(A:N: Those of you who are familiar with the character of Alexander might notice a literary quip I put into this chapter of the fic, regarding him. And if you don't, well, don't worry about it, it's rather an obscure comment anyway. I just like to have my fun. :P)
It was sunset when they returned to Little Twister. The night air was cooling and refreshing to the four tired people on horseback, and the smallest and most unfortunate member of the team, little Clive Winslett, had been punished to have never have felt the calming air, crammed back into his tiny leather prison. He had arrived in the horse's saddlebag and would also depart in kind. There really wasn't any room for him on the back of the horse, and none of the other children had elected to trade places with him. They wouldn't have been able to fit inside, anyway. Clive didn't mind, it meant he would be able to lie down and hopefully get some sleep. The saddlebag was a lot more comfortable than the others had expected, but Clive certainly wasn't prepared to say anything about it.
It had been an unusual day. Ruins, fights, mysterious illnesses, this had been the sort of thing he had dreamed of back in his little bed at home, during the hours when the moon was hanging in his window and the other two were too deep in sleep to ponder over Clive's extended periods of thought. He had been told that when one sleeps, they dream, but to Clive he had his greatest fancies and dreams when he was wide awake. Last night Clive had thought on what the day would be like, and adhering to his speculations they had found treasure, combat and the unknown.
Clive stretched out as far as the saddlebag would allow, lying in a bit of a fetal position. Did this make him a drifter now? According to Mongo, drifting was nothing, but could it also be everything? To Clive's mind, it indeed was everything. The perfect life, filled with adventure. Dangerous adventure, but one had to risk everything to gain everything, as it was commonly said. Thoughtfully, Clive reached down the front of his poncho and took out his missanga, the little metal pendant cold in his hands. It wasn't pretty, and it wasn't expensive, but it was his. One of the only things in the world that belonged to only him. The front of the pendant was empty, the back slightly engraved.
"Mama…" Clive said softly. "Do you really think I could do it?"
Winslett, est 1789.
He thought of that mother bird again, dead and buried in the wilderness. His mother was buried somewhere else, though he didn't know where. Clive liked to think that wherever she was, she was happy. And her name was Helen. Mama's name was Helen.
Ravendor unzipped Clive's saddlebag and peered inside, clinging onto the rider with his other hand. "I thought you might like some air. Is that better?" The rush of sweeter air, unflavored with the surrounding reek of sweaty leather was a blessing to Clive's senses. He propped himself up on one arm and nodded thoughtfully. His friend mistook that look for anxiety and inquired tentatively. "Oh, what is with that look on your face? Are you okay?"
Clive let go of his missanga and refrained from getting up. He might unbalance the horse if he did that, and besides, he was comfortable right where he was lying. "I'm feelin' a little sleepy, actually. I want a nap. What about you?"
The other boy smiled. "I napped in the middle of that battle, remember?" He laughed for a bit at his own failing and then calmed himself as the horses past the large sign that signified the boundary of the town lines, words proudly printed in black bold lettering; 'Little Twister, Pop. 980.' Two short forms were huddled underneath the sign, by its foundation. They were too short to be human, unless they were very broad children, wrapped in badly crocheted linens and improperly tanned leather. The movement of them caught Ravendor's eye and he swiveled around in the saddle to catch a better look at them as they passed them by, holding his hair out of his face with his hand. "What on Filgaia were they?" He asked.
"Looked like goblins." Horatio answered from the saddle of the other horse, looking back for a second to confirm what he thought was correct. His elbow bumped into Andrew and woke him up from his absent daze, who snapped to alertness like somebody had pinched him on the cheek. He looked around for a bit, discovered that all was well, and then delved back into his inner thoughts.
"What's a goblin?" Ravendor asked without pondering his question too much.
Clive came very close to sitting up properly and falling out of his saddlebag. The only thing that had stopped him from making a fool out of himself was Berlitz's hand, which had grabbed him by the shoulder and pushed him down again, deviating from steering the mount for a few moments. The green-haired boy grabbed onto this question eagerly. "You don't know what a goblin is!" He asked, happily incredulous that he had found something Ravendor didn't know about, instantly lording it over him as soon as he had the chance. "Really? Not at all?"
The older boy became flustered at the accusation, but then covered it up predictably with a front of haughtiness. He looked away from Clive and sniffed. "When I was being tutored, I had no need to be involved with the common people, so there."
Mischievously, Clive ducked around Ravendor's attack with ease. "A goblin ain't a people, it's a monster. Like those pig things from today, see? That's why sometimes desperados go out to hunt 'em down. They're green and brown and say; 'Gob, gob' and have pointy teeth where they eat little kids for breakfast and sometimes dinner, if they want to. They get to stay up late at night and not brush their teeth. See?"
He didn't need to be told that he was winning. He could tell easily enough.
