by Lyvidia A
Mather and Mrs. Bluth attend the scholar's convention.
|"Mather! The convention is starting soon, we should get going!"
"I'll be right there!" Mather called down. He turned back to the device on his table, tightening a screw. He sighed and pulled his goggles over his eyes. "Okay, that should do it!" He pushed a button on the side of the device, pulling his hand back quickly as one of the small arms on it began swinging wildly. In a panic, he grabbed a dowel and swept it into the metal bin he kept next to his desk, the device making an awful clanging as it continued its movement.
"Mather, what's going on up there?"
"Nothing!" He put a lid on the bin, effectively muffling the sound. He wiped his hands on an old rag and headed downstairs, not wanting to keep Mrs. Bluth waiting any longer.
She was waiting for him at the bottom of the staircase, fussing with a button on her cuff. "What was all that noise?"
"Uh, I was just, um, putting something away," Mather stammered. He noticed that she was wearing a brilliant blue dress. "Is this a formal event?"
"Oh, no, I just haven't been to one of these conventions in a long time. It's a special occasion and I want to look the part." She stared off into the distance. "The last time I went was before..." She shook her head, giving Mather a once-over and frowning. "Goodness dear, at least take those goggles off."
Mather reached towards his face, not realizing he had left his goggles on. He quickly pulled them off, setting them at the bottom of the stairs. "Better?"
Mrs. Bluth gave him a satisfied smile. "Much better." With that, she turned, heading out of the door.
Mather ran a hand through his hair, trying to make it look more presentable. He followed his landlady as she started prattling off about this friend of hers that they were going to meet.
"He and I met shortly after I moved to the city with Mr. Bluth," Mrs. Bluth said, taking Mather's arm as he offered it to her. "I was a bit of a recluse, like you are. Magnus helped me break out of my shell and adjust to living in the city. It was a difficult change, but he helped make it go much smoother."
"When did you move to the city?" Mather asked.
"Mr. Bluth and I moved here shortly after the treaties with Khabisa and Svaldr. I don't think the ink had even dried when we bought the house. I've seen this city grow into what it is today." She let out a laugh. "I hated it at first! I wanted more than anything to turn around and go back to our cottage in northern Sidland. Pierson had gotten a job here, though, so I didn't have much choice in the matter. You know the clock tower in the middle of the city? He's the one who built that."
Mather raised his eyebrows. "I would have assumed Mr. Adreogan built that tower or the clock at the very least."
Mrs. Bluth let out a short laugh, almost like a bark. "That tinkerer has nothing on what Pierson could do. He made the most intricate, beautiful clocks. The king of Khabisa even commissioned a clock from him made out of marble and pure gold."
"He must have been quite the craftsman, I would have loved to meet him."
Mrs. Bluth smiled and gave his arm a squeeze. "Yes. you two would have gotten along splendidly. Ah, here we are!"
The scholar's district was the liveliest Mather had ever seen it. Booths and demonstration stages were set up all around, bustling bodies moving from one display to another. Vendors were shouting about their wares to the attendees, money and product exchanging hands.
"Oh! I see him! Magnus!" Mrs. Bluth let go of Mather's arm, making her way through convention attendees.
Mather found that following Mrs. Bluth was difficult. She kept disappearing and reemerging, further and further away from him. The crowd seemed to part before her and swallow her up, leaving Mather apologizing and nearly tripping over his own feet as he tried to navigate through people. He found himself lost in the sea of bodies, desperately trying to push against the current. He finally broke through next to a stage where Mrs. Bluth was speaking to an incredibly tall older man in a long, navy robe.
"There he is!" Mrs. Bluth said, grabbing Mather's hand and pulling him to her. "We were just talking about you."
"So this is the famous inventor I've been hearing about!" The man took Mather's hand and shook it vigorously. "Magnus Larsen, pleased to make your acquaintance."
Mather smiled politely, his arm falling to his side. "Mather Arkwright."
"Well, Master Arkwright, I must thank you for getting Earleen out of the house. I haven't seen her in ages."
Mrs. Bluth rolled her eyes. "Goodness, I've invited you to dinner but you're too busy burying your nose in a book or conducting some sort of experiment."
Mather looked around at the other attendees. Khabisians, Svaldrans, and Sidish alike were gathered around various stages and booths. "This is quite the event."
Magnus nodded. "Of course! It's the semi-annual Gathering of Scholars. We have intellectuals from Khabisa, professors from Svaldr...we even have scholars from Zheng."
Mather turned to him. "Zheng? The land to the east?"
"Yes, a few diplomats and some academics. An alliance between Sidland and Zheng is in the works. Svaldr and Khabisa too, of course."
"Mather, Magnus and I have some catching up to do. Why don't you enjoy yourself and meet some people?"
Mather nodded and meandered towards the center of the convention. He passed a booth filled with cut crystals, some delicate spires of quartz and others larger than his fist. A few people were setting up a demonstration on a nearby stage, a complex array of glass tubes and various apparatuses filled with liquids sitting upon a table. He bumped into someone and apologized as they grumbled and pushed past him.
