Differences

This shows you the differences between two versions of the page.

scribefurther2 [2012/06/20 14:30] (current)
doan created
Line 1: Line 1:
 +====== The Further Amazing Adventures of Scribe ======
 +===== Part 2 - Eye of the Storm =====
 +
 +
 +Scribe looked doubtfully at the flying harness that would allegedly allow the two guards to carry him without hindering their own ability to fly or do battle. It looked decidedly uncomfortable and too much like the seat of the notorious flying machine for his fears to be entirely erased.
 +
 +“Don't worry, they are the elite warriors of the Kingdom. They were chosen to guard my Tower long before there was no-one else left to do the job. No others would have been allowed the honour,” said Lord Amidar, “They have to guard valuable cargo and escort important prisoners in the middle of battle. They would be out of a job for life if they dropped anything!”
 +
 +
 +“How are they going to be able to hold their weapons?” asked Scribe.
 +
 +
 +“Masayans fight entirely with magic,” explained Lord Amidar, “We have evolved different skills to the people below the clouds. Magic is not a wild force of nature for us, but a tool we have perfected the use of. We can aim a bolt of magical fire or a shard of ice with the same degree of accuracy that you would aim a bow. And you don't have to fly down and retrieve your arrows. A sword would require a warrior to get too close and risk damaging his wings. Magic is the easiest way to fight aerial battles.”
 +
 +
 +“I would love to learn battle magic!”
 +
 +
 +“Unfortunately, our technique does rather require the user to be able to fly.”
 +
 +
 +“Oh... I'll have to work on that, I'm afraid,” he said, causing the ghost of a smile to appear on the divine administrator's impassive face.
 +
 +
 +“We'll be taking a short-cut through the aqueducts underneath the Temple,” explained one of the guards as they strapped him into the harness, “They're mostly too stupid to have worked out that its a back door into their territory. Not that we can do much once we get in there, mind you...”
 +
 +
 +“How does a floating city have aqueducts?” asked Scribe. The guard shrugged and looked at Lord Amidar, who explained the technology behind the semi-permanent levitation spell cast on the rainwater that came through the funnels and poured through pipes to every building on the Island. It was one of the functions that he maintained in his tower. He didn't bother switching it on these days.
 +
 +
 +Lord Amidar's word was proven good as the guards flew Scribe under the tier and through a pipe into the aqueducts. The journey was as smooth as if he was swimming through the air. As they travelled, the guards discussed the tactics of the battle ahead, trying to ignore the foreboding silence and the growing stench of stagnant water that exuded from the long-disused channels.
 +
 +
 +“They don't really have minds of their own,” explained the guard, “But they have a sort of animal cunning. It means they act repetitively but the strategies they do use, they use very well. Also, they're scary to look at. Just like any other enemy, you shouldn't turn your back on them, though.”
 +
 +
 +“I'll leave the fighting to you two,” he said, “I've got my own job to do.”
 +
 +
 +“I have to tell you what its going to be like,” said the guard as they turned down a side tunnel and the atmosphere suddenly changed. Where before, everything was a little too pristine, the walls of the vaults were covered in mould, water dripped from a thousand tiny leaks in the ceiling and the statues were weathering away. One statue of a woman had the unnerving effect that it appeared to be weeping, “Because once we get outside the illusion, it won't be the same as it is inside. I don't want you to be caught off guard.”
 +
 +
 +As they flew in silence towards the statues, listening to the water dripping from the ceiling, there was a grating scream, like a rusty gate trying to swing, and suddenly the imp-like creatures that Scribe had mistaken for stone gargoyles were darting towards them at a surprising speed for a real flying creature of that size, never mind a stone statue. Their open mouths revealed rows of carnivore's teeth.
 +
 +“I warned you!” said the guard, gliding above the ground with enough speed to dodge the attack. He flicked his wrist and a miniature cyclone flew from his open palm and tore apart one of the gargoyles. Fragments of stone rained onto the floor. More screeches answered its call, abruptly cut off, and echoed down the vast chamber. Scribe realised that there were hundreds of them. He covered his head with his hands.
 +
 +“I thought you said they didn't know this tunnel!” complained Scribe.
 +
 +“They're not waiting for us! They've built a nest!” yelled the guard.
 +
 +Sometimes a stone claw would scratch at his arms or buffet him, trying to knock him over or lift him up by his hair, and always a blade of air or a spear of ice would bisect it, narrowly missing Scribe and showering him with stone dust. He followed the guards' yelled instructions, unable to see where he was going. He heard a terrifying roar as one of them sliced through ten of the gargoyles at once with a deadly wheel of air in which a guillotine-line pointer spun, rousing the wind to become faster, its bite sharper, every time it struck an enemy true.
 +
 +“We're nearly at the end!” he yelled, “Brace yourself on my command! It'll cut off into thin air! Okay... five... four... three... two...” he paused to immolate a gargoyle that had gotten through his wheel after he missed an area with his pointer, “One... GO!”
 +
 +Seconds before they ran out of tunnel, the guards suddenly banked upwards. There was a whooshing sound and he felt a strong force yanking his arms up, that he knew from experience was painful if he didn't let the rest of his body rise with it. He spread his arms out and let the wind blow his unruly hair away from his face. A rush of exhilaration filled him and he thought of how wonderful it must be to really fly. If only you weren't alone in the cold and dark, being chased by a small cloud of ugly, shrieking, teeth-gnashing creatures that could fly better than you, and if the place you were flying towards wasn't almost certainly full of worse things.
 +
 +The guards conjured bolts of crackling light that hovered around them, both a shield and a source of light, then they shot off into the dark, furious skies.
 +
 +
 +
 +----
 +
 +
 +
 + Flying an airship through a storm was not the easiest thing to do when you were short most of your crew and two of the replacements had no experience whatsoever. The ship rocked from side to side, and in some cases spun around in circles. They had tied themselves down using strong ropes and only ventured on deck when they needed to, because it was the only way to see where they were going, but they still ran the risk of accidentally hanging themselves, or the wind being too strong and the ropes being torn away, and lightning bolts hitting the ship could still cause it to catch fire. Perfidy screamed orders at the top of her voice and snatched the wheel from Massebot when he was too busy clutching the rails and repeating under his breath that they were all going to die horribly. The Paladin had a bucket next to him while he turned the engine's key and muttered faintly desperate prayers to the Lady of the Setting Sun; it was fortunate for them all that Massebot had thought to install a screw-down lid on all the sick buckets in case the ship decided to turn upside down. Tracy sat and meditated. She appeared to be taking this calmer than the rest of them all. In fact, she just happened to have lots of very strong relaxation herbs in her pocket when she was summoned to Casandora; she had been experiencing sleeplessness for some time, due to her worry about Scribe. She considered sharing her herbs but she needed them the most; as well as needing to be able to concentrate in order to navigate in such suicidal conditions, she would also need to be slightly at edgeways to mundane reality for the entire time, in order to be able to see into the planes she was navigating by. Normal navigation wasn't going to work here; all they could see was more storm. In the Spirit Plane, there was still a fair amount of chaos, but the layers of chaos were far more densely packed as they came closer to their destination, like the eye of a fractal. Like a single human voice in a jumble of meaningless noises, she sensed Scribe's soul, lost and wandering in the storm.
 +
 +
 +She pointed upwards. Captain Perfidy looked at her as though she was insane but the priestess met her with an expression of such resolve and certainty that she seemed impressed. Massebot spun the wheel, and they banked sharply upward, straight into an avenue of storm clouds. They were plunged into pitch darkness, then flashes of lightning starkly illuminated the roiling pandemonium all around them.
 +
 +“Turn faster or we'll all die!” she yelled down the hatch to the engine room. There was a loud clanking, then the key screeched in protest as it spun round twice as fast. The airship jerked into sudden acceleration, almost throwing Massebot overboard. He swore and grabbed the wheel, spinning it so that the ship rolled out of the way a split second before it could be caught by a bolt of lightning.
 +
 +“What the heck are we aiming for?” demanded Perfidy.
 +
 +“The Eye of the Storm,” whispered Tracy, not opening her eyes, “Just keep on going. Just wait. Trust me. Its near.”
 +
 +The Captain was about to come up with a retort, when she suddenly screamed. Steel rang as she drew her rapier and ran to the rail. Something was falling out of the sky towards them. Its bloody, rusty roar scraped across the sky as it arched its crimson-haired, clockwork-spined back and readied to land on paws that ended in jagged metal claws. Captain Perfidy had no idea what it was, but nothing that looked like it could ever have been designed by nature to be friendly. She gritted her death, biting back a cry of fear, and swung at it. Its claw shot up to parry the blow, its huge size and brutish appearance belying its feral agility. She aimed a harsh kick at the thing's midsection and pulled the weapon back before it closed the claw with a force that would snap the blade. It swiped at her with its other claw as she did so, raking her across her other arm. She cried out this time; the pain ran up her arm and through her entire system like fire. The claws were cruelly serrated, and caked in rust and whatever substances it was that they leaked when they weren't well maintained.
 +
 +She stumbled backwards, and was caught by the Paladin. His eyes showed no fear. Maybe a little motion sickness, but mostly the cold blaze of righteous fury. A ghostly blue aura seemed to shine around him. The monster hissed at him and sprang, reaching to slash at his chest with both claws at once while biting his face off. He was ready for the attack; his broadsword swung in a wide arc, the force of which broke the monster's claws and tore through its arms and chest. Black ichor poured from its wounds.
 +
 +“Embrace defeat!” cried the Paladin, following up the blow with an overhead swing that bore down on the monster's skull and crushed it. He grabbed the still-convulsing corpse and threw it over the railing, to fall until it was incinerated by a lightning bolt.
 +
 +“It is beginning,” whispered Tracy, “More of them will come.”
 +
 +Paladin Forstenzer wiped his blade and gauntlet clean on his cloak, then looked up at the sky. He was joined by Perfidy and Massebot. They stood silently, waiting.
 +
 +“We're going to be too late,” announced Tracy.
 +
 +
 +
 +----
 +
 +
 +Soon Scribe could no longer hear the screeching of the gargoyles, although the constant peals of thunder kept his senses alert. He heeded the guards' warning and reacted as though any lightning bolt had a chance of hitting him, even if it was nowhere near him. He could hear other noises too, chittering, hissing, clanking and something like a rusty bird-call. They came from somewhere deep in the darkness, slightly beyond his field of vision. There was nothing to tell him where he was going, except that the tiny cog hung around his neck like a pendant was glowing brighter and brighter, vibrating uncomfortably, as if calling out to the machine it belonged to. Its vitality, even though its life and soul were that of a machine, were the most natural thing around him, and he allowed them to be his guide. Wherever they glowed brightest, he went, even when he realised he was flying straight into the path of something huge that was slowly emerging from a dark cloud, ascending and turning to meet him. It was formless and vaster than he could comprehend and it was staring straight at him with the same concentration as a cat stalking a mouse.
