Shrouded in shadows cast by glass lanterns, the interior of this bookstore is a compromise between knowledge and darkness. Wall-to-wall bookshelves line the floor, giving way only to doors and a large desk in the rear of the shop. Here and there, the shadows cast by the lanterns seem so thick as to obfuscate all that they cover, blotting out parts of this place like so much spilled ink.
It seems like only a moment ago that Clover was whispering to Miranda. Now, the Lapi finds herself in a place seemingly far from the tunnels of the warren, but just as shadowy. Beside her is Bravil, one of the gypsies, disturbed from his own half-waking worries. As the two orient themselves, the dead silence of the room is broken by the sudden sound of a quill scratching against parchment.
Miranda blinks rapidly once. Twice. Thrice. The gray Lapi's long ears splay back as she rubs her eyes against the confusing change in scenery… nope, the book shelves are still there as Miranda thinks to herself, Now what exactly is going on here? Perhaps she is indeed asleep; that seems the safest bet at the moment.
Behind Miranda stands the hulking form of the Jupani gypsy, Bravil. He's wincing as if in pain and rubs idly at his forehead. "No mor' nightmares," he mutters, "no more … battles." And then it hits him; this isn't a battlefield and he starts looking around in curiosity. He seems to pay no attention to the Lapi in front of him.
Well apart from any battlefield, the shop is almost too quiet; even the flickering flames refuse to produce a snap or crackle. The only noise, save from the motions of the dreamers and the noise of their thoughts, is that sporadic scratch-scratch; the sound of someone writing in the far recesses of this place. And, although they do not speak, the titles of innumerable volume silently declare their names to those who would stalk the isles.
Miranda, for her part, doesn't seem to have noticed the wolf behind her either, listening for the sounds of the 'library' or perhaps bookstore, and hearing only the scratch of a quill. At least until she notes the murmur behind her, slowly turning around to find herself looking at … a shirt? Her head tilts back to look up, and up, at the large Jupani.
Bravil looks down. One of his hands comes up and then pats Miranda a bit roughly on the head. "Goo' bunny, where de master of dis place?" he asks asks as he looks for the source of the noise.
As the dreamers orient themselves, another lack becomes known. Just as the silence is unbroken, save by themselves and the unseen writer, so too do the shadows refuse to move.
A timid 'Eeek!', though sharp in the abnormal silence of the room, comes from the rather wide-eyed Lapi as her head suddenly receives several pats from a very large black-furred hand. She stares for a moment before being able to stutter a reply, "I… ahh… I don't know. I-I don't know anything about this place. Never been here before."
Bravil lifts his hand up quickly and stares at it as if he's never seen it before. His fingers curl closed as he lowers it and peers about the room again. "Dis place isn' righ'," he says and steps away from the Lapi. "Ve shoul' find a door."
From what they can see, the dreamers seem to be at the front of the shop. A brief glance around and more than a brief effort to look around Bravil reveals a door a few steps behind the large Jupani.
Miranda takes a moment to calm her agitation at the confusing scenery and none too welcoming shadows. "Ah-alright… " the Lapi replies, "I think theres one behind you… but I don't… " and suddenly pauses as she realizes she's no longer lisping. Well… this is a dream (she hopes) right? So why not. "… I don't know where it goes, I don't think it would be good to get lost here… " Miranda says with some worry
"Fear is largely an illusion, as I be tol'," Bravil notes and turns around to face the door. "We be already lost, so, hard to ge' loster, er," he adds as he reaches out to open the door.
Bravil opens the door and finds … nothing. Not the nothing of an empty street, or the boring, dust filled nothing of an empty closet, but absolutely nothing. The doorway may as well be a frame around a canvas of blackness.
"Oh dear… " Miranda looks like she is about to say something in reply when Bravil opens the door, but that is all that comes out as she looks past him, not coming any nearer the door or the solid dark beyond it.
"Ve need a candle," the wolf says. And then, Bravil … well, he just sticks his hand through the doorway and into the darkness.
The nothing beyond the door feels a like reaching through the air, and Bravil's hand never makes contact with anything. Unlike contact beyond the door, candles are easily found. There are several in lit lanterns and stands scattered around the bookstore.
The gray Lapi holds her breath as Bravil sticks his hand out, looking as though she half expects something to grab the wolf like in a nightmare… She backs away a bit and picks up a lit lantern, carrying it back over.
"So, shall ve step through?" the wolf asks the Lapi. "Or vou' vou rather stay an read de books?"
