Finding Balance
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And thus, the Aethers shall be in balance. The Five Aethers are the foundations of practical alchemy, and must always be respected. Some call them "elements", others "Eidolons", and other more esoteric names. The Aethers however, are the pure elemental forces of the universe. Air, Earth, Fire, Water, Electricity. Aeronous, Terronous, Igneous, Aequeous, and Fulminous. Respect the Aethers, and they will serve well…

-Excerpt, Practical Alchemy, by R. Diaghilev

Ruslav Diaghilev woke to the sound of the cosmos rushing in his ears. That, and the liquid clock that was gifted to him for his birthday last year. He blinked the bleary sleep from his eyes, and sat up into the cold autumn morning. The first inklings of light were slipping through the windows, as he swung his feet out and over the edge of the bed.

Across the room, faintly glowing liquids burbled happily in their decanters. Soft orange and blue light emanated from several tubes, rushing around the apparatus with merry abandon. He rose with a grunt, shuffling towards the laboratory on the other side of the room while reaching out to touch the series of activation studs on the wall for the muted amber overhead lighting.

He smiled, as the orbs slowly winked to life, the deep amber light turning the room from shadows to a world of deepest bas-relief. As the light spread across his workbench, the familiar sights of numerous notebooks, fragments of recipes, and formulae appeared before him. His chalkboard, covered in his heavy, angular script shone with the faint sheen of recently erased chalk.

Reaching out with one tired hand, Ruslav turned the activation knob for the burner underneath the faintly glowing blue liquid, causing it to bubble higher and the overflow to slowly drip into the brown liquid in the largest decanter. He agitated the mixture with a glass rod, while chanting quietly in a language that few knew, and fewer still dared to utter. As he chanted, the mixture turned from a dark brown to a light brown with a golden sheen. He smiled, and turned the knob, allowing some of the liquid to flow into an earthenware jug.

He raised the vessel to his lips, and a smile spread over his face as the liquid passed through his mouth and down into his stomach. Ahh, I've finally done it; counteracted the Aeronous Aether. Finally, it tastes like coffee. He felt the fatigue and discomfort of waking so early washing away as the philter took its effect.

Ruslav Diaghilev, Alchemist of the Seventh Circle, looked out of his windows across the snow-laden scene from his cabin. He nodded, taking another sip of the mixture before replacing the jug on the table.

…Alchemy, like any other science, has laws. Rules. These laws and rules may bend from time to time, but they are as indelible as physics. While the physical sciences may be more practically applicable, the simple need for the containment of Alchemical Anomalies requires special attention to the alchemic arts…

-Excerpt, The Sealing Way, M. R. Tissart
First historical mention of "Anomalies"

Hours later, R. Diaghilev, as his nametag so helpfully proclaimed him, sat hunched in his car in the line to get into Site-79. The snow had started to fall faster now, and Ruslav sighed in frustration. The snow always caught in the hem of his robes. The line to get into the site was unusually long due to the weather, and his heater wasn't as strong as it used to be.

A few minutes passed, and Ruslav came to the front of the line, and presented his credentials to the security personnel at the gate. He pulled up, looking the man in the eye and catching the hint of a smirk on his face. The guard took the card, and scanned it before handing it back. "Thank you. Please proceed."

Ruslav suppressed a sigh at the grin on the security guard's face. He was well used to the stares, and the questionable deference he had from his colleagues.

He pulled into his parking spot, and got out of his car, cursing under his breath, at the snow on the floor of the parking structure. He brushed a small spot away and counted his steps before reaching 88, then reciting a quiet formulae. A junior researcher stared at him as he did, nearly breaking his concentration. The researcher may not have thought much of Ruslav's robes, but the snow never quite reached them after his recitation. He smiled to himself, and said a thanks to the Aeronous Aether for its assistance.

He walked through the halls, the quiet swish of his robes at odds with the hard clack of the researchers' shoes, and the quiet clicks of high heels. His own shoes were made of rubber properly made in accordance with ancient formulae many years ago. They were bright purple, and the shoes themselves were poorly stitched, but he was an alchemist not a cobbler. They were warm, waterproof, silent, and earned him the nicknamed "Grapefoot" from his college companions.

He settled into his office, with a quiet sigh, and pulled his phone out of the recesses of his robes, plugging it into his computer to charge. He muttered a thank you to the Fulminous Aether, and a curse to Apple for short battery life.

The office was functional, covered in a few work benches, one of which contained a simple decanter-reduction system. The only other door in the office led to the lab, connected to his colleague's office as well. The drab concrete walls fit Ruslav's personality perfectly, and he smiled at the calendar beside his desk. There were cats on it.