A man in brilliant purple robes appeared on a nearby stage, his assistant wheeling a covered pedestal behind him. "Have you ever wanted to experience strength as you never have before? Ladies and gentlemen, I have discovered ultimate source of such strength!" He gestured towards the pedestal. "From deep in a Khabisian gold mine, I bring to you a volume of mystery and power. Come!"
Mather couldn't understand why, but he felt a sense of dread overcome him as the crowd around him pressed in closer to the stage. He tried to turn and walk back towards where he had left Mrs. Bluth and Magnus, but the people behind him pushed him closer to the presenter.
"Scholars, visitors, citizens of Midlung, behold!" The man whipped off the velvet sheet with a flourish, revealing a black tome set with a large purple stone. The crowd gasped and applauded.
Mather examined the tome from afar. He could see the cracked, black leather that made up its cover, the yellowed pages it contained. What caught his eye the most was the stone embedded into the front of the book. It was a deep purple ringed with an intricate gold setting. He wasn't certain, but it appeared that something inside of the stone was moving, a slow swirling motion.
"What is it, exactly?" a voice from the crowd asked. Mather turned towards it, as did most of the people around him. He saw Magnus standing near the edge of the audience, arms crossed, flanked by three men wearing blue robes similar to his own.
"A tome filled with ancient secrets!" the man said with a flourish. He moved behind the pedestal, taking the book and opening it dramatically. "See here it says 'Ahdhr...min...alquat almuzalama'!"
"Is that Khabisian? What does it mean?" a man behind Mather asked the presenter.
"It means that this presentation is over," he heard Magnus say from the back. Mather watched as Magnus and his colleagues marched up to the stage, the audience whispering excitedly. "Apologies, fine citizens, but it appears this man is no more than a charlatan." Mather watched as two men with Magnus escorted the man and his assistant off of the stage. The other one took the tome, wrapping it carefully in the fabric covering it before. "Please, enjoy our other demonstrations."
The crowd began to disperse, several of them grumbling about poor screening for presentations. Mather approached Magnus, who was still onstage talking to one of the colleagues that had lead the presenter away.
"What was that all about?" Mather asked as Magnus stepped down from the platform.
Magnus smiled and shook his head. "That man was not registered as one of our presenters. We have a rigorous review process for any demonstrations and presentations happening at the convention. Even the vendors undergo an interview process."
One of his colleagues came up to them, whispering something to Magnus. Mather couldn't quite make out what he was saying. "...relic...not a forgery," the man mumbled.
Magnus nodded along, then straightened up and smiled at Mather. "It appears I have some work to do back at the Wizard's Tower. Tell Mrs. Bluth I accept her invitation and look forward to seeing you both at dinner tomorrow night." He bowed and disappeared into the convention attendees.
Mather walked back to where he had last seen Mrs. Bluth. She was admiring a floral arrangement that a vendor had displayed. She turned and saw him, furrowing her brows. "Where did Magnus go?"
"He said he had some things to attend to, but he accepts your dinner invitation."
She shook her head. "Always busy with his books. Well, there's plenty to see around here. Shall we?"
Mather smiled and offered his arm. The two of them walked around, viewing the different demonstrations and legitimate presentations. There were Khabisians showing some new methods of agriculture that allowed them to yield a larger harvest despite their poor growing conditions. One presenter from Svaldran discussed mining efforts and how they had created a device to alert miners of a possible shaft collapse before it happened, giving them enough time to evacuate.
Mrs. Bluth tapped Mather's arm. "I see one of the ladies who used to live in my attic, I'm going to catch up with her. I'll meet you back at the house." With that, she disappeared into the crowd, leaving Mather to wander the convention alone.
As Mather passed a vendor's booth, a man in purple bumped into him, nearly sending him to the ground. The man said nothing, just pushed past him and into the crowd while grumbling about being humiliated. Mather recognized him as the man who had his unauthorized presentation shut down. Mather went after the man, calling out to him.
The man turned around, eyebrows furrowed. "What do you want?"
"W-where did you get that book? The one from your presentation, I mean," Mather stammered.
The man laughed. "I found that book at a run down shop in Khabisa. I thought I might as well try to pass it off as some sort of book of power, maybe get some fool to buy it." He shook his head, looking wistfully towards the sky. "It probably would have worked, too."
"So you're a con man?"
"I prefer the term 'opportunist'." He smiled at Mather. "Those goons in the blue dresses took it anyways, so I guess I'm out a few dinor. Could you lend me some?"
Mather raised an eyebrow, bewildered.
The man let out a hearty laugh, clapping Mather on the shoulder. "I'm joking. I could use a drink though. Have a good time, whoever you are." With that, he turned and walked into the crowd of people.
Mather shook his head. What an odd encounter. He walked back towards the stage where the fraud had taken place, remembering what he had overheard Magnus and his colleague discussing. He spotted a small bit of metal laying on the ground and picked it up, slipping it into his pocket. That's when he noticed that his coin purse was gone.