Stepney made her way to the top floor of The Den, her mother's living quarters. She went to open the main door and bounced off it. What was this? Her mother never locked her outer door if she was in there, which she was because Cripps had told her.
"Mother? are you in there?" Stepney tapped on the door. "Mother? It's Stepney." She heard the door being unlocked and Lady Julia opened the door. "Are you ailing? Cripps didn't say so." Stepney walked past her mother and almost dropped on the spot. Fenton was there cradling a tiny baby while a very beautiful fair haired woman sat at his side.
"I believe Fenton has already told you about our new family members." Lady Julia returned to her seat.
"Stepney this is Rioch and this is my daughter, Nicholl. Rioch, my sister St ..."
"High Priestess Stepney" Rioch said nervously. "Fenton's told me alot about you and Lady Julia."
"Er ... has he?" Stepney said stupidly. "That's ... small." She nodded toward baby Nicholl who already had a down of black hair.
"She, Stepney. The baby is a she, not a that." Lady Julia tutted, lifting the baby from Fenton's arms.
"Still small." Stepney sad stubbornly. "Fenton? What have I missed?"
"Me telling Hersh Rigman to naff off." Fenton exhaled loudly. "He threatened to hog tie them and parade them through Lawlim."
"He did what!" Stepney exploded, making the baby jump and start crying. "Ugh. I mean ... not ugh. Sorry. I didn't mean to break it. Her. So where's Rigman now? I'll hog tie him and lob him into our Nightpines."
"Gone into hiding. He started whipping the folk up into frenzy after that but people soon found out that he was growing more unstable by the day." Fenton told her. "Someone launched a chamber pot at him." Stepney snorted a laugh, then tried to hide it with a cough. "Rioch found that funny too." Fenton rolled his eyes. "All Torment broke loose and people started brawling. By the time Eamon got there, Hersh had cleared off. Eamon's bringing McLintock up to date as we speak. Hersh still has sympathisers out there and Rioch and Nicholl were at risk. I brought them here through the woodland and through the Shaded Orchard."
"Pity Rigman didn't follow you. You could have chucked him in the Nightpines. Have they all forgotten what triggered all this ... bollocks? Are they too busy attacking each other to remember where this all started? It started because Gobshite Rigman thought he knew better than Dinsen the Wise when I brought Rob here. Why did I bring Rob here? Because Lawlim is falling to bits and our children are dying! Our Barrier is crumbling! My Clerics are exhausted and there's no one to replace them. They're all out there squawking on about race and class and our only protection against an all out attack and our people, all of our people, being scattered to the wind is failing rapidly. String Rigman up by his unmentionables and arrest anyone who has a problem with it." Stepney almost collapsed into a chair.
"You'd make a superb Inquisitor, Stepney." Lady Julia walked over and set Nicholl in Stepney's arms. Stepney was too worn out to even notice. "Hersh Rigman can't hurt Fenton and his family now. He only had one trump card and he's played it. Because of his own erratic behaviour, he lost quite a bit of any support he had so his supposed big revelation about Fenton didn't have the desired effect. We need to build on that before another Hersh emerges. I've called a meeting with the five major Houses in Lawlim, the House of Rigman included. I'm aware of the situation with the Barrier, Stepney, but while our people are fighting internally, they can't act together to focus on something external. Remember, the Barrier is a magical thing and therefore the domain of the Clerics. The people out there aren't universally magical, and those who are aren't on a level with the Clerics. Basically, they understand racism better than they understand a magical Barrier. Stepney?" Stepney had fallen asleep cradling the baby. "Now that's a picture I'd love to keep." Lady Julia smiled.
"You jest?" Fenton gently retrieved his daughter. "She's like a hog with a garden hoe. Seriously, Rioch, your scarecrow is more maternal."
"Scarecrow!" Stepney yelled suddenly and set Nicholl off crying again. "Oops. She's as noisy as I am." Stepney recaptured the infant without even thinking about it. "Scarecrow! Rob's librarian. I called her a scarecrow because she was being ... inappropriate. Fenton that trashy Cleric was the librarian!" She was pacing the floor while rocking Nicholl, totally oblivious to the fact that she was doing so. "I never spoke to her but Rob did. He never mentioned her name."
"Trashy Cleric?" Lady Julia said in surprise. "What trashy Cleric? What librarian?"
"The trashy Cleric who desecrated my cuffs." Stepney nodded to a felt bag on the floor. "She removed a seemingly insignificant part of them so I wouldn't notice. It worked. I didn't notice. I caught her looking for the parts in the Temple and I found two chain links after she'd left. Mother, she'd have been able to travel between the two realms and she did. She followed Rob and became a trashy librarian."
"Such treachery." Lady Julia said in shock. "What did she intend to do?"
"I don't know." Stepney stopped pacing and chewed her lip. "Those cuffs were made for me. Dinsen's instructions were made for me. There's no way that ... riff-raff ... would know the details. She tested them out. Yes that has to be it. They're attuned to Rob but she wouldn't know that. She ended up in the library with him. She returned here for more information on the situation, then went back. I saw her in the park. I brought Rob here immediately after."
"So she'd then know that two people could be transported." Rioch spoke up and Fenton looked at her as though he'd never seen her before.
"Just Rob, but yes." Stepney agreed.
"So she could have taken him back? Er ... could she?" Rioch went crimson as Fenton and Lady Julia both looked at her in surprise.
"The body on the rocks?" Fenton reminded them.
