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Jan. 12 – Conversation with the Past

Bookworm Hienrichs was snatching a few hours at home, attending to Arnold’s needs while Mariah and Mrs. Pritchard rested, when she heard a knock at the door. Peering through the window, she saw Tepic standing there, smiled, and hurried to let him in. “Hello, Tepic.

“‘Ello, Miss Book! How’s the patient?” he asked.

“No real change physically,” she replied, beckoning him into the library.

“Oh. Err… he ain’t gone nuts, has he?”

Bookworm smiled briefly. “No, not that.” She and Tepic looked down at Arnold’s prone form, and saw his eyes were open again, the orange eye looking straight at Tepic. Bookworm looked at Tepic keenly, remembering now that he’d mentioned once that he’d done something… special to help bring Arnold back during the Dark Aether mess. “Tepic, do you know anything about… Id?”

“Err… reckon I hear the name…”

“Dr. Sonnerstein told me a bit. His mind is… fragmented to an extent. Id is a part of that fragmentation.”

Tepic nodded. “Yep. Arguing with himself, sort of.”

“We can actually communicate with Id right now, to an extent. One blink for yes, two for no.” She leaned over the back of the couch. “Id, can Tepic help Arnold?”

The orange eye blinked once.

“Blimey,” breathed Tepic. “Are yer both in there?” The orange eye blinked once, and Tepic continued, “Well, that’s good.”

At that moment, Bookworm caught, out of the corner of her eye, a dark fluttering movement at the window. She hurried over, and saw a familiar avian form, which cawed mockingly at her. She stared for a moment, then, on impulse, hurried toward the front door, telling Tepic to stay with Arnold as she passed him.

She darted outside without even a cloak, and quickly shut the door behind her. Shivering, she peered around, and heard a caw from above. She craned her neck, and saw the raven perching on the edge of the roof. “Metier!” she called. “Come here.”

The raven cawed again, peering down at her, but making no move. “I’m unarmed, Metier,” she called out again. “Come here.” With that reassurance, the raven glided down from the roof, landing in the street outside her door. It stood there quietly, looking at her.

Bookworm squatted down and reached out with the senses Zac Somerset had, years ago, taught her to use. She could feel Metier’s mocking laughter, and tried to follow it, in a way, going deeper into the raven.

And suddenly, he was there. Not in the flesh, of course, nor as a ghost, nor even as a picture in her mind. But somehow, his presence was so strong, it transcended any need for a physical or visual manifestation. “Hello, Miss Hienrichs,” said the familiar voice with malicious glee. “We seem destined to meet many times.”

Bookworm shivered again, more at hearing the voice than at the cold. Unsure of how long she could keep contact, she went straight to the point. “What do you want with Arnold?”

“Me?” Metier laughed again. “Nothing!”

“Then why do you try to keep getting to him?”

“Aessesser wants him.” Henri explained.  “Do you not recognize my pet raven? It sat upon my shoulder even when you shot at me.”

Bookworm frowned, and was about to say that she had no desire, then or now, to keep track of his little pets, when another voice said sternly, “Quiet!” Metier laughed.

Bookworm could now feel a second presence–something she couldn’t describe, as it felt utterly inhuman. But who–what–was it? She stared at the raven. It stared back at her. Finally, she chanced a throw, odd though it seemed. “Why do you want Arnold, Aessesser? And what did you take from the others?”

“Their souls,” replied the voice–gravelly, yet uninflected, matter-of-fact. “The souls of the damned are my meal. I follow them and I feast.” Bookworm blanched, but the voice continued, “I wished for Metier when he was a child.”

“I surprised him when I became the master,” Henri put in. He laughed maniacally.

“But Arnold isn’t dead yet,” Bookworm said around the cold fear in her stomach.

“I don’t have to wait for death. I can bring death.” With that, the raven flew up and disappeared into the sky behind her home.

