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Blood and Bone and Heart of Stone

Chapter Text

The arrows take you to a stairway that leads up to the loft. The place spans the entire fifth floor, and it is full of ancient furniture and antiques.

Things shift a little, dust motes slowing in their descent, perhaps as the ghosts pass by. You can almost make out figures in the faint moonlight. . .but they remain vague and undefined, and when you try to focus your eyes, you lose sight of them completely.

Something is dragged out from the piles and dropped on the floor. You bend down to examine it.

A rectangular board, wooden, with moons and stars etched into the corners. Runes have been stamped out in an arc across its center, and groups of them are placed symmetrically at the sides. Another thing is dropped- a teardrop-shaped piece with an eyehole in the center. . .a planchette? Was this a spirit board?

Old things rustle like triumphant laughter as the planchette moves rapidly over the board. 

H-E-L-L-O, it goes.

You stare at the board, at its strange symbols. 

". . .I'm afraid I've yet to learn this land's writing system."

There's nothing, then the planchette hovering above the ground and is flung out a broken window. The board is lifted up and thrown at you. 

You catch it just in time to feel something- two somethings?- breeze past you, back downstairs. You're left alone in the attic.

You feel a tug on the board. 

Alright, maybe not so alone.

You let it go and it's placed back on the ground. An old nail floats over. After a moment of pause, it taps out N-A-I-L.

The first symbol it tapped is the same as the one beginning the word at the upper right. You think back to spirit boards. From what you know, those groupings at the corners must be YES and NO

"Nail?" you ask. "Is that what you're trying to say?"

It moves to what you assume is YES

"You're teaching me?"

YES.

". . .thank you," you say. You settle down on the ground. Reading is an essential skill, so you can spare some time to understand the basics.

"The spoken language seems similar enough here, so I suppose the alphabet is as good a place to start as any. Could you please show me what letter is aka?. . .no? Oh, the letters must be named differently. The 'ah' sound then, if you please. . ."

~ ~ ~

Crowley doesn't know if golems eat, but he knows that his knowledge of the matter is rudimentary at best and that it certainly doesn't include flesh golems. So, he stops by cafeteria to ask for some heated leftovers before heading on his merry way to Ramshackle with a thermos bag.

Discounting the matter of how the golem threatened him, they seemed rather polite. Even humble enough to apologize where others too proud to admit wrongdoing would have offered compensation alone. Hopefully, they haven't left the building-

"Hmm?"

Crowley looks to the ground where something has just landed after bouncing off of his tophat. He turns it over with his cane, then picks it up by the claws of his glove. . .what was a planchette doing here? There are no students walking around or flying overhead. The nearest building is Ram. . .shackle. . .

Crowley hurries to the dormitory. The door is wide open.

"Yuu?" 

Silence answers him.

"Yuu!" he calls. "Where are you?"

As he enters the foyer, he sees two spectral blobs hovering about the fireplace.

. . .he had forgotten about the ghost problem. Had the golem run out in fear? It seems unlikely, but he doesn't know them well enough to be certain.

"My dear ghosts!" he says. "Have you seen anyone around here recently?"

"We have actually," replies the larger of the two. "They're upstairs."

"In the attic," says the other near-skeletal ghost.

"I see," Crowley says. He's about to head up when he notices how the ghosts seem fixated on the hearth. Now that he looks at it. . .was the sofa always blocking the fireplace like that? 

"What is going on over there?"

The larger ghost laughs. "Your fellow caught something!

Crowley approaches the fireplace and the ghosts back off. He nudges the couch to let him better peer inside-

Something leaps at him through the gap. Crowley nearly screams in surprise as he drops the bag in favor of his whip to bind the something up. The ghosts break out in hysterics.

"Crap!" the thing squirms. "Argh, not again!"

Crowley's eyes narrow in recognition. "You! You're the monster that ran amok during the entrance ceremony! You were thrown out of the school, what are you doing here?!"

"Hey! Let me go, you birdbrain! I'm sick of you and your henchman capturing me!"

"Henchman? Yuu?"

"Hey, who said I was your croney?!"

Crowley tightens the whip when the monster tries to spit embers at him. "Not you you, I'm referring to Yuu!"

"Still not making sense!"

Crowley makes sure the monster's mouth is bound as he keeps it at arm's length like a bindle. 

He turns to the ghosts. "Yuu. Gold eyes, dark hair. They're upstairs?"

They nod, wiping tears from their eyes. Crowley trudges onward and upward. 

It's been a while since he's been in Ramshackle, but the footprints in the dust help guide him along. He almost steps on cups and bowls several times, which he'd be more upset by if he didn't realize that they were only there because of the leaks. And the lights are off everywhere! The dormitory is in a much greater state of disrepair than he thought. . .

By the time he reaches the attic, he's coated in a layer of dust and his hat now bears some fine decorations of genuine spider silk. Maybe a few spiders as well, but he's not going to think about that. He catches Yuu's voice through the door. 