"You are such a killjoy!" Stepney heaved. "Don't you mean the clothes on the rocks? The clothes were the only thing identifiable."
"Sailors wash up there on occasions and it's never pretty. Yes. sorry, I'm being gruesome." Rioch glanced at Stepney.
"Just a tad." Fenton chided. "A sailor would imply a boat, or ship, Rioch. Even vessels pummeled by the barrier aren't completely obliterated. No wreckage was found."
"Yes well I lived down there so I know sailors go in boats, thank you Fenton." Rioch said hotly.
"That's you told." Stepney grinned. "I like her, Fenton. Nice choice. Go on, Rioch."
"That part of Whitesands, just below The Den, is a cove and the tides come in from three sides. Depending which current catches flotsam, it could wash up as far north as the Rowan Cliffs." Rioch explained.
"Can it?" Stepney asked in surprise. "How did you not know that, Fenton?"
"When does a Lawlim need to know tides? There's nowhere to go!" Fenton said defensively. "I'll get men to search the north shores. I hope you're right, Rioch."
"How big is this trashy Cleric Librarian?" Lady Julia asked, rather abstractly.
"Huh? Why? Are you going to work her over, mother?" Stepney said in confusion.
"Don't be foolish, Stepney. I'm too old. I mean, is she physically big and strong enough to manhandle a ... corpse ... to redress it? I can assure there was only one outfit like that and Rob had it on."
"Could she have ... persuaded ... him to undress? Rob I mean, not the corpse." Rioch clarified.
"Certainly not." Stepney sniffed. "She isn't all that. That would mean manhandling two men." She sighed. "No. She's not much bigger than I am. Bugger."
"So she had help." Rioch shrugged.
"She did indeed." Stepney said darkly. "Fenton you must find Rigman. He's the only one with that sort of sick stomach. I'm going to find my bloke."
"Stepney? Can I have my daughter back?" Fenton asked before Stepney started struggling to pick up her bag.
"Er ... yes. She quiet now. Don't you dare wake her Fenton."
Rob's brain was in turmoil. He was soaking in the bath and desperately trying to pit reason against irrationality. He was in here to get better. Better at what? Was creating another world in his head so bad? The Dungeons and Dragons nerds at school did it all the time, Jonty among them and he'd turned out OK. There again, Jonty didn't claim to have visited that world and met the people there. "For god's sake Rob just let it go man!" He screwed his eyes shut and prayed for a way out of this.
"Mr Styles? This is Dr. Penn from the hospital" Dr. Penn spoke on the phone.
"Oh! Is anything wrong? Rob didn't seen too bad this afternoon." Jonty answered.
"Ah so that was you this afternoon. I wasn't sure. Rob has you down as his next of kin." Dr. Penn said and Jonty almost dropped the phone. "One of our nurses saw those papers you brought in for him when she went in to turn on the nightlights."
"The notes for his book, you mean? What about them?"
"He seems to have hidden his illness, and the nature of it, even from you but that's very common. It maybe isn't a good idea to bring in any more notes, Mr. Styles. Rob genuinely believes that his book is real. He believes the places and characters in it exist. We're just starting to make headway with all this and fuel for his illness could be a huge set back." Dr. Penn said and Jonty was shocked to his bones. "Mr. Styles? Are you still there?"
"Yes. Yes I'm still here. I had no idea. I can't believe this. Are you sure? Rob isn't the best communicator, at least not verbally." Jonty looked at the as yet empty frame meant for Stepney's wristcuffs picture. "He ... he told me he had depression."
"He does, caused by quite a few other conditions."
"Poor Rob. I honestly didn't know he was so ill otherwise I'd never have brought those notes. Have I caused him any harm?" Jonty felt like crying. How lonely must Rob have been?
"Nothing we can't sort out quickly. Those type of notes, and any encouragement given in support of them would only reinforce his delusions. I'm pleased you understand, Mr. Styles. We'll have him back in the real world in no time."
"Mr. Styles?" Rob was standing at the open office door. "You were talking to Jonty?"
"Just about your treatment. He's very worried about you, Rob." Dr. Penn said. "Now what can I do for you?"
"I told you, I don't want that blasted sleeping pill so why shove it in my medicine cup? Actually, I want to go home. I don't need to be here."
"You aren't well enough, Rob."
"I'm not likely to be either if you go telling everybugger I'm off my stack!" Rob snapped. "I heard you! Did it ever occur to you that I might not want Jonty to know all this? Did it? How helpful is he going to be for me if he treats me like an invalid and yes he will, don't you dare tell me different. He's the most sympathetic bloke I know and you've just sat there and played on that. It's your job to help me sort my crap out, not his. I'll throw that sleeper in the bin and take the rest." He barged out of the room.
"How does a person become absorbed like that?" Kate was looking at Rob's sketches. "So he actually thinks he's been here? Met the High Priestess? Seen a magical Barrier?"
"History if full of artists, writers, musicians who've done exactly the same, Kate. The good thing is, it's fairly easy to sort out these days. I could cry for him, I really could. He'd kick my head of for it, mind you. He was raised by his grandmother and he adored her. I don't know what happened with his parents but they weren't there. They lived on the roughest council estate in the area and managed on the old girl's benefits. Once his grandmother died he had no one, Kate. We have each other and our families but can you imagine having no one at all? He was shunted off to some scummy bedsit somewhere with no way out. No wonder he made his own way out by doing this." Rob picked up the picture of Stepney. "Yes you, Stepney Lions. He loves you even though you're only two dimensional."