Author's Thanks: I'm still grateful for everyone who read/favorited/alerted this story. A special thank you to those who reviewed Bookman's last chapter: DevilChile, SilverKleptoFox, Chocobo Confectionary, Astaline Nihtingale, NellaXIval, Fall in Snow, Slip on Ice, Angel Fantasy, Maydn, winegoldsayuri, ruki, kuzon234ray, Lohikaarmesielu, Antaria, Saturns-Moon, Jengurl24, and Astarael-7th. Also thank you to those of you who reviewed/favorited Chasm: DevilChile, vinreiaya, RobotInTheRoom, MarciKupo, Chocobo Confectionary, Something, winegoldsayuri, Voltairey, BlueFox of the Moon, Miruial, Fyrearth, Angel Fantasy, Dreammaker Twilight, FcS, rmiller92, Sora Nadeshiko, Astaline Nihtingale, Saturns-Moon, weaverofstars, Jengurl24, Lohikaatmesielu and Astarael-7th.
That night, Bookman dreamed.
He rarely did so, but a combination of drugs and a somewhat guilty conscious sent him into a world that he did not frequently visit. It was nothing like the vivid dreams he'd had before, where confusing jumbles and blossoms of color, smell, and even taste blended together. There was nothing except darkness and the sound like his feet were walking on glass again. His footsteps echoed loudly against the black floor. A chill hung in the air like a still, winter day high in the Himalayas.
The voice rang out, softly, quietly. To his ears, it was distorted, as though it came from underwater. The coldness increased and his footsteps sounded louder than ever, sending cruel echoes into the expanse of black space around him.
It called again and when he turned his head to look for the source, he saw nothing to the left, or to the right. His breath created a whiteness that he could see in stark contrast to the black backdrop around him. When it cleared, a figure came into his line of vision: a familiar image of a redheaded boy wearing a Clan cloak. He did not raise his head and Bookman's recognition defaulted to Lavi.
No. We are not Lavi.
The boy lifted his head to gaze at him with a single green eye that burrowed deeply into him, like a rabbit attempting to create a space beneath the ground. Bookman could not remember the boy's name, watching mutely as he raised his arm and pointed with a ghost-like finger into the distance.
Bookman followed the translucent finger, looking in the direction indicated. There came into sight another figure, but this one Bookman did not recognize. He was tall and that was all he could tell, as the person had his back to Bookman. There, a white cross on his coat stood out like a glowing beacon in the darkness. If he squinted, he could make out what looked like a splash of copper pigmented hair against the collar of that uniform. Was it...?
The person turned slowly to face him. His clothes were ragged and dirty, smelling like ashes and freshly put out fire. Bookman saw that his left sleeve had been ripped, close to a cross upon his breast that was splattered with black droplets of dried blood. The shirt beneath the tattered jacket supported a huge tear, revealing his injured chest. Blood had soaked through it, dying the fabric a dark crimson. It dripped from the hem onto the black floor, where it made a sound like raindrops hitting a tin roof in a storm.
The boy's lips moved, but the voice sounded softly against Bookman's ear, as if the word had come from behind him. He could only watch as one burned, blistered hand was lifted, stretching out towards Bookman as if reaching for him.
The question was posed to him with a quiet, but ringing, desperation. When the injured boy tried to step forward, he stopped, knees buckling so that he collapsed onto his hands and knees against the hard obsidian floor. Blood spattered onto the ground beneath him, dying the blackness scarlet. When his arms gave out, he fell and the sound of bleeding ceased, giving way to eerie quiet. No other words came from the fallen figure, which Bookman could not stop himself from walking towards to observe. Upon closer inspection, he found that the boy was more injured than he had first presumed. There was a gaping hole in his chest, as if his heart had been ripped from his body. A single, hazy green eye opened to look up at him, the rest of his bloodied face cast in shadow.
The words rang out, overlapping in echoes that went on forever. It was Lavi looking up at him with that expression, wearing that tattered coat with the Black Order's crest. It was Lavi who lay injured and dying at his feet. It was Lavi who was crying, diluting his blood into pink streams down his left cheek.
It was Lavi who was asking him why, why.
Why didn't you save me?
The question continued to repeat itself softly in his mind long after Bookman woke. He lay in the clinic cot with the white sheets and tried not to analyze what he had seen. At the foot of the bed, the current Lavi had curled up in an uncomfortable-looking position that would only be suitable for a small cat. Beneath his arm, he held onto River's stuffed rabbit loosely in his sleep: the picture of childish innocence. Thinking back to when they had arrived in Cairo, Bookman realized that Lavi was no longer that small, underfed boy who he had taken as his apprentice a few years ago. In fact, Lavi's height had almost exceeded his own, and that was even more apparent upon observing his fetal-like position. Just the way his limbs seemed too long for his body let Bookman know that he still had a lot more growing to do.
He vaguely wondered if he would be as tall as the older image he had seen in his dreams: lying at his feet, weeping and bleeding asking Why, why?
Outside, Bookman heard light footsteps on the landing and the sound of the clinic door opening with a gentle creak. It distracted him from his thoughts and he held still, watching through half-closed eyes as a figure entered. From the outline, Bookman knew it to be female; from the height, a child of about twelve or thirteen. It had to be Sagira.
"Lavi," she whispered, confirming Bookman's assumption. When the boy at his feet did not stir, the girl entered into the room further, going as far as to actually shake the redhead awake.
"Whazzit?" Lavi mumbled, lifting his head to glance around. His gaze stopped on Sagira, who had crouched by the edge of the bed with an expression that Bookman could not see in the dark.
"Wake up," she told him.
"Akila," said Lavi sleepily, rubbing at his eye. It took Bookman a moment to realize that neither of them had referred to the other with the name of their previous persona. Had Sagira been deleted also? The base personality named Akila kept her position close to the floor, pulling on Lavi's cloak. "What'd you want?"
"I'm leaving," she whispered.
"Leaving?" Lavi repeated and Bookman felt the bed move only slightly as he sat up. The mattress dipped on the left side as Lavi slid out of bed, his feet making only the lightest of sounds against the wooden floor.
"You sleep with a stuffed animal?" she asked, and her tone sounded snooty, like Sagira again.
"It was given to me as a gift by a beautiful woman," was Lavi's reply, sounding as if he were bragging over that fact. But when Akila didn't say anything, his next words formed a serious question: "Why are you leaving?"
"Do you think I'm beautiful?" she asked. There was nothing but quiet after she asked. Bookman could hear ticking of a clock down the hall, signifying the passing of time. Lavi was probably as stunned as he felt.
"What does that have to do with you leaving in the middle of the night?" Lavi asked, recovering from the question that had most likely left him off balance.
"You didn't answer my question."
"You didn't answer mine."
"I'm not going to be here when those people from the Clan arrive."
