From the journal of Alaric Clay:
It all started innocently enough – the annual Festival of Forgiveness. I was worried for Mrs Ellis the librarian, since she had mentioned recently that the letters in the books seem to fade more each day. I spoke with Reisus the apothecary who said she'd been to see him, and suggested I might make some seeing glasses for her. After some asking around, Hüvje offered to lend me her spyglass, and Henri suggested I speak to the gnome who had come to town. I also heard some disturbing information from Ruby about the goblin Chrissie Todd and the missing Farmer Bailey, but I didn't manage to do anything about either of those things before the ceremony began.
I asked for forgiveness for my insistent questioning of some of the old ways, which I suppose is a bit odd given I still honour the Old Faith. Still, I meant it, and didn't expect anything too shocking to come out. But Havelock killed the Widow Markham! Or at least, what was left of her. And Stenk turned out not to be an Orc, but a Changeling! His true form was difficult to comprehend. Worst of all, the clockwork that had been brought to me, little Bzzzantine, whom I repaired and reactivated – it admitted to accidentally killing a dog and its owner! What have I done?
But worse was to come. All of us had difficulty drawing breath as our own shadows rose up and strangled us! I had never seen the like, and the horror momentarily overwhelmed me, but somehow I regained my wits and managed to light one of my torches, burning the shadowy creature and causing it to slink back from whence it came. I tried to help a few others, but we were all trapped inside the Town Hall until Ruby found and smashed a tankard hidden in a corner. More were found, and it became clear they were part of some foul magic. One of them contained a blank page of vellum, which reminded me of poor Mrs Ellis, who hadn't made it to the ceremony. I rushed to the library, finding myself joined by Henri, Bzzzantine and the teamster Waylon.
There we found Mrs Ellis seemingly well, but addled; she spoke of characters from stories as if they were real, including Sir Jonas of the Redblade novels, the Dragon Rider Lucas, and the dwarf Hagar, as well as several children's tales. I tried to calm her while the others searched for books of magic upstairs, but as I helped finish the story, a book flew from a shelf and began circling my head, flapping its pages like a bat! The others returned, having found the books all blank, and as we tried to calm the librarian by helping complete her memories of other stories, more of the books circled us – and then attacked! We tried to defend ourselves, but the books were vicious – and one of them battered Bzzantine so badly the little thing became inert. The books tried to soak up his spilled fluids, as though trying to drink – they wanted something to replace the lost ink!
I dodged around the bookshelves, and so missed some of what happened next, but Mrs Ellis' pen started to leak ink – more and more until it flowed from her pocket and formed itself into the shape of an enormous spider. We fought it, but it was strong; much to my horror, Waylon decided Mrs Ellis was the cause of the trouble, and attacked her! This didn't do much to quell the beast until he or Henri (I was busy fending off a tome) destroyed her pen, causing the creature to explode in a burst of ink, covering us all. I threw one of the books into the ink, which calmed it, but soon after the other books all flung themselves from their shelves, soaking up the spilled ink and restoring their words.
Well…all save one. I stayed with Mrs Ellis, but I heard Henri's mutterings as he peered inside the one book left on the shelf, something he described only briefly as a foul ritual which had tried to corrupt his mind and soul. We went back to the Town Hall, and I carried Mrs Ellis with me, hoping to find the apothecary to get her some aid. Reisus had no sooner left us, and I had laid her down gently in the corner near the door, than horror erupted once more – an enormous dark creature rose from the shadow of Havelock the gravedigger and threatened us all, trapping Mrs Ellis and I in the corner! I did my best to protect her, lighting a torch in the hope that flame would ward off the creature, though I was filled with dread. When the clockwork struck it a mighty blow, I was shocked back into action, and tried to help while staying near the stricken librarian, though my dagger went wide.
I'll never forget the bravery of Stenk, the orc I barely knew and had only discovered wasn't even an orc only that evening. He stepped forward and faced the beast, and it tore him apart, his natural form of twigs and stones collapsing before me. I still see that moment sometimes, when I close my eyes.
Somehow, we prevailed, and the creature was destroyed, the killing blow struck by the weaver Blys, who I now know uses those iron offcuts I sell her to make clothing to ward off the fae. She is a hero, as are all those who fought that beast. As for me…well, I don't know. Was it brave to stay in the corner with the librarian? Or was it an excuse for cowardice? If I had stepped forward, would Stenk still be alive? Would I be dead? I ask myself these questions often, though I know it is pointless.
But we are far from safe – those who stayed with us in the Hall that night heard the pronouncement of a curse upon us all. Perhaps what they say about the Demon Lord is true. But "perhaps" isn't going to help us. I have embarked on a new course of study, into magic. I will study the ways of magicians old and new, to determine the truth of our afflictions and protect us from them. I have discovered ways to blend magic with the engineering I already know. And since I fear it is something we are short of, I will also study the magic of Time – before it runs out on us all…