 +
 +The gap where the cog should have been was glowing the same blue as its missing piece. A brief glance told Scribe that there was no way to go except straight ahead, despite the primal terror, the utter wrongness, that intensified with every wing-beat closer they came to the enemy. Such a path would take him right into the curtains of cloud that crackled with lightning, if he wasn't immediately swarmed by the patrols of demons he could see flitting in and out of the shadows.
 +
 +The glowing red eyes in the darkness swivelled to face him again. Conjuring an orb of blue fire in each hand, the guards sprung forward at full speed. A bestial roar echoed through the sky. Three of the patrols changed direction mid-swarm and made a beeline for him. The guards threw the orbs as far as they could and charged them with magic energy. They flared up in broad primary colours and exploded, releasing bursts of elemental power in a rippling flow that tore through the swarms, larger and more complex as they focussed more and more elemental energy into it. Soon the three swarms were gone and they were hovering just above the dark cloud, so close that Scribe could reach out and touch it.
 +
 +Faster than his eyes could follow, the darkness seemed to snatch up one of the guards, pulling him in like a vortex, a black hole, and disappearing with his struggling, screaming form. It was silent again, leaving no trace that the guard had ever existed. Scribe's harness lurched to one side and he had to scrabble to stay in his seat as the remaining guard darted out of the way. Something swam into his field of vision. It was the cog, swinging back and forth like a pendulum counting down the final moments of his life. He grabbed it and clasped it firmly. It was all over if he ever lost that to the enemy... He glanced up again. He was so close now that he could see the faint outlines of the surrounding gears, some unable to move but the others still running as the entire Universe still slowly moved on without him, relentless and inexorable as death itself. So cold and cruel, and yet so wondrous and majestic. And so alive, with sound and light and movement, the thoughts and dreams of billions of souls.
 +
 +The guard grabbed the other rein, then sent an explosion of ice splinters into the cloud. The spell was absorbed into the darkness, as futile as fighting mist itself. Whatever was in there, it could take a lot more punishment. Scribe yelled a warning as one of the returning patrols spotted them. They were completely surrounded.
 +
 +An idea occurred to him. He smiled, narrowed his eyes and thought about nothing but where he wanted to be, where he should be, and where he was now but wouldn't be for long. Then he closed his eyes and allowed himself to fall.
 +
 +He began chanting...
 +
 +Plunging not into death, but an inky pool of blackness, he felt himself refreshed by the dark power that flowed all around him, a mighty river cascading into a bottomless well compared to the thin stream that could be channelled by the mind of a human mage. He heard the chanting echo all around him, saw the words inscribed in stark white on the black canvas of the endless night, then whirling in a helix around him as the chanting reached a roaring crescendo like a tidal wave and he fell through the bottom again.
 +
 +His arms flailed for a few seconds, then he grabbed onto the first thing he could, a thing he knew would be there; the handle of a cog. Breathing heavily and trying not to look down, he felt around for another handhold, then a foothold. He slowly inched his way across the wall of machinery, trying his hardest not to accidentally wedge his hand or foot inside anything that would suddenly move and crush the offending body part. After a tortuous five minutes, during which his now-useless wings dangled from his back with a weight that almost pulled him off and he could still hear the screeches, roars and cannon fire of the frustrated enemy that hunted him down, he found the service platform and jumped down onto it. Instructions formed in the back of his head, telling him exactly where the cog fitted in and how. Down below him, he saw a red warning light flickering on and off above them next to a 'No Entry' sign. It wasn't very big or impressive, not even as big as the front gates of Casandora, and it was only pried open by a tiny fraction of a degree, but it was enough to let things in; small things, like the souls of nightmares.
 +
 +“My name is Scribe,” he gasped as he began the delicate process of fitting and turning the cog, “And I have been given the task by Lord Amidar to turn this key and lock the Gate of the Border of the Universe, that no trespassers may enter. Recognise my authority, approve and finalise my task.”
 +
 +As he finished the last turn, there was a crackle of pure white lightning that seemed to rend the fabric of the Universe itself, then he was thrown backwards off the platform.
 +
 +PERMISSION DENIED, boomed a voice in his head, YOU ARE KNOWN TO US, AND ARE UNDER A DISCIPLINARY HEARING FOR PREVIOUS UNAUTHORISED ACCESS, GROSS MISCONDUCT AND OBSTRUCTION OF AN INFERNAL MINISTER IN THEIR DUTIES...
 +
 +The voice went on and on, using words Scribe largely didn't understand, as he fell into oblivion. He looked blankly at the cog, still glowing brightly in his outstretched hand, and thought to himself, I was only trying to help...
 +
 +
 +----
 +
 +
 +
 +“Spatula be praised!” the Paladin roared, his face contorted in righteous fury as he swung his blade, lopping off the head of another demon, “All hail the Setting Sun!”
 +
 +Berserk though the man might have looked, his swings weren't wild; every blow struck true, parrying an attack then riposting with a series of slices that should have been impossibly fast for such a large blade wielded by any normal human. It was as though he was directly possessed by his Goddess, as though her bone-white hand touched and laid claim to the souls of his every enemy. Perfidy and Massebot had gone below deck to fire the ship's cannons at incoming reinforcements and keep the ship flying. They had been indirectly responsible for the Paladin's holy rage; when Perfidy was injured, Massebot ran up to tend her wounds. Spotting an easy target, one of the demons had attacked them, little realising that one of Spatula's pet peeves was people targeting healers in the middle of a conflict. They had left in a hurry after that, because an angry Paladin generally took up the whole battlefield and it wasn't a big battlefield to start with.
 +
 +Tracy wanted to aid him, maybe by breaking a few claws or sending an aura of pure defeat to demoralise the demons and break their formation, but he had ordered her to concentrate on navigating. They were very close now, so close that the visions she saw became more lucid, almost tangible. However, all her certainty and relief at their long and arduous journey being almost over was outweighed by the increasing knowledge that Scribe was in even worse danger than before.
 +
 +“Please hurry,” she whispered.
 +
 +“We can't go any faster!” said Perfidy, “Do you want to damage the ship and kill us all?”
 +
 +“We are all going to die anyway,” muttered Massebot, “The world is going to end and everyone will die and I will never be paid.”
 +
 +There was a sudden lurch and then complete silence. They couldn't even hear the Paladin's frenzied screams. Then Massebot looked through the port hole and saw that the storm had cleared. Pale sunlight shone in the sky, and they were flying through a landscape that Tracy recognised immediately.
 +
 +“We're here,” she said.
 +
 +“Should we land?” asked Perfidy.
 +
 +“I can see a lot of movement,” said Massebot, frowning, “Those shapes don't look human.”
 +
 +“The enemy is here already,” agreed Tracy, “And we aren't quite where Scribe is. We'll have difficulty getting there on foot. Fly near the ruins, where I tell you to, but be careful. It'll be a tight fit in some places.”
 +
 +“Better than lightning and things jumping out of the sky onto us,” said Massebot. Perfidy spun the wheel and they veered off towards the ruins of the ancient structure. The demons seemed to be climbing up the tiers as well. Their inhuman strength made it easy for them to leap up, but Perfidy could see how a human, even a Paladin, wouldn't be able to make it. They looked as though they were hunting for something. She idly wondered if it was the same thing that the crazy priestess was looking for.
 +
 +Two tiers from the top, most of the structure had crumbled away long ago, leaving a few small platforms here and there. One of them had a surprisingly intact Temple-like building, one was part of the central shaft and the other had a single statue of a robed, crowned figure, his arm stretched aloft with an orb in his hand. Underneath that statue, a single figure stood. Small and slight, she fought off the demons that tried to scramble onto the ledge, swinging her knife with a possessed fury that put the Paladin to shame, while shielding another figure who lay prone on the floor.
 +
 +“Survivors!” yelled Massebot.
 +
 +“We must help them,” said Tracy, “They can't hold out forever.”
 +
 +“I thought we were running out of time,” said Massebot.
 +
 +“Its okay. We're very, very close.” said Tracy.
 +
 +“I'm moving in! Prepare to intercept!” yelled Perfidy. The ship slowed down and Massebot ran to ready the boarding plank. The Paladin was still there, surrounded by the hacked corpses of demons, his sword ready as he stared at the enemies below and waited for the moment to strike. As the ship came down low enough, he jumped off the rail and into the mass of demons. The strange woman blinked and jumped back clearing a path for her new ally.
 +
 +“Get on board!” said the Captain, but the woman shook her head.
 +
 +“I can't! My ally is down!” she explained. A demon that made a grab for her foot had its hand shot away by Massebot, then a bullet put through its head as it fell, “I can't safely move him! Those things are trying to capture him!”
 +
 +“Those things capture? They don't look like they capture...”
 +
 +“I'd hate to think what they do to their prisoners!” said Tracy.
 +
 +“SPATULA WILL SMITE ALL WHO MISTREAT THEIR PRISONERS!” bellowed the Paladin, almost cleaving straight through a demon's torso with the force of his sword blow. Tracy winked at Perfidy.
 +
 +“Then we'll join the battle! Massebot, go and do something about the injured man!” she ordered, before steering the ship closer and charging down the gangplank. A pair of demons immediately blocked her path. Wary of their speed and claws, she feinted at the first one, then cut under its swipe and thrust through where she hoped its heart would be. The other demon slashed at her, only to recoil, hissing, when its claws suddenly snapped in two. Tracy stood on the deck, chanting, her eyes wide and staring, her hair floating in the breeze.
 +
 +“Please guide me over there,” she whispered to Massebot. Something in the tone of her voice, as well as the fact that it was the in the same direction as the Captain was pointing, made him obey. Three demons rushed Massebot, not realising their mistake as Paladin Forstenzer fell upon them like an Angel of Justice, screaming the name of his Goddess. Tracy didn't bother looking around at the battle raging all around them, its tide suddenly changing, as she had been told it would. She ran to the feet of the statue and bent down to examine the still figure.
 +
 +“I think he's dead,” muttered Massebot. She ignored him. She frowned as she spotted the object held in his right hand.
 +
 +“Please don't touch our record keeper,” said the woman, “Dead or not, I cannot allow anyone near the records. They must be returned.”
