attend to before I could leave the palace,” he said. “How is the situation?”
“Manageable,” Kylon replied.
That didn’t sound as positive as the albino man put it.
“Worry not,” the older man supplied. “It doesn’t look very urgent.”
“I’ll be the judge of that. Show me,” the young king told him.
The headmaster did not stall. “This way, Your Majesty.”
Aside from the headmaster and his entourage, no one else followed. Still, their eyes stuck on the group, curious and at awe. The many students they passed were tempted to stare at the young king’s face—they would stall for a second or one longer before lowering their heads and paying respect to his position. While it was not the first time for many, there was a change in Bertram so palpable one would be able to taste it. Not to mention seeing royalty in the flesh was not an everyday event.
The graveness and solemnity on the faces of the headmaster and the young king was enough for people to understand that the matter they came to see or do was not a simple one. Seeing as they were headed for the tall gates that separated the academy and the Forest of Valdis, people automatically assumed that it was demon-related.
Demons. The biggest source of headaches since the ancient times. Now, more than ever, from a throbbing, dull ache they managed to blunt with their barriers and trained knights, they swelled to become huge, blatant sores.
Bertram lifted his chin, tilting back his head, to look at the thin barriers he was now responsible for. He had a deep connection to it as it lived and breathed like his blood and flesh. Its connection to him was soul-deep, hence, called out to him as a child would its sire. It was the only thing—the only thing that the gods had given him as a mark of royalty. He was no Direct Controller so, as much as he wanted it, he was unable to fully work the barriers to their limits. There were many mysteries to the barriers that only a Direct Controller would be able to uncover. Why he was given his mother’s element—loved it as he did—gave him nothing but frustration.
“I will need to fortify this barrier before I leave,” he told the headmaster.
“Does it need fortification?” Kylon inquired.
“I feel it does. If demonic energy really has risen like you said, it has weakened in barring it out. I will be more at ease if I fortify it before I leave.”
“I will take you to the Central Chamber later.” Kylon nodded.
The trip did not take much time as their pace was snappy. They came to a stop before the golden gates, eyes seeing past the ornate patterns to the forests beyond. The skies in demon lands weren’t always so gloomy. Like any other forest, it saw the light of day and felt the kiss of the moon. It was just that the place was so tainted that any blessing from the skies was seemingly turned into a curse—like incurable sickness.
But now, that sickness seemed even more virulent. The taint was so heavy, the air reeked of it. The suffocating waves of demonic energy bombarded the barrier so hard it felt as though its near-impregnable walls would crumble.
“Why they truly put the academy in these lands, I can never understand,” Bertram muttered. Thick, dark mists circled the barren trees. The ashy floor seemed to slither while shadows of eyes blinked from the corners. “Traditions don’t answer much of the questions I have.”
“We,” Kylon interjected.
“Even you, headmaster?” the young king wondered.
“Well, if the king himself does not know, how can I pride myself in knowing any better when all I do is sit tight and pretty on my high chair in the office all day?” The sarcasm was heavy in his voice.
“Surely that’s not all you do.” The king smiled a bit. “I hear you’ve become pretty hands-on in training your students, especially the Twelve. The sudden change in curriculum must’ve spurred problems to arise.”
“Hasty preparations are never enough,” the headmaster retorted.
“Speaking of the Twelve, I have not seen them for a while.” Bertram rested his hands on the curve of his back as his golden eyes swept the tainted lands.
“I decided they be given more experience in the field some more so I tasked them with assignments and sent them to work with experienced knights. Normally, only eighth year students dedicate themselves full-time to this as final part to their training, but with the curriculum changes, things had to be set in motion a little earlier than normal.”
“I understand. How is the search for the new members?”
“Hopeless. They’re being merciless to the aspiring ones.”
“And no sign of Valeriana?”
They sighed at the same time.
“Your Majesty.” Yvart, his first knight, cleared his throat.
“We are just waiting for somebody,” Kylon told them, nodding at the king’s knight. “The Development Department has bright, young scions from the geniuses of the older generation. And these younglings have done some pretty amazing things.”
“It’s no big deal, a king can wait. I have cleared my schedule for the next hour or so for this.” Bertram nodded. “I look forward to whatever it is—whatever it is.”