When put to the darkness in the doorway, the light doesn't produce any noticeable effect. The shadows refuse to recede, and no monstrous hand reaches out to grab Bravil or the lantern.
Then again, something else seems to notice the commotion. The scratch-scratch suddenly stops.
Miranda blinks and gestures to the wall of darkness, asking cautiously, "But, how do you know there's even any… ground out there?" Feeling a bit braver as Bravil's hand didn't seem to suffer any damage, the Lapi creeps up to the door way and reaches around Bravil to stick her own hand out the doorway to see if she can feel anything solid where ground, or even a step normally would be.
Bravil glances over his shoulder back at the room when the sounds stop. "Vell, goin' out or stayin' in?" he asks.
The sound of footsteps echo through the bookstore as the pair decide what to do. Miranda's keen Lapi hearing can determine they're coming from the same direction that the writing was coming from, and that they're steadily growing closer.
Miranda cants one ear to listen to the footsteps approaching, looking up at Bravil from where she is crouched by the door saying… "It doesn't feel like there is anything to walk on. I'd rather not end up falling an unknown distance in darkness." Besides… she was getting curious as to who else was there.
"As vou like, den," Bravil notes and closes the door when Miranda gets clear enough for him to do so. He then sniffs the air curiously as he finally hears the footprints approach.
The footsteps continue to draw ever closer as the dreamers decide what to do. Bravil's keen lupine nose detects the scent of another person, human by the smell, but little else. Only the scent of burning candles exists along side the human's scent; the obligatory twinge of dust, leather, wood, and parchment.
"Human," Bravil grunts and folds his arms across his chest. "Vhoever vou are, show vourself already. Dis place be makin' me feel claustrophobic."
Flicking her ears at the large wolf's statement, Miranda listens for any voice behind the oncoming footsteps.
After several more steps, the human emerges from behind a shelf of books. Dressed in Sylvanian merchant fashion, the man stands about 5'10", with tanned skin, black hair, and black eyes. He holds a book cradled in his hands, and he blinks when he catches sight of the two dreamers. "I thought I heard someone here. Did I find you? You look familiar," he remarks as he looks Bravil up, and up, and down. Shrugging, he turns to regard Miranda next, squinting at her. "A Lapi! Do you want a carrot cake? I can't find the recipe, you know. I can't find much of anything, anymore."
Bravil's brow furrows and he peers at the shorter human. "Vou found us, cuz vou came to us. I don' t'ink we've met before," he says slowly, then sniffs the human up close. He then pokes the human for good measure.
Miranda looks at the man with black eyes oddly for a moment before saying, "Err… carrot cake? No thank you sir… Um, you're not lost here too are you? I guess you were here before us since I could hear you writing… that was you writing, right?"
The human scrunches over a bit when poked, fumbling with his book as he tries to rub his chest. Unable to quite catch it, the book hits the floor with a thump, opening up to a page containing a combination of precise hand writing broken up, and in some cases written over, by what look like child's scribblings. "Ow," he complains. Upon sniffing him more, Bravil finds his scent vaguely familiar. As Bravil sniffs, the man looks about to say something else, then purses his lips and answers Miranda instead. "Yes, I was writing, as you can see there," he says, pointing to the book. Looking down, the man shakes his head a bit before continuing. "And, lost you say? Lost. Yes, I've lost a lot and this is my place! Mind the shadows."
Trying to be helpful as usual Miranda crouches down to pick up the book, taking a quick glance at it before handing it back to the man, gesturing to herself and the wolf saying, "Ah, I'm sorry then, we certainly didn't know where we were. This is your place?" she eyes the shadows suspiciously, "You have a lot of books."
Bravil nods. "Monsters like to hide in de shadows. Sometimes de shadows can consume vou," the wolf says and then shakes his head suddenly and rubs hide forehead as if in pain again. "Too many shadows."
"Yes, though they're not all my writing. I write books; that's what I do here. Books are memories incarnate, don't you think?" The man accepts the book with a smile, flipping through the pages with his brows narrowed in concentration. "Shadows can consume you? That's brilliant, you're quite right. There are too many shadows. And … ah … that reminds me … Ah! Here it is." The tan-skin man stops on a page full of scribbles, peering at it intently. After frowning a moment, he nods to the wolf and says, "You are Bravil."
"Memories can consume vou too," Bravil says, still wincing. After a moment, the pain seems to pass and he looks at the man. "Ves, dat be my name. How did vou know?"