She stared after it for a moment, eyes wide and watering in the cold wind. Finally, she muttered, “Not if we can help it,” stood up, and reentered her home.

Tepic looked up as she came across the library to him. “So what’s the birdy after, Miss Book? And what do three blinks mean? He did that when I asked if I have ter go find Mr. Arnold.”

Bookworm opened and closed her mouth several times, as if she wasn’t sure what to tell Tepic. Finally, she said, “Metier is in the raven, Tepic.”

“The nutter?” he asked, startled. “He up ter no good again?”

“He says he’s not the one after Arnold. The raven is. The raven said so, too.”

“Eh? But ain’t they one an’ the same, like Mr. Arnold and Id?”

Bookworm shook her head. “That was the pet raven Metier carted around while he was alive. Except, apparently, it wasn’t exactly a pet.”

Tepic leaned forward, lowering his voice. “So did the bird take something from Hoyt?”

“I’m afraid so.” Bookworm hesitated, loath to repeat what Aessesser had said. But finally, she continued, “It told me, ‘The souls of the damned are my meal. I follow them and I feast.'”

Tepic looked grim. “Then it had no right ter Hoyt, that’s fer certain. I seen some bad ‘uns, Miss, an’ I ain’t sayin’ what happens to ‘em, but Hoyt were one of us, an’ a good ‘un, too, ‘cept a bit confused sometimes.”

“It has no right to anyone, as far as I’m concerned,” Bookworm growled. “It also wants Arnold–and will even kill him to get him.”

“Ha!” Tepic exclaimed. “Then it’s definitely got its knickers in a twist. Mr. Arnold’s a hero–when he pops his clogs, he’s off ter Valhalla or some such place!”

Bookworm smiled at that, then looked down at Arnold and saw that his eyes were still open. She thought she might as well check with Id about what Aessesser had said–she wouldn’t put it past… it to have lied to her. “Id, is it Aessesser who wants Arnold?”

The orange eye blinked once.

“It wants Arnold’s soul?”

The orange eye blinked once again, though it did hesitate a moment.

“So, do I have ter knock off the birdy?” Tepic asked.

The orange eye blinked once.

“Well, that’s clear enough.”

“Easier said than done, though,” Bookworm said wryly. The orange eye blinked once, apparently agreeing with her statement.

“Ha! We ain’t even started yet,” Tepic said stoutly. “Urchins can spy where it sets… then bird lime on its perches… nets with weights on the edge…” He went off for a moment into a reverie of plans for traps for the raven, pleased to have a clear objective now.

((To be continued…))

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9 Comments

  1. Avariel Falcon Avariel Falcon January 14, 2013

    Accross the rooftops the little gutter cleaning clockwork skittered around looking for the big birdy, and whenever they found him they pounced! Chasing him from roof to roof and shouting one word, a word that the raven would grow to dread…

    “Hug!”.

    Unit #6 grumbled “You… are… telling… them… to… hug… the… raven?”.

    The unicorn nodded “Well, they have such simple programming and are totaly non-combative… so best to keep things simple”.

    Unit #6 sighed “Opperation… hug… the… birdy… it… is… then…”.

  2. Avariel Falcon Avariel Falcon January 14, 2013

    [Gutter cleaning clockwork: There are many designs of the little clockwork who quietly keep the roof gutters and downpipes clean. Probably the most numerous of these are the bunnies and the squirrels, both ornate little brass clockwork that are wonderfully good at jumping. Normally they are very shy, by design, and hide away from anyone poking around the rooftops and are very hard to spot. Both types can talk, although they are not great conversationalists and tend towards one word sentences. Since taking over running the power station Avariel has taught many of them to go about their work whispering quietly in their little voices “Yay!”.] 

  3. Nathan Adored Nathan Adored January 15, 2013

    ((Interesting.  So the raven isn’t quite what I expected it to be.  And for some reason I thought there was more than one of them.))

