The First Piece
His eyes were stinging horribly, and he had a feeling that he was not going to be able to catch up on his sleep before he had to leave. In fact, Theolounious Scrivenger was entirely certain that even though it was in his best interest to lie down and simply sleep for a good eight hours, he would be leaving his shop and Neovia in less than four.
Theo sighed and reached up to rub his tired eyes. When he had sufficiently rubbed the rawness out of them, he looked back to the small inside of his shop again, taking in the shelf of broken Usuki dolls and plushies with stuffing falling out the sides. There were various customers he was going to have to tell to wait, he knew, and none of them would particularly enjoy the news.
"I cannot believe this," Theo muttered mutinously, positively throwing his head down against the counter to hide it behind his loosely crossed arms. "Why could we not have waited longer? You need sleep, I need sleep... does it not make sense to actually sleep?" He was addressing the Halloween Kougra standing at attention in the middle of the front room.
Dempsey Rowen sighed noisily. "No, I cannot believe you," he informed his friend. "You had a great historical figure arrive and tell you to locate something and you have done absolutely nothing about it. The Grimoire of Inkdeath... does it not sound entirely exciting?" Dempsey gave Theo no chance to respond before marching onward in speech. "It most definitely does, I think. I wonder, if we do find it, would we be able to perform spells from it?"
"Spells?" echoed Theo sleepily.
"Yes, yes," said Dempsey impatiently, waving one of his arms in the air. As if this reminded him, he abruptly reached for his sleeve to adjust one of the buttons on his cuff. "A Grimoire is a book of magic, Theolounious, not just some book that is meant to be read."
Theo slowly sat back up, cracking his back with a stretch as he did so. "Some book that is meant to be read?" Theo parroted. "You do realize that no matter what type of book it is, clearly if it is a book it is meant to be read?"
Dempsey ignored him. The Kougra had begun to pace in excitement, it appeared. "Inkdeath... I feel as though I have heard of that somewhere before... maybe someone at the tailor's was speaking of it..." Dempsey stopped speaking and flung himself into the threadbare armchair at the front of the room, by one of the windows. Theo distractedly looked out the window instead of at his friend; he watched for a moment, trying to see if it was raining still. It had been raining, it seemed, for days on end.
"Look," said Theo suddenly, "we can leave tomorrow to start our research. Just give me some time to rest, won't you?"
"It takes two days to reach Brightvale," said Dempsey. "That seems long enough to me; I think we ought to set out now, in order to reach there in time." Theo gave Dempsey a cross between an angry and a quizzical look. Before Theo could properly voice his thoughts, and before Dempsey could properly respond to the expression, the door to the shop swung open and Edgar Ivange entered.
"Good morning, chaps," said the shadow Shoyru smoothly. "Quite horrible weather, I should say." Edgar paused to look around at Dempsey and Theo. "Are we not about to leave for this grand adventure?"
Theo moaned and dropped his head back onto his arms. "Just let me sleep," he whined, his voice muffled by his sport coat sleeves. Dempsey and Edgar exchanged unreadable glances before Dempsey finally released a very loud and very unnecessary sigh. "Oh, all right," said Dempsey irritably. "I will be back at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning, you just mark my words, Mr. Scrivenger."
'Mr. Scrivenger' had no qualms with agreeing to this timing, because to Dempsey, waking at the crack of dawn meant waking around nine o'clock. Theo was used to climbing out of bed around eight, which meant that he was sure to have a good hour between waking and having to leave. He decided to leave all of his packing for that hour.
Unfortunately, when that hour came along, it felt much shorter than Theo had first expected. He rushed around locating various shirts and ties and coats and pants; when he had finally stuffed the last of what he thought he would need into his patched bag, there came a loud knocking on his shop door. Theo swallowed a yawn he could feel coming on and hurried to answer the door, his bag slung over his shoulder. "Rosemarie," said Theo, torn between pleased and confused. "What in Meridell are you doing here? You are not coming along as well?"
"Of course I am," said the shadow Kacheek brightly. "Come now, Theo," she said as he frowned in a disapproving fashion, "it will be exciting! I need an adventure! Besides, my father insists that I get out of the house, does he not?"
"I am fairly sure he does not mean trek to all the kingdoms with big libraries," Theo muttered, but Rosemarie had no ear to spare for listening. She walked into the shop, bringing with her a cold gust of wind, and seated herself in the armchair, adjusting her overcoat as she did so. Theo would have closed the door if the two others so intent upon accompanying him had not quite suddenly appeared in the doorway.
"Hello!" said Dempsey. "Are you ready?"
"Never readier," muttered Theo. He walked back over to the counter to double-check on everything, to make sure that he had definitely grabbed all that he needed, before picking up his keys and going to lock up. Rosemarie, Dempsey, and Edgar all gathered outside on the street in a bit of a huddle, buttoning up their coats and folding up their collars to block out the frigid winds.