It took a few moments of silence until a large voice echoed from afar.
“Let me through!” someone exclaimed to the man-made barricade that kept out the onlookers and eavesdroppers from coming near.
Kylon motioned for the men to let the youth through.
A large youth came hopping their way, followed by two other students who belonged to the Development Department. He had burned the tip of his shoes so his singed toe was peeking from inside. The sole hang out like a dog’s tongue which made him trip a few times. Bertram could not help but chuckle, brows furrowing in confusion. He did not know how he was supposed to react as the burly guy set down a heavy machine in front of them—wires and metal plates exposed and all. He was breathless and somewhat panicky at the sight of the young king.
“Your Majesty!” he greeted, bending at the waist briefly then saluting—as though the previous greeting was not enough.
“At ease,” Bertram replied, looking up at him since he was two heads taller than the young king. “What is it you have for us today?”
“Well, um, I might have found a way to accurately measure demonic presence and even the intensity of this energy,” the youth said.
Wonder lit up golden eyes. “But attempts in making that kind of device has failed for centuries!”
“It is because we have been looking in a different direction. Not to mention the taboo and the reluctance of many inventors to touch this subject, primarily due to the belief of it cursing you back,” the youth said. “And I do believe it just tells us a lot about how our mindset has been pinned by the many traditions set before us. Just to confess, Your Majesty, I have taken liberties with this project that I’m afraid I had broken a few rules.”
“First of, what is your name?”
“Kaleb Hans, Your Majesty.”
“Do explain to me how you came upon this discovery.”
He looked at his companions briefly and sighed. “We have actually been using demonic energy in a way we have never thought we had—that is, in the simulations we have been making to imitate behaviors of demons and train our knights.”
“And this is where you broke the rules?” Bertram raised a brow.
Kaleb swallowed heavily. “Yes. I have experimented with demonic energy through the conduit.”
Bertram’s eyes widened. He looked at Kylon, only to find the headmaster looking so casual.
“Did you know of this, headmaster?”
The young king was only met with silence and lowering eyes.
“Treachery!” someone yelled from the background. “That is not even—”
Bertram held up a hand, silencing the cynic. “Continue. Explain to me what the conduit is as I have no knowledge of it at all.”
“The conduit was the first direct and straightforward experiment that studied the nature of demonic energy but it didn’t end well as Luis Gatlive killed himself in the end. It was later continued by a scholar who suffered death in the most gruesome way and another after him with similar and undesirable ending. There has been few studies of this subject ever since.” He paused to breathe. “There are certain delicacies to handling demonic energy and I think the reason why it was never truly pursued is because no one had the guts to face the consequences.”
“What are these delicacies?” Bertram prompted. He tilted his head slightly as he eyed the youth questioningly.
“Truly, Your Majesty, I suspect that demonic energy is the manifestation of chaos. Not just simple chaos, but what we call the primordial balance. The primordial balance is—” He looked around, eyed one of Bertram’s entourage, and approached. “May I borrow this?” he asked, pointing to the bow at his back.
“Let him,” the king said with a nod.
It was only then did the owner truly concede.
“The primordial balance can be a reflection of this bow. The first bows were made by bended sticks and elastic strings.” His hand traced the curved limbs and pulled on the string. “There is what we call harmony in chaos,” he said. “In a way, harmony is the string that keeps the tension on the bow and gives it its qualities. Of course, you see, naturally, the shaft will try to straighten itself because it’s in its nature to straighten—but for a bow to become a bow, it needs to bend. See, when you pull on the string, you are merely manipulating the tension on the bow and biding it to release this tension.”
“I sort of understand what you’re trying to say,” Bertram told him. “Anyway, just tell me straight. What does this harmony in chaos have to do with demonic energy?”
“Yes, um . . . thank you for this.” He shoved the bow back to the owner’s arm and resumed speaking. “We will go back to the primordial balance I mentioned prior. There exists two energies in Valemnia which I would like to label dark and gold—dark, being demonic energy, and gold, being a very pure energy. The delicacies of handling demonic energy is that it will need a ton of power pressure to neutralize it so that it doesn’t, well, go wild. Like a broken bow—you know, patching!”
“Harmony in chaos.”
