I knocked on the door and waited. “Come in,” responded a gruff voice.
I walked in and watched the dim candlelight cast flickering shadows on the figure hunched over the workbench.
The room was littered with depleted Starburst crystals, remnants of experiments gone wrong. A weird smell hung heavily in the air, both musty and acrid at the same time.
“What do ya want?” he asked in his characteristic grumble. No one knew his real name. We just called him ‘Sage’ like everyone else.
“I’ve brought more crystals from the mine, sir,” I muttered, trembling slightly. Even after living here for ten years, his presence was still unnerving.
It was not like he mistreated us. Quite the opposite, I must say. He gave us poor orphans a place to call home and ensured we are provided for.
I heard the local gossiping ladies say that, long ago, he had lost his son in a Starburst explosion.
Instead of burning Starburst crystals to heat their homes, the father & son duo tried different experiments to harness more energy.
They had made a deal with the King to develop a way to refine and purify Starburst into something more than just an energy source.
Tragically, an uncontrolled explosion happened in the very same lab I was currently standing in, claiming his son’s life.
Consumed with grief, Sage had thrown himself even deeper into experimenting with Starburst crystals. To justify the sacrifice, he grasped at anything and everything to make sense of his son’s death.
The gossipping ladies even said Sage cared for orphans to fill the void left by his deceased son.
Sponsored by the King himself, Sage spent the last ten years collecting arcane knowledge from all over Alpha Solus.
The laboratory was crammed full of archaic texts and mysterious devices from foreign lands that now sat forgotten in the dusty corners of the room.
I watched him walk over towards the bag of crystals I had just placed on the floor.
“You’ve grown taller, and your hair is longer, child. How are your studies?”
“Going good- I mean, going well, sir,” I replied.
‘He still calls me “child” even as I approach my 20th summer….’ I mused.
“Good, you’re the oldest one here, and need to care for the rest of them when I’m gone,” he said with a sigh.
He pulled a candle closer and adjusted his magnifying eyeglass to inspect the crystals.
He fumbled around inside and pulled out the largest Starburst crystal. It was almost the size of his head, but he held it in one hand.
“Magnificent, where did they find this specimen?” he asked as the crystal’s purple glow illuminated his face.
“The Foreman told me they found it at the bottom of an underground lake, sir. A scout noticed it after setting up camp next to the waterfall.”
“This will do nicely. Something this large will have the right amount of energy we need for today’s experiment.”
“What’s today’s experiment, sir?” I asked.
“Curious are we? I’m going to try a method I read about in a Far Eastern manuscript. Physical manipulation doesn’t work, so I will try mental and emotional methods as well.”
He placed it on the workbench and began measuring the crystal. I noticed his hands trembling a little. Whether from old age or the cold, I wasn’t sure, but I suddenly had a burst of inspiration.
“Sir, I’ll be right back,” I said, stepping out of the room. I lit a fire and began warming a water kettle on the stone hearth.
I grabbed a blanket from the living area and brought it back, draping it over his shoulders.
He looked at me, a mix of emotions on his face. “T-thank you my child…” he muttered. “I’ve been so busy I didn’t notice the days getting shorter and the nights getting colder.”
“You’re welcome, sir. I’m also going to warm some porridge- whoa…The crystal. It’s changing colors!”
He turned around, and we watched it change from a deep purple to a soft gold.
“I haven’t begun the experiment yet,” Sage murmured, “How could this be?”
We looked at each other again in bewilderment, and as smiles crept over our faces, we looked back to the crystal.
It then began to glow a more decadent, deep, yet brighter gold hue.
“S-Sir! It changed again!” I said, shaking his arm.
“Yes, but how? The crystals don’t change on their own. I’ve experimented on hundreds of them! I didn’t do anything different… So it… It must have been you, my child,” he said, looking at me almost expectantly.
“B-but I did nothing differently, S-Sir,” I stammered back. “All I did was bring a blanket since you looked cold.”
Hearing this, I see his eyes darting around, calculating the factors, and then, almost as if realizing a long-hidden secret, he looked at me and smiled.
“That’s it,” he said, “I’ve figured it out.” He had the most brilliant smile I’ve ever seen in the ten years I’ve known him, and I noticed tears welling up in his eyes.
“Sir?” I asked. And at that moment, the crystal behind him glowed so brightly that I had to close my eyes and shield my face from the light.
Even with my eyes closed, I could see the glow, and when it finally died down, I opened my eyes again and saw Sage back at the workbench.
Where the crystal once stood now sat a neat pile of what seemed to be dice curiously stacked on top of one another.
Make no mistake. These were no ordinary dice. They featured a score of triangular faces and glowed a deep gold with purple hues.
“What happened?” I asked, baffled at the phenomena. “What are those?”.
“I’ve read about this before, in a book even older than our kingdom. It sounded like nonsense at the time.”
“These must be purified Starburst, judging by their shape and color. I’ve only ever seen illustrations in ancient books,” he continued, picking up one of the dice-shaped objects.
He held it in his hand for a moment, observing the shape and color. Then, after being lost in thought, he looked up to the ceiling and spoke to the heavens.
“My son, I’ve done it! Well, no, we’ve done it.”
A single tear rolled down his cheek as he held the die close to his chest.
I picked up a dice-shaped object from the pile and examined it. It glistened and felt warm to the touch. “But How?” I asked.
“Simple really, and it’s thanks to you, my child,” he says.
“I’ve been so focused on my research that I forgot what it meant to feel human connection. When you put the blanket over my shoulders, I felt gratitude well up inside me.”
“How did that change the crystal though?”
“That’s the secret, my child, and it’s emotions! Positive human emotions. It purified the Starburst crystal and changed it into these things you see here,” he said, holding the dice.
“But… that doesn’t make any sense?!” He laughed. “Trust me, I’ve tried everything on these Starburst crystals. I’ve even had to burn some crystals before they became tainted from my negative emotions and frustration.”
“But the biggest difference is that toad you with me today. Your act of kindness stirred up positive emotions deep within my cold heart, which spurred the change in the crystal,” he added.
“And what do we do with these… dice-shaped things?” I ask, “I don’t even know what to call them,”
“They are called $ANIMA,” he says, “the name came to me when the crystal was enveloped in the light. It is the will of the world. It is the will of Alpha Solus.” he explained.
“You can do anything with them, my child,” he says, walking towards me and, to my surprise, hugging me with such strength that his slim frame belied. “And it’s all thanks to you,” he said softly, stroking my long hair and patting my back.
The tears welled up in my eyes, and the second wave of blinding light blanketed the room.
When the light died down, we both looked at the bag of crystals I had brought earlier. The bag was now filled with $ANIMA, still glowing from the change.
Looking at each other, still embracing, we laughed just in time to hear the kettle start to whistle—time for some supper and brainstorm how to inform the King of our progress.
Little did we know our discovery would soon change the very lives of everyone in Alpha Solus.