Ravendor sniffed and looked away from him.
"Shut up." He said.
The fact that the two goblins had been sighted outside the city did not seem and never did seem important to Clive at the time. Never in his life would he properly place the significance, thought he would know the results of their presence later in his life. The goblins had been running from the town, afraid that somebody would irrationally be following them with a loaded gun, as what could be a frightening reality when one was a goblin. They had left something in the town which they would not be going back for. It was probably better that way.
But this was the not story for today.
Clive had expected that he would be sent home after they got back from town, but it slowly became apparent that this was not so. They trotted past the hotel in which Berlitz was staying and continued onwards, into the nicer and richer part of town. The boys seldom ventured into this area, because this was the place most heavily protected by the police and law in the town. Besides, they easily looked out of place, poor and emaciated that they were. Clice reached up and tugged at the elbow of Berlitz's sleeve. "Hey. Hey… you're going the wrong way. Our home's back there, near the markets."
"I know." Replied the old man. "But we are not done quite yet. We all, both myself, drifters and workers are required to report back to our client. That would be Alexander Iscariot, and he resides on this side of the town. Do exert your best manners, please." Of course messiness could be forgiven at this point, as they had immediately come back from an archaeological survey. Alexander would understand that. He hoped he would understand the reason why he had unemployed such young laborers into his services. Berlitz had done it out of thrift, he supposed, but also out of pity.
Ravendor tensed behind his horse's rider. "You mean, we are actually going to meet him? Sir, I…" He began to say something, then thought better of it. The young boy tugged at his shirt collar and looked unnerved. "Can I stay outside? Please? I don't particularly want the nobility to see me." He shot a warning look at Clive who understood the unease behind Ravendor's disposition. He nodded secretly.
"Why is that, lad?" Berlitz asked innocently.
"He's afraid that they'll recog- glargh!" The green-haired boy began, but was muted by Ravendor who savagely grabbed him by the hair and forced him back into the saddlebag, zipping it up tight afterward. There was a few weak jabs from inside the bag and some muffled curses, but then it died down after a minute or so. Clive did not try to emerge again, probably believing that he'd be shoved back inside as soon as she showed his face to his older brother so carelessly. Ravendor was satisfied with Clive's exit.
"What he meant was that the nobility will recognise my fine charms and will attempt to purchase me like some bargain Negroid slave, merely because I have no family to claim ownership over me. The slave trade is quite proficient in this town and I do wish to remain the property of myself alone. Please understand why I don't want to take my chances with such a fate. Do you see, sir?" Lying was easy for him, he did it all the time.
Andrew offered his opinion. "One day we'll sell him and buy us some mighty fine dinner." He said, then nodded slowly. Clive answered him from within the saddlebag with a muffled sentence or two, then a short bout of boyish laughter. He had obviously told a joke, or had insulted one of the other boys somehow, but neither of them could make out what was being said.
"Poppycock." Announced Berlitz as the horses cantered up to a large luxurious estate, the Iscariot estate. "Because you have acceded to this job just like everybody else, you will be treated just like everybody else, no matter how fine a charm you may have." The archaeologist smiled bemusedly, albeit benevolently. "I highly doubt Alexander will have any interest in you whatsoever."
They dismounted and Horatio hopped off his steed first. Stretching for a moment he walked over to Berlitz's horse and unzipped the saddlebag with a bit of reservation, in case the boy inside would decide to jump out like some kind of sprightly jack-in-the-box. He stuck his hands in and pulled the boy out effortlessly from under his arms. He wasn't really much heavier than a small sack of potatoes. Clive popped out sleepily, rubbing his eyes as Horatio gently set him on the ground again. He yawned cutely and then slapped himself, in an attempt to wake himself up.
Berlitz and Ravendor dismounted the other horse without any problems. A dull thud sounded as Andrew had swung himself out of the saddle, pushed forward while he foot was still in the stirrup and clamped down there, forcing him to lose his balance and fall over onto his face. A small cloud of dust kicked up from where the boy now lay. He pulled himself up and untangled his foot from the stirrup all by himself, managing to stand. Andrew looked at the rest of his team abashed, grinning like an oaf.
"Well, shall we be going?" Berlitz asked of the others, gazing upon the mansion. "I regret that we have not a thing to present to our client, but I believe he may take our words on faith if-"
"Hold on a second!" Ravendor said, throwing up his hands in a warding gesture. "We do have some things to present to 'our client', some treasure to be exact, but we never had much time to explain this to you because you were quite busy reprimanding us for our follies. Right Clive?" He elbowed Clive in the ribs gently. He nodded smugly. The older boy reached into his medical bag and pulled out the small collection of stone tablets they had found in the ruins. He held them up for the professor to see.
Berlitz looked chagrined. "I was not aware of this."
