Rootbagger was late, and since the Abatement was coming I sure as hell didn’t need him being late. I had to wait though, because I needed the ingredients to be able to forge the catalyst, the thing that would cause the ingress to manifest and allow us to escape.
Still, there was little I could do, so I whiled away what little time we had left polishing the various components of the assembly, tweaking a piece there, tightening this and carefully adjusting that. My mind was racing, trying to picture in my head where Rootbagger was, why he wasn’t here yet, and just when he might arrive. Imagining what would happen if he hadn’t gotten the stuff I needed, how we might obtain transport fast enough to leave…no, that was unthinkable. The Abatement was too close now, we had already seen it through our telescope.
Finally, I gave up tinkering. Dammit all to hell! There was nothing left to adjust, nothing left to do until that old beggar turned up. It was all perfect, all just sat there, ready, waiting – useless! I should have just gone out to get the items myself; now I’d have to spend time searching around for them and there was a good chance I’d be going wagon to wagon rather than shop to shop, even if there were enough people still left in the city…cursing under my breath, I marched over to the coat stand and hauled my cloak about my shoulders, then into my bedroom to unlock my chest and take out a few gold coins (well, they looked enough like gold coins, they’d do).
Just as I had reached the front door it burst open and knocked against the wall, the wind rushing into the workshop and a wet, bedraggled, hooded figure standing in the doorway framed by the rain and lightning behind him. An arm in a baggy sleeve, dripping with water, held up a bulging sack.
“Rootbagger you old reprobate! Am I glad to see you! Quick, get in! I’ll get the door. Sit down by the kiln man, I’ll get your cloak. How did it go? Did you get the stuff I needed?”
The portly old man gingerly set himself down in a wooden chair, sniffed back some water and mucus, cleaned his face on his sleeve and held up his hands to the warm glow of the fire.
“Yes I got the things you wanted, though let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. Sulphur, saltpetre, those are common enough. Mithril? Sun crystal? Hard enough to get at the best of times, but now…” he shook his head, looked up at me, worried. “We still have enough time to do this?”
I had taken the goods over to the workbench and been rummaging around in the sack while he was talking. I took out a bushel of dragon-grass stalks and held them up to the light, making sure none of the buds were cracked. “Yeah, we’ve got time, but tonight’s the night. The celestial bodies are aligned, the assembly’s been calibrated, and the Abatement’s due to be here sometime tomorrow, so this is it!”
Rootbagger shuffled in his chair, then looked at me, jaw set. “So what do you need me to do?”
A few hours later, we’d drawn the circle, blasted mercury, gold and lead in a hermetic vase and poured the resulting mixture into the channels of the assembly; these would link the various components of the artifice to the catalyst. We’d forged the dragon-grass buds and mithril together into a matrix and carefully placed it at the centre of the framework. Since we couldn’t realistically rely upon the chance of lightening hitting the device to get it going, we were going to use a tank of electric eels; their electricity would be transmitted via a metal cable attached to a conducting rod placed into the centre of the device.
We stood back and admired our handiwork. Hell, even if it didn’t do what we wanted it to, even if it was all for naught, it was a work of art. Shame nobody would be around to see it.
I looked at Rootbagger and raised an eyebrow. “You ready?”
I walked over to the eel tank, and sprinkled in some invigorating salts. The eels writhed in their tank and became agitated; a loud hum could be heard in the air and the hair on the back of my neck began to rise. Rootbagger stared at the assembly, transfixed.
“We need more energy!” he cried.
I added more salts to the tank, knocked on the sides to excite the creatures further. The hum grew louder; the matrix began to glow…
“It’s working…it’s working!” the old man shouted as the air filled with energy.
Suddenly a small blue-white light of stunning intensity appeared at the heart of the device, and expanded until it became an aura – it was functioning exactly as planned! The light from the aura hit the sun crystals at the end of the workbench where it was projected and coalesced into the form of an equilateral triangle within a circle. Slowly, as my eyes adjusted to the bright light, I could see figures moving in the mists beyond the aperture. Our time had arrived!
Rootbagger and I both gathered our cloaks about us and picked up our bags, which we had earlier prepared and set beside the workbench in readiness. We would have to leave the assembly behind of course, but we had some of the essential ingredients with us to make another one if needed. With a glance at each other and a nod, I ran through the portal into another world, the old man following immediately afterward.