 +
 +“His soul hasn't reached the far shore yet,” commented Tracy. Massebot shrugged and helped them gently, carefully move their fallen companion onto the ship. Once he was safely in Massebot's quarters, they left the island. There were few survivors among the demons but Tracy knew that reinforcements were coming, and that they wouldn't win the next battle if they didn't retreat now. As the ship sped away, Tracy sat beside Scribe's unmoving form while Paladin Forstenzer knelt and paid his respects. The woman sat in a corner, leafing through the record book and checking it for damage.
 +
 +“So, we found him,” said Captain Perfidy. Tracy nodded dully, “I'm sorry.”
 +
 +“We did the best we could to defend him, but I think he was dead the moment we arrived,” said Marcia, “We have no idea what happened to him. He was on a mission with us, but we all got separated. We haven't even found the others. He was a brave adventurer and he performed his duties well.”
 +
 +“It wasn't his real mission,” muttered Tracy.
 +
 +“Yes, he was trying to find a good quill for his pen, wasn't he?” said Marcia.
 +
 +“It was part of his exam as an apprentice of the Library,” said Tracy, “He was just supposed to climb a tree or go hunting or something. He just had one last task to do before he could hand his soul in to be judged.”
 +
 +“His what?” asked the Paladin.
 +
 +“His work,” Tracy corrected herself.
 +
 +“If I or the Temple can do anything for you...” said the Paladin. She shook her head.
 +
 +“We need to go back to Brokenshire,” she said, “They'll know what to do. They know everything in the Library. Besides, Master Burgundy needs to know.”
 +
 +“That his apprentice is dead?” asked Massebot.
 +
 +“That he needs an extension to the deadline on his exam,” said Tracy, “Marcia, I will need that record book. I'm sorry. I know what it means to you, and I promise it will come to no harm. I just need to know exactly what happened out there.”
 +
 +“Can you really save him?”
 +
 +She nodded, “Or at the very least, I can find out what he was doing out there and we can continue his mission. He always writes everything down. Either way, it is his record book, and it belongs with him.”
 +
 +“The party hasn't failed if the mission continues. I will allow you access to the records, but they do not belong to you. The Tactician holds the records if the record-keeper falls. I will not leave your party, ever, while you still hold our records. And I will be watching you,” said Marcia, before placing the record book in Tracy's arms and wandering out of the room without looking at anyone.
 +
 +Tracy nodded, then opened the pages of the record book, his strongest anchor to the world. In her other hand, she held the cog that she knew was also something vitally important to him. Once the others had left, she took his hand in hers, closed her eyes and went looking for him once again.
 +
 +
 +----
 +
 +
 +
 +
 +“I hope you realise how badly this bodes for your case, Lord Broken,” said the Infernal, drumming his fingers on the side of his desk, “Not only has your apprentice once again tampered with a vital piece of equipment that is five security levels above anything he should be allowed to access – before his probation period has even expired, no less – he then proceeds to trespass on our property...”
 +
 +“Now wait a minute, he isn't 'trespassing' anywhere, he's dead!”
 +
 +“Ah yes, I had forgotten that you had been leaking first-level Mandates to non-transcendent Mortals instead of assigning tasks to actual trainees,” he rubbed his hands together, “Well, as you are aware, we do have certain rights pertaining to expired souls...”
 +
 +“The two issues are completely unrelated! You aren't neutral enough to be an impartial judge of his soul in that matter anyway!”
 +
 +“Indeed, I am not. I had best leave that to another branch of the Infernals, that is not affected by this matter at all,” he mused, “But, ah, that means he is not a client of mine. And yet he is approaching my territory. This means he is trespassing.”
 +
 +“How can you twist my words around so much?” yelled Lord Broken, “He only died because you denied him access at the last minute, anyway! You can't hold him responsible for a situation that was caused by you!”
 +
 +“I was perfectly justified in denying him access. He does not have security privileges to access that machine.”
 +
 +“He was attempting to repair a critical systems malfunction; one that, by the way, hadn't been spotted...”
 +
 +“Pardon me, is it not your department?”
 +
 +“Not when I'm being held in custody under Infernal law, it isn't!”
 +
 +“Its been faulty for three thousand years!”
 +
 +“A paltry length of time and you know it, but all this is beside the point. He spotted it, he had the instructions, the experience and the Words of Power necessary to repair it, he even cited a legitimate representative that had given him temporary access to the machine, which you didn't even check the validity of before you refused him access!”
 +
 +“Because that person no longer exists!” he said, “Or are you expecting me to believe that your apprentice somehow spoke to Lord Amidar? You... do know who Lord Amidar is, yes?”
 +
 +“He was the one who taught me!”
 +
 +“Then you must be aware that he has been in a form of spatiotemporal stasis that makes him logically impossible to contact for those same three thousand years. And therefore not a legitimate representative for anyone at all.”
 +
 +“Does the critical systems failure that still hasn't been fixed concern you so little that you'd rather punish me and my apprentice than go looking for the answer?”
 +
 +“You are fortunate that we do not go out and solve the problem for ourselves. It would not go well for the world that you are so fond of,” he said, “The fact that the world cannot last five minutes in your absence without something falling off as soon as you nail it back into place proves that it is non-viable. You cannot plaster over the cracks forever, Lord Broken. One day the whole thing will fall apart, and it will cause a lot more damage than if you simply allow us to safely demolish it.”
 +
 +“Do you really think that removing me from my position will mean that you are allowed to go ahead with this plan of yours?” he said, “I'm by no means your only opponents in the debate,and our superiors show no sign of even taking either of our positions seriously. We're both too radical and you know it.”
 +
 +“Our positions are in no way alike. I outrank you by three security levels, and Head Office doesn't even notice your department exists most of the time, to be perfectly frank,” he said, “And besides, this is not a power struggle. I genuinely believe your actions are unlawful, and those of your apprentice doubly so. Once we have finished collecting all the evidence, this will become clear. The only reason this is taking so long is because you report to Head Office so seldom that they have virtually no record of your activities over the last thousand years. It is fortunate for you that they have overlooked you for so long. If I were you, I would make the most of the time you have left.”
 +
 +“Is that a threat?”
 +
 +“Think of it as a helpful piece of advice. You don't have a leg to stand on, and making these wild excuses won't do your case any good,” he said, standing up and collecting his robes together, “You had best not mention Lord Amidar tomorrow. And you should start drafting a statement admitting your guilt and making a pretty good argument why you should be shown any leniency at all.”
 +
 +“I thank you for your advice, good sir,” Lord Broken glared at him, “Although I doubt I will be asking your advice on the matter of leniency at any point.”
 +
 +“I should think not,” said the Infernal, who turned on his heel and, with a sweep of his dark-green robes, moved out of the door and slammed it behind him. He heard the lock click in the tumbler and shrugged. He had been in this prison before – and though he was kept comfortable, supplied with as much tea as he needed, was allowed access to any book from the Library and wasn't subjected to any of the Myriad Torments of Hell (unless you counted his constant requirement to fill in large numbers of the most devilish forms ever constructed by bureaucratkind, and that was a Hell he had brought upon himself and deserved in its gruesome entirety), it was still a prison – and he imagined it wouldn't be the last time, no matter the outcome of this particular hearing. He shifted his legs to dispel some of the cramp, closed his eyes and began pondering the turn of events. His incarceration would have been unbearably boring if it wasn't for the ever-increasing number of important things he had to think about if he wanted to keep his soul intact and in his own possession.
 +
 +The boy, Scribe, had disobeyed his orders, flaunted his powers and gotten himself into even worse trouble than he was already in. Worst of all, he was dead. Lord Broken had half-expected the first to happen and was prepared for the second to also happen, although he had hoped the boy could at least manage to keep himself alive while he completely ruined both their cases. Now he was, almost literally, walking right into their hands. Yes, Lord Broken had expected it, and considered what he would do, but the glaring problem was that none of his contingency plans had any hope of working. Nothing he could do was even close to enough.
 +
 +Something else had gone wrong in his department. He had expected this as well, and had left his workers with very specific instructions to patrol every area where faults were known to occur and where there had been strain lately. He hadn't predicted that an area of the world declared lost three thousand years ago would mysteriously appear from nowhere. It wasn't his fault but he would be blamed for it nonetheless. He would need to be ready for this. More importantly, he would have to make sure somebody, somewhere, fixed it in his absence.
 +
 +Lord Amidar might still be alive. It was only a brief shadow of hope, a name dropped by a reprobate trainee. The Infernals had all come to the conclusion that he had somehow found out the name and was using it to cover up his lies and attempts at sabotage. Personally, Lord Broken didn't think that even an apprentice of the world's largest library would be able to find out about Lord Amidar when he had struggled to find out about the Celestial Bureaucracy and the machinery that kept the world turning. Even if he had made the story up, he had to have gotten the information from somewhere. If the information was there, the real Lord Amidar might be there.
 +
 +The world had been thrown into confusion again, he thought, and now all the facts had to be re-assessed. It might buy him a little more time. The hearing was tomorrow, but they probably couldn't come to a decision in the space of one day. Might. Probably. Maybe. Why was there no certainty, in the one place in the Universe most dedicated to order? Faulty world, faulty servants, organised chaos, he thought. It proved him right, but of course, they wouldn't see it like that.
 +
 +He wondered what Lord Amidar would make of it, if he really was still here. He would probably have escaped by now. Lord Broken had briefly considered trying to escape, but he couldn't really think of a way to do so. The Infernals knew all his tricks, his ways of bending the system, and they had put up wards against all the lesser Words of Power he had collected from the domains of others, as well as those in his domain, and had taken extra care to stop him from being able to banish himself anywhere. He had no authority over anyone he was allowed to meet, so he couldn't simply demand someone set him free, and he couldn't fly. They had even found out about his communications with Scribe and somehow blocked them.
 +
 +“If you're there,” he whispered, “Please help me out a little, because I'm afraid I'm running out of ideas.”
 +
 +
 +----
 +
 +
 +
 +Things were a lot calmer in Brokenshire than they were in Casandora. The guards waved them in without even glancing at them, apart from to say hello to Tracy and ask if she had seen 'one of those demons everyone keeps going on about'. When they entered the city, they saw the priests milling around, talking in excited voices, and one of Tracy's friends asked her where she had been, if she had seen the trouble going on in the valley, and if there was any truth to the rumours that the End of the World was nigh. A small band of students were running around announcing that they were studying Mythology and they wanted to do their dissertation on Eschatology and did anyone have any good ideas? The students who had made the notorious Flying Machine had made an End of the World Machine, although Tracy couldn't even begin to work out what it did, apart from propel fruit at great speeds. All in all, it was a normal, chaotic day in Brokenshire. The clouds looked considerably lighter and cleaner around the Broken Mountains and there certainly weren't any demons roaming around. It was difficult to tell that anything had gone wrong at all, that Tracy's closest friend was dead, and their mission had failed. She almost didn't want to tell anyone, if it meant disturbing the last peace in the world. She ignored the steady stream of questions directed at her by priestesses and students, and hurried into the Library.
