Raze cleaned the staff carefully in the Alchemy Hall and it was stunning. It appeared to be made from one single piece of magically polished crystal, but Raze knew of no such crystal or anything else like it. It looked fluid beneath its glossy surface, yet if turned to the light it looked solid. The swirling strings of patterns were actually some sort of minutely detailed script but Raze didn't recognise the language, or the symbols, beyond the fact that they were arcane and a ring of the script was static and in heavier lettering. Seven hours in the library and Raze was precisely where he was to start with. Nowhere. He couldn't find any references to the staff or the script in the most extensive library in the land. He couldn't even find anything close to it. The University clock chimed two in the morning and Raze's eyeballs were threatening to explode. He massaged his temples then picked up a stack of books to re-shelve them. A ghastly specter reared up before him, its gaunt, jaundiced features and hollow eyes bathed in the sickly yellow glow of a hand lantern.
"Drisep! For buggery's sake! I almost soiled myself." Herbert Drisep had been knocking around for millennia and had never looked any different. Herb just seemed to crop up in a wide variety of places, so much so that no one actually knew what his occupation was. The man seemed to be everywhere, the library included it seemed. "Why are you loitering about in there at this hour?"
"I'm on watch." Herb said challengingly. "You never know."
"You work for the Watch?" Raze began replacing books.
"Peoples' Action Project. PAP." Herb stated proudly.
"Er ... yes." Raze just shook his head.
"Ordinary folk stopping shenanigans before they start."
"Do you get much shenanigans in the Library?" Raze asked in surprise.
"Don't talk daft, of course we don't. Do you think I'd be here unpaid if we did? Heck no. Safe as houses in here. Not that the houses here are all that safe, believe you me. Plenty of shenanigans there."
"So would it not be more constructive to watch a shenanigan-prone area?" Raze asked in confusion.
"Well the Watch do that because they get the going rate. Us PAPs aren't stupid, you know. 'If you don't get the pay, stay out of the way'. That's our motto. Well it's my motto. The others weren't keen on it. They had a vote and picked 'If your life has a gap, fill it in with a PAP'. I ask you eh? Mine's much better." Herb sniffed.
"Well I'm done here so I'll let you continue your PAPping." Raze put the last heavy tome in it's place.
"Okie-dokie. Oh if anyone comes round with a survey, give me a good rating. 'The extra mile is the PAP with a smile!'" Herb bobbed his head on his skinny neck. Raze had never seen a smile on Herb Drisep's face in all the years he'd known him. "While since I saw that." He commented as Raze picked up the staff.
"What?" Raze almost dropped the staff in shock. "You've seen this staff before?"
"Nah." Herb made himself comfortable on a chair and rested his lamp on the desk. Raze gave him a bewildered look and headed for the door. "Just the writing."
"Is this a wind up?" Raze came striding back to the desk. "I'll bludgeon you with it if you're taking the piss."
"Here! Steady on!" Herb said defensively. "I don't get paid for this! Here I am doing my bit for the community free of charge and I get threatened with a bludgeoning! There's thanks for you."
"Drisep ... Mr. Drisep ... Herb ... Look, can you read this script or not? I won't batter you. I'm sorry." Raze tried not to shout.
"Maybe. Long shift is the night shift."
"Grr. OK! I'll pay you for your time and expertise." Raze snarled. "Going rate. Yes? Going rate and the best survey rating in Sunstroke. Oh and your motto is far better than the other one."
"Lemme see it." Herb rolled the staff around on the table. "My great granddad used to write like this all the time. Not all that spirally business. This heavy lettering round the end. My Dad reckoned he only did it to annoy the kids. Silly old coot."
"Yes, very silly. So? What does the bit round the end say?" Raze asked impatiently.
"Hmm, now that could be tricky. Old, old language you see. No one uses it anymore and no one speaks it. Extinct and that. It looks familiar though." Herb mused.
"Can you read the bugger!" Raze shouted. "Sorry! I'm sorry. Herb I really don't have time for your arsing about. If you can't read it, I'm going to bed. I suggest you do likewise."
"I'm not going to bed with you!" Herb exclaimed. "What do you take me for? What sort of proposition is that to make to a chap on PAP watch!"
"I'm going before I'm tempted to turn your intestines into bratwurst." Raze snatched the staff off the desk.
"Graveyard." Herb said stiffly.
"Where you're headed if you don't stop talking bilge! Last chance or no pay." Raze glared at Herb.
"You're a hard one Master Raze." Herb said woefully. "That old writing on the staff. Well there's plenty of it on the old gravestones."
"Of course!" Raze beamed at Herb. "Come on then!"
"Oh I don't know about that. It's out of hours, you know. It'll be all locked up now." Herb said seriously.
