It paid to be careful around certain parts of the Library, a place where explosions, smoke, and caustic gasses could be an everyday hazard. The part they called the Alchemist's Wing in particular always seemed to have a pall of coloured smoke about the place, accentuated by the acrid smell of acid or a pungent, organic odour somehow frightening by its vagueness. Sparks from electrical experiments threw their actinic glare even in the brightest sunlight while men and women in thick goggles and thicker gloves made detailed notes in inscrutable shorthand. Now and then, the very stone walkways thrummed with the vibration of something massive but ominously out of sight. The more nervous members of the Library's staff walked through the Wing in a sort of permanent flinch; ready at any moment to bolt to the safety of one of the Library's thick, iron-bound doors.
Cavalcade's messenger certainly fit that description. His short hair stuck straight off his skull with no assistance from the huge, brass-and-steel wheel that threw ten-foot sparks as he passed it. As the bolts snapped and buzzed, their searing blue light reflected from his pale skin like the snows of winter. He winced at every creak and hiss from a steam-powered contraption, all leather hoses and brass fittings. Sandalled feet twitched with anxious intensity away from a cart carrying a shining, jointed monstrosity, the bent and twisted pistons on a leg covered in symbols and engineer's marks. His watery blue eyes darted to the men that pushed the cart and he took a step back, as though he expected the machine, or the coloured bottles, or indeed, the bearded and goggled men around them, to suddenly attack.
Some time later, with sweat streaked down his face and a burst of soot caked onto one side of his head, the messenger stepped into a wide, open area, the sun warm and inviting. A stone walkway stretched to either side, a long grassy field hemmed in by three of the Library's huge stone walls lay ahead, small hills here and there dappled with sunshine. He took a step forward onto the walkway, tilted his head back and took a deep, grateful breath, much of the sharp smell of the Wing tugged away by a gentle, cool breeze. He took another step forward, dragged in another breath, and something beneath his feet made a merry jingle. Something smooth and hard and warm rolled over a toe, and then the air shattered as though Mikra himself had torn it apart.
The messenger's eyes slammed open as his head filled with a high, sharp ringing sound, all in a moment disoriented. His vision swam for a moment as he turned dull eyes to the source of the sound, not entirely sure why. A figure in dark colours stood a few feet away, a long stick held to her shoulder, like a player investigating their pool cue. The figure jerked their right hand down and forward with a clank that seemed to come from very far away, and a shining golden splinter flew out, straight toward the messenger. Still not in possession of all his wits, the man reached out one slow hand to catch the thing as it arced up, then down, as if it were meant to be. As if it were a message only for him, delivered from some blurry, half-perceived angel.
He caught the falling cylinder in outstretched fingers, and considered it for a fraction of a second before the sizzling pain fired his brain into action. He dropped it with a loud, almost girlish yelp of pain and waved his hand around in the air, his flailing movements almost like the jigs popular in Baffin Bay. After a few moments of this, the man stuck his burned fingers in his mouth and the yelp became a muffled, uncomfortable whimper as he squeezed his eyes shut. He kicked up more shell casings, the little brass cylinders rang and pinged as they fell on stone and turf. A handful pattered against Kay's legs as she lowered her rifle then turned to the new arrival, an expression equal parts confusion and amusement on her tanned face.
She reached up and pulled a pair of plugs out of her ears then shook her head, her short hair falling back into its usual place. The rifle clicked a couple of times as she picked it up and made her way over to the messenger, who looked as though the entire world had fallen down around his ears, hunched in on himself, sucking on his fingers and making a soft keening noise. His other hand lay clenched around his stomach, the sinews starting from his skin for no reason that Kay could see. She reached out and tapped him on the shoulder with a feather-soft touch, almost afraid the man would collapse into a gibbering heap at any further interruption.
"You…uh, you all right, there?" She said, trying to get a look at the man's face. With geologic slowness, he uncurled from his pained hunch and unfolded enough to pull his fingers out of his mouth. His face had become even more pale, drawn with nerves and shock, a bright red welt across his first three fingers slick with spit in the daylight. The keening noise stopped, and he swallowed like a man facing the gallows.
"Mm….Miss Cava….Cavalcade w-wants to see you in her o…office," the man burbled, "Sh…she says to pack for t…travelling." His voice came out raspy and uneven, warbling from pitch to pitch.
Kay raised one dark eyebrow, and the man flinched away, as though the prospect of more questions would be more than he could handle.
"P…please, I don't know anything else," he blubbered, "I just want to get back to my b-books!"
"All right then," Kay said, and patted the man on the shoulder again, "Just…run along then, I guess. Thank y-" She began, but the man had sprinted away with everything he had down one of the stone corridors to the left.
Kay sighed, hefted her rifle, and walked back towards the Alchemist's Wing.