“Please, do tell,” Lenore quickly said, eager to change the subject, “I’m sure it’s fascinating stuff.” She lovingly linked her arm around Cyril’s
“Yes. Riveting.” Arlette said under her breath.
Cyril’s hand tightened around Lenore’s forearm—not out of love or admiration, although there was plenty of that—but out of sheer excitement.
“Well,” Nikoli began, happy to see all eyes on him again, “the idea first came to me while I was doing some research in my study room. At the same time, I was enjoying a delectable array of biscuits—I find that stimulating the taste buds helps to keep the mind alert—yet, while eating, I kept finding myself in the irritable position of constantly having to wipe the crumbs away from the pages on which they had fallen. Eventually, I was more focused on trying to prevent the crumbs from falling onto my research papers than the actual research itself; and once I realised this, I stood up in a fit of frustration and shouted, “Why must you fall!” Now, I am embarrassed to admit that I let an insignificant thing such as crumbs illicit a reaction that is very unbecoming of me; but looking back I now realise that it was an important first step because once I spoke those words a sense of euphoria came upon me. A revelation grew in my mind, and I asked again, but more quizzically, “why must you fall?” He plucked a crumb from an earlier pastry off his waistcoat, held it outwards between his forefinger and thumb so all could see. Then, he let go of the crumb and said, “I pass the same question on to you, why must they fall?”
“It’s simple,” Béla scoffed. “They fall because they must—as all things must. It is how it is supposed to be; what goes up must come down.”
“Ah, then how do you explain those?” Nikoli retorted, pointed upwards at the navy-hued balloons that pooled atop the ceiling, floating aimlessly. “They do not fall, do they? At least not until all the gas within them expires. And what of feathers? If I were to let go of a feather, it would simply amble downwards—yet a stone would drop immediately.” He took a deep breath and continued, “No, there is variation and thus there must be an explanation.”
“And can you explain this?” Cyril eagerly asked.
“Of course! One simply must realise that it is not the crumbs that are falling, but it is the very world itself that is rising upwards. I believe that the city, the Tower, and everything it encompasses is in a constant state of perpetual motion, forever rising upwards through the black beyond and that we are simply riding atop of it. So, if the world were to suddenly stop—”
“—the crumbs would remain where they were; hanging in the air, never moving…never falling,” Cyril finished for him.
“Exactly, my boy!”
“I apologise for my curtness Mister Kuznetsov,” Sir Béla said through a chuckled grin, “but what you suggest is simply preposterous. Unless that is, you have been able to perform any transmutations that prove this theorem of yours?”
“Ah—well, you see,” Nikoli stuttered, “it is, as you might agree, an exceptionally long and extremely complicated matter. One that would first require the solving of many other theorems that come before it. I simply do not have the time nor the resources to even begin.”
“Then you should take an apprentice then!” Lenore stated, “It would lessen the burden and allow yourself the time to dwell on the important matters.”
“I have considered that, yes. But the Concilium has—for whatever reason—denied any such requests I have made. Apparently, they do not consider my work important enough to delegate such resources,” he ended his sentences with a scoff and a flick of the wrist as if to shoo away their opinion.
“My beloved Cyril here is a more than capable candidate, no?” Lenore said, placing her hand on his chest, “A learned man outside of the bounds of the Concilium—ready to be snatched up and eager to work.”
“Ah, but if its resources you need,” Béla countered, “the Del’Mar family has a trough of alchemists at the behest. And each has been selectively tutored by the most prestigious of masters—which is more than we can say for our…self-educated host.”
Arlette continued Béla’s statement. “And I am positive the Del’Mar estate can arrange some form of financial assistance to help facilitate this research of yours, Mister Kuznetsov. Isn’t that right, dear?”
Nikoli hooked his thumbs into his waistcoat pockets and took a short moment to contemplate. Meanwhile, Cyril’s thoughts raced—and crashed. He felt the effort to maintain his smile become a burden he could no longer hold. He ran through scenarios in his head and of things he could say to convince Nikoli to tutor him. But all words fizzled into nothingness on his tongue and as Nikoli began to speak, his grip loosened on Lenore.