Trying to make things at least a bit less confusing the thought finally strikes the gray Lapi to introduce herself as well. She looks between the wolf and the man for a moment before saying, "Since I haven't really met either of you, I'm Miranda. Nice to meet you Bravil." she adds as an after thought before looking to the other man.
"Memories can consume you? I fear I'm consumed with memories, lately. So many to sort through, and new ones, and old ones I can't find anymore except for the covers, and then … Ah, never mind. Anyway, we've met, in … " The man flips back a few pages, then smiles. "Ah, in Stonebarrow." The scribe turns to smile at Miranda as well. "Good to meet you miss, and you, sir. I'm Axel, Axel Cartwright."
"Sometimes it be better to just forget. De world forgets everyone in time," Bravil notes and then nods his head to Miranda. "Pleasure to meet vou too," he says, then jerks his head up and stares at the man. "Vou no be Axel. He be crazy bird thing."
" Axel? You're Axel? Kalvin mentioned you to me when he was out moving his flock… " Miranda exclaims at the human's introduction, before tilting her head and peering at the scribe curiously, "But I have to agree, you don't look very much like a bird, or a monster."
The candles flicker, and Axel frowns. "Crazy bird thing? Oh no, he can't come in here. He tries, but I won't let him. Not here. This is mine, you see? He tries to help, but he makes a mess, and it isn't his to help in." The frown persists as Axel looks to Miranda. "I'm not a monster, but I do know Kalvin. Poor boy, I've tried to watch him as best I can, but with all of these memories … " Axel shakes his head. "I just can't manage it, especially with him around. He wants to come in, but I can't let him. It would burn! All of it, and then I'd never be able to sort it out plus he scribbles on things!"
"Vho is 'he'?" Bravil asks.
"That's a good question. You can't ask him without him trying to come in. To know him is to be him and then who am I? I'm him. But I'm not him. I have all this," Axel says, gesturing to the bookstore as he finishes explaining. Just as he finishes his gesture, he suddenly looks startled. Eying the door, he sighs, "He's here again. Would you ask him what he wants? Tell him I'm not mad, it's just … " Letting his words trail off, the man hugs his book to his chest and eyes the door warily.
Miranda smiles and tries to say in a bit of a reassuring manner to the scribe, "Kalvin did seem fond of you when I talked to him. I'm assuming 'he' is the one who sets things on fire also from what Kalvin says… " she trails off as well, looking between the man and the door before going over and opening it a crack to peer out saying, "Hello?" and then immediately after, "Axel's not mad if you wanted to know."
At first, the door reveals the same scene or lack there of as before, but soon, something appears in the distance. Whatever it is, it speeds towards the door at an astounding pace. Trees appear, followed by a hill, smoke, and then …
The smell of burning coal, wood, and steel mix with the fragrant sweetness of mountain air, giving this town the smell of a perpetual forest fire. Built in to the side of a steep hill, Federstadt features a stepped design to its city planning. Rows and rows of tall, thin, wooden houses line the side of the hill, many with poles and other perches as part of their design. Like gray pillars holding up the sky, a number of smoke columns rise from chimnies embedded in the slope of the hill. Below them, workshops and smithies exist side by side with houses, roaring their work with the voice of machinery rarely found outside Chronotopia.
Just as suddenly as they found themselves in the bookstore, the dreamers find themselves here: Federstadt. They know it's Federstadt because a signpost, written in both Sylvanian and Bosch, says so right in front of them. Here and there Korvs go about their business, with a handful of other species, especially Rhians, working along with them. Far above the hillside town a figure looms, standing atop a wooden perch, casting a shadow across the dreamers and parts of the town under the noonday sun.
Turning in a slow circle, Miranda regards the new, and very sudden, change of scenery with an expression of curiosity and, of course, mild confusion, though she seems to be getting over it more quickly this time. The Lapi doe looks around for where Bravil is to make sure he's still there.
Bravil's ears twitch at the sounds and he steps away from Miranda. He stares at the city before them and for a moment, the wolf seems to recognize it somehow. And without warning Bravil grabs his head and drops to his knees in agony, his eyes clenching shut. And then, the huge wolf's form distorts and shimmers, rippling like the surface of a pond on a windy day.
As Bravil changes, the townspeople go on their merry way. Several walk right past Bravil, oblivious to his pain, and then, quite suddenly, a little Korv child flies through Miranda before diving into a doorway.
"Bravil, are you okay? What's wrong?" Miranda asks concernedly as the wolf grabs his head and drops down. Her eyes widen at the distortions of Bravil's body, and the Lapi lets out a small yelp of surprise as she looks down to see a Korv coming through her chest before diving off.