 +
 +“Wipe your feet! No running!” growled Mildred, their twenty foot tall dragon librarian. She bowed an apology, then asked for Master Burgundy.
 +
 +“He's busy!”
 +
 +“This is very urgent business,” she said, “Its about an apprentice of his.”
 +
 +“Whatever they've done this time, bring them here and I'll discipline them for him!” she said, lazily flexing a claw as large as Paladin Forstenzer's broadsword, “Dratted apprentices, running around, making the bookshelves untidy!”
 +
 +“I... er... can't,” she said, “Please, could you at least pass a message to him?”
 +
 +“What's the trouble, Tracy, Scribe bothering you again?”
 +
 +She turned and saw Master Burgundy emerge from the narrow gap between two towering bookshelves, carrying a pile of books as tall as himself. Master Burgundy wasn't very tall, although he held an air of command that made him appear taller. His hair was greying but still more or less intact, and his bushy eyebrows tended to squint due to the eyestrain he had given himself from long years of reading in the dark. He was very old for a human, and one of the best mages in Brokenshire.
 +
 +“No, sir, he's... he needs your help,” she said, “Could you meet us in the Temple?”
 +
 +Startled by the expression on her face, he nodded, then turned to the dragon, “I don't suppose you could let the Bursar know that I'll have to cancel our meeting this afternoon?”
 +
 +“Do you need any books on anything while you're here?” asked Mildred.
 +
 +“No, thank you. Well, yes, but... I don't know what. I don't know what's happened,” she bowed her head, “Please just come.”
 +
 +They had transferred Scribe's body to the Temple vaults, where Tracy had persuaded several of the High Priestesses who specialised in such matters to look at him for her. They all agreed that his soul had definitely departed but not quite completed its final journey. In fact, there seemed to be something holding that journey up. Something had gone wrong somewhere. Maybe the boat had sprung a leak or something. They asked if he had been involved in anything important enough that he felt he couldn't pass over to the next life without fulfilling it. They tried searching for his spirit but it was too dangerous for them to wander that close to death.
 +
 +Later that day, Master Burgundy came over to see them.  He gently took the notebook and perused it, his thick eyebrows waggling, then solemnly replaced the pen in the notebook and placed it back in Scribe's crossed arms. Then he blinked and opened the notebook again to the page where the pen had been used as a bookmark.
 +
 +“Scribe,” he whispered, “Its Master Burgundy. I've read your report to me, and I'm very impressed with your work, but I know that it isn't finished. I'm not going to punish you – it was an impossible task for a mere apprentice – but I'm going to have to finish it off for you. I need to know if what you wrote in here is true and I need to know what happened in the end. Could you please open your hand?”
 +
 +He leaned over and took Scribe's clenched fist in his hand, trying to pry his fingers apart. At first it was as difficult as trying to convince a dead man to part with anything in his grasp, but suddenly, reflexively, the hand jerked open. Master Burgundy caught the small cog before it fell out, and held it in front of his thick-lensed glasses.
 +
 +“I understand,” he said, “We'll carry it the rest of the way for you. You left us enough information that we can find it again. Thank you for not giving up, even at the very end.”
 +
 +“We were there too,” said Marcia, “We were at the ruins of Masaya, and we fought demons, and we found him lying at the feet of the statue.”
 +
 +“Mrs. Marcia, have you actually read Scribe's account of the story?”
 +
 +“I read the parts that were about the adventuring party but the rest of it was private, because it was a solo account.”
 +
 +“When Scribe appeared there, it wasn't in ruins. It was still an intact civilisation, and he met people.”
 +
 +“But Masaya's been a ruin for three thousand years!”
 +
 +“I agree that it makes no sense but Scribe doesn't just make things up, and it would make logical sense for this cog to have come from there. The spiritual energy coming from it is immense!”
 +
 +“I wonder why he got there and we didn't?” asked Marcia, “If we don't know what was different about him that made him able to make the journey, we won't ever be able to do it ourselves.”
 +
 +Master Burgundy took the cog in his hand again, squinting at it, when suddenly it flared into a bright white light. They heard frantic yelling, then someone started banging on the door.
 +
 +“This is a private meeting!” yelled one of the Priestesses.
 +
 +“Your Holiness! Its Alistair!!” Yelled the guard, “He's trying to get in! He demands to know what's going on!”
 +
 +“The dragon? What does he want with us?” Tracy frowned.
 +
 +“I don't know... he keeps using technical terms at me... please, Ma'am, I don't like keeping an angry dragon waiting!”
 +
 +“Tell him we'll meet him outside,” said Master Burgundy, sighing.
 +
 +“Did he say dragon?” asked Marcia, who hadn't been warned about Mildred and Alistair.
 +
 +“Just follow him,” advised Tracy.
 +
 +Alistair filled up the courtyard with his scaly bulk and had still managed to flatten a flower bed by sitting on it and demolish a wall with his tail. As soon as Master Burgundy appeared in the doorway, he found two yellow reptilian eyes glaring at him.
 +
 +“What's the problem, Alistair, we're all kind of...”
 +
 +“What's the problem?” repeated the dragon mockingly, “I'll tell you the problem! There is an anachronism somewhere in this building!”
 +
 +“Well, you know the Temples can get a little outdated in their views...”
 +
 +“I'm being serious! Do you realise how much paradox is being generated in the local timestream? I've been looking for the cause of the recent spatio-temporal disruptions everywhere and you decide to keep them in the Temple as a souvenir! I'm surprised we all haven't been dragged into the past by now!”
 +
 +“Alistair... what the mittens are you talking about?”
 +
 +Suddenly, Tracy snapped her fingers, “Alistair! That's the answer!”
 +
 +“I am?” It was the dragon's turn to be confused.
 +
 +“You know how to manipulate time, don't you?”
 +
 +“Well, its a lot more complicated than that...”
 +
 +“Of course it is,” she said, smiling for the first time in days. She had never been happier to see the oversized, pedantic, incomprehensible, crotchetty, bad-breathed old lizard in her life.
 +
 +----
 +
 +
 +
 +“Listen, kid, I'm real sorry about this, but I've got two hundred customers waiting for me back on the bank and there's only so long I can drag out rowing a boat before I'm just plain stopping, and I get yelled at for that,” he said, pausing to move the black rook to capture Scribe's white pawn, “No matter how tight the game's getting.”
 +
 +“Its okay,” Scribe said dully, “Sorry.”
 +
 +“Its okay. You're a good chess partner, by the way. Well practiced for your age, and you don't whine at me every five minutes to give you your soul back.”
 +
 +“Thanks.”
 +
 +“You should stop worrying so much. You're pretty innocent, as they come. Trust me, the Boss has seen worse. She won't be interested in a late library book or some boring lecture you fell asleep in.”
 +
 +“You don't understand,” he said, “I'm in big trouble with them. Not because of sins or anything. Because I... kind of got too involved. I ended up throwing a spanner in their works. I didn't mean to. I was just doing what I thought was right.”
 +
 +“If its nothing to do with the weight of your soul, they can't judge your for it. That's the law,” said the ferryman, “And they're sticklers for the law. The Infernal Bureau is huge. You'll be judged by someone who isn't involved in the other case. I can't say what'll happen to your soul with regards to your other case, I'm not a lawyer, but I do know it'll be completely unrelated to your death.”
 +
 +“I... there's something I wanted to do. When I was alive. It was kind of urgent.”
 +
 +“Isn't it always?” he sighed, “Trust me, you don't want to go down the whole 'restless spirit' route. You'll end up Undead. Being Undead isn't fun. Check, by the way.”
 +
 +Scribe frowned and surveyed the board, running through the possible moves and their likely consequences in his mind, “I think this case is a little different to normal.”
 +
 +“More spanners?” guessed the ferryman.
 +
 +“Well, more works, but I had really hoped there wouldn't be spanners involved.”
 +
 +“If you like, I can try and get you in the good queue. I know people who know people.”
 +
 +“I... don't know if I should.”
 +
 +“Don't worry about me. I'm not going to lose my job any day this aeon. Nobody else in the Office wants to get the hem of their robes wet.”
 +
 +“I meant, I don't know if I should be running away,” he said, “I think I shouldn't ever have been just trying to ignore the fact that all this was going on. I thought that it was all too high level for me, that the world where bureaucrats with more power than Gods had arguments that lasted hundreds of years couldn't have anything to do with a Library apprentice, and that all the decisions would be made way over my head, and that they wouldn't listen to me anyway. I thought that... I guess I didn't think I was going to die. You don't, when you're a child.”
 +
 +He laughed at that, “You have no idea!”
 +
 +“But I am involved in it all, aren't I? I can't just get out of it if I pretend its not there. If I'm really going to fix the world, I need to show them that I'm their equal. And that means I need to go and face them head on!”
 +
 +“So, you're staying with us for the rest of the journey after all? That's nice,” he said, “Checkmate.”
 +
 +
 +----
 +
 +
 +
 +That night, Lord Broken was summoned to the dock. The two Infernals gave away nothing of the situation by their mannerisms; they were brusque and unsmiling, but then, Infernals were always brusque and unsmiling. They led him to the courtroom, then guarded the door. They were out in force tonight; this was no small hearing. The benches were filled with tall, red-faced Infernals in robes and caps, intent on the contents of their clipboards. Virtually nobody was there to support Lord Broken, apart from some generalist ombudsman who probably hadn't even read all the details for the case. He didn't need anyone to defend him, anyway. The rest of the Celestial Bureau did not know, or care, who he was. Yama himself stood at the Prosecutor's bench, looking furious that one of the other high-ranking Infernals was standing in for him in his usual role as Judge. Or maybe, Lord Broken mused, he really was permanently angry at everything and everyone who had ever existed.
 +
 +“Do you understand why you have been summoned here today?” began the Judge.
 +
 +“I have heard news of recent developments,” he nodded.
 +
 +“You may not be aware of the most recent,” replied the Judge, “A new witness has been added. I realise this is not normally allowed, but this is an exceptional case. We have one Mr. Scribe present here in the courtroom.”
 +
 +“I thought we had already agreed that you couldn't intercept his death!” yelled Lord Broken, but the bang of the Judge's gavel silenced him.