"Don't play innocent. You know what will happen to me."
"No, enlighten me."
"You're so ignorant," Akila said, but there was fondness in her tenor. "I'm a girl."
"This is relevant how?" Lavi asked.
"A girl cannot inherit a Bookman's seat," Akila explained. Bitterness dripped from every word like acid. "Seeker disregarded that. He took me in anyway." Bookman heard the sound of her hair brushing against her shoulders, probably as she glanced away from Lavi to look at the urn on the bedside table. "He said that if he trained me and I became the perfect successor, they would have no choice but to let me take on his title. Now that he's dead, I have no protection from the Clan."
"Protection," Lavi said, sounding as if he wanted to ask but did not know how.
"The Clan is an organization that likes its secrets. You should know that," she replied. "If I am no longer a part of it, what do you think they do to people who know too much?"
Lavi was silent for a moment and Bookman heard him move a bit closer to Akila in the dark.
"They're not…going to kill you, are they?" Lavi asked in a hushed whisper. His tension was broken by the gentle smack Bookman heard against the redhead's temple.
"Idiot, they're historians, not murderers," she said.
"No reason to get so violent…" Lavi mumbled.
"Oh, shut up," she told him, and the fondness was back again. On the floor, Bookman saw that their shadows were very close to one another.
"What will they do?" Lavi asked. Akila took in a breath. It sounded sharp, pained, like the way Lavi said, with a gaping wound in his chest why didn't you save me?
"They'll delete me entirely."
"I won't remember anything at all, from any Me. Not even from before Seeker. I won't remember any languages I've learned or books I've read or the facts that I've accumulated over the past six years," Akila said, and her form turned away from Lavi. "I don't know…what'll happen if I lose all of that…"
"So you're going to run away," Lavi said.
"Wouldn't you?" When she asked this, Bookman saw Lavi's shoulders shrug.
"You would, believe me. You would be like me, because you couldn't bear knowing you wouldn't remember anything," Akila replied, and her tone then became bitter once more as she added: "I won't be good for anything besides prostitution after that, because all I'll have is this body…"
"Then leave," Lavi said simply.
"I am," Akila answered, but she did not make to move from her spot. "But before I go, you've got to answer my question."
"What was it again?" Lavi asked, feigning forgetfulness.
"You know what I asked," she said. Her shadow moved closer to his, so that they formed one block of darkness on the floor in the moonlight.
"I don't think you're beautiful," Lavi told her.
"Really?" she asked.
"Really," Lavi said.
Bookman heard the clock ticking and the sound of a breeze coming in through the open window. He watched as their shadows did not part from one another for the longest time. Lifting his head slightly, Bookman saw why. Akila's arms had moved around Lavi's neck and they were pressed against each other in the dark. It was impossible to not know what they were doing.
"Really?" she asked again, when they parted. Her arms were still around him. Beneath her cloak, Bookman could see her silver jewelry shining in the moonlight.
"Really," Lavi said.
"You're incorrigible, Cyclops," Akila said, and her shadow parted from his. When she was at the door, she turned around. Her eyes did not fall on Bookman, but looked at Lavi with the most open of expressions. "Maybe we'll meet again someday. So don't forget about me."
"Hey, you know that a Bookman never forgets," Lavi told her and she smiled.
"Yes, a Bookman never does forget," she said.
And then she was gone.
A few days after Akila left, the Inquisitors arrived.
They were affiliated members of the Clan who appeared in cloaks with matching tribal designs extending from the hem to shoulder. Since they were not official members of their organization, the colors and patterns on their clothing were different from Bookman and Lavi's, which easily indicated their rank within the hierarchy of their society. When the three of them arrived, they were polite, silent men, who regarded Bookman with a respect that he had not had the honor of receiving in quite a long time. Their dialect was heavy with honorifics.
Bookman knew that they had come with three intentions: to collect Seeker's ashes, to discover the cause of his death, and to find his apprentice. With the urn secure and the girl missing, they had managed to complete only one of their goals. The leader of the group had his orders, however, and took Bookman and Lavi into a sunny courtyard outside of the clinic to question them about the incidents. Lavi remained silent unless spoken to while Bookman smoothed over their story. It was easy to build upon Akila's previous account. He indicated that they had met up with Seeker and his apprentice on accident while following a lead on one of their own records. Afterwards, they had found themselves under the control of a group of desert men with historically relevant intentions. Upon following them, their party met misfortune. It was simple to be vague at this part, as both Bookman and Lavi showed outward signs of head injury. The quiet men seemed to accept this without any further question to the other Bookman's death. Accidents happened frequently and Bookmen rivalry was not even considered in the equation. In the end, it was recorded as merely another unfortunate event in a series of never-ending unfortunate events, and Lavi was clear from blame.
Not to mention the weapon used to kill Seeker had disappeared along with his apprentice.
After asking for a physical description of the girl and a quick account of the Black Order's involvement, the Inquisitors were finished. Taking Seeker's ashes with them, they left just as unobtrusively as they had come. Bookman knew they would look for the girl and idly wondered if she had managed to leave the country yet, if that was her plan. He recalled her quiet words in the darkness and the way her arms had moved around Lavi's neck. Actions like that were those that could not be tolerated.
"You're gonna die one day if you keep smoking," Lavi said from behind him.
Standing on the patio of the quiet hospital, Bookman had decided to have a cigarette after going days without the nicotine. He ignored Lavi's comment, leaning against the railing beneath the Egyptian sun. When the redhead did not get a rise out of him, Bookman heard him sigh. With a swift movement, Lavi hopped up onto the railing to sit on it, rocking backwards and then forwards on the thin metal support. The bandages around his forehead were gone, but Bookman could see the healing bruises on his neck and upon the bare arms not covered his sleeves. On the middle finger of his right hand, a silver ring Bookman had never seen before glittered in the midday sun. It must have been from Akila. He considered commenting on it, but decided not to.
"Do not cry to me if you fall and kill yourself," Bookman said instead, referring to the unstable railing and the three story drop that awaited him if he were to be careless. Lavi looked at him for a moment, but did not get down. However, his rocking stopped and Bookman watched as his bare feet curled around the lower bars to hold on a bit tighter.
"Where are we going from here?" Lavi asked.
"Calabria," Bookman replied.
"È così?" Lavi asked, accent sounding a bit off as the result of not speaking the language for so long. But even still, he sounded a bit excited at the prospect of traveling to Italy. "That's the Mezzogiorno, isn't it?"
((*È così? Roughly translates to "Is that so?" The Mezzogiorno is the word used to refer to Southern Italy.))
"Yes," Bookman said, taking a drag before exhaling.
"We're still looking for Simon then?" Lavi inquired.
