Foreword: In March there was this Blog Battle submission:
Which was left sort of hanging
This is subsequent episode
Custodian Zwanglos returning to that hill with its cave. It had been nice to meet with the villagers and the still spry Translator of the Word. Amongst all the goodwill and hospitality she felt a smidge guilty at having to deceive them that she was only here because she had to write an official history and needed to make sure she got her facts right.
Actually she was here because she was who she was and what had arisen when more agile minds had looked into, yet again the events around that hill. Presumably her then mentor Custodian Vernünftig had also issued his own commentary, though he was elsewhere, unable to attend.
She had enjoyed the interlude spent with Thaddeus Greylane, steward of the cave and exile from the time when The World had been embraced by The Ethereal. He had been affable, willing to assist and explain about most of the mysteries and artefacts within his collection of minutiae, all curios.
Not The Archive, behind the steel door.
She had been fayre certain Thaddeus had been able to open the door and his claimed failures were just Avoidance. She had had to be careful will him, he was a delicate bloom. She hoped wherever he was now he was being taken care of, tending his blue acorns into shoots.
Meanwhile her mentors and seniors had pondered over the Archive. They wanted to know what rested there. They wanted insight into WHY the Ethereal had come to The World.
And thus Zwanglos was despatched.
Armed with her wits, memories, controversial ownership of staff and actually Thaddeus’ keys.
And the nagging question. Why she was sent alone? Maybe there were grave concerns as to the risks and she was deemed expendable. Even so, there should have been a witness to report back.
She stopped near the cave edge, dropped to a crouch at the familiar rock, positioning her staff to the fore.
‘I can see you,’ she called out ‘You’re dark against the grey. Present yourself,’
‘Am I being addressed by Custodian Leidlich Zwanglos?’
‘Yer.’ Slipping back into her home accent on being caught off guard ‘So in the name of The Lawd Gawd, I repeat, present yourself,’
With great care a man in a dark green uniform, long coat and wide brimmed hat eased out.
‘LifeGuard?’ she questioned in surprise, standing up.
The fellow removed his hat and ran a hand through his hair, she respected his look of concern and not the normal austere superiority of that outfit.
‘Captain Ermitteln,’ he announced with civility ‘I have been waiting for you,’
‘You have?’ not sure whether to be irritated or intrigued.
‘Yes,’ he absently scratched his scalp ‘It is the opinion of my commanders you might need some help,’
‘Wiv’ wot?’ she drawled out, raising her staff.
‘The Archive,’ he replied in the way of a confession, and getting poked by the staff for his honesty.
‘Only fayre I give y’ warning. I got an affinity wiv’ this,’ at this the top glowed slightly ‘Tell me LifeGuard Hows and Whys,’
‘Now there’s the problem. I don’t get told that part. My orders were to meet with you, and assist as necessary,’
‘Now there’s ‘alf a ‘Why’, so I think there’s another bit,’ Zwanglos leaned in on the staff.
The captain seemed to be giving this serious thought, as The LifeGuard generally gave everything serious thought it was hard for her to figure out in what direction. She pressed a little harder.
‘It’s problematic to think with a glowing staff pressing on my chest,’
‘Oh fer frib’s sake. Don’t serve me slops dressed up as innocence. You have been sent wiv’ secret orders based on information obtained by shadiness, lurked in a cave for dunno how long, know too much about me, an’ you think I’ll dine on that?’
She nudged him again with the staff, blinked, twitched and stepped back.
‘Wait a mo’. You’re tellin’ the truth. Well as close as anyone can get to it. My staff never lets me down, particularly when the one at the other end is nervous,’
‘I understand it has the capacity to punch through walls,’
‘Alright then,’ she said withdrawing her symbol of authority ‘We have to get beyond a door I can’t open to look for an unknown volume and extract it,’
She kept unto herself the opinion that the fellow was using his justifiable anxiety to mask something he was keeping hid. The LifeGuard were not an organisation renowned for charity.
His face brightened and relaxed.
‘I think I can help with difficult doors. My experience is in The Ethereal,’
‘Should have said so,’ she replied ‘Follow me, and keep close. It’s singular place,’
Ermitteln focused on how the cave dimensions and trigonometry should be and not what his senses were perceiving. A difficult exercise. Even with ten years of experience of dealing with the Ethereal, this location was proving a challenge. Eyes barely opened, he kept his attention on Zwanglos’ voice as anchor. From her narration he judged the place had been cleared all its contents, and there had been several rooms, suggesting the previous owner had seen the place as a civilised habitation. No sense of daemonics. The passage of Time was the problem, but this should be expected in a place which had either travelled through or existed in more than one temporal location. The Custodian appeared to be at one with here whether by nature, training or equipment, he did not have the luxury of opportunity to deduce.
‘And ‘ere we are,’
There was disgruntlement, obviously at the source of earlier frustrations. To accustom himself to any distortions he opened his eyes cautiously. With some relief he perceived the usual three dimensional arena with up and down in their correct places. Before him set into a cave wall was a steel door, a functional light grey, room enough for two to walk through. Zwanglos stood scowling at it. She abruptly handed him a long key of muted bronze, a rather ordinary object of triangular teeth, two deep lines each side. By its own light and that of her staff he crouched examining it, in particular dimensions and spacing of the teeth, peering at the miniscule, he discerned ingrained wirings at each edge.
