Armand’s First Letter. Amelia’s First Letter.
The Abyss, off Provençe
8 October 1017
I arrived in Toulouse shortly after dawn this morning, having made the crossing during the night; as owner, I was able to sleep my way across while the crew attended to their duties. Tonight I am returning to Yorke in the same way, and I shall seek my rest as soon as I finish this entry.
I feel sinfully luxurious, but traveling in this way means that I can spend a day with Amelia in Toulouse at the cost of only one day in Yorke with Mama.
I am also quite certain that there are many who would gladly pay for such a service, were it available; which it soon will be, if I have anything to say about the matter.
But all of that is to the side; tonight I wish to write about our discoveries today.
I broke my fast with Amelia, Maximilian, and Jérôme—and may I say that I was delighted to Maximilian’s acquaintance at last; for on my last visit, of course, he was missing in Malague. I like him; he is a fine man; Amelia has chosen well.
And then we all trooped off to see King Guy’s Fundament, which is to say, to see the stone embedded in the plinth that supports the monument to King Guillaume III in La Place de Provençe. Which is to say, the stone that Jérôme believes to be a formed artifact.
I was skeptical; Jérôme is a sharp fellow, but his experience with what he calls le Fleuve de Belazel is still quite small.
The plinth is surrounded by a raised flower bed behind a low stone wall. A path of stepping stones leads through the bed to a discreet gardener’s closet; our quarry lay within.
There was not room for all of us by the closet without stepping on the flowers and shrubs, so Maximilian went ahead and unlocked the door; then returned to the pavement and gestured me forward.
“You’ll see the object at the base of the back wall,” he said.
The closet was not large, perhaps four foot square, and empty; according to Amelia the keepers responsible for these monuments find it easier to bring their tools with them than to carry all of the necessary keys. The side walls were the same warm yellow stone as the plinth, but the back was the gray of cement; and at the base of that wall protruded one edge of a block of reddish stone. What I could see of it had been carefully shaped, with well-defined edges and flat surfaces; at a guess, it was one corner of a smaller plinth.
I lay a folded blanket on the grimy floor, having come prepared, and knelt down to examine the stone. It took me but a few moments to discern that Jérôme was quite correct; and but a little time more to determine that the stone had been formed to be greedy, to collect effort for some purpose, and in vast quantities.
“But it is also clearly damaged or disabled in some way,” I told them on my return to the pavement, “Or perhaps it simply wore out over the centuries. It is still gathering and holding a modicum of effort now, but nothing like it would have at its peak. It’s a good thing, to0, or any hardened object within a hundred yards would shiver to pieces in a matter of hours.”
“I don’t see how that can be,” said Maximilian. “We have measured the residual magic here, and it is simply the last echoes of the spell that once was. Nothing new has been added in centuries.”
“But perhaps your magical power and Armand’s effort are not the same thing,” said Jérôme. “Perhaps that is the object’s purpose: to pull in the effort and push out the power, n’est-ce pas?”
“And so to power the ley lines?” said Maximilian.
“But would it be enough?” said Amelia. “How much effort can a greedy object collect, Armand? Is there an upper limit?”
“That is an excellent question,” I said. “Truly, I don’t know. I’ve never before seen one as powerful as this one once was.”
“Have you seen all you need to see here?” asked Maximilian.
“Yes, I think so,” I said.
“Then let me lock up, and we can return to L’École. You can think about it on the way.”
Which of course I did. We discussed the matter further over lunch.
“I’m afraid my past experience won’t be much help,” I said. “My aim has been to keep greedy objects well-fed, as it were. So far as I can tell, any greedy object—a lifting block, for example—prefers to draw effort from any generous object in the vicinity, sometimes to the detriment of that object. I have learned to form lifting blocks to be no stronger than required, and to balance them with properly constructed hardened elements so that the entire assemblage is stable and will not consume itself.”
“In short,” said Maximilian, “you’ve been studying the wrong problem.’
“I wouldn’t call it the wrong problem, precisely; it is only my solution that has enabled me to be here today. But it has simply never occurred to me to investigate how much effort a greedy object can collect in practice; and if I had, all of the housewives of Bois-de-Bas would be after my neck when their hardened cookware went to pieces. Again.”
“Again?” said Maximilian.
“Yes. I started selling formed warming blocks to my neighbors in Bois-de-Bas, and then all of the cookware I’d hardened for them began to fall apart. It was my first clue.”
“But you’ll think on it now?” said Amelia.
“Oh, certainly. Let me get back to my notes and I’ll see what the mathematics suggests. I don’t believe I’ll conduct any practical experiments in the foreseeable future, however.”
“And certainly not aboard your little craft,” said Jérôme with a wink.
“Certainly not,” I said fervently.
“Still, we have learned much today,” said Jérôme. “We have learned how the ley lines were powered; and we have learned that le Fleuve de Belazel is different from the other streams.”
“And that the one can power the other,” I said. “There must be a thousand things one could do with that. Once a spell was set up, anyone could do wizardry without any need for a wizard.”
“Oh, dear,” said Amelia. “You’re quite right. I fear we shall have to tread warily.”
I was about to speak; and then I remembered how Amelia had burned Le Maréchal’s last few ships.
We all looked at each other.
“Yes, perhaps we should,” I said.