The time just before night begins to turn into morning. The old boat chuffs its way up the broad steady mass of the Tithe, slowly but surely. An exhausted Frund has retired below, leaving one of his passengers to watch the helm– Takir. He sits pensively, contemplating the yellow-orange world revealed by the boat’s sodium watchlamps.
A dark shape rises from the stairs leading below, each step accompanied by a dull thump, familiar yet seemingly heavier than ever before. With peculiar timing, the blue lights along the staff seem to dim in deference to the rising sun, its first rays crawling along the horizon and illuminating the Aeon Priest’s weary features.
“Yes. Something large flew over a bit ago, but for once it seemed uninsterested in complicating our lives.”
“An unusual blessing in our strange lives. We must regard it with appropriate suspicion.” The slightly wry timbre in his tone betrays the officious solemnity of his voice.
His left hand loosely rolls a stone between its fingers. A keepsake from Effie’s cairn.
Takir nods, though he keeps his gaze forward, out the bridge windows. “As Brother Samr used to say ‘Always count your blessings– you never know when there will be an audit.'”
Hasver laughs mightily at that, with an abandon of decorum that is unsettling in its rarity. “Clever words. Sounds like a Brother after my own heart.” He puts the staff forward between them, leaning on it heavily. After the last trails of mirth leave his face, there seems to be something akin to regret, as if he is considering abandoning whatever brought him up to the deck. “It’s… good… that we’ve a chance to talk. Alone.” He looks towards the sunrise.
Takir steals a long, evaluating glance at Hasver’s face, but does not otherwise betray a reaction to this opening gambit. Aloud, he replies only- “Oh?”
Hasver keeps his eyes to the horizon. “How’s the… back?” he asks, setting the previous question aside for the moment. “If I’m not being overly intrusive.”
“Growing. Making connections. But it’s… Odd. I would actually feel, naively, fantastic.”
Hasver’s right hand tightening on the head of the dark staff is the only answer to that at first. He eventually nods.
“Has it made any… bids for control? That you recognize?”
He puts away the rock under a fold of his cloak.
“Just once. The day we ‘met.'” He runs a finger seemingly-absently over the lines of the lily tattooed on his right hand. “It was quite… Convincing, in its inchoate way. I’ve been practicing to avoid a recurrence, hopefully without overt resistance.”
“Convincing how?” Hasver says, finally turning around to face Takir once more. His face is lined with a mixture of concern and restrained fascination.
“I felt its instinct as my own emotion. As if I were a fragile thing surrounded by enemies. Ready to lash out at a sign of threat.”
Hasver strokes his chin thoughtfully. As if in mocking pantomime, the staff glows a pensive blue. He doesn’t seem to notice.
He moves forward until he’s close to Takir now, his frame blocking much of the sunlight. “There’s something I need to ask you about,” he says.
“It’s about something Jack told me… when he first arrived.”
“He found your book. You know which book I’m talking about?”
Takir cocks an eyebrow at this. “I do not, actually.”
Hasver narrows his eyes. The staff moves closer. “The book of names. Every one who has ever gone missing. Every one the Nagaina has taken.”
“That sounds like a truly extraordinary book.” His gaze drops briefly to the point of the staff, then rises again to meet Hasver’s steadily. “I’d be interested to learn more about it.”
“It’s in your handwriting. I’m interested in your best explanation.” The last sentence is skeptical, but not sarcastic.
“In my what now? Hmmmph.” He strokes his chin.
“Well. I habitually carry a book in my handwriting– two until I gifted my Liber Veritas– so I suppose the most trivial answer is forgery. Or I suppose I might learn the names in the future, and give such a thing to Sabazia.”
Hasver leans on his staff. “Will you allow me to verify your honesty?”
Takir nods slowly. His response is rich with tones of ceremony: “I Speak the Truth, and Shall Not Conceal It.”
Hasver holds the staff forward. The blue light begins to pulse feverishly, as if in anticipation. “Takir, have you now or ever, since the day I first met you, knowingly deceived or hidden the Truth from us, your companions?” A sharp buzzing sound erupts as the light bursts forward, but seemingly in reverse somehow, as if the light were not illuminating, so much as drawing out.
“I have not.”
The light dims and fades away with an almost abject disappointment.
Hasver nods. “Then perhaps it’s Jack who we need words with.” He pauses. “I hope you will not take this questioning as a personal affront to you. Though I have not learned much here, I would be lying if I said I hoped otherwise.”
“I’m glad you share my confusion.”
Takir gives a wry half-grin. “I’m glad you are the sort to actually, at some point, ask. I can only imagine the stage drama some Aeon Priests I’ve known could have made of this question, skulking around to inquisit after it.”
“Tell me, did you personally see this book?”
“Well, directness has never been cited as one of my virtues,” Hasver says with a small smile. “Though it does help to have… a tool to cut through the brush.” The staff glows softly.
“I should go back below. But we’ll talk more of this soon. It’s a mystery, the solution of which may further enlighten us as to what we’re dealing with… and how to deal with it.”
“Have a good morning, then.” Takir returns his gaze to the river ahead, retreating back into his own hidden thoughts.