Clive smiled brightly. "Its okay. Just… you know…" He tried to phrase what he wanted to say but then looked to his older brother for help.
"Just give us the benefit of the doubt next time." Ravendor added willingly.
"Yeah," Clive continued, "'Cause we're not as dumb as you might think."
Andrew concluded the thoughts of the children by grunting affirmatively. Horatio started to chuckle quietly, under his breath. Nonplussed, Berlitz took the stone tablets from out of Ravendor's hands, the boy offering them up to him as a gift. He studied them for a bit, ponderously, but then decided that he would make a closer examination of the artefacts at a later date. Alexander did grant him that luxury and he intended to use it very well. For now all he wished was for him to wrap up this day and return to his daughter. The children seemed to be tired as well. This last part shouldn't take too long at all.
The one drifter within their party tethered up the horses as the archaeologist and the three kids filed inside the large mansion, dwarfed by its sheer size. Horatio would follow after, once he had given the horses some water. He wasn't comfortable with the rich world. They were just too snooty for his liking. To Horatio, the aristocratic world and the drifter world would always be separate.
They were ushered into Alexander's office post hate, with a minimal fuss by the manor's staff. Clive marveled at the sheer luxury surrounding them, beautiful walls made of sturdy conifers, oil paintings along the corridors with ornate glass lighting. Trinkets seeming to have come from all over the world were dotted here and there, to be showed off with pride. The place smelt kind of musty though, like its entire purpose was just to be looked at. Not much living had gone on in this place, Clive thought simply, just a lot of waiting.
Ravendor leaned down a bit and whispered something into Clive's ear. "Don't steal anything." He said. Clive grimaced, as if he needed to be told! He could stand to steal things that he needed from strangers and expensive objects from stupid people, but he wouldn't take anything from the richest and most powerful man in Little Twister. That was just like walking into the jail-house and requesting to be hung.
A trail of dust followed Andrew as he walked behind everybody else, patting it diligently off his soiled clothing. He wanted to be nice and clean for this meeting, but did not realise that the servants and butler were looking at him with distaste, as he had left clouds of dust to settle into the plush red carpets and rugs. Sometimes little clods of dirt fell off his shoes. The servants were wise enough to bite their tongue and not reprimand the boy, and even if they had, it might not have affected him very much, as he had such a dense look about him.
Alexander opened the door on them himself. He was still in his day clothes, perhaps continuing some matter or other that had delayed him into the evening. Indeed he did have a large pile of papers over his desk, but as he welcomed the children and archaeologist into the room, he brushed them all aside, making a blank space. "Welcome, welcome, do come in." He said warmly, taking a seat at his desk. He invited Berlitz to sit down by pointing at the chair in front of him. The old man gratefully obliged and the children were happy just to stand.
There was a tense moment filled with expectation as Alexander allowed a bit of time for his employees to settle into their new surroundings. Then, he leant forward a little in his chair and addressed Berlitz in a tone of suppressed excitement. "Please tell me, how did it go?"
Berlitz smiled. "Would you permit me to summarize the survey we embarked on today for you now, and I can offer you a more detailed report at a later date when I can get all my facts analyzed and in order? Then we may speak in the strictest of confidence?" He looked back at the three boys and Alexander followed his gaze. He got the underlying point readily enough and nodded affirmatively to Berlitz. If the archaeologist thought that there were matters to be discussed outside of the presence of children, then Alexander could wait for the juicer information. Best to spare the younger ones from damaging knowledge.
He was also quite curious to know why Berlitz now had children in his custody, but had the good taste not to ask. There must have been a perfectly good reason behind it. Perhaps they were Berlitz's other sons, rather than the daughter he had met a week ago. "Well then." Alexander sighed, sitting back. "Divulge whatever it is you can to me now. I am tremendously curious."
"The Looking Glass is a curious place. On the outside it appears to be no more than a subsurface Guardian Shrine for perhaps a subterranean deity, but beyond it resembles a crystalline cathedral made of an unknown structure. This crystal seems to come in various densities, from very brittle to a density almost as tough as diamonds. Of course, there was plenty of the former and not much of the latter. However, other sources of information lead me to believe that this Looking Glass is neither a Guardian Shrine nor a cathedral, that it is something else entirely. Do not quote me on this, for I am not certain myself, but I believe it to be a some type of shamanic proving ground lost ages past."
"A shamanic proving ground? What basis do you have for this information?" Alexander pried, absorbed in the mystique of this new knowledge.
Berlitz once more diverted his eyes towards the children. Clive was beginning to look bored. "I do have some basis on this view, and I will divulge to you this matter later on in private, but for now it is my opinion that the Looking Glass is a dangerous place that should be closed off to the public for their safety. Not only due to the powers that seem to inhabit within, but also for the fact that it seems to be a spawning ground for monsters."
