Inkspell - Familiar

As Eiran was packing up his stall for the day, an all-too-familiar woman's voice startled him out of his careful re-measuring and re-labeling of his reagent jars. "Hey! Glowboy! Is my favorite alchemist too busy for me right now?"

Six stood on the other side of the counter, bouncing from foot to foot and looking more gleeful than he'd seen her in a while. A bad sign, for sure. She waited impatiently for him as he finished up the label for his last jar before finally acknowledging her. "Six. Back from your run early! I thought you were out in the Flux for another week." As always, he hid whatever discomfort and annoyance he might have had with his most comforting on-the-job smile.

"Well…not really." She shrugged. "Call it a leave of absence. Had a bit of a...situation to handle, you know how it is…"

"Uh huh." He did, though he didn't wish to. A “situation” for Six could be anything from an underworld deal, to a sale on a pair of those nice socks that merchant in Lignarum carried, to a dispute in one of the outer cities that she just had to get involved in. Regardless of what it was, getting him involved was only going to cause trouble…and it was likely to be trouble for him.

"Anyways." Six waved a hand dismissively. "Leo's calling the shots 'til I get back. Old tomcat's done it before. I get my errands in, mission gets done by the books, everyone's happy! But explaining my second-in-command’s tasklist is not why I'm here." She grinned at him, practically on top of the counter with how hard she was leaning over it. "I've got something juicy to show you. Servo 4's picked up something very good for me, and I'm sharing it specially with you, so I can get the excitement out of my system before I start doing a jolly little jig right here in the marketplace. C'mon, quick trip to the Dome. Ten minutes tops."

Eiran narrowed his eyes, his facade straining to keep up with the bad feeling in his gut. “The Dome. Referring to…the main office of the Void Runner headquarters. Your place of employment. Which…currently thinks you’re still in the Flux Edge. For the next week. That Dome?”

“Yes, yes, that Dome, excellent deduction. Y’know, skills like yours are really needed in the Runners, and my team very conveniently has an opening for a darkness remnant...”

It was bait, it was obvious bait, but he’d been egged on just about enough now. He clapped his hands together, his strained smile shattering at last into a rictus grin of annoyance. “On second thought, going directly to your place of employment sounds like an excellent idea! Maybe someone important will see you and you’ll finally leave me alone.”

And just like that, she was already on the other side of his counter, already pushing him out with her, completely unheeding the tea bags and herbs that were still in his hands, that he was now quickly forced to pocket as he was dragged out of his own stall. “Excellent, glad we’re in agreement, took you long enough, come on, wasting daylight.”

Recognizing now that this trip had never been, and would never have been, his decision to make, Eiran bemusedly allowed it.

Which is how he found himself behind the Dome, watching a familiar metallic spider crawl out onto a windowsill and leap off, landing directly into his best friend’s waiting hands. Six caught it without even a wince, and in the same motion squatted down, setting the spider gently on the stone below. And then looked up at him, her good cheer long dissolved at this point into impatience. “Well?”

He sighed and squatted too, doing his best to school his own impatience. The sooner Six got whatever this was out of her system, the sooner he could return to taking down his stall, preferably before somebody noticed half of his wares were still out and swiped some. He wouldn't have minded giving some to those who couldn't pay if needed, but having them stolen would mean taking inventory would have been a real headache in the morning. And though he’d never admit it aloud…he was a bit curious as well. Not much got her this excited anymore.

He’d never admit it, sure, but perhaps Six could sense it. That would be the only explanation he could think of for the satisfied look on her face before she gave a short whistle to her spider.

The servo shivered in place for a moment, before one of its rear legs went up. And another, on the opposite side. Eiran’s eyes widened as its entire abdomen flipped up, two hidden panels on either side of it flipping outwards, and what he was looking at was not the jeweled rear end of a mechanical spider, but a screen. And on it, grainy but recognizable, was a room he’d only ever seen empty: Unity Hall, the meeting room of the Directors of all Void Runner departments. All seven of them were present, all in what were clearly ceremonial robes…this was a meeting, a policy meeting concerning the city itself. And Six had recorded it, without their knowledge, using servo technomancy well beyond his own abilities. It was incredible. It was also, probably, incredibly illegal.