"He is integral to our research," Bookman replied. Simon was the only person who had read the entirety of the Necronomicon. With their own copy missing, Simon was the last person who may have held information regarding the illegible portion of the spell book. There may have been more information regarding the Earl and the upcoming Event that was prophesied; information that Bookman could not find in Der Geisterseher or Count Cagliostro.
"I thought you said that they were taking him to Rome?" Lavi said, as he started to lean back and forth on the railing again. When Bookman gave him a warning look, he stopped and held still once more.
"That was the information that Jahaar gave to us," Bookman answered, snubbing his cigarette beneath his boot. "The major port city is Reggio Calabria. If we sail there, we will be able to find the port ledger, which documents all incoming persons into the country, including their business and their destinations. Using that information, it should not be difficult to ascertain his location."
"What if he never went to Italy in the first place?" Lavi asked.
"It will just be another obstacle to overcome," Bookman said.
"Is that a nice way of saying we're basically fucked?" inquired Lavi.
They managed to secure passage cheaply on a vessel in the port of Alexandria, where it was then a three week journey across the Mediterranean to reach Reggio Calabria. The warm waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea brought them easily into the port city, which was rife with activity. After so many consecutive days kept indoors on a cramped ship reading by bad light, land and the Mediterranean sunshine were a welcome relief.
"I can't wait to eat real food," Lavi said, as he scribbled his new name—Dante Carmosino—on the manifest with a loopy C that left ink dots along the page. Bookman added Giovanni Carmosino below the messy signature and bracketed their names. Beneath the heading for the reason for visit, he indicated that they would be visiting relatives in Calabria and Abruzzo. After stating their intent, they went through a customs line that did not take as long as Bookman thought. Once one of the officials saw their excellently forged passports (courtesy of two very helpful twins, whom Lavi had engaged in rapid correspondence with during the long weeks at sea), they were declared as returning citizens and allowed to bypass the line of traders and other transient visitors.
Once free from all governmental matters, Bookman had to see to domestic ones, keeping a steady hand on the strap of his apprentice's pack to prevent him from wandering off in the large market place. Because Reggio Calabria was a major trading port, the city was alive with a buzzing activity. Stalls selling goods from all over the world were set up on every block, smelling like coffee, spices, and exotic foods. Men and women pushed their wares: rolls of silk, indigo and saffron dyed fabrics, as wells as long strings of precious gems and beads. Gleaming silver weapons from the orient sat side by side the new streamline pistols and revolvers from other parts of Europe. People milled about every which way, buying and selling items, trading livestock or other food products for the new goods that were fresh off the ships.
"Don't wander off," Bookman said, pulling Lavi back towards him when he began to stray from their path once again.
"Can't help it…there's so much stuff to look at," Lavi replied, but managed to not deviate too badly afterward. In the end, when Lavi's wanderings took the both of them very close to a tempting stall, Bookman ended up purchasing a satchel of coffee and a tin of Chai tea from India, as well as fresh cloves from Indonesia. And because Lavi had been tolerable on the boat ride over, Bookman decided it would not hurt to reward him with a small bar of Belgian chocolate.
"What is that face for?" Bookman could not help but demand, when they seated themselves in an outdoor café on a quieter side street within the city. After receiving two chilled mugs of an Italian cream coffee at their table he had noticed it, but only decided to ask, while rolling some of his fresh cloves into a cigarette paper, exactly what had caused such an expression. Lavi had merely taken a single bite of his chocolate and one sip of his coffee when his single eye grew wide, as if with shock, like he had seen an accident from which he could not look away.
"I think I just died and came back to life. Twice," Lavi said, only breaking off a smaller, second piece of chocolate, which he savored for a few moments of silence. "Why have we never been here before?"
"We had no reason to come here before now," Bookman answered, and resumed rolling his cloves. Lavi finished chewing and then went back to his coffee; Bookman watched as his attention was repeatedly stolen by passerby on bicycle, which was a relatively new contraption that the boy had likely never seen before. Across the street, a baker opened his window so that the fresh smell of bread and pies wafted their way.
"Well, I think we should stay for a while," Lavi said, taking another sip of coffee, before adding: "and have this every day."
"You would become bored of it quickly," Bookman replied, sealing the cigarette before lighting it. It was like a breath of fresh air and spice that settled nicely on the tongue. Lavi looked at him doubtfully over the rim of his chilled mug. In the afternoon sunlight, Akila's ring had a shining clarity to it that bothered Bookman.
"How long are we going to be here?" Lavi asked.
"Until we find Simon," Bookman answered simply.
"Don't we have to make sure that he's here?" Lavi inquired.
"Of course," Bookman said, exhaling a cloud of sweet-smelling smoke. "We're on our way to the archives now to make sure of that."
Reggio Calabria had the nicest public archives Bookman had ever seen.
With its expansive marble floors, brass lamp fixtures, and excellently crafted internal structure, it certainly ranked highly in Bookman's opinion. Even though the prosperous era of the Crusades and the Renaissance had passed, Italy still remained a rich nation. Boasting its wealth and prestige was an aspect of the society that could be seen in the beautiful architecture, well-maintained streets and public works projects, as well as the ever-busy markets, shops, and educational facilities. The public archives, in fact, served the Università Mediterranea di Reggio Calabria, which attributed to the reason for its grandeur and busy atmosphere. Lavi stayed close to his side as they weaved among groups of students, professors, and civil servants in search of the correct room. Located on the third floor, Bookman found the Immigration and Transient Visitor annex, which was divided into separate sections according to date. In the small time period which Bookman estimated Simon to have arrived, there was an entire row stretching from floor to ceiling dedicated to the two weeks exclusively.
"We have a very busy day ahead of us."
"Sometimes, I question my decisions…" Lavi mumbled, late in the afternoon. Over the record books in high piles around them, Bookman could not even see him. "My eye feels like it's going to bleed…"
"Do not complain," Bookman told him, although he wished that it would not harm the documents around them if he smoked while working. Despite the urge, Bookman knew how damaging smoke could be and made it a habit to not light up around any sort of valuable papers or tomes. Still, the thought circled a few times and he had to still his hand more than once from straying to the cigarette and matches in his cloak pocket.
"Not complaining…" came Lavi's voice from on the other side of the barrier. "Just stating true facts…"
"You are complaining," Bookman replied.
"Am not," Lavi said stubbornly, though his voice sounded slightly lighter than before. Bookman knew it well, from those nights where Lavi had tried to stay awake reading, despite the tiredness he could always see in his body and hear in the tenor of his voice.
"Do not fall asleep," Bookman warned.
"M'not," Lavi replied, though it was obvious he was lying. Bookman wadded up a spare bit of useless parchment he had been scribbling on and tossed it over the books in order to rouse his apprentice. He heard it make contact against Lavi's hair. "Heeeey, what was that for…?"
"Wake up," Bookman said.
"I'm awake," Lavi told him, and threw the ball of paper back towards Bookman. The old man caught it before it could hit him in the face. He wondered idly how Lavi had such good aim.
