The room was long and narrow. It was illuminated by a row of windows on an angled wall along one side. The low winter light that came through these windows was filtered through dust and dirt and so cast a pale yellow hue to the room. If one had looked through the windows, one would have seen rooftops, were the windows cleaner.
At one end of the room was a complex apparatus which looked like a large copper milk urn with a glass window in the middle. It was balanced on a small heating device and a web of pipes and glass emanated from it. The whole thing was in a small cabinet. The inner side of the cabinet’s front doors were painted with what looked like icons, although the saints were not familiar.
Further down, sitting at a long workbench on the wall opposite the windows, was an old man with a long grey beard. His clothes were brown and tattered, worn for many years. Patches covered so many holes that it seemed that hardly any original material existed. The workbench was piled with worn leather bound books, pieces of apparatus in glass or brass and stacks and stacks of handwritten notes. The notes had words, drawings and many strange symbols.
The old man opened a drawer on the desk and took some white and black powder from two little compartments. Then he took a pestle and mortar and ground the powders together. A bottle of liquid was taken from a long shelf above the desk and added to the ground up mixture. He selected a small glass container in a tripod and added in the muddy concoction. The man lit a small candle and placed it under the container then watched as smoke began to fill the flask, all the time stroking his grey beard.
“Hm,” said the man.
“What’s wrong?” said a woman’s voice from the other room, with a lilting Scottish brogue.
“Hmm?” said the man.
“Father,” continued the other voice, “you have nineteen different ways of saying ‘hm’. The one you have just used is the one that means ‘I’m trying to ignore you’ and the one before that means ‘something is terribly wrong’.”
The man chuckled.
“You know me too well daughter. I am carrying out a little divination using the powders,” he said, also with a Scottish accent.
“And,” said the other.
“And, I see something very poor, some terrible darkness, some danger on our horizon,” said the old man. “An unspeakable evil is knocking at the door of our world, wanting to come in. And worse still, it has friends here that are only to keen to open that door. But Morag, we know how this goes at this stage, we’re very close again and it always makes these … effects occur. This is normal right now.”
“So,” said Morag, “you’re not in any way perturbed by it?”
“Aye, well,” said the old man, “I dinnae say that.”
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