Six didn’t care one bit. “Ugh, hold on, the juicy bit’s near the end…” With no time wasted on awe for her own creation, Six nudged the rightmost upright leg of her servo once, twice, three times, squinting down at the tiny screen as the voices and movements of the Directors sped up into a squeaky, incomprehensible mess…and then abruptly stopped the picture with a none-too-gentle smack on the spider’s head. Eiran winced on its behalf. The spider seemed unfazed.

“Here. Check this out.”

She waved her servo on, and the scene played on at its normal speed. One of the Directors was in the middle of a speech. Which one, and why, he hadn’t a clue, and was nearly starting to get lost in the babble when with a loud BANG, the great doors at the head of the hall burst open ahead of a man he didn’t recognize in the slightest. Even on the tiny, grainy screen, the man commanded attention. Eiran’s eyes were glued to him, the way he strode into the room like he owned it, the way his long, dark hair swept behind him like a cloak as he walked, the way his bespectacled gaze pierced each of the Directors in turn before he turned his sights on the one even Eiran recognized as the Director of Unity, their leader…and the way he pulled the book he was carrying out from under his arm with little more than a flick of his wrist, commanding it to float in front of him and open, its pages flipping on their own under the force of what was clearly some powerful kinesthene magic…And then the picture stopped again.


It took him a moment to snap out of it.

“Eiran! Pull yourself together. I can't see the screen!”

“Wh-” He startled, realized he was leaning towards the screen way more than he thought he had been, and promptly leaned back, his jaw snapping shut without realizing he’d even opened it.

Six shot him a look that was equal parts confused, annoyed…and amused. “What, do you know him?”

He shook his head, feeling his whole face warm. “I…No. My apologies. I’m not sure…what came over me...” His heart was pounding. Now that he’d gotten his wits back, not even he was sure what had just happened. Sure, the technomancy was fascinating, but was it that fascinating? The scene hadn't even gotten “juicy” yet, as she’d put least not to his knowledge. For all he knew this was normal. He should be normal about this.

She stared at him for another few seconds, and then shrugged, waving the spider on again. “Whatever. I don’t really care. Just don’t drool on my servo. I haven’t backed this up yet.”

“R-right.” Drool?

Eiran was a bit more keenly aware of himself this time, and successfully kept whatever that was in check as they watched this unknown man berate all seven of the Directors, gesturing animatedly and jabbing his finger at bits of data in the book he was showing them as though he could wield the knowledge within like a knife to their hearts. It was hard to tell what exactly was being said, even at the volume he was speaking in, as he continued to speak even when several of the Directors tried to speak over him, one even standing up from her chair until the Director of Unity waved her down.

All Eiran could catch in the hubbub was the very end of his speech: “And that is why I wish to present to the Unity the following proposal: the instatement of an Office of Records, effective immediately. Their mission: to compile, categorize, and organize a record for each and every remnant of Praecidia, past, present, and future, chronicling their arrival, travels, and eventual departure from the Void…so that no remnant may be forgotten. Unlike this, and I stress, incomplete, list of the ones from Tel Terrum alone. If the neighborhood known for its fastidious hoarding of knowledge has gaps this wide in its own records of its own people, I shudder to think how the records, or lack thereof, are in the rest of the city. We need this office desperately before any more figures from our past are lost to memory forever. I present my case to the Unity.” And he snapped his book shut.

It was quiet after that. So quiet that Eiran could hear the ticking of the servo’s mechanisms in the recording for a moment. And then the Director of Unity, leader of the lot, finally spoke. “Your case is solid, Sable, Human remnant of Earth."

"Ass." Six scoffed, glancing in Eiran's direction and clarifying when he shot her a questioning look. "Cheap power play there, subtly mocking his introduction like that. But effective."