"Then be useful," Bookman replied, sending the paper ball back towards the redhead. Perhaps his own lack of progress had been a major attributing factor in the impromptu game of catch he had foolishly started.
"I am being useful," Lavi retorted, and Bookman heard him scribbling something before crumbling up more paper, probably to make their throwing object a bit bigger. "I think I found something too."
"Explain or do not say anything at all," Bookman told him, avoiding the parchment projectile aimed his way again. It fell onto his workspace and Bookman was just about to throw it back in annoyance when Lavi said:
"Look at that symbol and tell me what you think. It's the only one I've seen with a raised seal. Looks kind of official if you ask me…" Bookman unfolded the paper and took a glance at the icon on the page. It had been placed over the original seal, where Lavi had done a quick press to get an imprint in light charcoal. A design of two keys lay over each other, tied together with a length of cord that formed a cross in the direct center. Above this, there sat a three-tiered hat with two flowing lengths of fabric printed with the Holy cross.
"This is the Papal symbol," Bookman said. What Jahaar's men had reported seemed correct now: priests had come, collected Simon and returned to Italy. Although the party's destination according to the official roster in Alexandria had been Rome, Bookman knew that the Vatican had to be involved somehow. The official stopover point was Reggio Calabria and then onwards to the port in Rome, where Simon would eventually be brought to the Vatican, most likely for questioning.
"The what?" Lavi asked, his voice sounding as if he thought Bookman had said something dirty.
"Bring the ledger to me," Bookman told him, without answering his question. On the other side of the towering wall of documents, Bookman heard scuffling and the shifting of papers. Lavi's chair scraped lightly over the floor and then the old man could hear his knobby knees on the tabletop. His red hair appeared over the giant pile, followed by the one tired eye, and then finally, the object in question. It appeared heavy to lift, and when Bookman took it, he found that it did have significant weight. Already open to the page, the coat of arms only verified his previous conclusion.
"So it's the whatsits symbol?" Lavi inquired, resting with his arms on the dangerously leaning pile of paperwork.
"This is the Papal coat of arms," Bookman repeated, reading the information next to the stamp. It had a neat, curved script that merely stated five priests were returning to Italy on business of his Holiness.
"And that means what exactly?" Lavi asked, looking bored. "And who is his Holiness anyway?"
"Surely you've heard of the Pope," Bookman replied, glancing up at the redhead. He made a thoughtful face, as if trying to recall a distant fact in the dusty annexes of his mind.
"Maybe," he finally said; Bookman threw the nearest quill at him.
"The head of the Roman Catholic Church," Bookman elaborated, watching as the redhead rubbed ink from where the quill had splattered black droplets on the back of his hand.
"Oh, so he's kind of important, then," Lavi said, though he made it sound like a question.
"Surely you understand that within the Catholic religion, the Pope is the chosen disciple of God, thereby making him a bit more than kind of important," Bookman answered.
"So he's pretty much the most important person this side of Jesus, right?" Lavi answered, leaning his cheek into his palm. Bookman considered throwing something else at his ridiculous apprentice.
"Despite whatever opinion held of him, this proves to us that Simon entered the country," Bookman said, tapping the area beneath the description where, in small print it read: Accom. 1pn. Cairo, et crt. In shorthand, it meant that one other person accompanied the 5 priests. He had been without passport from Cairo, but had the same destination as the others on orders of his Holiness. If that was not Simon, then they would be fools, but the chances were slim.
Lavi brought him out of his thoughts.
"Because of that symbol? It's not even a good one. Who the hell puts a three-tiered wedding cake on their coat of arms?" Lavi asked, pointing at the object in question, which rested above the keys. If one truly looked at it, Bookman supposed that it could pass for a cake, but he only let that thought cross his mind for a moment. He was not about to give his apprentice idiotic leeway.
"That is the mitre," Bookman replied.
"The what now?" Lavi inquired. Perhaps he was crashing from the sugar that had been in the chocolate and the caffeine that had been in the iced coffee, because his reactions were awfully slow. Mainly, the ones connected to his brain.
"The mitre," Bookman said again. "It is the hat that that the Pope wears to signify his authority."
"Oh," Lavi said, shrugging a bit as he slumped down over the shaky wall of ledgers. "Kind of looks like a cake. My mistake. And seriously, what kind of word is mitre anyway?"
"It is much more preferable than the other word used to describe it, I'm sure," Bookman said.
"Don't slouch. You'll give yourself a bowed spine."
"No I won't."
"Do not argue with me. You cannot possibly win."
Lavi yawned, as if suddenly uninterested in their debate.
"So can we leave now?" he asked sleepily.
"File everything back the way you found it," Bookman replied, "then we can leave."
"Fine, fine," Lavi said, but didn't move from where he still leaned against their pile. His eye was closed. "But first, you've got to tell me the other word."
"What other word?" Bookman asked, as he began stacking the record books in order of date.
"The other word for the hat thing."
"Yeah. Martyr. Whatever it's called."
"It is also known as a tiara."
Lavi cracked open his eye to look at Bookman suspiciously, apparently not believing such a thing.
"And this Pope person… It's a dude, right?"
"Of course the Pope is male."
"So...he's a man—"
"Who wears a hat—"
"Yeah, a hat that looks like a fancy cake, whatever. But said hat also is called...a tiara?"
There was a moment of silence as Lavi's mind processed the information.
"I thought only girls wore tiaras."
"You should truly refrain from speaking from this point on."
Calabria was known for a lot of things: cheese, wine, and beautiful coastlines.
What Bookman forgot was that the southern tip of Italy also experienced alternating weather patterns that ranged from scorching heat to torrential downpours for more than half of the year. This resulted in a slow pace to the start of their journey. Not to mention uncomfortable sunburn.
"This is almost worst than Egypt. How is that possible?" Lavi grumbled from next to him. They were in a small town, seeking shelter from the sun under a canvas pavilion that jutted out from the side of a run-down establishment that served pecorino protonese over chilled antipasti and a perfect Curcùci.
((THE MORE YOU KNOW: Pecorino is a sheep cheese; made from the milk of ewes. Usually it's hard and used as a picking cheese—in our house anyway, haha—or over a salad such as an antipasti, but apparently you can put it over meat as well, like Curcùci, which is a kind of fried pork. It can also go over finished pasta dishes when it's grated. In my household, we bread our pork and fry or bake it in mozzarella or parmigiano, but some friends from that region say you can use pecorino as well.))
"It is either this or continuous rain," Bookman replied, with a tone that said without saying stop complaining. Lavi just made a miserable sound and hid further under his cloak for protection from the unrelenting rays of sun. The backs of his hands were as red as his hair and beneath his hood, Bookman was certain that Lavi's burned complexion was the same shade. In the distance, the vineyards rippled in heat waves.