“Yes, yes! Exactly. Basically, demonic energy is chaos.”
“What is the pure energy? Is it the power pressure? Is that what you’re saying?”
“No,” Kaleb replied, shaking his head. “The pure energy is a concentrated form of energy that can be found in the power pressure. The power pressure is the balanced state. It’s the neutral form. It’s the harmony in chaos.”
“And this pure energy you found?”
“Well, I suspect a drop of it can be found in five thousand tons of power pressure. However, the kind of technology needed to extract will be really sophisticated and is far too advanced right now. It will take years before it can really be made,” he said, scratching his head.
“Then how will you prove this? And make your device work?” Yvart inquired.
“I have something else, don’t worry. Hand it over, Mana,” Kaleb prompted the girl behind him who swiftly took out a box wrapped in a dark cloth. Mana did as he asked and unveiled a glass box which encased a small, half-wilted flower.
The sight of it startled Bertram while Kylon seemed to have already known of it.
“This flower in the semblance of a valeriana.”
Bertram had nearly choked out his question but he managed to cling to a thread of his composure.
“Where did you get it?” the king queried.
“It was left on my table. Whoever did it must’ve known what I was working on,” Kaleb told them. “I’m not really sure who it was, either. But this flower is a huge source of pure energy that its honeys were overwhelming pools. If there were more of this things, it might even be possible to, as absurd as it sounds, purify.”
It is possible, the young king’s mind whispered. He was the largest evidence of that.
“Tell me then, how does your device work?” Bertram prodded.
Right now, everyone else were fixated on what he was about to do next.
“That understanding is fundamental to how this will work,” Kaleb said. “When this pure energy is near, it will naturally react with demonic energy, cancel it, combine with it, and form the power pressure. So the reaction of the energy in this flower will be an indicator of how strong the attraction is—the more force in the attraction, the stronger the energy or the more energy there is in the area. How to determine one from the other, I’m still not quite sure how.”
“Let’s see it, then.”
All eyes were, by now, fixed intently on Kaleb and everything he or his companions did. The machine beside them became the sudden focus as the youth bid his peers to prepare the machine. Mana, the girl who had given the glass box to Caleb, opened a compartment in the machine that revealed a clear globe. They then took the valeriana in the glass box and locked it in a place where it fit like a glove. They shut a lid over it, for extra security perhaps, and proceeded to work on starting the device.
All watched with anticipation. Bertram was impatient as they tugged on a thick string made of metal coils several times in a row. If this truly did work, it would be a revolutionary discovery on their knowledge of demonic energy and Power Control. It might even help in the upcoming war. Should it work, the presence of this pure energy would be known to many. Suspicions of the possibility of purification would further arise, giving people hope that the maiden with this power truly existed. At her emergence, she would be a symbol of hope as much as this flower would in the name of innovation.
A passing thought of who was responsible made him shake his head. There could only be one person behind all of this.
That old man.
Each time they pulled, the device would sputter, tremble, and die. Still, the yanking continued and, eventually, it came to life.
The loud whirring made some step back warily but the machine did no harm except hurt their ears. Kaleb sang a mantra under his breath, willing it to work properly. Bertram’s heart had quickened as he watched the globe light up bright. The white light pooled into it before it was haloed by gold.
They waited—seeing what would happen.
“You see, the intensity of this brightness, measured upon the usual scale would indicate how much energy is concentrated in the area,” Kaleb explained nervously. He then tapped on the meter. The arrows shivered near the number six before inching towards seven.
“What does that mean?” Kylon inquired.
“It is in high levels. I have been trying this out in this area several times before and many of my tests pointed at the levels four and five—which I assume might’ve been the normal presence of demonic energy here. Cities and other towns outside of the academy would have only around one—two is already high for these places.”
“How do we further verify the authenticity of this invention?” came a question from one of Bertram’s entourage.
“I am willing to disclose my methods, as any proper scholar would do for the sake of knowledge, and hope others will be able to replicate them. I am unsure where to find the source of this pure energy, however.”
The young king nodded. A frown passed over his face as he ruminated about the future. This would change the entirety of Valemnia. Debates would spark. Controversy would rise.
The drums of war thrummed.
And they did not just sing because of demons.