Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Journal Entry, Part One

25 Monkey, 31 Dragon, Hour of the Octopus

I take pen in hand this turning of the year to record my thoughts once more.  I have been slack in my duties to keep this for those who may come after me, and the only feeble excuse I can find is that it has been a busy year. 

The leather spines of my predecessors mock me from their neat rows, some stained with sand and sweat from places I have never seen and can only imagine when I turn the brittle browned pages, some of parchment, some of paper.  What can you know of busy, they grumble, you who have not been used in war for a century or more, you who have a soft position, watching over a little heir to the throne?  A female heir, at that?  What, she beats you at cards?  Serves you imaginary tea with her dolls?

And all I can reply is that this post, it is not like any other that I have known in my long years of service to the Family.  I would rather be out on the ice where the sun blinds and fails to warm, rather be in jungles that drip with hallucinogenically colored poisonous animals and plants, rather fight the sands that leap on the wind and strip flesh to bone.  In some ways, it would be safer. 

It would certainly be clearer, the enemy known, their weaknesses assessable, and plans to be laid athwart theirs.

Where to begin? 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Meet the Doctor (Conclusion)

His offices looked nothing like what she had pictured.  No bubbling chemicals (like Professor Snape's workbench), no stacks of papers and obscure clutter (like the Headmistress's office), no gloom and soot.  Well lit and gleaming white, as if the walls had just been washed down.  No torches, no candles, light pouring down from the ceiling as if the sun had been bleached to snowy white and hung to light his work.

He offered her tea, with a pat of butter floating in it, and she accepted, sipping at the salty bitter brew.  "It's the OWL I plan to sit for next term," she said, and then filled him in on the OWL examinations, the different requirements, and her plans.  He nodded, asking careful dissecting questions at intervals.  Spike was surprised to find out how much there was to know, and where the holes in her knowledge were.  She ended with an explanation of her plans to construct a chimera of her own, and he sat back, beaming.  The cherubic smile never rose above his rosy cheeks.

"Hands-on experience is always . . . preferable to pure theory," he started, "and hybrid vigor is often encouraging."  She head something rustle from behind the closed laboratory door.  He'd walked her down a hallway of doors, leaving the Hounds in the vestibule.  She hadn't seen a thing he didn't want seen.  "Have you considered how you're going to get the insect parts to blend with the dragon?" 

Spike began to answer, but was interrupted as something began to sob softly.  His expression didn't change as he snapped his fingers for Tick to go and attend it.  Spike realized why her Hounds always arranged themselves so someone was on either side of a door; so you always knew who was there. "I'm not certain," she admitted.  "Shouldn't the rule of similarity apply, scales are scales are scales?"

"It's a matter of, you should pardon the expression, scale." And they went on for an hour plotting, with the scherblocken sketching diagrams on scraps of parchment, with Spike asking the probing questions, circling sections of the sketch, drawing arrows and underlining parts for her own edification and research. 

Near the end, Spike stood and stretched.  "One more question, sir.  I'm thinking about a special History of Magic OWL for the term after . . ."

"Planning ahead, are we?  That's your father in you.  Good to see that trait bred true."

"So . . . what can you tell me about re-creating someone who has gone on before?  Like an Inferii, but not so . . ."

"Evil?  You want to animate the actual corpus, or are you looking to bring back a ghost?"

"Well  . . . neither, more like . . ." and she started to explain. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Meet the Doctor, Part Four

The door swung wide before she could ask what the worst way of homecoming was, and the bonecutter stood there in front of them.  He was rounder than before, if anything, and Spike was surprised to see that rather than looming above like an airship, he was actually quite small, only a little taller than she was.  His moon face was still pink as if freshly scrubbed; his hands dainty, pudgy, soft paws.  He had a fringe of wispy silver hair ringing an otherwise bald pate, and his blue eyes were watery behind the lenses of his glasses. 

A genial appearance, harmless to the point of bumbling, until you looked into his eyes, saw the grim lines of his mouth in the goatee.  No smile lines crinkling from the corners of eyes or mouth, just three grim slashes between his eyebrows where his will had raked its claws over and over again. From the corners of her eyes, Spike could see Sascha grimly concentrating on the floor, Tontenberg's  clenched fists.  At her back, Dmitri was a wall of obsidian, still radiating the heat that had made him, and fragile, struggling not to crack.  She took a deep breath, offered a hand to the man.  "Scherblocken--"

He took her hand in both his own, bowed over it.  Precisely the degree owed to the heir of the manor, the person who would inherit the lands and his office, the one who would have power over him one day.  The one whom he would serve by tending the riding bears, keeping them healthy and tame so that they would serve the rider's will.  A careful pavane of power, of checks and balances.  Blood on the snow, she thought, and pawprints leading away.  She met his gaze as he stood back erect, and saw that they understood one another perfectly. 