"At least the food is good…" Lavi said, leaning forward as he picked at the artichoke hearts in the remains of his antipasti.
"Eat those. They're good for you," Bookman told him.
"They're weird-looking," Lavi replied. His fork stopped when Bookman lit a cigarette, only returning to its light stabbing after he'd exhaled. "Hey, Gramps."
"What have I told you about that?" Bookman replied.
"Hay is for horses, yeah, yeah…" Lavi answered with a sigh. "Anyway, what are we going to do once we get to Rome? How are we supposed to find Simon?"
"Eat the rest of that and I will tell you," Bookman said. He never saw Lavi eat so quickly before, and the boy wasn't even through chewing when he made a gesture for Bookman to start explaining.
"Firstly, you must understand that Simon was taken to Vatican City," Bookman said, letting the ashes fall over the edge of the table. They were swept away by a hot, dry wind. "Because of this, the chances of us finding him are very slim."
"So…we're here why now?" Lavi asked, after he swallowed.
"For a second reason," Bookman continued, as if Lavi had not spoken. "There is a certain group located in the heart of Rome, which may have valuable information regarding Simon. Our interests tend to coincide for the majority of the time, and they have ancient connections with the Vatican, which makes them a valuable resource to us."
"Really? Is the Clan affiliated with them directly?" Lavi inquired. The way his body leaned forward a bit signified his interest.
"In a sense, we are mutual beneficiaries," Bookman answered.
"Who are they?" Lavi asked, tilting his head slightly in questioning.
"A group that considers their members to be enlightened men of mathematics, science, and literature, which thereby makes them quite the thorn in the Vatican's side," Bookman replied.
"You don't mean…" Lavi's eye was wide with understanding before Bookman could even answer.
After a few weeks of hard travel, they reached Valleranello in the region of Lazio.
It was a small area south of the province of Rome in the undeveloped countryside. A few meters out, one could find decrepit ruins of the ancient empire as well as sprawling fields of vegetables and vineyards for as far as the eye could see. About thirty kilometers away there was the bustling metropolis of Rome, with all its cramped space and rising population. Within less than half a day's walking distance, Vatican City sat amongst the high fashion, international cuisine, trading posts, and, of course, churches. That, however, was in the distance and a journey for Bookman, and Bookman alone.
"We will be staying here," Bookman informed Lavi, who looked around at the rural landscape with a bit of confusion.
"This isn't Rome," Lavi said.
"No, it is not," Bookman answered, and that was that. His plan all along was travel solitary to Rome. Apprentice or not, it was too dangerous for Lavi to be with him in the city. They held the continuous status of fleeing from the Black Order—a sect of the Vatican—and if caught, they would not be taken in kindly. Bookman knew better than anyone that the Church had its ways of making its enemies disappear from the pages of history.
He would not let Lavi be caught in the middle of that.
"Jiji?" Lavi said, but Bookman did not answer him. It brought back to mind the recurring dream he had been having, where Lavi kept asking him Jiji, why didn't you save me? If he were to reply to that question, it would make him a hypocrite. Bookmen were not allowed to care, even about each other, so he could not tell the boy beside him his real motive.
I just want to save you.
"Let us see if we can find lodging," Bookman said, and Lavi quieted, most likely understanding that he would receive no answer at that time. Silently, he followed Bookman through the uneven cobblestone streets. With every inquiry to an inn or hotel, they found themselves turned away due to no vacancies. Apparently with summer fast approaching, it resulted in a rather busy tourist season. If places so far from Rome were already full, they would be lucky to find housing without backtracking further south. Instead of giving up, Bookman took their route outside of the small city. On the outskirts of the western part of town, the roads turned to hard dirt and gravel. An older, vine-covered building was the only thing that stood there, slanting a bit to the side as if it had become tired over the years of relentless heat and rain. Outside there stood a weathered post with an ancient hanging sign that read Pensione. In all directions, there were fields of crop that needed tending. A woman in her early fifties swept a crooked brick walkway beyond the rusted iron gate of the boarding house.
"We're not taking travelers," she said, in a heavy accent that left her words almost indecipherable. Head bowed, she hadn't looked up from her sweeping. A flowered kerchief covered her long, graying hair.
"None at all?" Bookman asked.
"Busy time of year," she answered. Behind her, the Pensione was silent with vacancy. "Too many tourists around here. Go home."
"Surely we can come to an arrangement if you have a single room available," Bookman said. After years on the road, he had learned to bargain with people for their cooperation, even if it was a small room with no water closet and not a single meal included in the package.
"Don't have any. This place is closed," she replied, broom not stopping in sweeping the dusty brick. "Please leave. I have a lot of work to do. No time for tourists. There's too many of you."
"We're not tourists," Lavi told her. Over the past few weeks, his previous knowledge of Italian had only improved his accent when conversing with locals. The woman's broom stopped, but she did not look up.
"Where are you from then? You look like tourists," she said, and Bookman presumed she meant their haggard, worn appearances along with their packs.
"We're from Calabria," Lavi replied easily, as that had been their story throughout their travels. "We were in Greece for a few years, but we're back now. Gramps here is going to be a professor at Università degli studi di Roma. La Sapienza has a really good history department." Even though Lavi was rambling a bit with useless information, he seemed to be doing it to keep the attention of the woman, who suddenly appeared interested in the two of them. She had even lifted her head to looked at the two of them for a long, hard moment.
"It's very hot today, isn't it?" she stated, irrelevant to the conversation, merely an observation. Silent, Lavi did not respond, as if he wasn't sure if the question had been rhetorical or not. The woman put her broom down and began walking back towards the house. "Come in out of the sun and have a drink." With that invitation, Lavi nudged the gate open and they stepped inside.
"Maybe she'll let us stay," Lavi said as they walked along the brick path.
"Perhaps," Bookman replied, ruffling Lavi's hair through the hood of his cloak. "I knew there was a reason I kept you around, kid."
"And here I thought it was for my charming personality and amazingly good looks."
The woman's name was Letizia, but she insisted that they call her Lettie, because she hated that people from the south could not say the last syllable properly. She brought them freshly made lemonade that was a bit tart, but cold, so Bookman was no about to complain. Inside, the room boasted a cool temperature that was a relief from the outside swelter.
"Eat this, child. You're too scrawny," Lettie said as she pushed a plate of sponge cookies and fruit at Lavi. He made a face at the adjective, but accepted one of the desserts and began munching happily on it. While his apprentice ate, Bookman allowed his eyes to wander around the eat-in kitchen. It was an orderly space with little clutter and the smell of fresh oranges and bread. Certainly capable of supplying meals to quite a few guests, Bookman wondered at the adamancy the woman displayed towards people looking for a room.