Theo flicked off the lights inside his little shop and closed the door, locking it with precision. He turned around and took a deep breath of the icy air. "All right," he said, lifting his paws as if in surrender, "Edgar, I am sure you recall the way much better than I do." Edgar had moved into Neovia a mere year and a half past from Meridell; Theo had moved here five years ago. Suffice to say his memory of the way back to the castles was a bit foggy.
"I know it as well as I know the back of my paw," said Edgar, nodding in a perfunctory way. "Now come along, we must make a quick stop by the Crumpetmonger's before we leave the city. We need provisions, of course, for such a journey perilous."
A journey perilous it seemed indeed, rearing up ahead with no warning and no hints as to where the four ought to travel. The Neovians headed out into the Woods with their heads bowed against the winds, which had strengthened to the force of a miniature gale. Theo had never encountered such odd strength in the winds before, and the thought of it unsettled him – as if he had not already been unsettled enough.
They paused by the four-way breach in the road. There was one path that led most assuredly to the abode of Sophie the Swamp Witch; another led back to Neovia; another led out of the Haunted Woods; and the last led to the abandoned asylum and the old graveyard. Edgar did seem a little unsure as to what he was choosing when he picked the path to follow, and it turned out that he had incidentally chosen the one that led to the asylum and the cemetery.
Theo would have turned round at once and rushed out of there, but something seemed to be calling to him in the forceful winds. "We should leave," said Rosemarie, shifting about awkwardly, uncharacteristically unsure of herself. Theo held up one of his paws to silence her and sniffed the air lightly, trying to taste the various scents in the air and understand what they were.
The red Gelert stepped toward the wrought-iron gate that shielded the graveyard from the rest of the Woods. "What are you doing?" asked Dempsey, sounding alarmed. Theo did not respond; he was too busy trying to decide what he was sensing. He knew that there was something here that was not anywhere else. It was powerful and poisonous and yet – it was undeniably familiar.
Theo looked toward the large crumbling building of the asylum. "Do you feel that?" he asked his friends in a low voice, hoping they did. Rosemarie shook her head quickly. Dempsey followed suit. Edgar, though, looked as pensive as Theo did, and he nodded once, shortly. "What is it?" Theo asked Edgar. "Do you know?"
"Vibrant," was all Edgar said.
Theo would have pressed for details if he had not suddenly felt the pull to look in the direction of the asylum again. When he did, he caught sight of something that had most definitely not been there before: the shadowy figure of a Krawk in a hat, standing just inside the asylum's half-open doors. Theo made a split-second decision then, scaling the little wrought-iron gate and hurrying across the graveyard.
"What are you thinking?" shouted Dempsey, but his voice was carried off by the wind.
Theo slowed as he neared the asylum doors. Mr. Krawley was still standing there, smiling grimly in the dark lighting. "Hello, Mr. Scrivenger," said Mr. Krawley, tipping his hat at the Gelert. "I assume you come because you can sense it."
"What is it?" asked Theo, done with all formalities.
Mr. Krawley only laughed. "You shall soon know," he said with a knowing grin. The grin suddenly faded. "But because you cannot possibly figure it... I shall give you the first piece." Theo knew better than to ask what the first piece was for: he simply stood there and listened as Mr. Krawley recited the words of an ancient poem.
The curse of the grim
Regard with chances slim
Watch the trees moan
Hear the grass groan
Ask how it has come to pass
Understand one must be last
Smear the book of ink
Find the missing link
As Theo watched Mr. Krawley literally vanished into thin air, leaving behind nothing but a trace of that strange sensation. A sudden chill, colder than the wind, made Theo shiver. He turned round and jogged back through the cemetery, hopping nimbly over the fence, afterwards pausing the face his three friends.
"He told me part of some sort of prophecy," said Theo shortly, adjusting the strap of his bag on his shoulder.
"Who did?" asked Rosemarie. She looked immensely frightened. Theo could understand; if she had not been able to see Mr. Krawley, hidden in the shadows of the asylum doors, she would have only seen Theo racing off to speak with nothing.
"Mr. Krawley," said Theo.
"There was nobody there, Theo," said Dempsey slowly.
Edgar simply looked at the asylum for a long moment. "I saw him too," he said.
Theo nodded, relieved. If none of them had been able to see the Krawk, he might have worried that he was losing his mind. Now that he knew Edgar had seen, he was not quite as anxious. Edgar had always had his head on straight. Theo took a deep breath. "I will tell you all about what he told me," he said, "if we get away from this place as quickly as possible."
"Agreements all around," said Rosemarie, leading the way back along the path. Dempsey swiftly followed. Edgar and Theo walked behind the other two, falling back slightly. Edgar looked back at the cemetery and the asylum in a serious silence.
"Whatever that was," said Edgar finally, as they reached the four paths again, "that was evil."
Theo looked at Edgar. "That was Inkdeath."