His mind trying to encompass the evening as a whole, Jack traversed the sombre streets.
He had not thought about the risk of jealousy at all until Bernard mentioned it, and indeed a strange glare seemed to emerge from some of the few people on the streets.
At least he had had the wit to cover the vibrant glow with a piece of cloth; a faint shimmer of green radiating of his pocket surely would have raised more question.
After reaching home, Jack locked the door, made sure all window shutters were closed tight and only then brandished the wooden plate.
One of the possible uses immediately became obious. The green glow illuminated most of the workshop, albeit the corners of the room were only dimly lit.
The shadows undulate ever-so slightly according with the constant, small changes in the chaos of a thousand strings of light that filled the circle.
After admiring the play of light for a short time, Jack placed the plate on the workbench and covered it with the slightly shivering palm of his right hand.
The room went dark. A few seconds, a minute passed.
Jack lifted his hand, fetched himself a stool and continued.
Although he did his best ad concentrating, he could not feel anything special. Only the smooth wooden surface, devoid of any noticeable irregularities.
In the darkness, his eyes formed faint schemes. The slightest, colourless glow filled his field of vision, then slowly concentrated into distinguishable spheres of light, which formed along horizontal and vertical lines at first and then started rotating around one speckle in multiple clockwise and counter-clockwise circles.
Was this normal? Were those the glowing dots Bernard had named?
The glowing spots slowly receded, and Jack reached for them with his left hand, as if he could hinder their departure.
The outer circles stopped and slowly reversed, back towards Jack. Then, suddenly, the inner ones and the central point surged towards his outstretched hand, almost like a spear of light.
Surprised by this sudden move, Jack flinched, backed off, stumbled over the stool and fell to the ground.
The green light filled the room again, casting away shadows and luminous spears alike.
When his left hand touched the floor, a sudden, sharp pain shot through his arm. Jack quickly got back on his feet and investigated the palm.
A small chip of metal had penetrated the skin. Once he removed the fragment, a tiny cut outlined itself in scarlet. This wound would not pose any thread.
His senses were playing tricks on him, which clearly indicated that he should get some sleep. This evening would not yield any insights.
And thus Jack soon commenced his night´s rest, albeit not before hiding the glowing plate in a light-tight pouch below a pile of scrap metal.
The next day, Jack rose as early as dawn, eager to continue the work of the previous night with a clearer mind.
After rummaging through the stack of spare metal, he examinend the precious plate and, to his discontent, found a few small scratches that must have been caused by sharp metal edges. Nevertheless, the circle was glowing as vivid as ever, although the glow seemed to fade in the increasing brightness of the rising sun.
Deciding to take a different approach this time, Jack let the plate flow through his hands, pinched the edge, traced the outline of the circle with every finger. And indeed, he thought he could feel the faintest tingle once and again.
He stopped the movement of his hands and placed the wooden plate on the workbench, just like he had done last time. However, now he only moved his fingers over the green circle, and tried to imagine how the surface must look up close.
Jack´s mind created the picture of a plane of pale sandstone, the ground deeply scarred by uncountable ravines. He descended one of them and soon the daylight was dwarfed by a vibrant green glow which covered the lower end. He deemed it to be a liquid at first, but a sudden gust of wind from above proved him otherwise, for the green parted like fog and revealed the true bottom: Deep down, the pale sandstone was covered in sand, each grain glowing like a tiny sun and ceaselessly scurrying around like a restless a fly. Some grains formed circles of warying diameter, as if someone had plucked stars out of the sky and stringed them like beads on a necklace.
By instinct, Jack reached out to dig a hand through the sand. However, the fingertips met a strange resistance, as if the grains rather were of a heavy metal. He could barely scrape the surface of the ever-shifting desert of stars, and every single grain seemed to weigh as much as a bucket filled with water.
Jack lifted his hand off the plate and let the mental picture sink into his mind. He was convinced that he had found whatever it was he had searched, although any comprehension still was far out of reach.
Jack´s curiosity, however, had steadily grown. And thus, he picked up a short strip of brass from the floor and examined it using the same methods as a moment ago.
Again, there was a seemingly endless plane of sandstone, albeit in a more natural, brownish tint this time. In contrary to the previous scene however, the ground was not intersected and only a few subtle irregularities deviated it from a gigantic slab of common polished sandstone.
He ought to split the ground himself. Jack did not know where this thought had originated, but it seemed to make sense, although the exact means of digging were still unknown to him.
He then tried to force his way through through the matter by sheer willpower.
After a few minutes, a steadily growing headache forced Jack to interrupt his efforts. The time, however, had been fruitful ever-so slightly, as there now where small nicks in the surface.
At this rate, however, it would take him months to carve out a cleft of the magnitude he had found on Bernard´s construct.