It was, judging by the titters from some of the other Directors. It made his gut twist uncomfortably. The Director of Unity waited for silence before continuing. "Your argument was well-compiled, well-categorized, well-organized, well-argumented, and delivered with no small amount of passion, considering that you gave each and every neighborhood of our city, your own included, the most scathing dressing-down for their mistakes that we've seen in this hall in years." She smiled, but it was not a kind one. Eiran suddenly felt a sickening flash of recognition - this was the same smile he'd once seen on Six, when an experiment of hers had, at its conclusion, been compelled to twitch all on its own, almost lifelike.

It was the smile of one who knows now, beyond a doubt, that they have utter control over a situation. And it made Eiran squirm, even though he wasn't even its recipient.

"...In short, the perfect qualities that you yourself have requested this new Office have. I accept your case for consideration, and present the following solution to the Unity: We shall instate an eighth Office, the Office of Records, on a temporary basis, effective immediately. Its eventual purpose will be to compile, categorize, and organize a record for each and every remnant of Praecidia, past, present, and future, chronicling their arrival, travels, and eventual departure from the Void, so that no remnant may be forgotten. Its first order of business, however, shall be to present the form on which all of these records will be chronicled at our next meeting in two weeks' time, which we shall evaluate for completeness and necessity before deciding whether to proceed with the permanent instatement of this new Office or not. And its Director, also effective immediately, shall be the one who has so passionately presented the case for its existence to the Unity: Sable, human remnant of Earth. All in favor?"

The triumphant, hopeful look on Sable's face as the Director of Unity gave her speech fell as she delivered her last statement, and slowly morphed into barely-concealed horror as he watched each Director, one by one, raise their hand in favor of her proposal…all but one, who had scowled at him the entire time. His neighbor gave him a nudge, whispered something loud enough for Sable to hear and look nauseated over, but not quite loud enough for the spider to pick up, and then he, too, begrudgingly raised his hand in support. The Director of Unity looked pleased. Sable looked distinctly less impressive than he had at the start of all this, and rather more like he suddenly wished he could turn into an ooze and escape through a crack in the tiled floor below. But no such spell existed, at least, not to remnant knowledge.

"Then it is decided, by unanimous vote. Sable, it is my distinct honor to grant you the title of Director of Records. I expect you to have your form ready for our review in two weeks' time in this very room. Until we have reviewed and deemed this Office is truly as necessary as you have argued it is, you will be issued a temporary badge of office, as well as a temporary office space. Following this meeting, I shall have my personal familiar guide you to our empty offices. You may have your choice of any of the options it guides you to. Congratulations, and best of luck. As for the rest of you, we will proceed with the other items of discussion that we had planned at our next meeting. Any objections, before we adjourn?"

The room was silent again, save for a noise from Sable that was more of a wheeze than an objection. The Director of Unity's smile grew. "Excellent. Adjourned! Corundum," she snapped her fingers, and a deep red catlike creature leapt into being in front of Sable in a shower of sparkles, "please guide our new Director to our available offices." The other Directors sat and watched, some hiding their amusement better than others, as it trotted off, Sable staring dumbly after it for a moment before startling, snatching his book out of its levitation and jamming it under his arm as he scrambled to catch up with the familiar.

The scene stopped again, this time without Six's intervention, and faded out, leaving Eiran staring at his own reflection in the empty screen.

They sat in silence for a moment, and then Six burst out in a cackle. “Ohhh, that was better than I could have imagined!” She only barely kept her words whisper-quiet, but couldn’t keep herself from clapping her hands in glee. ”They added a whole new guy to our grand ruling body, sight unseen, without even consulting the public, and he’s in charge of all their records. And I found out. I found out! If this gets out, it’d tank his and the Director of Unity’s whole career,” she giggled. “I might even be able to bump up the recording quality and catch whatever that one Director was saying. Not often one sees an earth remnant trying to go against another one of theirs, the xenophobic bastards…Ohhh, this is blackmail gold…”

Eiran had long since stopped listening, unable to tear his gaze away from the spider. He had never met this man, had never even heard of him up until this point, but he couldn’t get Sable’s expression, right before he turned away, out of his mind.

It had been so achingly familiar.