Raising an eyebrow, Alexander looked surprised. "You were attacked whilst in the ruin?" He pressed.
Berlitz's moustache quirked. "In a sense. I was not involved in combat, but these three boys you see before you were. Can you not see the bruises on that dark-haired boy's face?" Ravendor flinched when he was mentioned but instead looked out the window, not meeting their eyes. He was probably still embarrassed from being the only one of them weak enough to be wounded by the monsters. However, as he did this, it only made the bruises more apparent to the eyes of the adults.
Alexander paused, and then apologized with a more personal air. "I am sorry. I was not aware of the dangers inherent in that ruin, and it certainly was not in my plans to allow children to be hurt. I'm afraid there must have been some flaw in my field intelligence. Still," He persisted, "At least the potential harm seems to have been minimized. I fear what could have been possible otherwise."
"We owe our thanks to Mr. Homebush, who appears to have decided to wait outside. Without his quick hands we might have lost these three, and it would have been a great shame." Berlitz intoned, gesturing to the children. "I admit I do regret bringing them along with me, yet without their efforts the results of our survey might not have been as fruitful as they are. Please look at these." He announced, and then spread the five stone tablets out onto Alexander's desk, facing him.
"Ah…" Said the blue-haired man, nodding in understanding as he looked at the ancient tablets. He looked to be quite pleased. Whatever understanding he had made he kept to himself and looked at the three boys in appreciation. For some reason he singled out Clive as their leader. He didn't know why he knew this, he felt he could just tell. "You found these?"
Clive was jolted into animation, opened his mouth to say something, but then became unsure of the politeness of his words and backtracked himself, thinking for a few seconds. Blinking a few times, he stumbled out an answer. "Yeah- uh, I mean yes sir. Mr. Iscarryot, sir. We found 'em in the crystal place. That's where I cut my hand." And he held up his hand as proof.
"Does it hurt?" Alexander pressed.
"Y- no." Clive murmured, and then stepped back, behind Andrew.
"None of us hurt." Ravendor said, uncharacteristically gruffly and with a lower tone.
"My feet hurt." Andrew said softly.
The young man behind his desk laughed. "There is a lot of variance in your entourage, Mr. Erdesparen. I'll not keep them here any longer, and that goes for you too. You all seem to be quite exhausted, and our private conference can wait until another day. Take this time to mull your new discoveries around in your head, my friend." His gaze slipped down to the artefacts lying placidly on his desk. "And please allow me to keep these here for the time being. They will not be lost or stolen while in my care."
Berlitz could not object. That decision lay with Alexander. "As you wish, Mr. Iscariot. Do you approve of everything so far?"
Alexander looked over each and every one of them carefully, touching one of the stone tablets delicately with a finger. His gaze stopped on Clive, hiding behind the larger boy. Alexander smiled and nodded. "I am delighted." He said.
When the research team had departed, Alexander sat at his desk for a long while, just smoking one of his cigars, the five stone plates spread out in front of him. They were ancient, yes, incredibly rare, yes, but did anybody in this town know, other than himself, about the amazing power that they possessed? Not likely. Yet Berlitz had not been the one to have found them, it was those other three young boys. They had proven to be far more useful than what Berlitz could have been. How interesting it was. He wondered if there was anything else in that ruin that might be of similar interest.
"Alvin, come in here." He called softly, not shifting his gaze from his newfound treasure.
A boy with pale straw-colored hair creaked the door open and walked in, his eyes downcast. He was dressed quite well but seemed reserved in his stance. He had a gold stud earring in one of his ears that glittered in the dim light. "Yes sir?" He asked. "How can I help you? Would you like some coffee, or your evening tea?"
"No, no. I am fine." Alexander said with a kindly smile. "That's not what I have called you for. Come over here and take a look at what I have." The boy did so, shuffling over to stand by Alexander's side. He looked over the tablets as well, slightly interested at what they could be. Alexander picked one up and passed it to the boy. He took it reverently, afraid that he might drop it or break it somehow. "Do you know what these are?" He blue-haired man asked, curious for an answer.
"I don't know, sir. They kind of look like pretty hieroglyphs on slate, or petrified fortune-telling cards. What are they, that is, if you don't mind telling me, sir."
"Well…" Alexander began, drawing upon his knowledge of history, "A very long time ago it was possible to invoke the powers of nature through a complex ritualistic ceremony. It worked well, but was not very efficient if a technique was needed to be used in a hurry, like, for example, conjuring water to put out a dangerous fire. The ancients were aware of this, so they inscribed the blueprints of their ceremonies onto slates like these ones, for quick and easy use. They called these slates 'Crest Graphs'."