    ((Till this point, I was operating under the theory that the raven was some sinister life-form that had come here from another dimension, or from some other world…. perhaps a specially created being, one where, say, the Powers of Darkness had engineared an enhanced, enlarged, intellegent, and deeply sinister raven-like being, and that there was a whole *group* of them that had some darkly malevolent plan in the works,  operating as agents for some evil force somewhere in the multiverse that had decided one day to latch onto New Babbage… and that they were stealing peoples souls and maybe collecting them somewhere for some really nasty purpose.  Say, to power some deeply sinister weapon.))

    ((Turns out the truth is something a lot less spectacular and a lot less involving, and a great deal more mundane.))

    • Bookworm Hienrichs Bookworm Hienrichs January 15, 2013

      ((My most profound apologies, Nathan.

      I’m afraid I haven’t yet perfected my invention–a device which reads the mind of a reader and alters the text to be exactly what that reader wants.  If only that National Science Foundation grant had come through in time…))

      • Nathan Adored Nathan Adored January 16, 2013

        ((Well, wasn’t meant as any kind of criticism.  And having been in a lot of round-robin stories (where the ones participating in writing the story in installments make it all up as they go along), I’ve experenced again and again where you anticipate the story going in one direction, and it winds up going off in a competely different direction.  Sometimes the direction it goes is far more interesting than you expected and is nothing you could ever have dreamed up, and sometimes it just sorta swerves off into something simple… but its a fun trip nonetheless.  All I was saying was my mind saw a lot more details here than it turned out there really were.  -=*giggles*=-  But, then…. I tend to overanalyze. LOL!))

        ((In any event, I’m not really disappointed it didn’t match my expectations, and I’ll probably reuse the idea I’d had somewhere else, replacing ravens with…. something else.  :)  Heck, I might even KEEP the ravens part of it…. just not make it the SAME raven as here. ROFL!))

        • Bookworm Hienrichs Bookworm Hienrichs January 16, 2013

          ((Yes, well, it’s rather difficult to view words and phrases such as “mundane” and “less involving” as anything *but* criticism.

          It’s not that I’m expecting everyone to enjoy this storyline–not at all. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But your previous comment read as if you were criticizing us for not following your own, highly-detailed ideas, which was, frankly, baffling.

          Besides, if we had somehow ended up matching your exact expectations, wouldn’t that mean the story was too predictable?))

          • Nathan Adored Nathan Adored January 18, 2013

            ((I’m really sorry, it was a poor choice of words… I couldn’t come up with the right ones at the time, and was trying to finish the post quickly, so I picked the only words I could think of at the time,  while knowing they didn’t really match the meaning I was going for.  The words that better matched what I was meaning to say might have been:  This matter was of more local origin,  and was not as worldshaking as I’d misread it to be.))

            ((Anyway, the only thing I was *trying* to say was… sometimes one reads more into things than is really supposed to be there, because you latch onto some random detail and, in trying to make a good guess as to *where* things are going, so you can kind of get there *ahead* of it… you get things WAY wrong.  You get to where you think things are going… only to see things go scampering off in a completely different direction, you *then* discover some details you couldn’t have known about before, and you say, “Oh, darn, did *I* ever get *this* plot wrong! WOW!”   That’s basically the extent of what my first post here was trying to say.))

            ((Again, I’m really sorry, I really botched this.))

  4. Henri Metier Henri Metier January 15, 2013

    Machines hunted it now, and the urchins tried to keep watch. Hunting its prey had become harder, ‘starving children’ ‘freezing’ on the street had become traps set to entice it into thinking it might have found an easy meal, when they were ready with nets.

    Their efforts were in vain.  Aessesser retreated from the realm of men when it needed to
    rest.  It had confronted Heliotrope Lionheart in Metier’s dreams.  It had tormented Cortman and his men with nightmares about the cat for months, painting images of what it would do to them and setting the wolf on the victims that sang to it.  It had no fear that something could catch or stop it here.  The aetherial and dream realms were where it had friends.

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