 +
 +“Order! Do not make accusations until you know the full circumstances!” he yelled, “Mr. Scribe has voluntarily opted to stand before this court.”
 +
 +“Has he gone insane?”
 +
 +“No, I haven't,” said Scribe, a small voice beside the loud, fiery Infernals, unused to public speaking, “At least, um, I don't think so. But I don't really know what counts as insane around here. Some cultures consider different things insane to other cultures. For instance, we think its insane to  punish somebody for trying to fix the world.”
 +
 +“Hold your tongue before I tear it out!” roared Yama.
 +
 +“ORDER!” yelled the Judge, thumping the gavel on the podium again, “This is a court of law! The next person to hurl insults will be held in contempt. Now, Mr. Scribe. Can you verify that you are Mr. Scribe?”
 +
 +“I... suppose so. Although nobody's ever called me Mister before,” he scratched his head, “I think you have to be married to be a Mister.”
 +
 +“Enough! It was a formality anyway,” the Judge waved him away, “Can you confirm that you are Lord Broken's apprentice?”
 +
 +“Um... I'm not formally his apprentice...”
 +
 +“But you have taken instruction from him?”
 +
 +He nodded, “He told me about his duties, and showed me how to identify and repair simple faults.”
 +
 +“When you say 'showed', do you mean that he gave you the Word of Power necessary to perform the operation?”
 +
 +Scribe nodded.
 +
 +“And did he teach you any other Words of Power?”
 +
 +He shook his head.
 +
 +“Do you, or do you not, know a Word of Power necessary for Banishment?”
 +
 +“I do, but I wasn't taught it. I saw it used, and once had it used on me, and I managed to copy it.”
 +
 +“When you were taught to use the Word of Power for repair, were you given any conditions under which you could use it?”
 +
 +He shook his head, “It was an emergency. We didn't have time to talk. The Infernals came...”
 +
 +“Which Infernals?”
 +
 +“The ones led by Yama. Over there,” he pointed to the furious-looking man. He knew he would lose his nerve if he looked at the expression on the man's face, so he didn't bother, “And Lord Broken had explained to me that he... that Yama wanted to break it. So he gave me the cog and I ran for it while Lord Broken held him back.”
 +
 +“You were given no indication at all as to when you could and couldn't use the Word of Power?”
 +
 +“Lord Broken said that it was a dangerous power to use, and that there were bad consequences if I kept on using it all the time, especially without authorisation. Then, after it happened, he told me to stop using it at all unless I could learn how to be subtle about it.”
 +
 +“And yet you carried on using both Words of Power. You used the Word of Banishment on two occasions, and the Word of Repair once.”
 +
 +“I only used the Word of Banishment because my life was in danger if I didn't,” he said, “I was told that it was okay, and that dying was a very bad idea. Worse than usual, I mean.”
 +
 +“And yet you proceeded to die.”
 +
 +“Didn't mean to, Your Honour.”
 +
 +“And how do you justify your use of the Word of Repair?”
 +
 +“Well, something really important was broken! I felt that I had to repair it, because, um, that's what a Word of Repair is for. I also believed that I couldn't leave unless I fixed it. Literally, I mean. There was something stopping me from leaving. Besides, I got permission,” he added.
 +
 +“Who gave you permission?”
 +
 +“His name was Lord Amidar.”
 +
 +A wave of shocked, outraged murmurs washed over the courtroom. Yama's face went redder. The protests continued until the Judge silenced them all.
 +
 +“Are you aware, Mister Scribe, that the former Minister of the Celestial Office known as Lord Amidar has not existed for three thousand years?”
 +
 +“I had never heard of him before I met him, Your Honour, but I had heard of the Lost City of Masaya, which I thought had been gone for three thousand years, but then I found out it hasn't, because that was where I was when I met Lord Amidar.”
 +
 +“So, you met a historical figure in a historical location and fixed a problem that didn't exist until five seconds ago?”
 +
 +“Your Honour, I failed,” he bowed his head, “I'm sorry. But it wasn't my fault. I wasn't allowed to complete the operation.”
 +
 +“I should say you weren't!” his voice rose an octave, “Apprentices do not have access to vital systems, especially apprentices on probation for prior offences! Do you have any evidence at all to support your claim that you were in Masaya, or that you were contacted by Saint Lysander?”
 +
 +“No, Your Honour, I had some, but it was on my corpse. You know, when I died. And then someone took some of it off me, which was unhelpful,” he said, “But if you come with me, I can show you where I...”
 +
 +“Nobody is going anywhere!” yelled the Judge, “I was willing to accept your story about how you were given the Words of Repair and Banishment and why you initially used them – although this wouldn't have excused Lord Broken from his actions, only yourself – but to repeatedly use them, with such a weak, implausible cover story, is completely unacceptable! If you fail to produce any stronger evidence, I shall have to strip you of your Words of Power and permanently bar you from the Celestial Court. And you, Lord Broken, are facing a long sentence in Purgatory!”
 +
 +“And what's going to happen to the faulty part of the world?” cried Scribe, “What's going to happen to any of the parts that need fixing? Lord Broken's the only person doing his job, isn't he? You can't just let every broken thing in the world go to ruin, or let Yama set it on fire!”
 +
 +“Are you implying that I can't do my job?” roared Yama, unable to contain himself.
 +
 +“No, just that you shouldn't!”
 +
 +“Be QUIET, Yama! Mister Scribe! Any further disruption, and I shall have you both removed!” yelled the Judge, “The debate you raise does not address the issue at hand. All further points must be strictly related to the trial. Am I making myself understood?”
 +
 +“How can the matters be unrelated? It is a consideration of what kind of impact your decision will have on the world, and the Celestial Bureaucracy, as a whole!” said Lord Broken, suddenly speaking for the first time, “Are we not all here to ensure the smooth running of the world?”
 +
 +“A court of law does not deliver a verdict based upon its consequences, but only on the truth! And I have no reason at all to believe your story!” said the Judge, “But if you really want to know my opinion of the likely future of your department, Lord Broken... you were Lord Amidar's apprentice, am I correct?”
 +
 +“I am, but I fail to see what this has to do with...”
 +
 +“And the way you are running Brokenshire is almost identical to how Lord Amidar was running Masaya,” said the Judge, “You can see for yourself how well that went down. And now you have your own apprentice, who I see is learning your bad habits from you even faster than you learnt them from Lord Amidar.”
 +
 +Lord Broken fell quiet. Scribe did not. Clenching his fists, he said, “Yes, I see how it went. Lord Amidar did what he could for Masaya, and he protected the outside world from what happened in Masaya and he's still protecting it now! Except he can't, and now you're refusing to help him, so he'll die for nothing and you'll never assign anybody to fix it because you can't even finish your argument about how to go about fixing it!”
 +
 +“ORDER!” yelled the Judge, and motioned to two large, burly Infernal bailiffs, who advanced upon Scribe, their red eyes blazing like furnaces. The boy gulped and wondered if maybe he had pushed it a little too far, and should maybe have closed his big, trouble-causing mouth earlier on. He didn't feel like being quiet, but neither did he feel like experiencing unnecessary force at the hands of the Wardens of Hell.
 +
 +That was when the ceiling exploded in a shower of smoked glass, black rock and blacker iron. Lord Broken ducked and threw his hands over his head, the bailiffs lost interest in Scribe and ran towards the newly created hole in the ceiling, cruel polearms aimed for a high jab, Yama started shouting at the top of his voice and Scribe stood gawping like the idiot he was rapidly proving himself to be.
 +
 +Then a figure slowly descended into the courtroom, and everyone stopped speaking or moving or, in some cases, breathing. Wings spread out to their full span, Lord Amidar swooped down before landing expertly just in front of Lord Broken. Before he had looked a little sad, like a memory desperately clung to, but in these surroundings, he looked exactly how his statue depicted him.
 +
 +“I apologise for my timekeeping,” he said, dusting the bits of ceiling off his robes, which were fortunately the same colour, “I hope I have not kept you all waiting too long. As you can see, I have returned. Now we may resume.”
 +
 +Nobody spoke, so he continued, “Good, good, I
 +
 +“I thought you couldn't leave Masaya!” asked Scribe.
 +
 +“Ah, yes, I thought this was the first issue you would raise. After three thousand years, nothing has changed. Predictability is a weakness in battle, you know, whether it be a battle of swords of of words,” he said, “I also predicted that you would not have been able to come to any decision whatsoever in my absence.”
 +
 +“Are you truly the former Immigration Minister Amidar?” demanded the Judge. He already knew the answer; no other could match this man's aura. He was mostly asking out of disbelief. It was as if a living legend had just fallen out of the sky before him.
 +
 +“Indeed, I am,” he bowed.
 +
 +“And you can verify this boy's story?” said the Judge, “You met with Mr. Scribe in Masaya and wilfully gave him the authorisation to operate the machinery there?”
 +
 +“That I did,” he said. The court was suddenly in uproar, having gotten over its initial shock and now anxious to comfort themselves with a good old-fashioned shouting match.
 +
 +“Minister Amidar, do you mean to tell me that you not only broke the voluntary arrangement you originally made to resolve the issues caused by your malpractice, you then attempted to send a mortal on probation to perform an operation five levels above his security clearance that should have been your responsibility?”
 +
 +“He couldn't do it himself, he was defending Masaya!” yelled Scribe, “And now Masaya is lost because of you! Because you forced him to come down here instead of doing his job!”
 +
 +“Quiet, child, I can defend myself,” he said, “And I'm not sure quite where to start. Voluntary agreement? What voluntary agreement is this? Yama practically forced me to quarantine myself! He would have locked me in there if he could possibly get away with it! Secondly, Yama, you will NOT tell the entire Bureau that I am irrecoverably gone and then blame my apprentices for my actions! Thirdly... I am sorry, Scribe. Masaya is lost. When my guards failed to return, I realised that I can no longer defend the place. Do you know why, Scribe? Do you know what went wrong with my calculations when I decided to seal the only entrance between the outer realms and the known world? It wasn't the only entrance, that's what. Some IDIOT made a new one. Some stupid mortal, somewhere, deliberately opened up a rift to the outer chaos using a summoning portal! Do you know what this means? It means that the security breach isn't entirely an external one. SOMEONE is not monitoring internal security properly! And do you know which department monitors internal security? An INFERNAL department!”
 +
 +“How dare you make such libelous claims against me!” roared Yama.
 +
 +“ORDER!” yelled the Judge, slamming his gavel until the entire hall was quiet, “This court has been completely disrupted! Almost everything that has been said so far has been turned on its head simply by the existence of the new witness, the court cannot hope to process all this new information and the ROOF has fallen in, for crying out loud! Court adjourned! I want this roof REPAIRED by tomorrow morning!”