"I will be fine, Lady Miranda," comes a clean and aristocratic reply a moment after she looks down. The voice has a similar sound to Bravil, but none of the accent and mangled speech from earlier. "I am sorry for worrying you."
"Hot hot! Coming through," a Rhian townsperson in an apron yells as he dashes from one of the forges. Carried by thick mitts and tongs, the Rhian holds a cracked mold that drips red hot liquid. As he runs past the aristocratic-sounding Bravil, two specs of the blazing liquid fall upon the head of the shadow cast by the figure far above before the Rhian quickly dashes into another building.
Miranda quickly turns her attention back to Bravil at the smooth assurance in a different voice, looking up and saying, "Are you sure? You looked like you were really hurting… " Her voice trails faintly off…
The hulking form of Bravil has been replaced by a much smaller Jupani; this one probably just over six feet tall and with a long mane of black hair intermixed with gray from age falling over his shoulders. He's dressed in robes over armor, all of which has a style to it that looks both old and foreign to the Lapi. He stands up slowly and brushes off his knees, then looks over his shoulder at the Lapi. "Memories, Lady Miranda. Memories can be painful," he says. "We are at 'Feather-Spring', or at least that's what the sign says," he adds and turns his gaze to the building where the Rhian ran.
When Bravil eyes the building, the dreamers suddenly feel a rush of emotion: longing. Just as suddenly, all the people vanish.
The Lapi stares briefly with her ears flopped to the sides of her head and an expression that says simply, and a bit bluntly through its surprise, Wow… "Ah, you're different now, no wonder I'm not lisping… And you can just call me 'Miranda'. Having someone call me 'Lady' just feels odd… " Miranda says a moment later, before the fur on the back of her neck stands on end at the suddenly ensuing emotional rush.
"To refer to you in such an informal matter is not respectful," the Jupani says and pushes back the shoulder of his robe. He looks around curiously when the people vanish, then says, "I would guess we are on the border of Chronotopia and Sylvania. Closer to Chronotopia, as it seems to be the predominant language. Can you feel it? Something happened here. Something is wrong."
"Why would that be disrespectful? Miranda's what most people call me, except some of the ruder ones. If you really feel you need to, you could call me Miss. I don't think I've ever been called 'Lady' in my life," Miranda says, canting her ears back and forth before replying, "I'll take your word for where we are, and yes… this is definitely strange… "
"To use a first name directly implies a degree of intimacy. Such is not proper for the association between a man and a woman who barely know each other," the wolf says simply. He then looks towards the perch on the hill.
Miranda thinks on this for a moment, but just says, "Alright," and hopes the wolf will just accept her suggestion of 'Miss' since 'Lady' just seems too strange to her… The Lapi's head moves to look in the same direction as Bravil. "Do you see something?"
At first, the figure on the hill looks like a Korv. Upon closer inspection, however, the figure appears to be a Korv statue surrounded by flowers, coal, and other objects that look like offerings. Despite the distance, the inscription upon the base of the statue is clear: Hope Is Our Guardian.
"The statue," the Jupani says simply. He motions with a free hand and walks towards it. "My instincts tell me that … their guardian failed," he says absently.
Miranda follows after Bravil, her ears still swiveling about and listening to the empty town as she says, "I wonder what cause it to fail. It must have been awful."
When spoken, Bravil and Miranda know the words to be true: failed. Failure, loss, and destruction. Unbidden, these emotions wash over them like an ill wind. The revelation seems to distort the world. The town ripples, like Bravil had before, and then bright day is sullen sunset. The smell of forest fire remains, but greater, and the reason is immediately apparent. The town is in ruins, with everything except the figure on the hill destroyed. With Primus on the horizon, the figure on the hill casts its avian shadow across a wall, a trick of light and perspective making it look as if it were hunched over and staring at something. Down the road from its gaze, a band of armed men walk with blood on their weapons, laughing.
"What causes all things to fail, corruption. The twisting of the hearts into monsters, be it the chaos of Bosch itself or the slow tempting of greed, Lady Miranda," Bravil says and pushes his robes fully back and places his hand upon a sword at his side. And after a moment of internal debate, he then just pulls his robes back over his body. "There is nothing we can do. It is too late to cut away these festering sores masquerading as people."
Miranda's ears flick back at being once again called 'Lady', and the Lapi doe might have reacted further, but the barren ruins before them have struck her silent. Feeling the wave of failure emanating across the hill, failure that brings despair washing over her still, effected, she briefly starts to cry.