The boy put the plate he was holding back onto the table. "Do they work?" He asked meekly. Alexander took a piece of soft cloth and wrapped up the crest graphs in it, so that they would be safe. Opening up a drawer in his desk he placed them inside with a mass of other papers and then locked it up securely with a key. He placed the key safely in his pocket and tapped cigar ash into the nearby ash tray. He seemed to be lost in his own thoughts. The boy knew that he sometimes went that way, so he gently placed his hand on Alexander's shoulder and squeezed lightly. "Sir? Do they work? What are you going to do with them?"
Alexander turned his head and looked fondly at the boy. "I really am not sure right now. They may work, but the people of this age might not be equipped to use them. If they are, then I can't allow any old drifters to find these artifacts and use them to their heart's content. It is better that they remain safe and unused in my custody. I am curious to see whether they work, however, but that can wait until another day." He stubbed out his cigar. "It will be getting late soon, and I have had more than enough of work for the day. I just want to relax now."
"Do you need me for anything, sir?"
The older man thought for a moment. "…No, no. Why don't you go home now, Alvin, and continue with your studies? I think I would like to finish my book for tonight. Oscar Wilde just enthralls me. Is that alright with you?" Alexander stood up and retrieved the boy's coat. It was getting rather cold outside.
On a rare occasion, the boy actually smiled and took the coat. "That sounds good, sir. Thank you, sir."
Alexander helped him to put it on. "Say hello to your mother for me, I have not seen her for awhile. I hope she is still well." Leaning over, he kissed the boy on the cheek. "Okay?"
Alvin nodded. "Okay." He let himself out, uttering a soft "Goodnight" as he closed the door. Alexander was now alone in his empty office, leaning lightly against his chair. He was glad for it, he liked it when all was nice and quiet and calm. Licking his fingers, he pinched out the candle flame and the room grew in darkness, the only light streaming in from the failing twilight behind the half closed curtains.
He could still see where he was going and he brushed his long blue hair out of his eyes, moving towards the source of the light, like a moth to the flame. The lights were turning on in all the buildings one by one, spreading out below his estate like a colony of fireflies coming to life. Little Twister was neither a large nor a small town, so the sky was not obscured with smoke and fumes. The light of the stars was growing above him, the light of the people flickering below him. And in the middle was he himself, Alexander Iscariot, the mediator. For him, his work never seemed to be done.
"There are so many things that can harm my most precious city, but I shall not let that danger come to pass. That is my one lonely duty here, it seems."
Closing the curtains, Alexander retired for the night.
Berlitz, Horatio and the children parted ways outside of the hotel that Berlitz was staying at. Catherine, Manna and Lucy were waiting for them there on the rickety porch. They all seemed to be particularly happy, looking like they had enjoyed their time together. The three boys were of an entirely different demeanor, tired, weary and hungry. They just wanted to get their money and go home. Berlitz was glad that Alexander seemed to be happy with his work, even if everything didn't go according to plan. Horatio was looking forward to the dinner that his wife was going to make for him once he got back home to her.
"Daddy!" Catherine cried, running down the steps towards her father. "Where did you go? Did you find treasure? Guess what? I had a lot of fun today! We played hopscotch, and stickball, and hide and seek, and tag, and we played with the doggy too!" Lucy immediately saw Clive and bounded crazily over to him, nearly knocking him down all over again. Failing this, she circled him instead, yapping and panting. This seemed to cheer Clive up some, and he actually began to look alert once more.
A thought crossed Berlitz's mind that the dog may have been diseased, but he ignored that and smiled, picking up his daughter and lifting her into his arms. He was old, getting into his early fifties by now, but he was still strong enough to pick up his little girl. "Work was quite fun, but I am always so much gladder to come back to you Cathy, my girl. I am happy that you had fun today. Did they treat you well?"
"Yes! They were really nice to me! It was just like playgroup at home, Daddy. Manna made me a sammich for lunch, then I made her a sammich for lunch. Then I drew a picture." Catherine stuck a hand into her dress' pocket to get it out to show her father, but then he gently set her back down on her feet again.
Berlitz patted her softly on the head. "Good, good." He replied, then turned towards his three employees. "Now, for you all. I am generally pleased by the results of today's study, but not exactly the means in which these results were founded on. Nevertheless, progress was made, and you stuck through with it to the end. Here." He took out his wallet and procured an amount of coins. He gave a small denomination of it to Andrew and Ravendor. "Fifty gella each. A fine reward for your age, wouldn't you say?"
Ravendor pocketed the coins almost instantly. "Of course, sir. I refuse to complain." He already had an idea on what he wanted to spend the money on, that gorgeous model plane in the toy store window. Well, that would always be his dream, but he was still nine hundred and fifty gella short. Andrew had an idea that he could afford dinner for almost a week on his earnings. That was good, he was getting hungry already.
Clive was holding out his hand anxiously, too. "What about me?" He asked brightly.