"I've come for advice," she started, and gained some satisfaction in seeing him blink, surprised.  A pawn to me, only a pawn.  But a piece nonetheless.

"Well, then.  Do come in, and let us see how I can provide some assistance."  His voice was a dry and tidy tenor.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Meet the Doctor, Part Three

Looking around at the hall inside, it was just as she remembered it from her rare visits with her father.  Grey stone, rough-worked to provide traction for boot soles.  Nothing breaking the endless grey but the seams of the rock, no tapestries, no paintings -- no distractions.  A piece of carpet had been laid down at the entrance to catch mud and snowmelt, but the color, if any, had faded into the dull no-color of dirt, blending into the stone.  Lights came from boxes in the ceiling, a chilly winter light, as if lit by the sun buried deep in cloud cover.  The shadows cast by the light were surprisingly faint and fuzzed out.  It's as if I'm somehow less solid, here.  Less real.

Tock waved them ahead, taking up the rear.  They walked down the narrow hall, passing metal doors with gray paint that blended them into the walls.  The handles were brass, as were the number plates on each door.  Metal doors, wondered Spike.  What goes on here that oak isn't enough?  Then she thought about it again, and shivered. Maybe this was a mistake . . .  But she couldn't turn around, not with her Hounds around her, flanking her and bringing up the rear, not with Tock behind them.  Stopping would cause a pileup, and explaining that she had-- What?  Simply lost her nerve? Over nothing more than fantods brought on by closed doors?  And what about her plans for next term?  She bit her lip.  No.  Tough it out.

The hall ended in a vestibule before a door with a metal wheel in place of a simple latch, and Tock glided through the crowd like a shark through water.  He spun the wheel this way and that, and when a heavy clack sounded, he pulled the door open.  He held up a single finger for them to wait, then slipped in, a piece of paper vanishing through the crack.

Spike folded her arms, tucking her hands into her armpits.  She was cold in more than flesh.  Totenberg laid a hand on her shoulder. "Is it . . . what you remembered?  Is it coming home for you?"

He bared his teeth, half-sneer, half-snarl, but made no reply.  Sascha answered for him. 

"In a way."  He was whispering, as if afraid of being overheard.  "In the worst way.  Wouldn't be here but for you."

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Meet the Doctor, Part Two

A long moment in the gloom and silence passed.  Funny how snow has its own form of hush. Like it makes some kind of anti-sound, a textured silence that doesn't just drown out sound, but overrides them.

The Hounds cocked their heads, crouching and wary.  Not afraid, per se, but it was clear they had bad memories of the place, memories of blood, pain, and restraints.  Of helplessness and fear.  "Maybe there's no one here," ventured Spike.  Her toes were cold, cold in the way that presaged burning prickles when they started to thaw once more. 

Totenberg cocked his head.  "Nah, just . . . Tock is limping.  Slow." 

The good doctor had two assistants, nearly identical.  Perhaps he'd made them, perhaps he'd found them, perhaps some of both.  Tick and Tock, mirror images of one another.  She wondered how he could tell them apart through the door.  Considered asking, but before she'd decided, the door swung slowly, silently open.  A door like that should creak, Spike thought, creak and groan on its rusty, squealing hinges.  It was creepier that it opened without a sound, smoothly and easily. 

It was Tock who stood there, head cocked to the left, slender and fragile as a bird in close-fitting black.  A scarecrow of a man, his hair was sliced in an assymmetric cut, long on the left, shaved to stubble on the right, tapering towards the back.  He peered down his long, blade-thin nose at the trio, lips pressed together in a seam, one long-fingered spidery hand on the doorframe. 

Spike took a deep breath.  You are the heir to the throne of skulls. You own the clothes on his back, the food on his table, the very breath in his body.  If he breathes. She blinked hard at that, telling herself it was against the sting of the cold dry air. *You will be the mistress of his master one day, he has no authority to tell you where you may or may not go.  So own it, be it.  Tell him what you want.  "We're here to see . . ."

He cut her off with a wave of one arm, thin as knotted string, sweeping through the icy air.  He swung the door open, gliding smoothly out of the way.  He and Tick were graceful in their movements, smooth, oiled, and precise.  Even with the slight limp, he moved as if he were mounted on casters.  As if the doctor couldn't bear to have anything truly ugly around him, but could not quite manage beauty, either.

They knocked the worst of the snow off against the stoop, and entered the hallway.