(Page 2 of 3)
"They're inside the moisture in the air?" Hol offered.
"Yes! And dust and all the other imperceptible bits and pieces that float in the air we breathe," the professor explained.
"Is that why the aeriph is stronger just after it rains?" his student asked.
"Exactly. If there's somewhere to hide away from the air, exposed riphs will flock to it. They'll go anywhere to avoid being burnt up: air-borne particles, solid objects, water; even other creatures if there's space in their bodies."
"And that's what the aeriph is?" the pieces of the puzzle began to slot together in Hol's mind.
"That's all it is. It's the accumulation, from thousands of years, of riphs in every conceivable location. And, as you know, we can manipulate it with riphology."
Chapter Two: Unstuck
They spent the next few hours practising riphology. Hol pushed and pulled objects around the room; he warmed them up and cooled them down; he even managed to ignite a scrap of parchment. The work was tiring, and the young student found the tasks increasingly taxing on his mind. Reaching mental exhaustion, he tried to break the fatiguing routine with a question:
"Doesn't the aeriph ever want anything in return?" he said, letting his focus slip away. The heavy book that he had been moving toppled onto the desk.
"I don't quite follow what you mean," Vowen said with interest.
"We will it to do so much work, but it never demands anything in return," Hol explained.
"Well, I don't think the aeriph is a thinking entity. It doesn't have a concept of payment. It simply obeys," Vowen mused, apparently not quite confident in his reasoning.
"But it acts as if it is thinking," Hol ventured, "It understands when we will something to happen. It must want some sort of incentive or payment."
"If the aeriph wanted anything in return, my debt would be incalculable!" Vowen snorted, "I've spent a lifetime using it. From that I think we can assume that the spirit plane does not require any payment for its work. Still, don't let that stop you - research your idea by all means. But now I want to look at something else."
Vowen rummaged through the cupboard, and produced a small, dark wooden block. It was smooth, with a rich grain and a slightly rounded shape.
"This is lifewood," Vowen said, his eyes beaming like those of a small child admiring a new toy, "It is the most expensive substance in the world. We have a nearly endless supply growing in the Life Tree, but the wood is so hard and resilient that it takes considerable effort to extract. Besides that, most nations place a considerable tax on the stuff. We're lucky in Krithen, having a direct supply via the tower-road."
Hol swallowed and looked at the dull little block. He knew what the substance was used for; it was infamous.
"Lifewood is the only material, as far as we know, that can host a riph as suitably as its original body." Vowen said reverently, "With enough of it, it would be possible for consciousness to continue after death.