"Give me strength. I'll pay you for that too, as well as for all this in here. If you really don't want to go, give me the lamp. It's against the law to use magic in there."
"Lamp? My lamp? Certainly not! This lamp has been in my family for generations! My great, great uncle Selwyn made this lamp with his own hands! I keep the lamp. Follow me." Herb glided towards the door and Raze stifled a sob before following him.
Even the moonlight wouldn't shine on the old graveyard. It was gloomy, creepy and it made Raze shudder.
"Stay here with the lamp Herb. I'll scale the railings, you pass the lamp through and I'll go and look for another way in for you. Right then!" Raze tackled the rusty old railings and had no skin on his hands within seconds. To make matters worse, an evil thorn bush had grown up around the fence and he ended up with a sharp spike in every exposed inch of skin. At last, he was atop of the jagged rails, a leg on either side. "Almost there Herb. If I get a good push out I'll clear that bush. Bring the ... aaaagh!" Raze was plunged into darkness, lost his footing, crunched his unmentionables on the fence then toppled into the thorn bush. "Ohhhh ... just kill me now." He groaned. "Herb I'm going to extract all your bodily fluids and make you into face powder! You arse!" Raze rolled over and blinked a few times when he saw a swinging light ball headed towards him. "Herb? Is that you?"
"Need a hand?" Herb set down his lantern.
"Where in black buggery did you go?" Raze yelled. "Where's that bloody staff?" Herb handed out the staff and Raze grabbed it out of his hand. "I can't decide which end to ram up which orifice." He growled.
"Each to his own I suppose. Wait until you get home though. This is a respectful place." Herb began to amble away.
"So where did you wander off to and how did you get in?"
"Used the key." Herb said simply. "I tend the grounds two days a week on a pay by month basis."
"So why did you let me almost emasculate myself on that bloody fence?"
"You seemed to be doing so well with it. I didn't want to jump in and take over now, did I? I'm too old for all that caper. I used the front gate." Herb stopped and knelt next to a grave just as Raze was about to club him from behind. "Here we are!"
"Where? Who's in there?" Raze squatted next to Herb.
"Great granddad Nesta. Nest to his mates." Herb smiled fondly at the gravestone. "Dad told me he started running about dressed in Nelly Winterbottom's underwear and nothing else. Good old granddad Nesta."
"Er ... yes, quite." Raze didn't even want to visualise that one. "So is that his name and details? Memorial message?"
"Buggered if I know. It looks like a plate of worms to me." Herb shrugged. "Here's my Dad." Herb shuffled over to the next grave. "Angus Featherworthy Drisep. And it's written properly. All that old tat needs dug up in my opinion. How are you supposed to pay respects when you can't understand the names? It could be anybody!"
"Pay respects? Digging the poor old sod up and calling him tat is hardy respectful, Herb." Raze rolled his eyes. "So if we assume that the layout is the same, that should be his name along the top. That should say Nesta Drisep." He began studying the carving in great detail. "The overall length of the name is about right and the structure of it looks promising. There are a number of detached characters and some are repeated. See? the second and tenth are the same ...."
"Well what a turn up!" Herb whooped suddenly. "Your staff is related to me! Hey it might legally belong to me. I wonder how much I'd get for it."
"Get your paws off that." Raze took the staff. "What in the creek are you yattering on about?"
"The letters! The ones that stand out. They're the same as the ones on the stone. I'm off to find great great uncle Selwyn and great aunt Maude." Herb darted off eagerly to locate his ancestors.
"Herb! The lamp! Bugger." Raze was plunged into darkness once more. "It can't have said Drisep. Daft old loon. He's as barmy as his uncle Selwyn. Second and tenth, third and ninth. Nesta Drisep. Second and tenth are E in that case, third and ninth are S. Six characters on the staff. Oh get back here Herb you old fart, I can't see a damned thing." Suddenly the symbols on the staff began glowing softly. "Cack!" Raze stuffed the staff into his tunic. "You'll have us both in the jailhouse. Keep it dim." He shuffled round so his back was towards Herb's late family and peeped into his clothing. "Hmm. There's the E and there's the S. E blank S blank blank blank." Raze lifted his tunic slightly so the glow fell on the headstone. "E ... R ... S ... P ... I ... D. Erspid. What's an erspid?"
"Oi! What do you think you're playing at? You lout! How dare you pee on my great granddad." Herb was back.
"I wasn't!" Raze yanked down his tunic and winced when the staff dug into his sore groin.
"Oh? So what were you doing? Oh! Ew!! How sick are you? Get away from my relative and pull yourself together man. Freak. I've a good mind to report your perversions to the University!"
"Eh? No! No, Herb you have it wrong! For Torment's sake. I was trying to read it! Yes I was! I had to get up close to see it! Right, I get it. Double the going rate. I really don't like you."