How often had he caught himself making that expression, back when he’d first started and all had seemed lost?

…And how would it have felt, to have his entire fate held at Six’s mercy at that most vulnerable of moments, to be used as a bargaining chip for her own selfish ends before he’d even gotten a chance to make something of himself?

“...I’m sorry, Six,” he whispered, and before she had even finished celebrating, he leaned forward and brought his gauntleted fist down on her servo. And again. And again, and again, until the spider was nothing more than a small pile of clockwork shards, twisted bits of brass, and a cracked stone with a rainbow sheen. Whatever magic it had once contained was now long gone.

And then he scrambled to his feet before the consequences of his actions could catch up to him, before Six could do anything more than stare uncomprehendingly at the destruction he’d wrought on both her servo and her ability to get out of welcoming duty for the next half-dozen years. He didn’t say anything, he simply left her to his fate and ran as fast as he could manage to the one place in all the Void she couldn’t follow…not for now, at least.

And when the head receptionist of The Dome stopped him and asked him, politeness strained to its limit, where he needed to be in such a hurry, he answered the first thing that came to mind. “The…the Office of Records. Please.”

Her brows knit for a moment, and then she snapped to attention. “...Oh! The new one! My, my, I wasn’t expecting to hear about a visit to that one so soon. Our newest Director really is as diligent as he looked…One moment, I’ll let the director know…”

A sudden wave of panic gripped him. “Ah! No need!” He flashed her what was hopefully his most charming smile, praying it would be enough. “He’s expecting me…actually.”

“Oh?” The receptionist studied him for a moment, and he felt himself flush under her scrutiny, nerves catching up to him…until she cracked a grin. “Ahhh, I see. Very well! But only this once, lest we set a precedent. Best of luck to you both,” and she waved him on with a wink, still grinning.

Utterly confused at what had just happened, but unwilling to push his luck, Eiran just smiled gratefully and strode past her down the hall, hoping that whether he actually met Sable or not, he’d at least be able to spend enough time in here that Six would be forced to give up on hunting him and go back to the Flux Edge like she was supposed to. And blessedly, the halls were empty, the other Directors apparently too busy with their own work after the meeting they’d just held to even leave their doors open.

The hall abruptly ended in a staircase, leading down, and with little other choice, he followed it, eventually finding himself in the basement, in front of two empty offices…and a third, with a sign affixed to the door that looked like it had been written (and torn out of whatever book it’d come from) hastily. The Office of Records. He had expected a poor location given how they’d treated their newest member at the meeting, but Eiran still felt a twinge of sympathetic disgust seeing exactly what Sable had been able to choose from…which is to say, nothing at all.

The door was ajar. Eiran steeled himself. It was either this, or go hide from Six in a vacant office in the dark, damp basement, all by himself. Taking a deep breath, he pushed it open and walked in.

This had been, bar none, the worst day of Sable’s entire life. How had it come to this? How could this have happened? He’d meant to join the meeting, as any citizen of Praecidia had had the right to (he’d researched extensively, even asked Civic, several times, before he’d even left, to ensure this was true), clearly and concisely state every reason why they needed a centralized records facility (and he had many), follow up with an elegant and convincing argument (which he’d spent weeks preparing, and more weeks refining, to the point where all his fellow keepers had finally outright refused to let him “run it by them one more time”), and then leave the Unity to their important business, which would have hopefully included plans to make the new office he’d proposed…if all went well.

But instead…

He groaned, slumping forward to rest his forehead against the cool wood of his new desk and wrapping his arms around his head, replaying the events of that disastrous meeting in his mind again.

It had gone well. That was the worst part. It had gone well despite each and every one of his well-reasoned, extensively practiced arguments popping out of his head the instant he’d walked into that meeting room. In their absence, he’d surprised everyone, himself especially, with emotion and improv that he hadn’t even considered himself capable of, managing to make a convincing case for this office despite it all…and yet, somehow, it had still gone wrong.