The old professor was smiling knowingly. "My dear boy," He said calmly, "I do not ever recall hiring you, so why should I have to pay you?"
He slowly lowered his hand. "Oh." So that's how it was. The royal screw-job. He was familiar with that well enough. Clive shrugged, not letting it affect him. "Whatever. At least I proved my point." The money would have been good too, but life just wasn't fair.
"I had fun today. It was certainly different and I enjoyed the change. Um, except for the headache, of course. If you need Andrew and I for anything again, we live in the old dormitory over yonder." He emphasized the direction with the wave of his hand. "Just go around the back. The front door doesn't work. If any of the Padfoots give you trouble, tell them that Missanga doesn't mind." He looked at Clive. "You don't mind, do you?"
Clive grunted as a reply and shot him a look that said; 'We need all the money we can get.'
"Yes, indeed." Ravendor prattled on. "No trouble at all. Quite sorry about that whole theft thing too, by the way. Everybody has to eat, and us lads have to win our own pieces of bread, if you get my meaning, in any way that we can."
Horatio was beginning to look a little bit impatient, so Berlitz spurred the conversation onwards to an ending. "It is a cruel world that we live in, but such is life. It is growing dark. Time for us to part ways. Thank you again for your help, both of you boys." The three children didn't need much more pushing in order to make them go away. They were tired themselves and wanted to rest. Catherine waved to the three boys that were leaving, although they did not notice her doing this.
Manna got up from her seat on the stairs and brushed all the dust off her dress. Lucy shot off like a bullet, following Clive and barking. "Mah job heare is done. 'Twas a naice day, though. See ya later, Cathy."
"Wait." Said Berlitz. "You took care of my daughter all day long. Wouldn't you like a reward for work like that?"
"That's okay. It wasn't work. Ah'm not greedy." Manna answered dutifully. "You gave those bums an honest days work for once. That's good enough for me. Bye bye Cathy, drifter man, Mr. Man." She left as well, following the other three before Berlitz could form a reply.
"Good kids." Horatio said, standing next to Berlitz with his arms folded loosely across his front. "A little rough around the edges, but still good kids. It's too bad they live in this here hellpit." He turned to the man next to him. "What are you gonna do about that crystal place?"
Closing his eyes, the old man sighed. "You saw what I saw, Horatio, deep within those ruins. The practical value of the crystals in that place are too sinister, too easy to be used for evil. The fact that those crystals can control synapse activity in the brain is beyond frightening. The Looking Glass is indeed a reflective glass; it looks straight down into your soul." It was not particularly cold just yet, but Berlitz felt a shiver run down his spine
"Jesus." Muttered Horatio. "Maybe the stories those other drifters were raving about was true. I don't think you could pay me enough to ever go back in there."
"I believe I shall continue to press for Alexander to seal those ruins for safety reasons, it is just too dangerous otherwise. I will enclose the it in my official report." Berlitz breathed a deep sigh of relief. "Thank God those children were unaffected. If they had gone any further in, they… I do not like to think about it." He gave Horatio his pay, substantially larger than the amount that he had given his other employees. The drifter put it away with care. The professor took his daughter by the hand and ascended a few steps into the hotel. Turning back for a second, he smiled. "Good evening, Mr. Homebush."
Horatio tipped his hat at the professor and went off on his own way, walking down the street in the opposite direction to which the children had taken. He was looking forward to going home, he could smell his wife's delicious potato soup already.
"Whut happened to your face? Ohmigosh! Your poor hand!" Manna exclaimed as they were walking home, grabbing Clive by the wrist of his bandaged hand and Ravendor by the hair, yanking them towards her. She was a lot bigger than they were, so they had no choice but to obey.
"A harpy tried to kiss me." Ravendor replied with a cheeky grin.
"I fed a piggie some chocolate." Clive beamed happily.
"You owe me chocolate…" Andrew said to his little companion, remembering what had happened to his treat.
Manna sighed and let go of the two brothers. "You boys…" She said, exasperated. "Girls are a lot moare easy ta get along with."
They left the main street and proceeded down a smaller and dustier one. No carriages went past, and the only pedestrians to be seen were a few tired desperados heading off to some nighttime entertainment and the barber of the south district, going for a drink. Ravendor looked at Manna curiously. "I remember now, you were with that little rich girl all day long. Did she have anything interesting in her pockets?"
The Baskar girl glared at him angrily. "Ah didn't look through her pockets, whut do you take me for, ah piece of slime laike you!"
Clive grinned. "I think that's exactly what he takes you for." He announced, walking with Lucy who was panting happily. Ravendor nodded vigorously to Clive's words, agreeing.
"You're slimier than Ah am!" Crowed the girl in rebuttal, enjoying the argument. "You're so slimy you can slide undah doors!"
"You're so slimy monsters run 'cause they're ascairt'!"