‘Interesting’ he said quietly, causing Zwanglos to drop in his side, her scowl deepening, giving into a smidge of envy at his power of assessment ‘An original temporal pivot,’
‘A key that goes through time?’ she asked, relying on snippets of information she had gleaned on such objects.
‘Quite so,’ he replied turning to her with an expression of approval. ‘Tricky things. The Lifeguard still hasn’t discerned,’ a slight smile on his face ‘The Why. Only the How. Normally it’s supposed to be the other way around,’ he shrugged ‘Still when it comes to Temporal,’ leaving the words hanging. ‘I would suggest Master Thaddeus was given this in a hurry without any instructions. Confusion of the times,’
‘Openable then?’ she pressed ‘Because I can feel something twitching on the other side,’ she glanced up her staff, flickerings of red and blues in its otherwise pale light.
‘Two issues there Custodian. Firstly opening, possible. But more important. Are we ready from what’s on the other side?’
‘You worry your pretty brown haired head about the first,’ she twisted her staff in one hand ‘I’ll worry ‘bout the other,’
‘Novel Custodial response,’ he muttered.
Usually she relied on physical speed, intelligence and aggression; prayer normally reserved for quiet private moments. Waiting for the Captain and whatever passed for Time she did resort to some of the more reflective tenets of faith, sweating hands dampening the staff. The twitching beginning to come too close to sound for her liking. Patience though, let the Captain ease, twist that object through whatever places he reckoned there were. She couldn’t even make out a keyhole. She did realise he was about his own litany, although one of, mathematical formulas, numbers and results.
The lock gave way, the door opened inwards. Zwanglos levelled her staff, part potential weapon, part illumination. Ermitteln drew out a short device, likened to a dehorned crossbow, its inlaid gems winking, his finger near the trigger.
They looked down the narrow room, seeming of short distance; each side housing ten shelves of books to the height of a man. The size of the volumes making estimation of the total difficult. The pair did not move or speak, hesitant to step within.
‘There’s years of study and evaluation here,’ he said, without excitement.
‘You feel it too. Dontcha Captain? Not evil, not living. The Ethereal seeped in here into the books,’
‘Or the lettering was set to extract Ethereal, give the volumes extra potential. The LifeGuard has evidence it could be done,’
‘The detail does not make sense to me. The reasoning does, though. Might have those words could be used like weaponry, or pull folk in,’
‘Or. To act as a way to visualise the times. Probably hastily made, thus dangerous,’
‘It would pull folk out of their rational ways. As bad as the second-rate magics of these days,’
She raised her staff, the pale light turned blinding bright summer sun and a took on the form of a bolt, which she swayed back and forth across the room, causing shelves to collapse as flames danced then settled upon them and the volumes.
‘Oh scraith,’ he swore and pulled the door shut adding sharply ‘Get back,’
The surface glowed in with a dull red heat, something they both hoped was a mere explosion and not a being of rage thudded from the other side, causing a slight bulge. Above them, the ceiling of the cave, cracked, without thought they scrambled back as stone fell leaving no visible trace of the door.
Halfway to the cave entrance, crouching again, in moonlight. Drained, the two conversed.
‘Was that your original intention Custodian?’
‘Open options, Captain. Was yours to kill me?’
‘If necessary,’ she admired candour ‘The assessment being whatever was in The Archive should not be in the hands of The Ecclesiastes. The risk of a subsequent holy purge against all use of Ethereal, was too great. It is here now. We evolve,’
She spat distain under the guise of clearing out dust a faint smile in the moonlight.
‘Not at you or yours,’ Zwanglos said ‘At my brothers in, cloisters who would not have survived the exposure. In my year spent in this cave, I sensed….stuff,’ one hand in a slight gesture ‘Your generals and colonels can rest easy. Thanks for your assistance. We have extracted a cancer. Now slip away under dark unknown. I have verbal smoke to spread to keep the village safe,’
Zwanglos sat in the corner left of the door, driest part of the cell. Her interrogators and assessors untiring in pressing her to revisit her explanations. They would not accept the facts. They felt there was something else to extract from her. Before long she would start to make up things to put an end to this torment by tedium. She yearned for her mentor Vernünftig, he could have defended her. Why Not?
Again moonlight through the cell window, pooling on the floor within in hand’s touch, small comfort. This time a shadow passed across. A figure.
He knelt offering her a hand.
‘Time for a demonstration to our sometime allies Custodian. You are no use here. The LifeGuard have decided,’ his turn to smile, ‘An Ethereal extraction,’
She bit down the emotion, raw weariness from the displeasure of those not content with her explanations, allied to those annoyed at another woman Custodian.
‘Where to? Why?’ she tried to keep the tenor of her voice steady. They had broken her staff before her as another torture.
‘Rest first. Then back to the cave,’
She rose, back stiff, grasping his hand. The question bursting out into voice
‘We found an image of you on the rubble before the door,’
One question followed another as they stepped into an ethereal passageway.
‘I am to extract the information?’