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The Flaw in the Stone

The Flaw in the Stone

The Alchemists’ Council, Book 2
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Prima Materia

 

Long before Jaden witnessed the mutual conjunctions of Sadira with Kalina and Arjan with Dracaen, the Alchemists’ Council and the Rebel Branch had worked for millennia at cross purposes. The Alchemists’ Council aimed to perfect the Lapis by vanquishing its Flaw, whereas the Rebel Branch sought to increase the Flaw and thereby regain control of the Lapis. According to sacraments of the Alchemists’ Council, perfecting the Lapis culminates in eternal union as the communal One. According to decrees of the Rebel Branch, maintaining the Flaw preserves free will throughout the dimensions. Until the war over the Lapis is ultimately waged and won, Council holds responsibility for maintaining the elemental balance of the outside world through the quintessential power of the Lapis. To increase this Quintessence, alchemists in Council dimension participate in the Sacrament of Conjunction, a ritual wherein two beings fully merge into one body and mind. Meanwhile, in Flaw dimension, rebels seek the means to alter this sacrament through blood alchemy — the means to ensure conjunction becomes mutual: two minds, two essences, two beings, each sustaining free will within one body fused through the ancient bloodline.

We are the Blood of the Dragon! We live as the Flaw in the Stone!

 

Prologue: Flaw Dimension — 1848

 

Genevre had merely wanted time to herself to contemplate matters. Within months, she would turn thirty, thus reaching her Day of Decision. Like all who resided in Flaw dimension — whether rebel alchemists or outside world scribes — she would formally announce her choice on that day. She rehearsed both options repeatedly: I, Genevre, outside world scribe, in choosing to ingest Dragonblood Elixir, hereby commit myself to the Rebel Branch. I, Genevre, outside world scribe, in choosing to reject Dragonblood Elixir, hereby reject the Rebel Branch. What would become of her, she wondered, if she chose to reject those who had sheltered her?

She needed time and space alone to think. The caverns of Flaw dimension were spacious, but rarely empty of rebels, attendants, or miners performing one task or another. Her own quarters, while private, felt too confining of late. As she was still officially training with the Rebel Branch, she could not venture into the outside world without accompaniment. So only one choice remained. Thus, despite her trepidation, she entered the rickety lift and manoeuvred its mechanisms without assistance to lower herself into what she assumed were the deepest archives.

Genevre walked slowly along the main passageway, intermittently peering into the dimly lit archival rooms along the way. She saw no one in the first five rooms. In the sixth, brightly lit with large, low-hanging luminescence lanterns, she noticed Azoth Fraxinus struggling with the weight of a large manuscript. She considered helping him, but decided doing so would defeat her purpose of removing herself from the company of others, and continued past the room unnoticed. The remaining four rooms along the passageway were empty. She stood a few steps beyond the tenth room considering whether to wander down the dark narrow passageway to her right. She regretted not bringing her portable luminescence lantern; she had not realized the secondary passageways would be completely unlit. In her decade with the Rebel Branch — even during official lessons as an apprentice — she had never had reason to explore the archives beyond the main corridor.

Just as she was about to turn back, she was startled by a flash of light quite a distance down the dark passageway. A second flash quickly followed the first, then a third, fourth, and fifth. The flashes seemed to be approaching her, lighting a pathway along the ground. In the growing light, she noticed a robed figure likewise approaching her. Not wanting to be found lingering with no assigned task, Genevre slipped into the tenth archival room, tapped a hanging lantern to activate its luminescence, pulled a random manuscript from a shelf, and sat at a table pretending to read. A minute or so later, Senior Scribe Thuja walked past the archival room window, paying Genevre no notice. When she heard the clanging of the lift mechanisms in the distance, Genevre replaced the unread manuscript, tapped off the light, and ventured out of the room into the dark secondary corridor.

Genevre watched the passageway light up with each step she took. Miniature luminescence lanterns were affixed to both walls just above the ground. Similar lanterns lit up above intermittent archways leading to small archival rooms or narrow tertiary passages. The lanterns appeared to be alchemically rigged to coordinate with one’s footsteps and movements. But the effect seemed magical to her. She slowed her pace, then quickened it; she jumped, she hopped, she ran. Genevre was overcome by a spirit of youthful play, something she had not experienced since her arrival in Flaw dimension. She laughed aloud amidst the flickering lights as she moved up and down the secondary passage, her purpose for descending into the archives forgotten.

