The King and Queen of Morai asked to meet with Slate after Dahzi shared with them his plan for the Books of Knowledge. In the center of a large hall crowded with the kingdom’s top minds, Slate stood alone and delivered his plan, encouraged by Arianna from the sidelines.
“And I feel that the only way to make things equal is to start a printing operation here, using all the resources your kingdom can summon, so that everyone can have knowledge from the books, not only Opal Pools,” Slate finished.
The king and queen exchanged looks as their aids murmured.
“You feel that the best answer to this weapon you’ve described is more weaponry?” the queen asked.
“No, I don’t think weaponry is the answer at all,” Slate answered. “It’s more than weaponry, they have a million things that no one else in the world does right now. And there’s more on the way.”
“And you think they would use this knowledge against us?” asked the king.
“I don’t know,” answered Slate. “But troops are already moving, including your own. Obviously, the threat of the bomb is as great as its use would be. So long as the idea that Opal Pools is so horribly overpowered exists, the world will be in disarray.”
“Young man, do you really think just anyone can be trusted with the incredible information you claim is in the books?” one of the advisors standing near to the king asked.
“No,” Slate answered. “That’s the point. Unless everyone has the information, there can be nothing but distrust.”
“Obviously, my liege,” the advisor said to the king, “We could be finding ourselves in an advantageous position now. Not all of what the boy says should be discounted. We have the so-called Books of Knowledge. We have what only one other government possesses. Our little kingdom may have been fading away in the past few years, but this is our chance. Rather than open the knowledge to the world and possibly reel from the consequences of its dissemination, we should meet Opal Pools ourselves! Become a force equally as strong as them, for good! Lead the world, as we once led a mightier kingdom in days of old.”
“That is vainglorious,” the king said, dismissing the suggestion. “The Kingdom of Morai does not have the population to meet Opal Pools in combat, despite what we may glean from these books. And I don’t believe we have ever been a military power, at any point in our history. It is not who we are, and it is not who I want us to become.”
“Slate Ahn, what is the future you envision coming from the dissemination of this knowledge?” asked the queen.
Slate looked to Arianna, who smiled but had nothing to offer.
“I don’t know,” he answered. “I can’t see that far into the future. I don’t know that any of us can. But as far as I can see, well, your small number of troops are on the march. Opal Pools has a weapon that eats Alm itself. I don’t know that we have much time for deliberation.”
“This is absurd,” another aid scoffed. “Putting the information in the Books of Knowledge into the hands of every maniac and criminal in the world can only possibly lead to chaos.”
“The same could be said for the most basic aspects of our education,” countered the king. “But it is not the way of mankind to stop up our curiosity. We are born to flourish, to explore every path laid out before us. And while some of those paths will surely lead to harm, I ask you to imagine that some of the other paths humanity will take through the books will bring greater glories than tragedies. My queen?”
“I agree, my king. I am stirred that this young man from Aelioanei has recognized the importance of the knowledge in these books for all, and that he has taken such pains to keep them safe and bring them to us. Surely, if one such as he can travel the whole world to keep them safe, it is a good sign that the rest of humanity could do the right thing with their own stewardships.”
Slate felt small standing in front of the king and queen and their team of advisors, listening to the heads of state debate. He wanted to join Arianna along the wall, he wanted to be outside with Pilotte or adventuring with Ertajj.
“So, how shall we proceed?” the king asked.
“Me?” Slate asked. “Are you asking me?”
“Well, they are your books, aren’t they? And it will be your printing operation. Tell us, how should we start? How can we help you realize your brilliant plan?”
Slate couldn’t believe the king wanted him to oversee. “I… well, first, we’re going to need printing presses.”
“We have a few,” said the king. “But we will get you many more. How many do you think you’ll need?”
“As many as possible,” Slate answered. “Because we have to get the books to others who can reprint them, too. In every city, there should be printers working to teach the next cities over how to print more of the books. It can spread more quickly that way.”
“Absolutely brilliant,” the queen said. “Your plan sounds wonderful, Slate Ahn.”
The king nodded and smiled. “Agreed. We’ll set you up right away. So that the Gods once forgotten may be heard again, so that our world lost in the Fall may be born anew. Go now, all of you, and let it be known: here in Morai starts a new Golden Age, made possible by Slate Ahn of Aelioanei.”
The crowd of advisors fell into discussion as the king and queen rose to exit. Dahzi met Slate as he crossed to where Arianna sat waiting.
“You did it!” the prince said, grabbing Slate by the arm. “You really did it!”
“I didn’t do anything, yet,” said Slate. “That’s up to everyone else.”
“Slate, don’t downplay it,” said Dahzi. “You just stood up in front of a king and queen!”
“And you looked good doing it,” Arianna added, joining the two in the middle of the hall.
“I was sweating like a lart,” Slate said. “Some of them looked so angry at me.”
“They’re scared,” said Dahzi. “Of the unknown. Which you represent. But they’re good people. They’ll help.”
“It’s amazing, Slate,” said Arianna.
“I hope so,” said Slate. “I hope I’m right about things.”
