I. The Observer
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There was a small line between genius and insanity. Cornell had definitely snorted that line.

Those were Anubis' thoughts when he fell out of the Way, landing on his muzzle with gritted fangs. The sprawling grass did nothing to cushion his fall, and the anthropomorphic jackal made sure his groaning could be heard clearly as he struggled back to his paws. To his chagrin, the blond, tall human - his companion - gracefully stepped up out of the Way, apparently without much effort and wearing an everlasting impassivity on his narrow bird-of-prey face. Solely the fact that he swept the long strains of hair back over his shoulder seemed to be a concession to their bumpy journey.

"Next time I will open the way!" Anubis snarled and plucked a small, worn book out of the human's hands.

"Then we shall not arrive next time," Cornell retorted serenely, but not without some definite irony in his frowning. He then glanced past Anubis into the distance and the canine followed his gaze, instantly recognizing what his colleague was focusing on. He would have thoroughly enjoyed a good quarrel, but at the sight of the dark, twisted shapes forming the château a few hundred meters up ahead, he reconsidered.

Had the building been constructed without a sense of order, it probably wouldn't have looked much different. Roofs stuck into each other at square angles or pushed out from within some floors as if additional parts had been forced upon existing, straining, storeys. Towers jutted from the gables like lighthouses and friezes and half-timbering strove to wrap the conglomeration in simple elegance.

"Tch." Anubis acquiesced. The sight of the château made him swallow additional comments.

No further conversation was necessary. The two made their way to the building, at the front of which they had apparently landed this time. The air was remarkably mild, neither warm nor cold and Anubis used the opportunity to take a closer look, but there wasn't much to see except a vast, rolling grassy landscape under a sky dotted with stars. In what corner of the multiverse had the château ended up this time? Upon closer inspection, the jackal noticed that the landscape was suspiciously devoid of a discernible horizon. An island of grass among the stars? Among which stars?

It probably didn't matter…


The building stood upon a hill with a kind of gravity to it, as if it had always been there. The empty landscape only added to that and the stars seemed to particularly strain in order to have their silver light reflected on the oriels and banded friezes. Anubis didn't like the sight a lot. He felt his own personal gravity was enough for one place. That was at least how he justified his discomfort toward the others, so they would frown and not ask again.

The canopied front door had no bell. Cornell knocked unceremoniously after climbing the wooden steps. Anubis, however, cast a leery glance toward the large, triangular-shaped window two stories above him before joining his companion. It was not long before muffled footsteps reached out from inside. A heavy key turned and the door opened.

"Good evening Hector." said Cornell.

A creased face emerged from the twilight, belonging to a short old man with a bald forehead. His deep-set gray eyes almost seemed to glow with a restrained, yet deep fervor. The glasses on his round nose were ridiculously small as if their main purpose was to allow penetrating peeks over their frame.

Hector stepped aside and indicated a dutiful bow: "Gentlemen."

Only then did either of the arrivals move to step inside. The hallway behind the door was almost ridiculously narrow but high. Sconces filled with yellow light of maybe candle-like origin provided just enough light to avoid bumping into anything. Massive furniture, polished to mirror-like smoothness, lined the walls so that it would have been enough for an army of visitors.

Cornell let Hector take his coat off but then threw it over his own shoulder. Anubis didn't wear so many clothes that undressing would have been much of an option. Instead, he briefly examined himself in the narrow mirror next to the large wardrobe. A muscular black-furred jackal on two legs looked back at him, the nemes and silver chest plate unscathed by the rough arrival. Were there any green spots on his white loincloth?

"The other Patrons are in the salon. Shall I go announce you in the meantime?", Hector demanded.

"Yes, please. Thank you, Hector."

"He knows we're here anyway, doesn't he?" Anubis glanced at the ceiling, which, however, lay in shadows.

"I will return in due time." Hector turned on the spot and slowly marched off down the corridor, vanishing into a branching-off path.

"Care for a drink?" Cornell asked, looking back at Anubis. The canine shrugged.

It was practically impossible to deduce from the external shape - or lack thereof - the internal nature of the building. One quickly ended up in a maze of dark wood-clad hallways which smelled of old carpet and where it was a strain on the eyes to discern the shadow of a column from a person who, on second glance, wasn't there in the first place. The general silence of the château wasn't oppressive, but a statement. Squeaky wooden planks and creaking trusses settling again after a leap through dimensions were commas and periods.