Genevre would have been quite content to spend the remainder of the afternoon playing with the lights if not for her unceremonious fall during a manoeuvre better suited to a ten-year-old. She lay face down for a few seconds as she recovered from the shock. As she turned her head and began to push herself up, she noticed yet another unexpected light — this one thin and narrow as if emanating from under a door located down one of the dark tertiary passages. Though luminescence lanterns no longer lit her way, this new path was so narrow she could navigate its darkness by running a hand along each wall as she cautiously made her way towards the light one step at a time.

When she reached the wall at the end of the passageway, she ran her hands along its smooth surface looking for a door handle. She found none, nor could she see or feel any further evidence that an entrance existed beyond the door-width light near the ground. Kneeling by the wall and attempting to peer into the light proved useless, as did lying prostrate slightly farther away in an effort to provide herself with a better vantage point. She could not see into the room — the room she presumed existed — behind the wall. Standing up again, she placed both hands flat against the wall and pushed. She felt nothing beyond the apparently solid stone surface. The light was inexplicable. Finally, she made her way back to the lift and returned to her quarters inspired to find the answer to this mystery.

Whenever possible over the next several weeks, Genevre would descend into the archives and make her way to the door-not-door — the name she dubbed the area upon her second visit. In the rare event that she ran into a rebel in the main passageway, she made up an excuse for her presence. On one such occasion, her lie cost her an unexpected two hours of note-taking. Azoth Fraxinus led her to an archival room after she had feigned a need to distinguish Dragonblood from Dragonsblood ink. Oh, Fraxinus had said, the differences extend far beyond the letter “s” — they are eminently fascinating! He not only escorted her into the room but located a variety of documents and gave her a long, detailed lesson, ensuring she understood each of the subtle but numerous differences in the inks. After the lesson, he suggested they walk together to the main dining hall for a much-deserved glass of ruby liqueur before dinner. When High Azoth Dracaen happened upon them, Azoth Fraxinus sang Genevre’s praises.

“Your protégé is admirably dedicated! What a pleasure providing her with an impromptu archival lesson!”

Dracaen smiled and said to Genevre, “I had been wondering where you were spending your time.”

“I look forward to the next lesson,” she said. Thus began a pattern of enduring a few hours with Fraxinus each week in order to have a valid excuse for descending to the archives regularly. I need to study for my next lesson, she would say to anyone who asked.

Of course, Genevre spent the majority of her time in the archives not in lessons with Fraxinus but at the end of the tertiary passage investigating the door-not-door. She refused to accept that the mystery was unsolvable. As was her custom, she would persevere until she found an answer. The process of moving her fingertips over the surface was meditative. The sensation of slamming her hands against the stone, oddly satisfying. The act of leaning her back against the wall, restful. On days that she was certain she was alone in the archives, she unveiled her portable luminescence lantern and visually inspected details of the wall’s surface. Despite her hours of purposeful investigation, in the end it was a moment of carelessness that unlocked the mystery.

She dropped her lantern. Its luminescence immediately dispersed and extinguished as its glass ampoule broke into pieces. Not wanting to leave evidence of her presence, she felt around in the darkness to collect the glass. The pieces were large — the ampoule had fractured rather than smashed. She found three pieces easily and placed them carefully into the pockets of her robes. The fourth not only took longer to locate but had a sharp edge on which she cut herself. In pain, she shook her hand, splattering blood onto the floor and wall. That gesture was her fortunate accident. Genevre jumped, startled, as the wall opened to reveal a door. Heart pounding, she pushed against it.

Blood alchemy. She remembered the term from her first lesson with Fraxinus. Her own blood had been the key to the door. She would have contemplated this phenomenon further if not for the greater marvel that met her as she stepped over the threshold: a small, brightly lit library, shelved floor to ceiling with leather-bound manuscripts. As hidden as Flaw dimension already was, what sort of manuscripts would the rebels need to secret away? Her desire to remain with the Rebel Branch was no longer a question; she needed time — decades, centuries — to investigate these manuscripts. For now, she walked towards a door on the other side of the room. Upon touching that door with her blood-stained finger, it too opened. Across its threshold was yet another library, just as bright but substantially larger. The door on the other side of that room led to yet a larger room, and then a larger, and a larger. The ninth library was so astonishingly vast, Genevre could barely breathe amidst its magnificence.