"How long will you be in Valleranello?" she asked, for the first time directing her gaze towards Bookman. Her eyes were as blue as the sea, but guarded, hardened as the frown at her lips. Bookman knew that expression and wondered whom she had lost. Could it perhaps be the young, smiling girl in the portrait he could see beyond the kitchen doorway?
"We were planning on staying for several weeks. Until the university provides supplemental housing, we have nowhere to stay except at a pensione," Bookman answered.
"No relatives, then?" she asked, and her eyes were back on Lavi. The way she looked at him made Bookman's earlier assumptions only increase. She had lost a child, that was for sure. Whether it was that girl in the picture or not, Bookman knew that expression anywhere. He had seen it on too many battlefields; in war-torn villages where women wandered, hollow-cheeked and vacant-eyed on the charred, black earth seeking their dead children...
"None," Bookman replied.
"My rooms are not cheap," Lettie said. Although her voice was seriously stern, she urged Lavi to eat some more with a gentle, motherly affection.
"We can pay," Bookman said, because they could. The Clan's finances were extensive, allowing them to have connected accounts all over the world for Bookmen to utilize on their travels. Luckily Reggio Calabria had been one of those international locations, allowing for Bookman to replenish their dwindling monetary supply. He supposed that such a thing occurred when there were suddenly two instead of one traveling throughout the Eurasian continent.
"It will not be strictly in money, you understand," she informed him. "I have a lot of chores and upkeep on this place, so I'll need an extra pair of hands around here." Lavi stopped, mid-chew, when she directed her next question at him: "Boy, have you ever tended a garden before?"
"N-No," Lavi said honestly after he swallowed. It took him only half a second to understand the consequences of his answer—mainly sleeping outside in the humid nights and burning hot days—and so he added: "But I can learn. I'm a quick learner!"
"If you would help me, then the both of you can stay for half price," Lettie informed them, "but the work will not be easy." Lavi's shoulders slumped a bit, but he nodded in understanding.
"It wouldn't be easy, would it?"
Bookman should have probably felt guilty for selling his apprentice out like he did, but the food was very good, the establishment clean, and bed comfortable.
The morning after they arrived, Lavi was roused early by Lettie, who had a list of chores so long, Bookman thought it could rival their record logs. Begrudgingly, Lavi got up and entered his servitude. His major chore throughout the day was carrying buckets to the well in town, filling them, and then dragging them back to the boarding house. He needed to do this several times a day to get water for cooking, cleaning, washing, and bathing. For someone who only weighed about eighty pounds soaking wet, it was probably the most exhausting exercise Lavi had ever encountered. This difficulty did not seem to become any easier as the days went on. While Bookman perused through volumes accumulated in their travels and through Manas and Ganesa, in addition to other record notes, Lavi was out in the garden beneath the hot sun. He weeded and watered as Lettie asked him to, running inside during the middle of the day to not suffer too badly from heat exhaustion. During these times indoors, Lettie made him help with preparations for dinner or setting him up to do some light cleaning.
"Lettie told me that she had a daughter," Lavi told him, on the third night when he had come to hide in Bookman's room in order to evade the late-night chores Lettie hounded him to do. Bookman watched as he bandaged up his blistering hands with light gauze as he said this. "She died about three years ago."
"This is important?" Bookman asked, not truly interested in the woman's story one way or another.
"No, not really," Lavi said, and paused in his work. "I guess I just have to wonder why women are always crying."
"They tend to do that," Bookman replied, and lit a cigarette.
"Why?" Lavi asked.
"Because, they do," Bookman said, beckoning for Lavi to come to him.
"I just don't get it," Lavi told him, allowing Bookman to tie off the end of the bandage in order to hold it in place. "You know, women."
"That is one mystery that can never be solved," Bookman replied.
"What?" Lavi inquired.
"Women," Bookman answered, and tied off the other end of the gauze around Lavi's other hand.
"Oh. You mean even the Bookmen don't know the answer to that?" Lavi asked.
"There are two questions that we do not know the answers to," Bookman said, leaning back once he was through with the bandages. He puffed on his cigarette and cracked open the window to let the cloud of sweet-smelling cloves and herbs out into the steamy night. "The first one concerns women."
"And the second?" Lavi asked. Bookman looked at him through the smoke.
"You'll learn that the day I die."
By the fifth day, Lavi's fair skin had been burned so badly that Bookman could tell the lightest touch of his clothes caused extreme pain. In addition to that, his hands had worsened from their previous state: blistered and rubbed raw from all the manual labor. It had developed to the point that it was so bad, he could not even hold a quill. During dinner, he ate little and said nothing, even when Lettie tried to get him to speak with her kind, motherly tone. It left Bookman to do more talking than he liked, but he figured that it was a good trade for what Lavi was putting up with every day. That night, the redhead went straight to bed and did not even attempt to stay up reading or helping Bookman in any manner. He wasn't resentful (yet), just exhausted. The most strenuous activity Bookmen engaged in was walking, so those chores were not something Lavi was built for.
"Get up," Bookman told him, on the next night, when he had fled to his room after doing the dishes. His apprentice was already under the sheets, where his bare back looked like fire against the white cotton. His head moved against the pillow as he shook it no. "Go into the bath, right now." Bookman had poured three of the waiting buckets in the bathroom into the small tub for that purpose, knowing that the cool water would help alleviate the agony of his burns. Slowly and shakily, Lavi pushed himself up and turned around to face Bookman. His chest was as red as his back, as were his legs and feet. The old man had no idea how he had gotten so sunburned while wearing clothes.
"Tired," Lavi said, voice thick with exhaustion.
"Sleep in the bath. Go," Bookman told him. As if on autopilot, Lavi obeyed. He was only wearing a pair of loose, knee length pants, but at that moment, cared not for modesty and followed Bookman's order. The old man listened as he opened the door, then closed it, and then stepped into the tub.
"SHITFUCKDAMN THAT'S COLD!" came Lavi's jumbled swear in a mixture of Nepali and English. The water made a splashing sound and Bookman knew that he would try to escape; if he did not soak in it, then it would do him no good. Putting a stop to his actions, the old man went to the water closet and opened the door. Lavi was kneeling in the tub, arms around himself as he shook violently. His red face flushed further crimson when he saw Bookman and he asked: "Ever hear of knocking?"
"Sit back down," Bookman told him.
"It's frigid," Lavi said, still trembling as he made a motion to get out. Bookman crossed the bathroom in two steps and placed his palm against the top of Lavi's head, effectively pushing him back down in the water. He was so hot that Bookman's hand felt like it was burning just touching him.
"You need to get the heat out of your body," Bookman told him, sitting on the edge of the tub with his back to Lavi to give him some sort of privacy. But still, his hand remained on the top of his head to keep Lavi from moving. Bookman felt his blistered hands pushing at his wrist in a weak attempt to escape, but the old man kept a firm pressure against Lavi's hair so the action was futile.