 +
 +Slowly, the crowds filed out of the courtroom and the noise wound down. Lord Broken and Scribe were escorted out, and Lysander followed them, staring at his surroundings.
 +
 +“What's it like, being back home after thousands of years?” whispered Scribe.
 +
 +“Absolutely nothing whatsoever has changed,” he said, “Well, its not really been THAT long...”
 +
 +“Minister Amidar, you seem remarkably calm, considering your position,” commented Yama as he passed them, “You seem to have confessed to a great deal today. If you are indeed guilty of all that you have confessed to, do you have any idea what the maximum sentence could be?”
 +
 +“I do. And its okay,” he smiled. Scribe recognised that smile. It was the smile that he saw on Tracy's face sometimes, when she was deep in commune with her Goddess. He could almost feel her bone-white hand on his shoulder. He shuddered, “Its okay, because I ran out of second chances, many millennia ago, but my apprentices should still have several left, and I want to make sure they get to use them. Because, as long as there are people like Scribe and Lord Broken left in the world, then the world itself always has a second chance.”
 +
 +“A second chance to go even more wrong, you mean,” Yama stood up, “Rest assured, Amidar, that every time the world turns again, someone else will fall off the bottom. And I shall be waiting.”
 +
 +It was at the precise moment that Yama stalked off down the corridor that the alarm sounded, a series of loud beeps punctuated by red and blue flashing lights. Scribe heard the level of chaos around him increase, people running and yelling and cursing with the enthusiasm only an Infernal could manage.
 +
 +“What's going on?” he asked.
 +
 +“Paradox alarm!” said Lord Broken. He turned to one of the bailiffs, “Excuse me, sir, would you mind finding out for me...?”
 +
 +“None of your business! You're strictly prohibited from going near the machinery!” growled the guard.
 +
 +“But I think it might be something to do with my department...”
 +
 +“Exactly!”
 +
 +Suddenly, Amidar spread his wings out and turned around, tripping up the unprepared guard. Before the other could make a grab for him, his hand crackled with arcane energy and he opened his palm out in front of him. Balls of  lightning streamed down the corridor, a few catching one of the guards who didn't dive to the floor in time. He convulsed and cried out in pain as several thousand volts surged through his body. Amidar grabbed their arms and ran.
 +
 +“I thought you said you didn't do things like this any more!” commented Lord Broken. His Master ignored him. Casually breaking a window with a conjured shard of earth, he jumped through it and flew into the air. Four floors up, he found what he was looking for: a room full of panicked technicians babbling words that Scribe wasn't even sure were in a human language and pointing at the display of some kind of machine. Lord Amidar peered at the display and frowned.
 +
 +“Well, that's not what I expected!” he commented.
 +
 +“What isn't?” demanded Lord Broken.
 +
 +“A time paradox,” he said, “Something's interfering with the fabric of time!”
 +
 +
 +----
 +
 +
 +
 +“No, no, I said its not time travel!” Alistair corrected Master Burgundy in an exasperated tone as they oversaw the setup of the esoteric equipment. Over a century old and prodigiously intelligent though he was, the man only understood around half of what the dragon was telling him. It was mostly because of the dragon's habit of talking too fast and using abstruse technical terms that shared nothing in common with any other science. He simply directed the apprentices as they ran with boxes that were covered in blue flashing lights, levers and  dials, connecting them to thick black cables that trailed in a spider's web pattern towards the other points around the town square, with the Town Hall Clock as a ponderous mechanical spider. The guards had been instructed to cordon off the area with a warning that a highly dangerous experiment was in place. Now that he stood under the clock tower and looked out at the network of clicking, whirring devices, he was concerned that the gesture was for more than to stop nosy people interfering, “We are simply manipulating a paradox created by our possession of this anachronistic object! Let me explain... this object should exist three thousand years in the past. It now exists in the time and space in which we are having this conversation. This means that the causal timeline of the object and our own timeline is currently joined... by extension, it is entirely possible for us to view other events that should also be contemporary with this object's existence!”
 +
 +“And this is something you can do in practice as well as theory?”
 +
 +“You doubt me? Of course I can, you fool! How else do you think I repair time paradoxes when I encounter them? If I did not repair time paradoxes, the town clock might be fast again!”
 +
 +“And you can safely send a human there and back? We're a lot more fragile than dragons and the town clock!”
 +
 +“It isn't like flying, you know. We won't be literally travelling anywhere. The area we set the machines up around will be as though they had always existed in the other timeline.  It is no more dangerous than actually existing in that time period,” he explained, “Although, you WILL be going to Masaya during its Fall. Don't blame me if the higher tier falls on you!”
 +
 +“You said you could protect us from physical danger as well! We're relying on you! We'll be in mid-air and we can't fly!”
 +
 +“Of course – did you think I would go somewhere as dangerous as Masaya without taking precautions? I merely meant that I wasn't sure of the wisdom of the journey at all,” said the dragon, “In fact, I am taking reinforcements!”
 +
 +Master Burgundy looked at the sky and saw that there were indeed several huge cobalt-blue winged shapes circling the town, hovering like birds of prey, except that they only looked as small as birds of prey because they were so high up. The citizens of Brokenshire were no strangers to dragon migration but it was rare for them to actually stop over the city. They were usually visiting Alistair up in the mountains. But then again, Alistair wasn't usually away from his cave.
 +
 +Once the machines were in place, had fully charged and set to activate, Master Burgundy fely as sensation rather like waking up from a dream. The whirring and ticking and beeping rose to a crescendo then gradually wound down, the blue lights stopped flashing and settled on a broad blue line and the dragon thumped the part that kept leaking blue smoke until it stopped leaking blue smoke, then suddenly everything went silent as a white light filled the room. When it faded again, they stood in a rocky wasteland facing what had once been a magnificent tiered city. Alistair announced that they were on the Floating Island of Masaya, three thousand years in the past.
 +
 +Despite the dragon's insistence that they had not travelled in time or done anything at all impossible or even particularly difficult, Master Burgundy was not distracted from the sheer wonder of what he was experiencing. Whatever the technical explanation, this was another time, another world that he should not be able to reach, and yet here it was. Exactly as it was depicted in the history books, except that these were not vague sketches, they were solid. And yet, like the echoes of a lucid dream prolonged in a last moment of desperation, it was fading. The walkways were crumbling, the columns toppling, the entire Island falling out of the sky. Shapes lurked in the shadows, leaping from column to column, growling. Massebot's eyes darted around after the shapes, his hand reaching for his pistol.
 +
 +“Are we really witnessing the Fall of Masaya?” asked Master Burgundy.
 +
 +“The damage is not only structural. This causal arc is unravelling. Whatever maintained it has left it to fall into ruin,” said the dragon, “If we don't hurry, we shall have to leave. Trust me, it would not be pleasant to be caught in a collapsed causal arc.”
 +
 +“According to Scribe's notes, we need to go up there,” Marcia pointed up to a tower on the highest tier, which had survived with miraculous structural integrity. Underneath it, gargoyle-like creatures flooded from the Temple and climbed from the balcony down the central shaft to skitter onto the ground and hunt for fleeing survivors. With the party on a harness on his back, Alistair took wing.
 +
 +There was a sound like the blast of a great furnace and the tortured creaking of metal as the demonic hosts descended from their cover amidst the dark, roiling clouds. Gouts of flame and swarms of gargoyles were trained on the dragon. To Master Burgundy, everything appeared to stop moving for a second, then everything happened in a jerky stop-motion, as though it was all happening so fast that he missed it whenever he blinked, and then suddenly the world was streaming all at once, making his senses reel. When his head stopped spinning, the remains of the gargoyles fell to the ground, indistinguishable from the shattered masonry of the fallen walkway under them. Alistair roared a victory cry, his claws unsheathed and his breath a shower of ice.
 +
 +“What happened? Did you use time magic?” he whispered to the dragon.
 +
 +“Goodness, no! That was lag! Paradox zones are always full of it!” he said, “Although it is in itself dangerous. Too much of it will irreparably damage this timeline and our existence will be erased along with it. We must hurry and put things right!”
 +
 +The dragon had already thrust its tail out and sped up as he spoke, and the tower lurched towards them. It was there that they met their first Masayans. A small team of armoured soldiers with strong eagle-like wings guarded the gates. As they saw the strangers, they launched themselves into the sky, a stream of elemental energy pouring from their hands as they circled the enemy, deftly avoiding the returning fire. Gouts of foul smoke poured from the demonic ranks and there was a distorted bellow of pain and rage. Several smaller packs of demons broke from the main army, either retreating or attempting to surround the warriors. The guards returned their attention to the newcomers.
 +
 +“Throw down your weapons! You are surrounded!” roared their leader.
 +
 +“No, we're not with them!” said Master Burgundy, raising his hands, “They were pursuing us!”
 +
 +Their leader gave Alistair a look of suspicion, “You brought them here, to our last stronghold. You compromised our security! And what is that beast you ride?”
 +
 +“I beg your pardon! How dare you call me a beast!” Alistair growled, “Are you so ignorant that you don't know what a dragon is?”
 +
 +“No visitors belong here, no matter who or what you are!” they insisted, unfazed by Alistair's size and ferocity – they had been under siege from scarier things for a long time now, “None can reach our land! It is doomed!”
 +
 +“The whole Universe is doomed if you don't let us through!” said Alistair, “What have you done to your own timeline?”
 +
 +“We come by the instruction of a Lord Amidar,” said Master Burgundy, “We have critically urgent business with him.”
 +
 +“You're out of luck, stranger,” said the warrior, “Our leader has left us. He cannot save us, so he went to warn the rest of the world, so they could stop the demons from advancing any further.”
 +
 +“Gone?” said Master Burgundy, “Did he not leave any instructions? Did he mention a boy named Scribe?”
 +
 +“This is the only message we were given. There are no boys called Scribe here. We're the only ones left alive. We can't get out. There's no way out and nowhere left to go.”
 +
 +“Sir, maybe these people know a way out! They got in, didn't they?” said another of the guards.
 +
 +“I'm sorry, but none of you exist in any timeline apart from the paradoxical timeline,” said Alistair, “If we took you out, you'd stop existing entirely the minute we fixed this paradox.”
 +
 +“What are you talking about? Paradox? Broken time? Are you saying you can end this nightmare?”
 +
 +“If you tell us where Lord Amidar went. We need his authority. We can't fix anything without him,” said Master Burgundy.