"You are so slimy that not even Berkely can keep his pimply mitts on you!"
"You're so slimy you fall over a lot."
They all started to laugh, gladdened that they were all together again. It had been a long day, but now it was over and they could get back to what they did best. Being normal average kids.
"Hey, Clive, over here." Said Ravendor as he ducked out of sight of the others and pulled Clive into a backalley with him. Although the light bruises were still on his face and looked awful and sore, there was a twinkle of mischief in his eyes and his low mood seemed to have gone a little while ago. He looked positively euphoric over what he had to say. Letting go of Clive's hand, he held his own hands out in front of him as if he was going to grab Clive by the shoulders and shake him roughly. "I can't hide this any longer. I have a supreme gift for you, little brother."
"What's up?" Clive said on reflex, curious but not as excited as Ravendor seemed to be. The day had been a big flop for him, and though he was only young, he was cynically inclined to believe that the evening would be the same as well. He had missed out on his nap earlier in the day and he was just simply exhausted.
"Well, I felt really, really bad that that old man didn't take you seriously enough, like he took Mongo and I. I mean, I know you, Clive, I know you could have handled it as well as we could have. But you know how grown-ups are…" He was beginning to veer off the subject, so he started his speech all over again. "Anyway," He began to check his pockets for things, looking around in his dirty grey jacket, "During all the chaos in that battle and such, I swiped this. Look!" As if on cue, he found what he was looking for and pulled it out to show Clive. There was a look of proud satisfaction on the dark-haired boy's face.
"That's!-" Clive gasped.
Ravendor nodded affirmance, holding the missing stone tablet up in one hand. The carved half moon signet was shaded by the dusky light. The missing piece of the puzzle. "The grown-ups shouldn't get to have all of the glory. We need ours too. So here it is."
"You sneaky thief…" Said the younger boy, his eyes disbelieving.
"I learnt from the master." Replied Ravendor, allowing the tablet to exchange hands.
At this point in time, the moon had risen over the horizon and twilight became night. At that same moment Clive grasped the ancient artifact and held it before his eyes, a little smile appearing on his lips. Soon it turned into a gasp of wonder as the rock began to resonate in front of him, glowing a pale blue. The gentle radiance was faint in the stone, but focussed its light into the crescent branded into the middle of the crest, now appearing to be made of Looking Glass crystal. It reacted to the presence of the moon, and perhaps, to something within Clive himself, something that none of the other children had possessed.
The older boy grabbed Clive by the forearm, alarmed. "What the hell did you do!" He cried.
A look of fear emerged in Clive's eyes. From beneath his poncho he could feel something against his chest grow warm, and then hot. His missanga. "I dunno!" He replied in an equally stricken voice. "I just touched it!"
"Then let go of it!" Ravendor urged, trying to rip Clive's hand away from it. He couldn't, it felt like his hand and the tablet were becoming welded together. "Clive!" He whined, withdrawing his hand. "Stop it, you are scaring me!"
When the heat beneath his clothes reached the searing point he did indeed try to let go, but by then the act was finished. The stone tablet shattered in his fingers, becoming mere pieces of common rock. It was a controlled burst that did the job and did not harm the two boys, so soon Clive was just staring at a mound of pebble shards in his hands. "Big bro…" He said quietly, trying to let his mind catch up with what had just happened. "It broke…"
"You broke it." Ravendor affirmed, just as confused as Clive was.
"I didn't mean to!" Clive retorted, looking up at the other boy. His little hand shook the pebbly dust from between his fingers and he curled it into a fist, pressing it against his chest. "You saw it, right?"
"Yeah." Ravendor agreed. "I saw it."
The heat from his missanga had stopped when the tablet had broken, so Clive fished it out from underneath his clothing, worried that it too had been broken. It was a memento from his mother, he just wouldn't be able to bear it if that had been broken as well. The small metal plate felt whole and solid to his little hand as he drew it out, but quite warm, like he had dangled it over a flame for a long time. The inscription was still there; Helen Winslett, est 1789, but the other side, the blank side, it had changed.
"Why, would you look at that," Ravendor murmured, impressed. "The moon from the tablet, it's been engraved onto your missanga. Look, its even glowing a little! Amazing!" Indeed it was, pulsing in the lack of light.
"That's so cool…" Clive whispered, turning it over in his hands. The warmth was leaving the piece of metal, but the crescent moon was still there. "Maybe we didn't break it, maybe we used it instead!"
The dark-haired boy flashed a winning smile. "We are such geniuses!"
"Hey, Missangah! Swankee! Where'd ya git off to!" Called Manna from around the corner. They must have realised that they had ducked away. It probably hadn't been from any realization on her part, she had most likely seen Lucy staring at them from the beginning of the alleyway, wagging her tail gleefully and watching with the endless enthrallment that a large dog bore.