"Stop iiiiiit…." Lavi whined, his body still shaking.
"It's for your own good," Bookman told him and Lavi made annoyed, pouting sounds for the next few minutes that he was kept prisoner in the cold water. Once it had been a sufficient amount of time, Bookman released him and stood up to leave. "You can get out now." He was barely out the door when he heard the sound of sloshing as Lavi leaped out of the chilled water. When his apprentice had dried off and returned to his room, Bookman was waiting for him. Lavi stood in the doorway with a towel over his shoulders, single eye suspicious of him and body tensed to run away at a second's indication that Bookman planned to torture him again.
"What else do you waaaaant?" Lavi asked, nervously backing up towards the hallway.
"Do not be such a dramatic," Bookman said, pulling a chair from the desk. "Sit down." He saw Lavi swallow nervously before he took light, careful steps towards the piece of furniture. His eye was wary, but he obeyed and climbed up into the seat. Immediately, Lavi wrapped his arms around himself, as if to prevent Bookman from looking at him. When he neared the boy, however, Bookman saw that it was because he was still shaking from the bath. He trembled even more when Bookman removed the towel and placed it on the desk.
"What's that?" Lavi asked, as Bookman removed a glass jar from the sleeve of his kuzhe.
"Poison," Bookman replied, opening it. The room smelled heavy and sweet.
"Really," Lavi said.
"As long as my death is quick and painless, I'm not going to argue at this point..."
"This is fresh aloe, you dolt," Bookman said, putting the jar into Lavi's raw palms. He went and cracked the window slightly, lighting a cigarette before taking a long drag.
"Aloe?" Lavi repeated, smelling it. He made a face. "It's strong. Where'd you get it?"
"I went to the apothecary in town today," Bookman replied, because it was true. He had walked down the dirt path into the city after Lavi had made his first few rounds with the pails of water. He had been out in the tomato patch when Bookman departed and hadn't noticed his return either.
"Why?" Lavi asked.
"I needed a few things," Bookman said. The aloe had been an afterthought, as there had been more important things on his mind at the time. Lavi did not ask him anything further, smelling the aloe again as Bookman left the sill and neared him.
"I think Enoch had a plant like this in his office. Somewhere…"
"Most likely, as aloe is quite useful. The substance inside is utilized to alleviate burns and heal minor cuts," Bookman said, dipping his fingers into the cool salve. "Put your head down." Lavi did so and Bookman watched as his shoulders tensed when he smeared the aloe over the red skin.
"It's cold," Lavi said, body trying to move away from Bookman's touch.
"Do not fidget," Bookman told him, pushing his head back down into its previous position. He kept his cigarette at the corner of his mouth as he worked, puffing it while slathering more aloe onto Lavi's back. He rubbed it into the heated flesh, where the old scars seemed to be faded white lines beneath the burn. It was like the time after the Qandahar incident, where Bookman saw but did not ask as his fingertips moved over each protruding vertebrae and rib. "You need to eat more. You really are scrawny."
"I am not," Lavi said, lifting his head defiantly. Bookman pushed it back down and completed the back, moving to Lavi's arms.
"If a strong gust of wind came along, it would blow you away," Bookman said, feeling Lavi shiver and try to move away from him again.
"Why is this stuff burning?" Lavi asked, and began wriggling around once more.
"In case you haven't noticed, you have a serious burn on your body. This is not going to heal without some pain," Bookman replied, doing the other arm as well. "And what did I tell you about fidgeting?"
"Burns," Lavi reminded him, as Bookman moved over the shoulders and down to his red chest.
"Do not be a child," Bookman told him.
"'m not…" Lavi whined childishly, scrunching up his face in an over-dramatic wince. Bookman ignored him and puffed out some more smoke as he smoothed more aloe on Lavi's injured skin. Lifting up the cord around his neck to get beneath it, the old man noticed that in addition to the rupee he had seen before there was also a golden ring that looked quite familiar.
"I see that you're keeping Sir William's ring quite close," Bookman commented, in order to distract Lavi as much as it was to get some more information. The Royal Marine's gift remained around his neck, but Akila's rested on his finger. He wanted to know if there was a reason for it.
"Who's Sir William?" Lavi asked, cracking open his eye to look at Bookman questioningly.
"The owner of that ring," Bookman replied, dropping the necklace and its two pendants back onto Lavi's chest.
"So it did belong to someone…" Lavi mused aloud, "I was wondering where it came from."
"I take it that you do not remember Greece?" Bookman asked.
"Hmm…" As Lavi thought, his leg jerked when Bookman applied some aloe to the burns below his knees. Finally he said: "No…not really. I remember that book and…" Bookman watched as he paled a bit beneath the red complexion upon recalling a memory. "Did I wear a dress?"
"For a while, yes," Bookman said.
"I thought…it might have just been a dream…a terrible, terrible dream…" Lavi murmured, looking horrified.
"That is what you said back then as well," Bookman replied, recalling Lavi's return to consciousness, where he had awoken from his hypnosis-placed persona to realize what had become of him.
"Why did you make me wear a dress again?" Lavi asked. "Run this by me one more time?"
"How did you burn your feet?" Bookman asked, looking at the blood-red tops of Lavi's toes and the identical crimson ankles.
"You try gardening in hiking boots and see how you like it," Lavi said. "And how is that relevant to me wearing a dress?"
"And that other ring. A gift from Akila, I take it," Bookman said.
"Yes, she gave it to me," Lavi replied, "but that's still not relevant to why I had to wear a dress."
"Why don't you not concern yourself with the past," Bookman suggested, wiping his hands free of aloe on Lavi's towel once he was through.
"You're the one asking," Lavi pointed out.
"So are you," Bookman said and Lavi looked frustrated because he knew it was true.
"You're leaving, aren't you?" he asked. Bookman did not answer, taking the jar of aloe from Lavi's hands. He screwed the lid on tightly before taking his cigarette and finishing it off. Snubbing it on the sill, he then closed the window and locked it shut.
"You should go to bed," Bookman replied. He heard the chair scrape quietly against the floor and then Lavi's soft footsteps against the floor. The sheets moved back and the mattress creaked slightly, but that was all.
"You'll at least tell me before you go, right?" Lavi asked. When Bookman turned around, he could see Lavi's single eye peeking out over the top of the blanket at him. Bookman crossed the room and placed the jar on the edge of the bed.
"Put the remainder of this on your face," Bookman instructed, without answering him, "you're as red as a tomato."
"So you're not going to say anything, are you?" Lavi asked. Bookman could tell that he was annoyed, and found it strangely endearing.
"Go to bed," he said, and made for the door.
"If you die, old man, I'll be pissed," came Lavi's voice when he was in the hallway.
"Good night," Bookman replied.
