The Academy of Riverend was a curious place. Its large towers of white stone and domed glass roofs spoke of wealth and sophistication. Sitting on top of Riverend’s great cliff, the walled campus looked out over the vast city like a king on a throne. Yet the Academy itself didn’t own a dime nor held any true power. Like the rest of the cliff-top society, the place ran by virtue of who knew whom.
Central in the Academy’s campus stood the large, hexagon-shaped building of the Royal Library. Its walls reached high above the campus walls and its imposing glass dome covered the entire structure. In the setting sun, the roof radiated atop the cliff like the Imperial Topaz atop the emperor’s crown. At the library, one could find the pinnacle of knowledge in the empire. Rows of bookshelves held extensive collections of works on natural sciences and literature. The marbled halls, with their high glass ceilings and mahogany balconies, inspired awe in all who were privileged enough to visit.
In a secluded reading nook on the edge of the library, Edmund sat in deep concentration as he pondered his next move. Few people visited the Academy’s library this late in the evening, apart from Edmund and his fellow scholars. A jar with diamond Wyld reagent above their table provided a steady and even light as Edmund absent-mindedly gave it mental nudges. In the distance, he could barely make out the shuffling of the librarian reorganizing the latest batch of returned books.
“I still cannot fathom why you prefer that diamond jar above a good old-fashioned gas lamp,” Larkin, the scholar left of Edmund, said puzzled as he stared at the light source. His tiny round spectacles sparkled a bit in the even diamond light.
Edmund ignored the remark and instead focussed on the red pawns on the game board in front of him, lazily puffing on his pipe. The hexagonal-shaped board with oddly-shaped cells had three sets of chess pieces on it: black, white, and red. Three-man chess was a popular pastime among his fellow peers. To Edmund, it mostly just meant headaches at the end of nightly plays. After a moment of silence, he moved one of the red pawns up a rank, hoping it was a good move.
“It is not a hassle to a trained Wylder, you know. Not to mention a lot safer than those combustibles of yours,” Edmund commented as sort of an afterthought.
“Hah! Nonsense! Safety and caution do not propel our Age of Progress, my friend,” Larkin replied.
“Neither does progress without practical applications,” grumbled the stocky scholar to Edmund’s right. He moved one of his black bishops to intercept Edmund’s pawn.
“Still don’t fancy my works of propulsion in a vacuum, Hugh?” Larkin asked jovially, his beady eyes smiling behind his spectacles as he advanced one of the white rooks.
“It’s less a matter of me fancying your theoretics and more a matter of Aldridge funding its continuations,” Hugh replied matter-of-factly.
Isn’t that the truth, Edmund thought ruefully. His frown deepened as he tried to reason through the recent moves of his fellow scholars.
“How is that steam heater project of yours progressing?” Edmund asked to buy himself a bit more time to think.
“The superheater tubes?” Hugh replied with what passed for his version of an enthusiastic tone. ”The Council just approved the phase two plans. We should be ready to upgrade the next Aldridge freight locomotive heading for Marrow’s Deep for a test drive. Latest calculations estimate a four-hour reduction on a one-way trip.”
“See, that’s the problem with the Academy nowadays!” Larkin replied heatedly. “If there is no profit for the high and mighty Aldridge and his factories, the Council will not fund the research. How are we expected to uphold the principles of academic freedom like this?”
Edmund lifted his eyebrows and triumphantly moved his red queen over to Larkin’s edge of the board. “Checkmate on white!”
Without a sound or hint of emotion, Hugh moved his black queen to intercept Edmund’s queen and steal the victory. “Checkmate on white,” he grumbled.
“What! I thought I won for once this time.” Edmund said deflated as he sat back in his chair.
All three sat in silence staring at the game board for a while, each contemplating their own thoughts. Edmund noticed a slight dimming in the diamond light as the Wyld reagent slowly became saturated. Half an hour of light remaining if my calculations are correct.
A door opened and closed in the distance and Edmund heard footsteps approaching their reading nook. A young lanky man in a pressed black suit emerged from behind the tall mahogany bookcases.
“Message for Professor Fawcett” the man announced, holding up a wax-sealed envelope bearing the Academy’s insignia of a stylized key.
Edmund hesitantly stood up and received the letter, he paused a moment before breaking the seal.
“An official letter, this late in the evening? What does it say, Ed?” Larkin asked curiously.
Edmund read the letter, his pipe falling on the library floor as his jaw slackened. Dejected, he read the letter again to be sure.
With a soft voice, he repeated the message to his friends. “The Council of Lords regrets to inform you that the support for your project titled ‘Research of the Classical Wyld studies’ is terminated effective immediately.”
Behind the Story
Word count: 911
This is a rewrite/edit of a story I wrote for the NaNoWriMo challenge in 2020. In this third viewpoint, I wanted to further explore the magic of this steampunk world from a "scholar's perspective". I didn't want to just create an exposition of some of the magic's elements. Instead, I explored a typical day in this scholar's life to add a bit more character and world-building to the setting.