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Nym paced nervously across her small room at the Meiville Archive. She had expected Amos hours ago and he had yet to arrive. She thought that she had deciphered the engraving on the door and she was bursting to tell him about her findings.
Suddenly, it occurred to her that over the past few days his visits had been shorter and that he might have seemed distracted. She felt the breath leave her when she considered that he might have left Meiville- after all he hadn’t needed to stay. He had done so much more than she had ever asked, and she had never even thought to say thank you. The realization made her feel deeply saddened.
She had grown accustomed to his smile and the lazy way he would stroll into the Archive with a cup or a sweet and tell her about his day. She had come to appreciate the chance to talk with him about her research and to ask for his ideas and opinions. She often found that when she was perplexed he could see things from a completely new perspective that would illuminate the solution evading her.
In a daze she began stuffing her papers into her satchel. She needed to leave the Archive at once. She felt she couldn’t breathe. Her mind was spinning and everything felt confused and wrong.
Once on the street, the light of a sunny morning filled her and she realized that she had been in the Archive almost without pause for the last week working on the encryption. She hadn’t tasted the spring air-or returned any of Amos’ kindness. She had been singularly focused on the Elderwood Door-and now she worried that she had missed something more important.
She started walking and found herself outside of Ettie’s Tea Room, the bistro Amos often stopped at on the way to the Archive. He would bring her tea and cakes, finger sandwiches and hot cider, of which she was particularly fond. Standing outside of the Bistro she realized that she was looking for him.
To her surprise, there was a ‘closed‘ sign on the door. Strange for mid-week, mid-morning. She looked around and found the street -usually a bustle with people shopping or eating, deliveries, children playing- was almost eerily deserted. Scanning for signs of life she felt a a cold chill wash over. Down the boulevard two men were escorting a woman in a blue dress into her home, she was pale and wan, leaning into them lest she should fall. Nym hurried toward them to offer her hand in assistance.
“You might want to stay back, young lady,” one of the men said raising his hand to halt her, “it’s Failing Syndrome. We will help her to her room until the doctor arrives. He has been sent for – though with so many cases, she may have a wait.”
“What do you mean?” Nym was confused but the gentlemen had continued their assistance and left her alone on the street to wonder. Her mind was racing to every possible conclusion, and just as panic had almost completely embraced her, she felt an arm on her shoulder.
“Whatcha doin out here, Peach? I been lookin everywhere.”
“Amos!” Nym’s heart leapt and before she could apply reason, she had her arms around him.
Amos gave a confused laugh and returned the embrace. Sensing her distress he tried to calm her, “Hey there now, it’s okay. I’m here.”
He stroked her hair and was intoxicated by her at once, feeling her heart fluttering in her chest like a frightened bird. He felt the cool damp of her cheek pressed into his neck and became alarmed, “What on earth is wrong? Peach, why are you crying?”
Nym pulled away embarrassed by her own burst of emotion, and Amos quickly handed her his handkerchief.
“It’s just,” she sniffed, “You were late and I thought maybe you had left and then people were sick and I thought maybe you…” Her words were a blaze of thoughts and ideas and Amos struggled to keep up.
Realizing that she had been worried about him, Amos gave a chuckle and pulled her back into his arms, “Sweet Peach,” He consoled, “They ain’t invented a malady yet what could catch me.”
Feeling the warmth of her against him he was certain it was his own heart he felt pounding.
He held her face, gave her a smile and walked with her back to the Archive.
“I didn’t want to alarm you, ” Amos admitted, “though it seems now that I have done so by not telling you about the illness. I’m sorry for that, Peach. You’ve just been busy and what you’re doing is important.”
“What is this Failing Syndrome? I’ve never heard of it,” Nym looked around at the many books and wondered if she could find any pertinent information.
“You wont find it in your books, Peach,” Amos sounded frustrated. “I’ve been helping the doc these last few days- helpin’ people to their homes, listening to their accounts and learning what I can. People seem to be affected in waves, at specific intervals -and all report a feeling of heaviness in their body, arms, or legs…their normal abilities just fail…”
“The Pull!” Nym gasp.
“I think so, ” Amos admitted, “though I don’t think that they are aware of anything, other than a residual slowness, as of yet. I think it’s some kind of temporal sickness. The illusion around the Celestial Heliograph is starting to fail, and I suspect that it is as well. No one knows of this Pull, except you and I – thanks to your cog friend.”
“Amos, ” Nym was very pale, “do you think they will be okay?”
Amos shrugged, “The doctor is clueless to help, telling people to stay in bed and rest, drink water. Typical doctor stuff when they don’t know what else to do.” Amos saw the alarm in her eyes and added, “but they’ll be okay, Peach. Course they will. Worst case we’ll stand ’em in line and let them meet the cog. Though I think we should save that for a last resort. Reality will be harder than a little sickness, I think.”
“Agreed, ” Nym felt reassured, then realization flashed across her face.
“Amos, ” she asked, “have you brought the Crow?”
“She’s not far, Peach. Why?”
“It’s time to go back to Ghostraven’s Steampunk and Pirates. I know how to open the door.”