Ruslav settled in to his workstation to go over morning emails. There was always some bureaucratic nonsense to deal with at The Foundation.

…and so it has come to us, the Wise, to protect the world. The Foundation is our best chance to seal off the influence of the Entities for all time. As such, I propose that we take action once and for all. Create the Great Seal, and for all time prevent such incursions into our reality…

-Excerpt, A Call To Action, R. Diaghilev

As the twelfth hour of the day arrived, Ruslav's stomach rumbled with hunger, and he put down the report on a philter of Molasses, which some famous American had used to attain immortality. He left a few final scribbles on his notes for now, and stood up, stretching his broad shoulders with a yawn.

He started his way towards the cafeteria with slowly creeping fatigue. The philter from this morning had to be wearing off. He hoped quietly to himself that he made enough to last a few weeks at least. That particular convergence wasn't likely to happen again for a very long time.

As he walked along, he spotted Dr. Collins walking towards the cafeteria, and waved slightly. The doctor looked over, and smiled, waiting for Ruslav to catch up, before they walked in tandem towards the cafeteria. "It's good to see you, Ruslav. Have a good weekend?"

Ruslav nodded, and smiled at Dr. Collins, "Yes. My philter finally came into the proper solution this morning. I was very happy to say that it worked without any difficulty." Ruslav took a left turn towards the cafeteria, the sounds of conversation filling the off-white hallways.

They joined a small crowd on the escalators up to level 3, to the cafeteria. It opened out into the expansive, and tastefully decorated cafeteria level. They had remodeled recently, the dark glass looking out over fields of snow-covered grass. The dark tile of the floor complemented the subtle burgundy of the walls. All colors Ruslav found pleasing.

Dr. Collins smiled at Ruslav, as they walked towards the serving area. "Congratulations, Ruslav. I had hoped it would happen soon. Is this the same super coffee you were discussing before?" Dr. Collins got into the line for the hot buffet, and grabbed a tray, loading up a couple of plates with his usual starchy fare. He had gained a few pounds recently, stress eating due to a recent project.

Ruslav grabbed his own tray, loading it up with a mix of vegetables, a light salad, and a large piece of some pink fish, pretending to be salmon. "Yes. I am happy to say it works properly. This morning was significantly easier." He grabbed up a small tray of cookies, his one indulgence, and headed to the top of the line.

Dr. Collins flashed his ID to pay for his lunch, and Ruslav did the same, the two of them heading for an empty table, nearby. Several other researchers waved to Dr. Collins, and the two sat down, digging into lunch with abandon. The other tables were rapidly filling up, but Ruslav and Dr. Collins had one of the smaller round tables to themselves.

His dark brown robes stood out from the white-coated researchers, but they did every day. They made small talk for a few minutes, before a young researcher stepped up to their table looking eager and bright eyed, "Dr. Collins? I was hoping I could ask you a few questions about the new research topics you had suggested last week?"

Dr. Collins looked up, and quickly swallowed the bite he was chewing through, "Of course Daniel. This is Ruslav Diaghilev, one of the members of the Alchemy Division." Ruslav looked up to meet the eyes of the young man displaying the usual mix of confusion and surprise.

"How do you do young man." Ruslav held out one large hand, shaking the younger mans hand firmly.

"Ahh, good, good, it's nice to meet you Dr. Diaghilev." Daniel said a little too fast, not particularly covering up his confusion very well.

"I am not a doctor, but I understand the confusion. Mister, or if you're being very formal, Elder is the appropriate title." He tried to hide his grimace as the usual look of incredulity passed over the young man's features.

Dr. Collins looked over at Ruslav, and quirked his head, "If I heard right, you guys are getting a new hire today. Unless Jamesson was talking out his ass again." He scooped up his last bite of pasta, and leaned back.

Ruslav's eyebrows raised, the deep lines on his face creasing. "New Hire? I wasn't aware we were getting new apprentices anymore." And I hadn't realized anyone could even feel the currents anymore He thought to himself. "I will have to consult my colleagues."

Dr. Collins rose, escorting Daniel away, "Till next time Ruslav, enjoy your studies!"

…And so, our Alchemy Division, shall henceforth be tasked with the sealing, and secrecy of Initiative [REDACTED]. All knowledge of Alchemy shall be discredited. All maintenance of the seals, circles, and other Alchemical devices shall be entrusted to R. Diaghilev, and M. Adebeyo, Directors of the Alchemy Division…

-Excerpt, O5 Council Plan of Action no. [REDACTED]

The quiet walk back to his office was uneventful. Upon reaching his door, he heard a quiet tingling, a soft sound like water upon a starlit lake. He closed his eyes, growing lost in the sound, the Aequeous Aether speaking to him in the deepest language the universe offered.