 +
 +“I told you, he's gone! He's not coming back!”
 +
 +“Sir!” the lower-ranking officer pointed to the sky. They all turned to look. Another winged figure was descending towards them.
 +
 +“I... I don't believe it! Its Lord Amidar! He's come to save us!”
 +
 +“I'm sorry. I still can't save you,” he announced, “But I can finish the job properly this time. The fall of Masaya won't drag the rest of the world down with it. Thank you,” he said, turning to Alistair, “Whoever you are, you have given me another chance.”
 +
 +“Where's Scribe?” demanded Master Burgundy, “What in all the Hells have you done with my apprentice?”
 +
 +“So, you're friends of Scribe. He strikes me as the sort of person who can make miracles happen even in a place he cannot possibly be in a position to influence.”
 +
 +“And what do you mean by that?” he demanded, “Is he okay? Does he have what I sent him for yet?”
 +
 +“I know where he is, and I've done everything in my power to make sure he comes to no harm. I also know what he was trying to do here. I've returned to finish the task for him.”
 +
 +“The timeline will collapse if we hover here chatting!” complained the dragon.
 +
 +“He's right, whatever method you're using isn't very stable, although it is ingenious for someone with no Celestial authority or resources,” he said, “I don't expect you to trust me with Scribe's key on my own, but I would ask that I be the one to turn the key. It won't work if done by someone of lower authority.”
 +
 +“Guards, give us covering fire!” ordered Lord Amidar, “We're heading to the Rift!”
 +
 +----
 +
 +
 +Two alarm sounded now: the low drone of the paradox alarm and the excitable wail of the escaped prisoner siren. Wardens scoured the area with packs of snarling Hell-Hounds. Time and luck were the only forces keeping Lord Broken and Scribe from being discovered and quickly overpowered. Only one Warden had run into them so far and had made the fatal error of not expecting Lord Broken to jump out from behind the door and hit him with a clipboard. The force of the blow had caught him off balance and he used the momentum to push him off the balcony, where he landed on another Warden. Their resulting argument distracted them for long enough for the two fugitives to melt away into the shadows, using the appalling lighting conditions of the Underworld to their advantage.
 +
 +Lord Amidar had instructed them to wait as close to the machines as they safely could and make sure nothing went critically wrong.  Neither of them was sure what exactly they were supposed to do about it if a paradox in time and space went wrong (Scribe was under the impression that they had already gone wrong by definition) but they assumed there was a way to fix it, otherwise there wouldn't be an alarm for it, and that the machine that fixed it would have a user manual or something. Until the Universe did decide it was in immanent danger of exploding, they decided to hide under the window and watch the technicians panic.
 +
 +“The prisoners have left the realm altogether! They're in the mortal realm!”
 +
 +“I don't care about prisoners! They're the prison's problem! That entire causal arc is becoming unstable. It might collapse or...” the technician suddenly pointed to a spot on the screen and his voice rose an octave, “A time shift! Someone's using the paradox to manipulate time!”
 +
 +“We need to track them! The prisoner might escape through it!”
 +
 +“They wouldn't escape INTO a collapsing timeline, it would be suicide!”
 +
 +“Wait for a few minutes and seal it shut, then. It might trap them in there. Or, better yet, delete it.”
 +
 +“We can't do that, its the scene of the crime!”
 +
 +“Oh, the Judge is fairly sure they're all guilty anyway... wait!”
 +
 +“What's wrong?”
 +
 +“The crime was unauthorised access to a control system, right?”
 +
 +“You think they're going to re-offend? Surely they've had all access to the control systems blocked!”
 +
 +“There was that other one... the one who trashed the courtroom... what was his name?”
 +
 +“I think they're going to stop Lord Amidar accessing the Gate!” whispered Lord Broken, “We need to stop them! But we can't just break in and fight them, the place is heavily guarded!”
 +
 +“Do Words of Command work on things if they're on the other side of windows?”
 +
 +“They work on things on the other side of the world if you put enough power into them, but that's neither here nor there. All my powers are sealed and you don't know any... oh...”
 +
 +“You're not the only person to forget!” he smiled, then closed his eyes and began chanting. Cold darkness washed over him, his own chanting voice filled his head, then he heard several screams, followed by a succession of thuds, then loud angry voices.
 +
 +“Multiple at once? You're getting good at that,” he said, “Which is odd, because I told you to stop using it.”
 +
 +
 +“I'm sorry, I'll obey orders in future like you taught me to!”
 +
 +
 +“I am NOT disobeying orders! Other departments have no right to give me orders!”
 +
 +
 +Suddenly, their argument was cut short when both alarms stopped short and they realised everyone in the building could hear them. The flashing blue lights on the control panels fell dark. Seconds later, Lord Amidar swooped down from the sky. In his arms, he cradled the unconscious form of a young woman with wings. Scribe could hear her breathing.
 +
 +
 +“She's alive?” he asked, “She's not going to fade away?”
 +
 +
 +“She's not an illusion, Scribe,” he said, “My assistant is an apprentice Celestial Bureaucrat who had just been granted her extended lifespan before all contact with the outside world was lost. She survived the fall of Masaya and has been living at my side ever since.”
 +
 +
 +“Then why did she tell me she was an illusion?”
 +
 +
 +“She never received the training and conditioning she needs to cope with an extended timespan. Her sense of time is flawed. I have not been able to convince her that she has really been alive for so long,” he frowned, “It may have been a mercy, in a way. It has ruined her memory as well. She probably won't remember the Fall of Masaya in much detail.”
 +
 +
 +“Can we talk about this somewhere else? The entire Infernal Bureau is hunting us down!”
 +
 +
 +“For what? Escaping our cells? You two never went anywhere, I'm back, and we haven't harmed anyone!” he shrugged, “You haven't harmed anyone while I was gone, haven't you?”
 +
 +
 +“Does banishing them count?” asked Scribe. Lord Amidar gave him a confused look.
 +
 +“Anyway, just trust me, I can talk my way out of this. I know the system! We'll be walking victorious from the courtroom before we know it!”
 +
 +“Yes, because you have SUCH a good track record!” said Lord Broken.
 +
 +“You're one to talk!”
 +
 +“I was taught by a master!”
 +
 +Scribe couldn't help but smile as he watched the two Celestials bicker in increasingly loud voices, seemingly unconcerned by the Wardens who were coming to drag them away. He knew he couldn't run, either. Not any more. He was going to face his fate. He wasn't sure if it was his destiny any more – how could you tell whether your life was on the right track when you had just escaped from a time period that shouldn't exist? - but it was definitely the next task in a list that he knew would probably go on for a very long time.
 +
 +----
 +
 +
 +Two weeks later, the apprentices of Brokenshire assemble on the green for their graduation day. The whole town is abuzz with excitement and anticipation. A brass band plays, leading a winding procession through the streets before settling in a pagoda in the park. Every tavern is packed with young men and women buying round after round of congratulatory or consolatory drinks. Most other businesses have given their employees the week off work, unless they are selling the kinds of things that could be bought from stalls in the customer-filled town square. The young scribes wear their best uniforms and, when they are called forward, stand in rows, their pens in their front pockets for inspection by Master Burgundy. He looks tired, even compared to usual, although his apprentices imagine that he had probably been pulling late nights, trying to finalise every single detail of the ceremony, as well as grading over a thousand exam papers. Mildred herself has deigned to step outside and oversee the ceremony, her tail curled around the entire span of a hill. Her presence is causing the normally pedantic Master of Ceremonies for the University to become even more obsessed over every fine detail. He runs from the University Hall to the green and back, straightening banners, checking the food for the banquet wasn't being burned, pulling apprentices into the right groups and herding them all into straight lines. They rehearse their ceremony ten times and more but it still didn't feel like enough. It is the biggest day of their lives, and no time in the world can prepare them for finally becoming fully grown men and women.
 +
 +After the ceremony, they wander through the town square, talking of plans to spend all night in the tavern. As they scans the stalls, buying sausages and roast chestnuts and chocolate crepes, many of them spot one trader in particular who is attracting more attention than the others. Unlike most of the merchants, who are local and sell the students what they already know from experience will attract their eyes, these traders display a range of curiosities from far-off lands, spices and strange statues and clothes of exotic design. Despite the fact that nobody in Brokenshire had ever heard of them before, the crest of the University hangs proudly above their stall, meaning that they have met with the Chancellor's approval. Such an honour is one that the local traders fight viciously over, yet these newcomers have somehow earned the right upon their very arrival. The students remark on this and wonder if they have performed some kind of great deed in service of the town. Maybe they donated a lot of money towards the restoration of the town hall clock after its mysterious malfunction. Maybe, guesses one particularly promising apprentice, they saved the Chancellor from a bear.
 +
 +Meanwhile, Scribe sits on the wall and shares his dinner with Waterloo. He is happy just to watch the hubbub of everyday life in the town. Nothing has changed about Brokenshire. This fact alone is enough for him.
 +
 +“Massebot, stop being so miserable!” yells Perfidy, smacking her assistant across the head, “You're putting the customers off! And don't keep staring at the money box like that, you're making us look greedy!”
 +
 +“I saw someone try and steal it!”
 +
 +“He was trying to ask you for his change, you moron! Look, those people have left because of you!”
 +
 +“They weren't coming anywhere near our stall!”
 +
 +“People decide which stall to go to as soon as they can see them, you know!”
 +
 +“Hi, Perfidy! Hi, Massebot!” says Scribe cheerfully.
 +
 +“Oh, thank goodness you're here! Quick, buy something!” mutters Massebot. Perfidy back-hands him again.
 +
 +“Did everything go well for you today, Scribe?” she asks.
 +
 +“Oh, yes, thank you!” he said, “I didn't know you two were in town!”
 +
 +“We only got here a couple of days ago. Look, we have a permanent trading license with Brokenshire! You really do have a good economy for such a small town, don't you? We're selling congratulatory gifts, by the way. This is an Owl Charm from Corona. Its a symbol of intelligence and academic prowess. Its made of real jade!”
 +
 +“Um, thanks, but I'm not a student and I didn't bring much money out with me today...”
 +
 +“But you finally handed in your exam today, didn't you? We'll give you a discount for being a good customer! Write him a discount voucher, Massebot.”
 +
 +“No, really, its okay. I don't actually want one...” he said.
 +
 +“What about a present for Tracy? I know she's not into the traditional presents, but I've got some hand carved spoons from Dagonis. She likes wooden spoons, doesn't she?” enthuses Perfidy.
 +
 +“We met Paladin Forstenzer, by the way,” adds Massebot, “He uncovered a demon cult or something. And he rescued that white cat from a tree again. It was in the Newspaper.”
