Bringer of the Fall, pt. 4

The next day, Ralph spent his after-lecture time pulling at that mental thread. He took his research well beyond the outlines the professor had laid out for him, digging deeply into the events leading up to the fall of all of the most notable historical civilizations. He came up empty on most of them, but on some few, he came upon references that he was certain must be a connection. They MUST!

His deadline for posting was coming up fast, and he gnashed his teeth in frustration. “Just have to keep looking for more after, I guess,” though he hated to put anything online before he’d done a thorough job. This was the sort of topic that he could spend his whole life researching though.

To suggest that a single drink was implicated in the fall of even one entire civilization was a remarkable claim. To suggest that it might be involved in the downfall of several? Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but he couldn’t let this go.

He spent hours putting together his findings into as clean and clear a summary as he could, and documented his every source. Eyes red and burning from the long hours of research and preparation, he hit the Submit button with relief. With the professor’s task set aside, he could focus on expanding the work himself. After he got some sleep.

Bringer of the Fall, pt. 3

The notes were intriguing to say the least; it’d been a while since he was this interested in the research subjects he’d been assigned. With a glance at the clock and a wince at the time, he packed up the notes and got ready for bed. He’d need to be clear-headed to dive into the historical sources he was going to need to validate what he’d just been handed.

The next two days were spent haunting the campus library, pouring through a surprising diversity of books, from the biological studies of fungus that he’d have expected to more unusual fare like medieval cookbooks to eye-witness accounts of the falls of civilizations. At the end of those two days, he felt like he’d spent a week on a serious bender; not for the first time, he forced himself to take a break.

“Break … break … got to stop researching,” he said, over and over, mantra-like. “The professor’s going to want these notes online. Might as well get started on that.”

It wasn’t much of a break, he silently admitted to himself, but at least it would get his eyes out of the books for a while. That had to be an improvement, right?

He started with an excerpt from an old manuscript that had caught his eye the first day. It told the tale of an ancient king who had become so fond of the beverage that he’d died of drinking it to excess; upon the discovery of his fate, his subjects grew fearful—at least until they too began to succumb to the temptation of the honey wine. Shortly thereafter the country was conquered by a foreign nation. Conventional wisdom held the events as unrelated, but a thread had caught at the professor’s mind, and now it wouldn’t let go of his, either.

Bringer of the Fall, pt. 2

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The clock turned over to 3:00am. Ralph barely noticed; he was totally lost to the Internet, following link after link, conducting search after search. “This has to be it,” he murmured to himself, not even noticing that he’d spoken aloud.

He’d been working his way through the professor’s notes. It was pretty gory stuff; fungal infections that get into food crops. In this case, mainly corn. He’d been mildly revolted to find that some cultures considered the infected corn to be a delicacy, and prized it highly. Blech! He didn’t even care for mushrooms, let alone fungus-infested food.

Apparently a rare variant of the fungal species responsible had just been identified. This new variety preferred to infect grapes, and had a particular fondness for several species of grape popular among vintners.

“The descriptions are all the same. That can’t be a coincidence.” Intensified intoxication, with eventual onset of mild hallucinations. Mild at first, anyway. If what he was reading was true, there was a subtle ramping-up of the effect over time and continued imbibing.

Bringer of the Fall, pt. 1

“Blast it all to hell!”

“You’ll find it, it has to be here somewhere.”

“We’d have it by now if you would just put things back where you found them.”

Ralph rolled his eyes. He’d heard this time and time again, but arguing the point wouldn’t bring them any closer to finding the notes. “You’re sure you actually wrote the notes down this time?” His mentor had a distressing habit of taking notes mentally, then forgetting he’d done so.

“99% sure. Maybe 89%. Yes, I’m sure. Probably. Check under that bunsen burner.”

“Ahhh! Here they are!”

“See? Bunsen burner.”

“Actually it looks like you used them to wipe up spilled coffee. And I think this page must’ve been a filter.”

“Hrmph. If that’s quite enough, my dinner’s getting cold. I’m going home. Finish up here.”

The crotchety old man left, leaving Ralph to sigh in relief, then in dismay at the state the notes were in. He settled in for hours of deciphering.