"Let's look at it more tomorrow." Clive suggested, tucking his missanga safely under his poncho. He ran to the edge of the alleyway and peeked around it, seeing Manna and Andrew there, the former looking impatient. They were almost home. "Sorry!" Clive shouted to them as he made his way back to the group, Ravendor following him from behind. "Swanky and I really had to pee and it couldn't wait."
Manna blinked once and dismissed with his excuse. "Whatevah. Let's git going."
Andrew had his head down and was walking slowly back to their home, hands in his pockets. Clive, walking beside the larger boy, touched him comfortingly on the shoulder, smiling up at him. It was nearly too dark for the smile to be detected, but Clive smiled anyway. "Don't worry, Mongo," He chirped, "I think you did great today. The pig things would have gotten us if it weren't for you."
"You really think so?" The boy replied sheepishly, smiling back a little. "Alexander didn't bother to say anythin' to me." He had been paid as much as Ravendor had been, but because their boss had not noticed him, he felt far more diminished than the rest. Andrew felt that he had done more than his fair share of work today, he felt tired enough to know that as true, but the recognition as well as the money was what he had chiefly wanted at the beginning.
Clive nodded. "Yeah. It's not like Swanky and I did anything special. I wasn't even 'sposed to be there, and Swanks just complained and ran away from the monsters. At least you tried to fight." Clive nodded at his own opinion and then changed the subject. "So what are you gonna spend your gella on? It'd feel weird, y'know, havin' money and not havin' to worry about someone chasing you down the street for it."
The three of them were walking down their own safe alley now, close to home and darkened by the dusk, but they were not afraid of such shadows, not after all they had faced in the day. Ravendor had climbed up onto a ridge of crates and discarded garbage and was trying to balance as he walked, attempting to keep up with the other three at the same time. Andrew looked as thoughtful as he could possibly be. "What can you buy with gella?" He asked, wondering.
"Well, food for one…" Ravendor cut in despairingly, his voice a little weak. "I am starving, Andrew. Honest to goodness starving…"
"Pay for your own food, Swanky." Clive answered with a giggle, hoping that Manna would have some food for them when they got home. If not, they all had the money to go out and buy their dinner, though they felt a little too tired to do anything more than go home and sleep. Ravendor groaned softly and lost his balance on purpose, falling into Andrew's arms. The boy held him for a second, then dumped him unceremoniously on the ground. "Hey careful!" Clive called out, "Don't break the treasure in that bag!"
Ravendor rolled over and stood back up, dusting himself off quietly. "Oh, of course." He muttered with a smile. "The egg. Can I eat it? Please?"
"How d'ya even know you can eat it?" Clive questioned. "It could be a lizard egg, or a goblin egg, or a goat egg." They had entered the courtyard of their hideout now, a small lantern flickering in the window of their dormitory. Manna must have gotten everything ready for them earlier. Clive absently wondered how her day with Catherine had gone, and whether she had had fun or not.
"I am so hungry that absolutely anything sounds appetizing right now." Ravendor moaned, slumping a little before he blinked and added; "Wait a moment. Since when did goblins and goats lay eggs?" Clive giggled and did not say anything more. Ravendor sighed. "Maybe in your muddled-up little head, Clive." He answered.
They went to bed early that night, right after all the stars had come out to shine. It was with a tiny little exhausted yawn that Clive Winslett crawled into his snug orange hammock and pulled his warm woolen blanket over his body, curling up for a long night of rest. Andrew just thew himself on his bed and laid like that until he fell asleep, the chances being that he would wake up on the floor and on the other side of the room by morning. He rolled over a bit to grab his teddy bear and nearly suffocated it in his big beefy arms, a contented smile spreading across his face.
Ravendor came into the room a few minutes later, after having told some of the younger children a bedtime story to help them sleep. Yawning, he wandered over to his bed, shoved off all the clutter that was scattered across its surface, took his glasses from out of his pocket and placed it on his bedside table, then fell onto his bed and easily slipped away into sleep. He was too tired to even notice that he was sleeping on top of his favorite model airplane.
Although he was tired, Clive still found it a little difficult to go to sleep. His mind kept on flashing back to how pleased Alexander had been when Clive had done a job well done, and similarly, it had made him feel incredibly useful to be able to accomplish something like that, even when Berlitz, the pigeon man, had told him not to go. Berlitz and Alexander had both been smiling when the job had finally been done. Clive discovered that he liked that image, very much so. It made him feel good and warm inside.
He looked at the soft glow of his newly enchanted missanga for a minute or two, pulling the covers up over his head so that he was the only one who could witness it. It felt like a nice comforting nightlight, a symbol of safeness. Clive searched around and found his green bunny toy, using its large plush body as a pillow. He closed his eyes, smiled, and went to sleep.