He’d gone to the Council in the first place to seek the help of someone far better qualified to do this job than he was. He’d known from the very beginning that he wasn’t capable of this, couldn’t handle the responsibility of cataloging all those lives. All the living, all the dead, each of the remembered…and maybe, with skill and luck, the forgotten along with them. It was all too much. It was not a job one man, and certainly not this man, could handle.

And yet.

Here he was.

As he struggled to control his breathing, to ground himself back to the earth (thank every god in existence that all they'd had to offer him were the comforting underground offices), he tried to think of something, anything, to distract himself from the looming pressure he'd been placed under. All of those remnants out there now depended on him...and him alone. And with every passing second it took for him to get himself together, the dead slipped further from memory, the living slipped closer to death, the already forgotten's few remaining artifacts slipped deeper into obscurity...and he wasn't even getting it together. Because no matter what he tried to distract himself with, it all circled back to that one key point. The council had made it clear.

It would be him, or it would be nobody.

And he was so very close to wishing it could be nobody.

And then the door opened. Sable startled, nearly falling backwards in his own chair in his rush to look presentable in case it was the Director of Unity coming to check on him, the greeting he'd practiced tumbling out of him all at once. "Good morning or afternoon or maybe evening sir-slash-madam welcome to the Office of Records we are still setting up please come back at a later date where I can! Be! Of...!" he trailed off, his brain finally catching up with his eyes. "...assistance...!" he squeaked, staring at the newcomer like a rockmouse caught out of its burrow by an owlbear. This was not the Director of Unity. The headgear was evocative of the Director of Welcoming, but...he was sure that he'd never seen this man before in his life.

What a shame, too. The newcomer held himself with an ease that Sable envied down to his bones, had a smile on his face that was eerie in its charm despite his eyes being covered, and in the dim light of the basement office...he almost seemed to glow. Sable felt his own shabbiness from the long travels and his rush to prepare for the day far more keenly now than even when he'd stood before the governing body of the entire city. And he was still looking at him.

Eiran made it about three steps into the office before every nerve in his body started screaming at him, simultaneously, to get out. He froze in place, not even registering Sable's rushed greeting, barely even conscious of the welcoming smile he'd put on, that was still on his face, as he took in just how empty this office was. Six hadn't been kidding, the meeting must have just happened. The new Director of Records must have barely even sat down in his new chair at his new desk before Eiran had just...burst in! Like he owned the place! What in all the void had he even been thinking!?

And then his head caught up to him, and he noticed three things in very quick succession:

  1. If Sable had captivated him on the screen, it was nothing compared to how he was in person, and he felt suddenly self-conscious of his own dusty traveling gear.
  2. There was nothing in this office except for a chair, a desk, and a coathook bearing a blue woolen cloak and a leather traveling harness...and nestled amongst the pouches and straps of that harness was a leather holster for a single teacup and saucer.

But most importantly...

  1. It had probably been at least an hour since the meeting, and someone had just burst into his office without even any notice from the secretary...yet Sable was still wearing the same achingly familiar look of hopelessness that had burned itself into Eiran's memory.

Something had to be done.

Eiran felt the familiar weight of the herbs and tea bags he'd shoved in his pocket what felt like a lifetime ago...and suddenly, he knew exactly what he could do.

Time seemed to start moving again. Haltingly, he made his move. "I, erm...I heard what had happened. And I know it''s not really my business, but..." He dug around in his pocket, managing to produce the tea bags, only a little rumpled. "I wanted to bring you a...I guess an office-warming gift. Tea always helps me think. If you' some...?" He held it out to Sable, smiling shakily.

Sable looked down at the tea bags. The stranger was still standing in the entranceway, so it was hard to tell, but they certainly didn't look like any blends he'd seen before in Tel Terrum. And yet even now, after traveling in an unprotected pocket for who knows how long and offered to him by a stranger from halfway across the room...he could smell them. And somehow...they smelled like home.

He was so, so far from home...and a stranger had pulled it out of his pocket. For him.

What little facade he'd managed to scrape together for whoever his visitor was crumbled in an instant. It was all he could do to keep from crying.

"...Yeah. I'd...I'd love some."

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