From her position immediately inside the door, the shelves of manuscripts appeared endless. They both ascended and descended multiple levels, each level accessible by a spiral staircase, each shelf accessible by a ladder connected to a metal track. She moved to the room’s centre, turning around slowly, absorbing its splendour. Even if she were to live as long as the oldest recorded High Azoth of the Rebel Branch, she would have time to examine only a fraction of these myriad manuscripts. Thrilled yet overwhelmed, Genevre walked to the far side of the room and touched her finger to the tenth door. When nothing happened, she took one of the ampoule pieces from her pocket and cut herself to draw additional blood. Then, when she pressed her bloody finger against the door, like the others, it gave way.

She closed her eyes as she crossed the tenth threshold. She tried to picture a library more spectacular than the one from which she had stepped. Her disappointment was palpable when, upon opening her eyes, she found herself in a circular room smaller than her own quarters. Only a single table flanked by two chairs stood in the room. On the table was a wooden stand holding a large manuscript. It was the grand finale in a sequence of hidden treasures.

Genevre opened the non-descript leather cover to find a blank page. One after the next, she turned the pages. All were blank. Were these empty folios meant to be inscribed? Was she the one who would fill them one day? Most likely not. Though she had stumbled upon it, she could not bring herself to believe this manuscript was hers. She was, after all, merely an outside world scribe with no alchemical abilities beyond those of her meagre training. Not even her private tutoring with Fraxinus—

She remembered something.

Dragonsblood ink is made from the dust of the Dragonblood Stone, mixed with water from the cavern pools, Fraxinus had explained. Its power rivals that of Lapidarian ink — transforming presence through absence. But Dragonblood is something else altogether — blood born of fire.

Fire? Genevre had asked.

A metaphor for a very particular form of bloodline blood.

The bloodline — Dracaen speaks of it often. He expects much of me because it flows through my veins.

Yes, Fraxinus had said, but as rare as the bloodline is among those destined to be alchemists or scribes, an even rarer form existed once upon a time. According to our most ancient scriptures, a manuscript exists that some believe to be written in ink comprising dust of the Calculus Macula mixed with the blood of Osmanthus. As one of the scriptural enigmas states, “Only one born of three can make the invisible visible.”

Genevre trembled. Once again, she removed a piece of glass from her pocket, reopening her wound for the second time. She held her bleeding finger above the first folio while applying pressure with her thumbnail to ensure the release of large drop of blood. At first nothing happened as the blood hit the page, and she suddenly feared the repercussions if anyone were able to trace the manuscript defacement to her. But, as the minutes passed, the folio began to bear forth its message. The illumination emerged first, rendered in dark crimson and gold. It featured what appeared to be a small being within an ancient alembic, or some kind of transparent vessel. Shortly thereafter, a few words appeared above the image. Their size, style, and placement suggested they formed a title, but Genevre could not read the ancient script in which the words were written.

“Congratulations.”

Genevre spun around. Dracaen stood directly behind her.

“You have done what no High Azoth, including me, has ever managed to do. Your bloodline alchemy truly is extraordinary.”

Genevre blushed, ashamed at being caught but simultaneously proud of her accomplishment.

“You are no mere outside world scribe,” continued Dracaen. “But neither are you, as yet, an alchemist — rebel or otherwise. Thus, as High Azoth of the Rebel Branch, I must ask you to leave this chamber immediately.”

“But—”

“We will return here together one day, but for now — for your own safety and that of the entire Flaw dimension — you must leave and allow the manuscript to mature.”

“I don’t understand.”

“One by one, over the years — three decades if the scriptural enigmas have been correctly interpreted — the words and illuminations on each folio will emerge. We cannot risk contaminating the sacred process with our impatience.”

“At least tell me what these words say.” She pointed to the letters inscribed above the image of the alembic, now fully revealed and spectacularly vivid on the first folio.

Dracaen moved closer to the manuscript. He smiled and sighed. “Finally.”

“Finally?”

Finally, the Rebel Branch has gained an advantage over the Alchemists’ Council. Even if you choose to leave us on your Day of Decision, today you have repaid our hospitality beyond measure. The Rebel Branch will be forever grateful. With this manuscript, our greatest potential has begun to manifest.”

“What do the words say?”

“Roughly . . .” Dracaen began but then paused as if pondering the best translation of the manuscript’s title. He announced it solemnly: “Formula for the Conception of the Alchemical Child.”

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