“I think time will tell you are,” said Dahzi. “If anything, all you’ve done is speed up what would have been a much longer and potentially more miserable process.”
“Who can ever know?” asked Arianna. “That is the nature of the future. A future that will now be more equal.”
“If equal is really the ideal,” said Slate.
“Don’t doubt yourself now,” said Dahzi. “You’ve got a lot of work to do.”
“Do we ever. The translation alone is going to be a task greater than Praxi’s Gauntlet,” said Slate.
“I’ll help,” said Dahzi. “And Ertajj will help. We’re all in this together now, Slate.”
Arianna took Slate’s hand. “From now until the end.”
An unused stable was cleaned out to serve as headquarters for the printing operation. The Kingdom only had three presses available initially, but as Slate and Arianna worked to translate the books, Ertajj proved to be invaluable in the construction of twenty more. Meanwhile, Slate and Arianna worked through the night, drinking cups of steeproot as they rediscovered wonder after wonder. The volumes that Slate had traveled the world for were then compiled into a masterwork and copied to templates, while Morai’s artisans painstakingly recreated the pictures in the books on plates for the presses. Within a week, the new, complete copies of the master Book of Knowledge were being passed around the kingdom, and before the end of the second week, the first crate had left for delivery to the Protectorate in Aurora Falls.
Prince Dahzi visited the presses late one night, finding Slate, Arianna, and Ertajj covered with sweat and ink but happy in their toil.
“It’s incredible,” the prince said. “What you’re doing here. I’ve never seen my parents so thrilled.”
“That’s good to hear, Daz,” said Slate. “It really is amazing how quickly everyone has been working, and how good the work has been.”
“I never thought I’d see you working so hard, that’s for certain,” the prince said to Ertajj.
“No, I never thought I would. But there is a new world to be made now. I’d just be a hypocrite if I stood on the sidelines and didn’t help. It really feels like things are changing. For the first time in my life, I feel like my future is in my hands. My exceedingly ink-soaked hands.”
“The agency this will give people over their lives,” Arianna said, “It’s unprecedented.”
“I know it’s foolish to be so optimistic,” said Ertajj. “I know that a lot of pain can come from this power being distributed so widely and so abruptly. People are still people.”
“But it doesn’t have to be like that,” said Slate. “Those few who wanted to abuse power before maybe can’t so much anymore.”
“Just the medical knowledge alone,” said Arianna. “The cures for Cindra, for Banor Toxin, treatments for the simple cold. It’s nothing short of a miracle.”
Slate pulled a template down from a press and wiped the letters dry with a dirty cloth.
“You want to help?” he asked Dahzi. “You want to get a little ink?”
Dahzi rolled up his delicately laced sleeves and smiled. “You bet I do.”
The kingdom focused the entirety of its energies on the printing operation once the first bits of the knowledge from the books started to make their way through society. Crate after crate of the Book started to flood out of Morai’s gates, and at each town in which they arrived, another printing operation would go up. The information spread across the continent like a virus, at an incredible speed. In less than a month, people from all across Proterse started to flock to Morai, to see the original Books for themselves, the spring from where the revolution had burst forth.
As the technologies and techniques in the Book were better studied, understood, and put into action, life in Morai started to change. A super-lightweight, wickedly accurate longbow was developed, the first such military advance in years. Citrus lighting was next, increasing the number of hours in the day that people could read and work and thus how quickly they could learn and produce more wonders. Trips out of the kingdom’s walls for timber to feed the ravenous printing operation were soon accompanied by fantastic, steam-powered carts that could cut down the forests and reseed the land autonomously. New fertilizers saw the gardens in Morai bursting like never before. New medicines for all manners of ailments came available daily. The world was open anew, and had burst forth like a wild jinx freed from a cage. Truly, it seemed as if each hour brought a new wonder.
To the dozens and then hundreds turning up in Morai daily to see the original Books of Knowledge for themselves, Slate wore the face of a hero. In moments of soaring praise and endless questioning, he found himself longing for days gone by, when he moved unknown across the lands like the wind, when anonymity was his greatest ally. Now, he couldn’t find a moment alone. And on top of that, he couldn’t help but feel he hadn’t done anything deserving of the attention. He hadn’t written the Book. He hadn’t made any of the breakthroughs with its information. Slate felt uncomfortable when toasts were made in his name, and when the same strangers who once eyed him suspiciously would now gush and fawn over him. As such, the familiar feeling of homesickness called again, and Slate longed for his small, quiet island, far away from the happenings on Proterse.
Once the printing operation was automated, Slate and Arianna no longer had to work every day. Instead, they got to play with Pilotte, and relax, something Slate had not really been able to do since leaving home. And in small moments of their newly found free time, they started to talk about going home.
The two intended to announce their departure to Ertajj and Dahzi over a bottle of jool wine and the sunset, as they lazed about the ramifications on the north side of the castle.
“Do you think he’s still in there?” Ertajj asked, reaching for a second bottle of wine.
“If he is, he’s not alive,” said Dahzi.
“Theolus Reever,” Slate mused, shaking his head. “You wouldn’t believe the guy was real even if you met him, Arianna.”