"Geezer," Lavi said from the other side of the door. Bookman ignored him, walking down the corridor to his own room. In the darkened space, he closed the door and allowed himself to smile only slightly, shaking his head.
A Bookman was a master of many things: mathematics, literature, law, psychology, hypnosis, science. As a historian, it was necessary to understand those things that were integral pillars of the World in Which We Live. Therefore, Bookman himself had a great knowledge of many things.
One of those many things happened to be poison.
There was a subtle art to creating poison. It required a certain blending of herbs, roots, and saps that worked in tangent with one another to bring about the desired result. In the inventory of the world, there were endless combinations and therefore, possibilities when it came to creating poison. The perfect kinds were those that worked quickly and left no traces. Those, in Bookman's opinion, were the most beautiful.
In a pill form, they were easily transported and utilized, which was why he shaped them that way instead of in vials containing bitter liquids like in the ancient days. When he was through, Bookman left the fresh tablets on the windowsill, where they sat with a quiet superiority. Man's downfall rested inside of them, giving those tiny white spheres the greatest of powers. Bookman smoked and observed them silently, fingertips stained purple and black from his work. Around him, the house slept, while outside, the still, stagnant air gathered humidity for the upcoming dawn. Inside his head, he heard Lavi's voice resonate quietly:
He exhaled as he removed his earrings, setting down the silver cases upon the tabletop. The braided pattern cast shadows upon the metal in the moonlight. It seemed ominous, just like the journey he was about to undertake. Nothing felt safe about any of it, which was why he wanted to take precautions.
To my successor—
Within the depths of his pack, Bookman removed a lacquered cylindrical object. At each end, there was a domed brass cap that supported the same, familiar Clan pattern of interlocking lines and symmetrical, Celtic-like shapes. However, around the outside of the object, it was devoid of these decorations. Instead, a series of interlocking letters, numbers, and symbols were arranged on nine, evenly spaced dials. It had lasted through time: a tradition that continued due to the same amount of care put into preserving history. And when the correct figures clicked into place, the right end cap opened. Inside...
Upon my death, this letter shall be passed to you.
There were only a few things that could be held inside such a device. Usually, it was utilized to hold the most important information a Bookman possessed. That was the reason for the password needed to open the object. If the wrong sequence was used, it triggered spring inside, which let an acrid substance similar to vinegar bleed into the documents, thereby destroying the secrets forever. When Bookman reached inside, he could hear the old liquid as it moved from one side of the cryptex to the other. From inside, he removed an old, faded piece of parchment. It had been preserved perfectly for many, many years.
Once I depart this world, my name becomes your name.
My secrets become your secrets.
My lies become your lies.
Without reading the words he had memorized decades ago, Bookman set the scroll aside and tipped the cryptex over. Two heavy, silver rings clattered onto the tabletop. Tarnished with age, Bookman picked one up and held it against the light. It had been a long time since he had seen the earrings he had worn in his old apprenticeship years. They were small and foreign compared to the pair he usually supported.
Within the next few pages, you will come to understand your new position completely. Only with my passing comes the complete assimilation to the name Bookman. You will understand that, my apprentice, as you read on.
Bookman cleaned both pairs of earrings: the old and the new. Then, he dried them in the warm summer air. Beside the silver jewelry, the poison had cooled. But Bookman waited until the hollow insides of the earrings had dried before inserting the tablets. This was after he had written a letter, much like his master had done for him prior to his own death, and sealed it with a wax stamp. Once through, he put it into the cryptex. Everything his master had told him had been included, even the same, impersonal way of speaking. There was not a trace of fondness in his words; merely a business transaction as a title was shifted from one person to another. As Bookman closed the lid and heard the lock slide back into place, he tried not to think about Lavi's concerned voice and the way he sounded when he said—
His fingers clenched around the lid, bringing forth a low sound against the brass fixture at the top. In its surface, there were several characters carved in a flourishing script.
By three methods may we learn wisdom. First, by reflection, which is noblest. Second, by imitation, which is easiest. And third, by experience, which is the most bitter.
The quote was a clue to the apprentice on how to open the device. Every one had made it through the test, because the cryptex had remained the same for hundreds of years, passed down between master and apprentice. The code had always been the same and would continue to be the same, long after Bookman was gone and Lavi was as well: the tradition carried on for hundreds of thousands more years.
But at that moment, Bookman was only concerned with the current moment, where he was preparing prematurely for death and cooling poison on the windowsill, letting it harden in the bowls he had used the grind the ingredients, allowing the bitter, burning substance to coagulate on his fingertips. He had come too far to turn back and even if he hadn't, the current path was the right one. Bookman knew and that was why he had done everything the way he did. In all of it, though, he could not think of Lavi waking and finding him gone, because the image of his not-even-ten-year-old apprentice's lost expression would gnaw at him up until the very second of his death. The guilt almost made him lose resolve.
But it didn't.
First, Bookman took up his old pair of apprentice rings and put them in. They felt lighter compared to his usual pair, though there was significant weight to them with what lay inside. Once they were secure in his ears, he took up the cryptex and the pair of braided earrings, heavy with fresh poison tablets, and left his room. The house, silent still in the early hours, heard not a footstep on the landing or the quiet creaking of the door as he entered. Lavi's breath remained even with sleep, even when Bookman set the cryptex down on the nightstand and the earrings silently beside it. Nothing altered from its present course when Bookman touched Lavi's hair with a gentleness he knew meant he cared too much. And nothing stirred when he shouldered his pack and left before first light.
Rambling apology here:
Sorry for the late update DX Last week, I got a double wammy: my cat was poisoned and had to go to the vet to get treatment. $245 later, she got better, but then my mom called and said that she had to go in for a $2000 CT scan for some pain she's been having. Followed by another $200 in medical bills/medication for her and she's finally getting better. Needless to say, I've been stressed and pulling double shifts to try and help out. Let's just hope everyone is done getting sick for a while so I can be less of a spaz...
Akila's name is the equivalent to Intelligence in Egyptian.
Letizia means happiness in Italian.
Dante—Lavi's new persona's name—translates to "enduring" in Italian, which is important in the next few chapters.
The surname Carmosino belongs to my family.
So, I love Bookman being a hypocrite, because we all know he is and tries to fight it so badly. Next chapter, he peaces out to go to Rome, which will be a lot of blah, blah, blah once he meets the Illuminati and whatnot, but Lavi will show up (and there will be much angst?) so don't write him off completely! Also, Sagira/Akila was waaaaay too much fun. She'll be back, as will a certain Royal Marine twit by the name of Sir William, because he's too lulzy NOT to get some more screen time (page time? chapter time? whatever!) All kinds of good stuff coming up soon! I'll do my best to update again by the end of this week (we'll see) because you guys had to wait so long. Sound good? Let me know what you think about anything. Thoughts, crit, undiluted praise/worship are always appreciated.
Thanks for all your continued love and patience,