It was soon, a convergence. He would be able to access both the Aequeous and the Aeronous. It was finally time to begin the next steps in his processes.

He hurried to the lab, where his only colleague Elder Adebayo stood, his coal-black skin a stark contrast to the, if he was honest with it, tacky milk-white robes he wore all the time. The walls of the lab were unlike any other room in the site. From top to bottom, it had been inscribed with copper chisels, formulae of containment, order, and protection.

Ruslav and Adebayo had prepared this room over sixteen painstaking months, using various convergence events, and stored Aether where necessary. This room was the Alchemical equivalent of a bomb shelter, and the only place they dared to work any significant research.

The walls were lined with tables, containing several decanter-reduction systems, wind-flow apparatus, a few burners, and even a fine earth separator.

Mounted on one wall was a solid wooden holder, which contained two heavy Croziers. One of brass, and wood belonging to Adebayo, the other of cold iron and lead belonging to Ruslav. Across from the crozier stand was a set of three concentric circles set in the floor. The first was polished, inscribed copper, the second was cold iron, the last was the finest and most delicate gold. The materials for the last circle had been transmuted from pure aether to common lead, then to gold.

"You felt it too, Ruslav?" The rich syllables of the Third Language flowed from his lips, his mellifluous accent blending perfectly with the interplay of light and dark in the phonemes, his hands spread over the wind-flow measures and pinwheels on his desk.

He felt the swirling currents, as he hurried to the equipment along the wall. He adjusted several knobs, and the liquids began to bubble, already taking on a soft glow. "Of course, I felt it. Where are you in the harness of the Aeronous?" Adebayo's specialty lay in the Aeronous Aether, and Ruslav would be significantly more comfortable in the Aequeous.

Adebayo's hands spread slightly, as he switched to the Second Language, approaching the beginnings of the True Language quickly. "I am almost there. Could you bring me the circle of Aeronous Binding?"

Ruslav nodded, and picked up a copper circlet, inscribed with various symbols occult organizations had cribbed from ancient alchemists in centuries past.

"We're going to renew the thirteenth seal, this time, yes?" Ruslav placed the circlet on Adebayo's head, crowning his shaved scalp.

"Yes. The creature made a noise a few months ago, and we need to make sure it's held. The seal is almost in the fullness of its shape. With this, we can—" A sudden crack of Aether sped through the lab, disrupting the energies shaped by the words of the second language. The Fulminous Aether surged quickly, pushing back against the ritual motions and words.

From the currents of the unseen, a laughing sound could be heard. Accompanying the electric energy of the Fulminous Aether was an empty feeling. The feeling of chaining and binding, of energies reflected and amplified. Ruslav knew that feeling well. The laughter echoed in the paths of his memory, as his eyebrows narrowed, his teeth setting in a snarl.

The Scarlet King was bucking his seal, and attempting to push back against Ruslav, and Adebayo.

Ruslav's hands blurred, as he drew the simple iron circle from the space under his lab desk, and tossed it into the air. His hands spread, as he began to chant in the First Language, one step removed from the True Language.

The iron circle stayed suspended in the air for a moment before bouncing, and landing on its side, slowly spinning around, on its side.

Adebayo's head burst into sweat, as the Aether's compressed. "They are pushing back. I do not know how long—" his words were strained now, the Second Language's powers being stretched to their limits.

Ruslav's voice rang out like thunder, and he pulled his hands to his sides, his fists clenched. "YOU WILL NOT DISRUPT OUR WORK, TODAY. I PUSH YOU BACK TO WHENCE YOU ARE. BEGONE SCARLET KING!" With a sudden crack of thunder the building energies flowed into the iron circle, grounding harmlessly into the hand-forged iron. The laughter turned to a snarling sound of pain, as the chains around the entity went taut again, pulling it tight. All went quiet, except for Elder Adebayo's chanting.

Several minutes passed, as Ruslav's breath came back to him. The effort required to banish the Fulminous Aether gathered by the Scarlet King to push against their ritual had been staggering, but he'd forced it into the circle at last, the energies contained within the ring of purified metal. Shaped by hand, with the right rituals, nothing could break it in the Aether. Only a mortal hand could undo the energies stored there now, and even then, they would need to be significantly gifted in the Art.

Ruslav struggled over to the lab desk, and put his hands to work on the Aequeous harness for the ritual. The waters and philters bubbled, as he spoke quietly in the Second Language, his words blending with Adebayo's, and forming a harmonious chorus.