Nevertheless he continued after a short break, concentrating as best as he could. Slow but steady, Jack parted the brass and found that his speed already had increased just a bit.
At some point, the glowing grains started to congregate at the bottom of the crevice he had excavated. By then, Jack deemed this part of work to be done for now, and moved on to the strange grains.
Contradicting the earlier experience, he could actually move them this time, albeit only one at a time. Yet another interesting discovery he made was that the glowing dots somehow stayed fixated wherever Jack lessened his mental grip on them, only to fall down at the slightest touch.
He toyed around by creating multiple geometric figures when suddenly a sharp, cold pain in his palm made him stumble back into reality, and shook his hand to lessen the pain, upset by the sudden interruption.
The aching hand was, however, soon forgotten as a broad smile parted Jack´s lips after a gasp of surprise.
On the strip of brass, a circle of light blue was dimly glowing.
Only then he noticed the rapidly fading light and was aghast at how fast the time had flown by during his work. The next course would be due soon, and thus Jack left his home, both glowing circles clattering in his pocket.
And again, most of the citizens seemed to regard him with a slight suspicion.
Jack was the last one to step through the Obsidian Fist´s gate again, although he entered in the wake of a small group of people this time.
Once more, Kylogue was the only one Jack knew by name, and the carpenter greeted with a wave, which the blacksmith replied.
Bernard occupied the same spot as last time, aside from that, the entire seating arrangement seemed to have changed. Nevertheless the people chatted, mostly bragging about their success in the study of the wooden plates or lamenting the lack thereof.
As one particular voice raised, all other quickly vanished.
"I hereby welcome you to the second course.
Firstly, I´d like to thank all those who turned in name suggestions, and proclaim the official term to be lux. Now some of you may know the original meaning of this ancient word, but I believe far more are familiar with the derived composite word lucintebra, which describes a rare flower out of which an oil with an extraordinary trait can be distilled. Once subjected to sunlight, said fluid emits a faint glow for some hours.
Okay, this problem is now solved.
Today, I will teach you something of major importance. I know that not all of you have completed the first step yet, but every single one of you will proft from the following piece of knowledge."
Bernard raised one finger and continued.
"In this world, nothing happens without a cause or without a price. And just as all of you have to nourish yourselves with food and drink, the lux has to feed off something as well.
This particular sort of nourishment is what the scholars call energy, and it imbues your lit hearth, the cup in your hand, the very air around you, simply everything.
Those puny constructs you have used so far are satisfied by the mere heat of your homes and your bodies, but once we want the lux to do hard labor, this will not be sufficient anymore, although one of high grade will be sated far sooner than an amateurish one.
A lux without the proper directions will simply devour its surroundings in an act of gluttony. Obviously this would make most appliances impossible, so we need to force some manners into the little bugger. With sufficient willpower, you can, er, persuade them to limit themselves to a specified area of space. Doing this for a part of space close to the lux is actually quite easy, but the farer we go, the harder it gets."
Bernard then inserted a short break, and of those few that were not musing about his words did not dare to break the dead silence.
The lux´ hunger reminded Jack of the terrible, all-consuming whirlwind of his nightmare, and he shivered as he thought about the two glowing circles inside his pocket, only now noticing their slight coldness.
And the speech continued.
"Yet another important fact to notice is that not all kinds of matter seem to provide the same amount of nourishment, they vary rather wildly. From what I could get my hands on during my research, fat appears to be the most efficient choise, although a good log of wood is not bad either, and obsiously far easier to handle. At the end, however, the quality of the lux itself determinates the efficiency.
Now that we got this part out of the way, how will we be able to advance mankind with this knowledge?
I dare to say we have barely lifted the lid off this treasure chest, but even with what we´ve got so far, we can revolutionise a tremendous amount of everyone´s life.
For a start, just think about the light the lux emit! With some effort, we can replace the common torch with something that does not require fuel or a flint to brighten the night and can´t set anything ablaze either.
At last, mankind will be able to truly expel the darkness from our homes and streets.
Next up, there is the entire part about creating movement. A mill, independant of the petulant force of wind and water, far cheaper in construction, or a carriage or plow bare of horse or oxen.
With professional craftsmanship, we could make all those tools much more affordable, and once they are within the reach of the poorest farmer, the increased production clearly will drop the price of the produced goods. Malnourishment and famine will be reduced to a fraction of what it is now, to name only one of the benefits.
All those changes start right here, right now."
Bernard supported the last sentence by slamming his fist on the table.
"From this town, the revolution will spread through the lands and improve the life of every single human being.
And it is up to you to be the heralds of this new age, you will invent, improve, build and teach."
During the rest of the evening, many ideas were brought up, discussed, and, in a few cases, deemed impossible by Bernard.
The memory of the nightmare was hidden by a growing exitement, and during the next few days and weeks, Jack spent most of his waking hours further training his skills.