CW: Allusions to war, bomb sites, bomb threats, bomb disposal and PTSD.
You get this one a day early because I am impatient.
Lânik and the Archives of Se Chatyn
“You were supposed to put those boxes away,” Pôr sighed.
Lânik didn’t look up. Putting the boxes away had meant poring over them to figure out what was in them and where they should go, whether to the tearing facility that could destroy magical scrolls safely, the archives that would keep the texts intact, or somewhere else entirely. It wasn’t Lânik’s fault that whoever had held this job in the past hadn’t labelled things properly.
“Are you even listening?”
Lânik waved a hand as if batting away a loudly buzzing fly. It would take time to sort these boxes properly and ensure that the magic within was dealt with appropriately. No one wanted the accumulated power to tip its balance into an explosion.
Not again, anyway.
“I’m busy,” Lânik said. The scroll on the table was one that needed a lot of concentration to decypher. Ancient Gharrylian runes were not Lânik’s strongest point and the magic in the scroll was close to disintegrating as it was. It was why no one wanted to use the damned runes anymore, but they were still found within texts written up to a decade ago.
“Well, be un-busy. Management wants a word. Yesterday.”
Lânik growled softly, making the runes on the parchment – and parchment, really? It didn’t make the damned scroll look more authentic – tremble with untapped potential.
“Hey, be careful with that!”
“Be. Quiet,” Lânik said through gritted teeth. “Unless management wants to pay for a hundred funerals including their own, they’ll just have to wait.”
Lânik willed the magic in the room to settle, to stop rattling the lids of boxes that weren’t in any way secure for the items they held. Taking a brush from the company-issues toolkit, Lânik sighed. A quick dip into ink and a few new warding sigils and the scroll would be secure for another few years. Long enough for someone else to decide what to do with it because management surely wouldn’t keep Lânik around long enough to do a proper job.
Pôr all but snatched the scroll from the table when Lânik was done and tucked it into a carrier tube. At least it would contain the spells until it opened again. The ink hadn’t had a chance to dry yet, even though it was Lânik’s own special issue. It’d be taken from the fee Se Chatyn and Family would deduct and it was costly to make, but not as costly as restoring Lânik’s reputation after the cheap bastards got themselves and the whole facility turned into a crater.
Management, Lânik thought, deserved it, but the workers and scribes producing dozens of scrolls a day, hoping for that elusive sale or custom order to propel them out of drudgery and into fame did not. Although proper training would undoubtedly help, not that any of them could afford it.
Lânik sighed. “That’ll disrupt anything management is doing the moment it’s opened.”
“Oh, good.” If sarcasm were liquid, Pôr would be drooling. As it wasn’t, it merely provided Lânik with an amusing mental image. “I don’t like this any more than you do.”
Lânik doubted that. As the eldest child of Se Chatyn, Pôr had been trained to take over the company and held a lot of sway with the board. Or, perhaps, seeing the worry lines on Pôr’s face, it was less influence than Lânik assumed. The gingerly way in which Pôr slung the carrier tube over a shoulder was new as well.
“Did something happen?” Lânik asked.
“It’s about to.”
“Pôr, you can’t blow up management at this facility.” Or anyone else. Lânik had known Pôr as a child. It was why this job had fallen Lânik’s way even more so than the perfect auditing reputation and the Red Star medal proclaiming Lânik’s bravery and expertise in avoiding a massacre caused by stored up energy. The only thing Lânik could do to stop that scroll from doing anything was making sure the tube stayed closed. And was sent to a tearing facility. With copious warnings of the volatile nature of the scroll and the reason for it.
“I don’t want to blow them up. You did once, though, when we were young.”
“That was before the war, Pôr. Be lucky your parents could buy you a way out.” There was bitterness there and Lânik didn’t try to hide it. Bitterness and pain that had never quite gone away, no matter how heroic the deed. It didn’t change that Lânik’s childhood had come to an abrupt end just because of a single test result. Lânik was the best. Had always dreamed of being the best until it meant watching mutilated corpses and trying to diffuse bomb sites before they detonated.
Lânik had been too late only once. For a given value of too late anyway and it haunted Lânik’s night and dreams. Likely, it always would. Lânik had made peace with it, in as much as peace could exist when it was artificially induced. Medically rather than magically. Lânik had seen what magic could do. It would never heal anything.
Pôr glanced along the corridor and seemed relieved to find it empty. It put Lânik’s teeth on edge. There didn’t seem to be a reason, but Lânik had long since learned to listen to gut feelings and this one said little good.
“I want them to have a reason to listen to you.”
“By threatening to blow everything up?” The question came out harsher than Lânik had intended, but that was already.
“Of course not!”
Then why in all the realms were they standing in a brightly lit spot in a corridor deep into the basement storage of a scroll factory where, sure, cameras wouldn’t detect you because they were, Lânik had discovered on the first day, irreparably broken with no budget for a replacement because clearly that was a sensible security plan? Lânik’s hiss must have somehow conveyed as much because Pôr relented a little, put a hand on Lânik’s arm where it damned well wasn’t supposed to be put.
Lânik shrugged it off, eyes narrowed and seconds away from screaming bloody murder and causing problems. A deep breath to steady the soul and calm the body. A deep breath to keep awareness of the surrounding world.
“We’re taking it to a demo site,” Pôr said. “I thought that much would’ve been obvious.”
Lânik growled, took a step back, watched the fear in Pôr’s eyes fade only slowly. With years of practice at restraint, Lânik said, “The first rule of Scroll Auditing, Pôr, is to never leave something up for interpretation. Spell everything out even if you don’t think you need to. You’d think a businessperson would know that.”
With that Lânik brushed past Pôr. “And if your company doesn’t start to take security seriously soon, I will unbind the contract and people will get hurt.”
“I know. I know.” Pôr jogged after Lânik, whose strides were much swifter. “That’s why the demonstration. Management wants you to be there.”
“What if I don’t want to be there?”
“Things will go horribly wrong?” It was a poor attempt at a joke and Pôr must have realised it five seconds later because the next words drifting to Lânik’s hearing from behind were “I don’t know. But they wouldn’t budge.”
Swearing wouldn’t do anyone any good. Least of all Lânik, so Lânik did the next best thing: curse in silence for a few minutes before stopping abruptly. Pôr only just managed to avoid a collision by skidding past the wall and stumbling into one of the supports keeping the building secure.
“Fine. But after this they’re either assigning the funds I need or the contract is dissolved.”
Empty threats. There were too many lives at stake. From the way Pôr started to grin that thought must have occurred to Pôr as well. Good. Maybe the person Pôr had been growing up still existed in that corporate shell somewhere. “Oh, that ought to do it.” Pôr paused. “It’s a pity they really want this sorted in a hurry.”
“No, it isn’t. Let’s go before I change my mind entirely.”
Whistling, Pôr took the lead again. Lânik almost expected a musical song and dance number with the satisfied sway to Pôr’s hips, but no. It was just out-of-tune whistling from there to the end of the hall. When they reached the lift up, Pôr opened it with a dramatic flourish. Eyes rolling, Lânik entered the small space. Just once would be bearable.
“Let’s go scare them witless,” Pôr said. Lânik couldn’t be bothered to explain why that much enthusiasm for blowing things up and scaring people was a terrifying thing to behold. Not at that moment.
“Let’s make sure no one dies through negligence. You should sue who was in charge of this.”
“Can’t. And it’s a mess which is why my parents brought you in.”
Lânik sighed. This was going to be a disaster, but sometimes only experience can teach wisdom. Lânik just wished it wasn’t so true when the experience dealt with things that went ‘boom’.