“Well, I must say that this is a very generous offer indeed, one that would be foolish to refuse. But I did not get to where I am today by…as you say…eating the hen before it lays its egg. So, before I agree, I would first like to hear what else the Lady Lenore might have to offer.”
“A very wise choice, Mister Kuznetsov,” Lenore spoke as if she was stating an unquestionable fact. Cyril did not know if her confidence was genuine or a tactful ploy, but it was infectious nonetheless and he could not help but feel that she was about to turn the tide of this oratory war.
She continued, “You must remember that the De León’s are, like the Del’Mar’s, an Archon family. As such we can provide funding equal to or higher than they.”
“But—” Cyril began to protest. He was immediately shot down by a reproachful glance from Lenore.
She turned back to Nikoli and said, “I do not doubt that Lord Béla commands a significant amount of sway within the Del’Mar estate—but I do doubt his position to speak on the family’s behalf. As such, the financing he offers is not as guaranteed as he might imply. Whereas I do command such authority and thus I can make that guarantee.”
“Interesting,” Nikoli mused. “And what of the alchemists? Surely you do not deny that their expertise would still be a huge boon to my research regardless of financing.”
“The pedigree of the Del’Mar alchemists is indisputable. As Lord Béla previously stated, only the most prestigious alchemists have educated them—but therein lies the problem. While under your tutelage, any success these young alchemists garner will be accredited only partially to you. The rest will be to the others that have taught them. Whereas with my dearest Cyril, since you will be his sole academic mentor, all accomplishments of his will be accredited entirely to you. And, as you have heard, he is not lacking in skill—so he is bound to have many great accomplishments while under your tutelage.”
Lenore flicked her eyes to Béla and, with a sly grin, asked: “Or does Lord Béla cast doubt on Mister Kuznetsov’s ability to tutor someone with no prior formal education? He is, after all, the department head for Occasum College.”
Béla certainly wished to do so, if only to secure his position on the matter; but these soirées were a game of whispers. And one fluent in this game would understand that it must be played with pleasantries or else risk one’s social standing… For whispers travel like the wind and what may seem like a breeze at first, may eventually turn into a storm.
“No. I do not,” Béla eventually said. “It would seem that their partnership would make for a…potent combination.”
“Ha!” Nikoli let out a hearty cheer. He clapped his hands and said, “and thus, the egg appears!”
“Does that mean you’ll take me as your apprentice?” Cyril asked with a mixture of joy and disbelief.
“It does indeed, my boy!” He replied, slapping Cyril across the back with enough force that it threw him off-kilter. “We can concern ourselves with the formalities and woefully uninteresting this-and-that’s tomorrow—for now, let us celebrate.”
“This is fantastic news!” Cyril threw a kiss onto Lenore’s cheek and she replied with a loving smile. “I shall find us a server and send him this way with beverages!” He turned to Béla and Arlette and asked, “Will you stay and share a drink with us?”
“No, I’m afraid we must be going,” Béla replied, pulling a golden pocket watch out from his pocket. “I have important business matters to attend to.” He slipped the watch back into his pocket and held his hand out towards Cyril. “It was a pleasure meeting you,” he said, and Cyril shook it with the enthusiasm of a puppy, still pumping with excitement.
Once free, Béla turned to Nikoli and said, “I look forward to reading your research, Mister Kuznetsov.”
He then turned to Lenore.
There was a moment of pause while they held eye contact. Then, he silently gave her a slight but respectful nod and turned to leave.
Arlette lingered for a moment more, looking Lenore up and down with her upper lip curled upwards with detest.
“Mademoiselle,” she said.
“Madame,” Lenore replied.
Arlette hmphed, turned, and quickly followed Béla out.
“Ah, and the raven seeks to peck the other raven’s eye,” Nikoli wisely said as he watched her leave. He then quickly shouted for Cyril, who had also just left. “Be sure to also send the server with the pastries this way!”