"Your spelling system is ridiculous."

"Tell me about it-"

Crowley pushes the door open.

The scene he comes upon is strangely idyllic. There the golem sits, cross-legged on the ground. Across them is another ghost, much larger than the two downstairs, with a rusty nail in his hand. Moonlight streams through the window, illuminating the two figures and the spirit board between them as silvery specks of dust fill the air.

Yuu blinks, then springs up. "Good evening, Headmaster. I apologize- I didn't realize you were here-"

"What were you doing in the attic to begin with?"

"Teaching them to read," the ghost answers in their stead. 

"With a spirit board?"

The ghost shrugs. "They can't hear me. Or see me. Or the others!"

"What?"

"Headmaster," the golem interrupts. "May I ask why you've taken Grim from the fireplace?"

"Grim?"

"The fire monster."

Right. That. He blinks when he sees it. It seems his trek through Ramshackle has turned the beast into a dust bunny. Its blue eyes narrow and it writhes, managing to free its mouth.

"That's the Great Grim to you!" it snaps, spitting dust with the words. 

"Do you have plans for it?" Yuu asks.

"Who you callin' an it?!"

"Do you have plans for him?" Yuu corrects.

Crowley frees the self-proclaimed greatest magician in the world just long enough for it to realize its freedom before he binds it again, more securely this time. "You sound as though you have your own plans."

The golem's eyes settle on the monster and it actually stills. "I would like to keep him around, sir. He's gotten in twice. If you let him go, he'll just break in again. Of course, you could simply kill him-"

"Mhhm! Mhmmm!" the monster goes, shaking its head as much as it can.

Crowley stifles a chuckle. He didn't think Yuu had it in them to joke.

"Oh?" he says, amused as he plays along. "Kill him ? And however would we deal with the body?"

"You suggested stew earlier," they reply, making Crowley chuckle and the the creature squirm, "but I think it would be more prudent to do the usual procedure for such a creature."

"The usual, you say?"

"Yes. Slit his neck, drain his blood. He can breathe fire, so he must have a flame node. That is valuable, so best to lop the head off at the shoulders as to not accidentally rupture it. Cut him open from neck to tail. Remove the loose muscles, then the intestines. . . "

Crowley's amusement fades at they go on in far-too-graphic detail. The monster's already fainted, limp in its bindings. He lets out a nervous laugh. "My my, Yuu, what an imagination! But that's quite enough- it's not as though you truly plan to eat him-"

"I don't eat," they reply, frowning. "And as I've said, harvesting his organs would be of far better use."

"Better use?"

The golem looks at him as though he asked a question about basic arithmetic "He's a magical creature, so that means magic is diffused throughout his entire body. Every fiber of his being is more valuable as raw material than as mere meat."

The headmaster suddenly wishes that he had thrown the raccoon out before coming up here. "Yuu. . .the monster speaks. It's sapient."

"Which makes his brain all the more valuable, yes?"

Crowley stares.

The golem stares back, completely unperturbed by what it just said.

Crowley feels light-headed. He laughs again. It's painfully forced and uncomfortable. "You. . .you truly are from another world, aren't you?"

"Was that unclear?"

"Not at all!" he says cheerfully. "In any case, we don't. . .we don't do that here, Yuu. Sometimes monster parts are used for potions, yes, but they're always from mindless beasts, and always ethically sourced nowadays."

". . .I see," they say. "In any case, as I've said, I'd rather keep him alive."

"What for?" Crowley asks before instantly regretting what terrible torture methods they were likely to divulge next.

". . .he's fluffy."

Crowley is not prepared for the tonal whiplash that sentence brings. Or for the fact that they seem to smile for the first time since he's seen them. It's a small smile, but it's there nonetheless.

"He's. . .fluffy?" he echoes.

"Yes," they say. "He's also smart enough to speak. Sapient, as you said. Such intelligent creatures are rare in my world. It would be a waste to kill him. Besides, he may prove useful yet for all the vermin certainly running about."

"You want to make a mouser of him?"

"Not necessarily. I just think he'll make interesting company. And having Grim around Ramshackle is better than letting him repeatedly break in and wander with no supervision, yes?"

" . . yes?"

"You agree sir? Then, may I?"

Crowley doesn't know if he nods. He doesn't know what he's consenting to. Whatever the case, the golem's untangled the monster from the whip. They lift it- him? Grim?- they've taken Grim into their arms with much more care than he expects from the same being that had thrown him so easily earlier. They look at the monster softly, as if they hadn't casually talked about eviscerating it just moments ago. . .

Then they turn their eyes back to him, expression blank once more.

"May I ask why you came here, Headmaster?"

Crowley blinks. Shakes his head. Snaps out of it. He dramatically places a hand against his chest. "I so graciously brought you dinner, but as you don't eat, it seems it will all to go waste!"

"Not at all," they say. "I'll feed it to Grim. Shall we head downstairs, then?"