The energies of the Aether poured into the small vial of purified water, creating truly elemental water. He held it gingerly between two fingers, and brought it to Adebayo's station. "Elemental Water. This will reinforce the seal perfectly. Did you get yours?"

He held up a small pinwheel, brightly colored like a child's toy. The ultra-fine inscriptions on the blades were near invisible to the naked eye. It spun slowly, with small air currents flowing around it. "Of course, Elder. I will perform the ritual tonight. Our colleagues in Vienna, and Casa Verde should have the Fire, and Earth required."

A quiet knock on the door drew both of their attention, to the small crowd of onlookers. Several of them had hands over their mouths, trying not to laugh.

Ruslav's heart dropped. They couldn't feel a single thing of what just happened. To them, it was two old men screaming at nothing, and pantomiming.

"What?" He growled, his hands shaking with exhaustion, and his mind filled with annoyance.

"Your uh…new hire is here. Mike sent me to get you, Mister Diaghilev." Ruslav narrowed his eyes. It was the young man from lunch. Daniel. He sighed heavily.

"Of course. Thank you." He shuffled off silently, his shoes completely silent.

The last thing he heard was Daniel's voice under his breath, "What's up with the purple shoes?"

…Why do we keep these people around? I know we're all about the anomalous, but there's no way these guys are for real. They're just wasting foundation resources. The amount of money they spend on raw copper is absurd…

-Excerpt, Email from Site Director [REDACTED]

The rumors were true then. Ruslav turned, and headed towards the front gate, nodding at the various doctors, security staff, and administrative staff he passed. Most of them didn't give him odd looks anymore.

A few flights of stairs, which were getting harder, and muttered thanks to the Aethers at the correct times, brought him to the front desk, where a nervous looking young man stood in the lobby of the Site, along with Mike. Mike was giving him an odd look, with a hand on his hip, near to his baton. The reception area looked fairly plain.

There was a desk, behind with Mike sat, and a row of chairs along two walls which visitors were seated in. The drab taupe walls stood out slightly from the off-brown carpet across the floor. Two men looked at Mike and the young man with careful attention, interested in what was taking place before them. The magazines they'd been reading were tossed back on the table between the two sets of chairs.

The waiting room always reminded Ruslav of a doctor's office waiting area.

"I'm telling you, son, I can't let you bring unapproved weapons into the site." His eyes were locked on the glass and silver Crozier in his hand, the twin snakes of asclepias. Ruslav smiled, as his eyes hesitated for a moment over the young man's robe, a royal blue. Unpretentious, functional, and yet tastefully traditional. Perhaps there was hope yet.

He held a hand up to Mike, "It's not a weapon, Mike. It's a crozier. Alchemist's tools. He's alright."

Mike looked over at Ruslav, and nodded after a moment. He sat back down at the office chair in front of the monitors. The young man couldn't see, but the two "waiting" patrons relaxed as well. MTF members took threats and potential threats seriously.

"I am Ruslav Diaghilev, Alchemist of the—" Ruslav started, his voice tired, and heavy, expecting very little of the young man in front of him.

"Seventh circle. Yes, sir. I was recommended to study under you by Allen Barned, of the fifth circle. He said you were the best, and one of the last practical appliers of the Art." The clear Barcelona accent on his English lisped a few of his ess's, but he was reasonably understandable.

Ruslav narrowed his eyes, and switched to a form of proto-Etruscan, the Eighth Language. Closer to the True Language, but still distant enough for conversation. "And how trained are you, young man? Do you know the vagueries of the Art? Have you been initiated?"

The young man hesitated, and his head drooped slightly. He attempted to speak as well. "I am to be not practiced in the Art as one such are you to be. My—" he attempted to pronounce the name of the language, poorly, "Is not very good. I am sorry."

Ruslav smiled, and nodded, switching back to English. "You are more than a dabbler, young man. What is your name?"

"Arturo Genuomo, sir." He said, with a deep bow, which shook the backpack slightly on his frame. Ruslav's face split into one of the first genuine smiles of the day as he took notice of the equipment on his pack which marked him as a student of the Aequeous Aether.

"Welcome to the Site, Arturo, please walk with me." He turned, and silently walked off, Arturo's odd purple shoes an exact match of his own.

…As I've told you, they're not frauds. I've witnessed what they can do firsthand, and the O5 Council says they're necessary. You've seen the budget allotments for the alchemy division, and it's not like we haven't encountered Alchemical SCP objects. Just give them a chance, Jim…

-Excerpt, Email from Dr. Collins, in response to Site Director [REDACTED]

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