 +
 +“I said I would find out about getting Brokenshire a Newspaper, didn't I?” Scribe scratches his head, “I clean forgot.”
 +
 +“Oh, the Guild have properly patented their invention now!” she tells him, “If you like, I can pass the message on when I return, that the Library are interested in their work. I'm sure they'd be able to come to an arrangement.”
 +
 +“Interested in ripping you off, she means,” mutters Massebot.
 +
 +“Of course. That's what I meant. Coming to an arrangement,” she corrects him, “How are things on your end?”
 +
 +“Strictly confidential,” he tells her.
 +
 +“I heard a rumour that there's another girl in your life,” Perfidy prompts, “Is that also confidential? You are popular with the girls, you know. That scary Tactician lady still talks about you. I heard Hildegard mention your name as well.”
 +
 +Scribe blushes and tries to cha, “Talking of Casandora, do you mind if I hitch a lift with you when you pack up?”
 +
 +“We weren't talking about Casandora, we were talking about girls! What makes you think we're even going to Casandora? We're intercontinental flying businesspersons now!”
 +
 +“Then Brokenshire should be only a very quick stop for you – its only on the same continent!”
 +
 +“Glad to see you haven't changed,” says Perfidy, “You never did pay me back that doctor's fee, yet you're asking me for more favours and you even give me cheek in front of customers.”
 +
 +“We haven't got any customers,” Massebot points out.
 +
 +“Hey, whose side are you on?” she glares at him, “To tell you the truth, though, we were going back to Casandora tomorrow, so you're in luck.”
 +
 +“Thank you. I have a couple more things to do, so I'll see you at the ship tomorrow.”
 +
 +“I re-painted it. You'll like its new look,” promises Massebot, “I added some flying sharks chasing the flying mermaid.”
 +
 +“Looking forward to seeing it,” says Scribe, before darting through the crowd. He runs past the fountain, into which a drunk student has fallen, and down a narrow side street. The creaky old wooden sign with the picture of a messily painted bright red book proclaims that the shop owner is Lawrence. Another sign hung on the door tells him that it is closed but the light is on and he spots a shopkeeper straightening one of the shelves. He pushes the door open and peers around the corner into the dark, dusty recesses of the bookshop. The shelves are as crooked and badly labelled as he remembers but some of the book titles he catches sight of made him feel like a small child in a boiled sweet factory. Rare books and first editions are piled on top of each other precariously on chairs with wobbly legs. He shakes his head at the chaos of it all and calls out a greeting.
 +
 +“Well, hello there, son. I haven't seen you in a while. You should come round more often!” calls out the shopkeeper.
 +
 +“I handed my exam in today, father. I was at the ceremony. You missed it.”
 +
 +“I do apologise. The Scribes have been in at every hour of the day, buying this book and that to prepare for the ceremony, and I've been up all night finishing off the accounts for it all!”
 +
 +“Nice to know your business is doing well. Shouldn't you dust the shelves at some point?”
 +
 +“Ah, no need. Nobody has that kind of free time, and the customers don't notice in this lighting! Bright lights are bad for books, you know!”
 +
 +“So is dust...” he mutters but his father doesn't reply.
 +
 +“How's your mother? Did you go and visit her too?”
 +
 +“I'm going there later.”
 +
 +“Oh, you should definitely visit her. She'll miss you. Tell her I said hello.”
 +
 +“I will do,” he muttered, placing the books on the table.
 +
 +“Well done for graduating, by the way! I bet you did much better than me on your exams. I've never been good at trying hard. My ambitions aren't that high.”
 +
 +“I know, father, you just want to be left to your books. You should take better care of them, though.”
 +
 +“Are you going to work at the Library, then?”
 +
 +“No, father, I'm going to follow in my great grandfather's footsteps.”
 +
 +“Huh? See, didn't I tell you? Ambitious,” he pauses as he struggles to position a large book on a high shelf, “Your great grandfather was a brilliant man, you know.”
 +
 +“What was he like? Did you know him personally?”
 +
 +“Well, he was just an old man when I was just a small boy. He had a loud voice. Good cook, he was, good with a wok,” he frowns, “But he Ascended when I was very young.”
 +
 +“How did you know he had Ascended?”
 +
 +“Well, he used to visit the whole family in dreams, to tell us how he was getting on. He looked so splendid in his green robes and big tall hat!” he laughs, “But then he said he had been promoted, and he wasn't allowed to talk to people in the mortal world any more, in case he became too emotionally involved. And that was that. We never saw him again. I suppose we had it better than most people, though. Usually, when your relatives die, you don't get to see them at all.”
 +
 +“I suppose so,” says Scribe, “Um... did he tell you anything about his work? What department he was in? Anything like that?”
 +
 +“Oh, no, he wasn't allowed to talk about it!”
 +
 +“How did you know he was a Celestial?”
 +
 +“What d'you mean, Scribe? He was a Bureaucrat who ran the world! What else could he have been? Use your head, child!”
 +
 +“Sorry,” says Scribe, “I should leave. I've got other errands to run.”
 +
 +“I'm sorry I yelled at you, son! I'm proud of you, I really am!”
 +
 +“Its okay, father.”
 +
 +“Say hello to Grandfather if you do meet him!”
 +
 +“I will,” he muttered. Then walked out again, happy to return to the sunlight, and carried on running down the road.
 +
 +
 +It occurs to him that he should probably tell them about Imogen. About the girl with whom he now shared a bond closer than any marriage vows. He looked down at his pen with its bright golden-brown feather and thought, no, it isn't something I can put into words. Not any words that another person could understand. Anyway, Father would only start complaining about the age gap. Lord Amidar had told him it was okay because time spent in a timeline that never existed didn't really count, so that was good enough for the two of them.
 +
 +
 +He wonders how his friends in Brokenshire are doing.
 +
 +----
 +
 +
 +
 +As he walks up to the Temple of Spatula, he is taken by surprised when a heavily armoured woman thunders up to him carrying a kitten in each hand. The kittens seem quite unperturbed.
 +
 +
 +“SCRIBE! Scribe, guess what! Waterloo and Trafalgar had kittens!” she practically thrusts one of the tiny balls of black and white fluff into his arms, “Tracy says that there is no possible way that an innocent and pure shrine cat such as Waterloo could... you know... so it must be a MIRACLE! An immaculate conception! So they're going to be declared Holy Kittens and I get to be a Witness!”
 +
 +
 +“Well, you are a Paladin of Spatula now,” says Scribe, petting the kitten and smiling when it paws playfully at his face, “Just think, this is probably the most important event in Spatulate history for about fifty years!”
 +
 +
 +“Do you mock my faith? I shall smite thee, heretic!” she brandishes the kitten at him.
 +
 +
 +“Is Tracy around?” asks Scribe.
 +
 +
 +“She's in the back with Paladin-General Forstenzer,” says Hildegard, placing the kitten back on her shoulder-plate, where it curls up in the sun, “She'll be happy to see you. She's been praying for you! I... think that means she's your friend, right? There are good things to pray to Spatula for, aren't there?”
 +
 +
 +“You should know, you're the Paladin!” he sighs, “I think it depends on how carefully you word your prayer.”
 +
 +
 +Anyway, he thinks, I want to see her whether she's happy to see me or not. Especially if she's angry with me. Most of my memories are of her being angry with me. I don't want her to ever be any different to how I remember her. 
 +
 +
 +----
 +
 +
 +
 +“The Dragon of Heaven and the Dragon of Earth,” Lord Broken told him, “Are the symbols of the Celestial and Infernal Offices respectively. They represent its timeless, cyclical nature, its authority over all planes of existence and its duty to preserve order above all things. The way that the dragons intertwine symbolises the relationship between the two Offices; apart, but together. Overlapping, but with their own separate duties. Often in conflict, but always ultimately working towards the same goals.”
 +
 +“So, is it based on a real Dragon of Heaven and Earth, or are they just a metaphor?” asked Scribe.
 +
 +“Some of the oldest Celestials and Infernals say that they remember the First Founding of the Order, and they say that the Dragons themselves personally directed them in their duties,” replied his Master, “Although it is unlikely that anyone alive today really remembers that far back. The First Founding was at the time of the very creation of the Universe!”
 +
 +“We aren't immortal?” he asked.
 +
 +“Nothing's immortal. Ageing isn't just waiting to get older, you know, we all do things that wear us slowly down. Everyone and everything wears out eventually, and they'll be replaced by something new. Some of us are very old, because we're very simple beings, when it comes down to it. We don't have the same freedom and choices that pull people's souls apart. But we can't last forever.”
 +
 +“I wasn't there at the First Founding, but I was there after everything got built, and when the Laws of Nature were being decided,” added Lord Amidar, “Now that was an exciting time!”
 +
 +“Did you see the Dragons?”
 +
 +“No, no, I was nobody important at the time. They'd never bother appearing in front of me!”
 +
 +“But you must know more about them than anyone else here!”
 +
 +“All I really know is that they outrank me, and they live on the moon.”
 +
 +“The Moon, eh?” said Lord Broken, looking up at the sky. Mostly they saw the cogs and wheels of the machinery that controlled the world, slowly turning. It was much the same view as the Infernal Plane, except that you could see the top, not the bottom, and there were less sharp, grinding things and there was no furnace, although you still didn't want to fall into the machinery. You could dimly see the Moon from between two cogs. Scribe hadn't realised you could see it from here.
 +
 +“Its much larger here than back home,” he commented.
 +
 +“That's because we're closer to it,” said Amidar.
 +
 +“Time to put out the lanterns,” interrupted Lord Broken.
 +
 +“I'll do that!” said Scribe, “Give me the key to the shed!”
 +
 +Lord Broken laughed and gave the key to his apprentice, who ran off to the shed where the lanterns were kept and began pulling them out. He lit each one and ran with it across the Broken City, climbing up onto the lower cogs and jumping from gear to gear, finding the handles and hooks where they could hang a lantern and placing the looped cord over it. Soon, everywhere would be lit, and the clockwork dolls could begin their night shift. They didn't tire, but they couldn't see in the dark. They weren't perfect, and each one had some small defect that lent a strange kind of creativity to their work. Quite often, Lord Broken's orders weren't taken entirely how he meant them to, but the cogs were always well polished and the world kept turning.
 +
 +
 +
 +
 +
 +
 
scribefurther2.txt · Last modified: 2012/06/20 14:30 by doan
 
Recent changes RSS feed Creative Commons License Donate Powered by PHP Valid XHTML 1.0 Valid CSS Driven by DokuWiki