“Do you think he jumped out of the raft?” she asked, taking the pour Ertajj was offering.
“Who knows?” asked Slate. “Maybe he joined up with the Nions.”
“Right,” Ertajj cackled. “They hated him so much.”
Just then, Slate noticed something moving along the edge of the jungle.
“What’s that?” he asked quietly, mostly to himself.
The strange phenomenon became more visible, appearing like huge, floating bulbs of color along the tops of the trees.
“Yeah, what on Alm is that?” Ertajj seconded, standing up tipsily.
The bulbs floated out from the edge of the forest, over the plain that sloped down to the edge of the castle.
“Is it…?” Dahzi mumbled, confused.
“Are they…?” Arianna wondered.
A cry sounded from the strange phenomenon, a human voice.
“Can you hear that?” Slate asked.
“I…” Dahzi said, straining to hear, “… Is that my name? Are they calling out names?”
The team on the fortification strained to listen until the voices were clear enough to understand: they were, in fact, calling out every one of their names.
“How…” Ertajj wondered, his mouth agape.
The orbs now started to alight onto the plain, one after the other, until all five had touched down. And then, humans started to leave them, to spread out over the grass and head toward the castle.
“Who are they? What… what is it?” Dahzi gasped, unable to wrap his head around what he was seeing.
“Come on,” Ertajj said, tripping forward. “Let’s go see!”
A small team of guards was already on the plain before the friends, relieved that the newcomers were allies. Slate overheard some of them talking about Nions, and then their biggest surprise was revealed.
“Who’s that there now?” a voice asked from somewhere within the confused crowd.
Slate turned to see Juke beaming.
“Juke!” Slate answered.
“Slate! Ertajj! Dahzi!” Juke exclaimed, rushing to meet his friends.
“You know him?” Arianna asked Slate.
“Sure I do!” Slate enthused. “We go way back, don’t we, Juke?”
Juke grabbed Slate and gave him a hug. “And who’s this here now?” he asked of Arianna.
“This is Arianna Falls,” Slate answered.
“Ah yes, Ms. Falls, I’ve heard a lot about you. Though, you’re twice as beautiful as Slate described,” Juke said.
“Oh, well,” Arianna giggled, blushing.
“What are you doing here?” Slate asked. “And more importantly, how were you flying through the air?”
“I’ve come to see you,” said Juke.
“How did you know I was here?” Slate asked.
“Don’t you know?” Juke asked. “You’re famous! Word is spreading, Mr. Ahn. And so is your Book!”
“Famous?” Slate repeated.
“The man who carried the book! Everyone’s heard about him! Friend, we’ve got our own press operation already in the village,” Juke said. “They’re springing up everywhere! You’ve started a revolution!”
Slate couldn’t believe it. “You’re reproducing the Book, too?” he gasped. “In the Ojikef? Already?”
“Yes, sir,” Juke said. “Things are changing fast back at the village. And I’m ready for it. It’s incredible. And I get to be an emissary!”
“You’re an emissary? Mr. Fancy now, eh? How’s that going?” Ertajj asked.
“Seeing as I have no experience, it’s going exactly as well as it could,” Juke answered. “It’s rough, sometimes it’s messy. A lot of my people are scared of advance. But they see what we can do. With our resources, with hent fiber, and petrified balsan, how we made these balloons. And I’ve been able to help them quite a bit, coming from the outside. We’re even ready to start diplomacy with other states. It’s going to be so good. The future is going to be so good!”
“Juke, that’s incredible!” Slate cried. “It’s working, isn’t it? Oh, I can’t believe it!”
Juke beamed at his friend’s elation. “What you’re all doing here is changing the world,” he said. “But you must tell me, how did you come to acquire the Book in the first place?”
“I’ll tell you all about it Juke,” said Slate. “We’ve got nothing but time.”
After an evening spent celebrating, an increasingly common occurrence in the kingdom, the friends sat in the courtyard watching the stars and reminiscing.
“Word has it that the troops gathering in Dale have started to disperse,” said Ertajj. “And I hear that Opal Pools is just completely floored. They have no idea what to do!”
“Everyone’s plans have changed,” said Juke. “It’s a new world we’re living in.”
“Yes, anything’s possible now,” Dahzi said, his eyes bright. “Who knows what corner of the world will seize the knowledge and make the greatest leap forward with it? Weapons are the least of things. Who knows what real wonders are in store?”
“It really is amazing,” said Arianna. “I never thought I’d live to see things change. Really change!”
“I was the same way, Arianna,” said Ertajj. “I was convinced the world was doomed.”
“I’m sure there will be plenty more instances of the knowledge being used for ill,” Slate said. “It’s foolish to assume that just because it’s out there for everyone that even half of them will use it for good. I’m sure there are things far worse than what we’ve seen waiting to be rediscovered.”
“But at least everyone is on the same page now,” Arianna said. “For maybe the first time in history.”
“Surely, Alm’s trials are not over yet,” said Dahzi. “But we should not dwell on the problems in the world, not right now. There is so much to cheer. A new day has dawned!”