Whenever he walked through this aged building, Anubis felt it was larger from the inside than it was from the outside. This long, narrow hallway with the marble chessboard pattern alone featured several branching-off passages and staircases, some of which he had never walked down. Without really knowing why, he had decided to keep his curious nature in check whenever - especially whenever - a hallway wasn't lit, which seemed to happen at random. Or did it? He had never seen Hector tending to the chandeliers or bookshelves which seemed to populate the house instead of denizens at times. Actually, he didn't exactly know what the butler did most of the time.

The narrow corridor ended in an open, elegantly furnished room that resembled a blend of parlor and library. Dark wooden shelves were full of books and it wasn't exactly clear whether they were meant to be a means of entertainment for whatever guests the château would host or just there because storage space had run out. Amused voices emanated even before they reached the entrance and the smell of old paper, cold soot, and dusty furniture hit the jackal's nostrils.

Just outside, Cornell stopped to put his coat back on.

"Feeling sensitive?" asked Anubis, grinning.

Cornell gave him a slightly annoyed look, which - however - lingered briefly on the jackal's fur.

"Look," someone in the salon said. "I do enjoy going out with new ones, but don't we have enough?"

"Afraid of retirement?" asked someone else, chuckling at their own remark.

"You can go to hell."

"Been there. Not exactly what I call hospitality, though."

Cornell stepped out of the shadows as Anubis leaned against the door frame.

"Speaking of hospitality!" the human remarked loudly, waiving one hand dismissively. "I hope you haven't used up all the good stuff this time."

The heads of the three present Patrons turned toward the newcomers. Anubis didn't recognize one, with dark hair and a skeptical unshaved face; the other two, however, were all too familiar.

"Oh my, oh my!" exclaimed the long-haired fashion geek - Mal - standing next to the other door. A grin spread on their face. "Would you look at that!"

"Home sweet home.", snickered Anubis. "No one else here?"

"Didn't expect you back so fast." Šefčovič - who Anubis continuously refused to call by that name - was the only other Anthro present. His appearance resembled an anthropomorphic crow with glowing blue eyes and something that could only be described as an avian resting bitch face. The menacing claws his hands and feet ended in only added to that.

Anubis smiled: "Hello, Šef."


Cornell fetched himself an expensive-looking glass bottle with something green inside it, disregarding the jars on the delicate cupboard next to the crackling hearth.

"I reckon you were successful?" demanded Šefčovič.

Anubis waived the old book he had snatched from Cornell.

Mal came closer. "Oh? What is it?"

"Something that teaches Cornell how to properly manage Ways I hope."

The human raised his bottle as if to a toast. "Skill issue, Anubis."

Šefčovič's ever-starring eyes narrowed with amusement. "Fell on that big muzzle of yours again?"

"I didn't."

"He did."

"Fuck you."

Cornell used the bottle to point to the book in Anbuis' pocket: "It's something on omens and transdimensional constellations. Pretty occult from what I gathered…"

"That's new.", frowned Šefčovič.

"Well.", said Cornell. "Wasn't exactly… easy to get our hands on."

Anubis coughed.

"And paws."

Next, the bottle stabbed in the direction of the third Patron. "Aren't you going to introduce us, Šefčovič?"

"Some would say your reputation proceeds you…"

Anubis bowed fulsomely. "Thank you very much."


"I'm Salvador." nodded the dark-haired human.

"Odds are he's been working here longer than the both of you." remarked the crow.

"Is that so." Cornell opened the bottle but kept his eyes on the other Patron.

Salavdor shrugged. "Maybe."

"Whole sentences are an improvement."

Salvador frowned at Mal. "I usually do things solo."

"The difficult type." joked Mal.

"The difficult tasks." responded the other.

"And I thought that was me." Anubis chuckled, oblivious to the ambiguity of that statement. "Pleased to meet you."

Salvador plainly looked at him and nodded: "We'll see." It didn't seem to be an insult, just a statement.

Anubis frowned. The château was full of people full of themselves. It might have had something to do with the new dimension the building found itself time and again, but periods between assignments could really stretch on. Bragging was the easiest way to kill time. Anubis knew that because he was the best at it.

"So, where have you two been this time?" demanded Mal. They patted Cornell's shoulder: "Did you finally make it into the Wanderer's Library?"

"Ever the explorer, huh? No, just some dusty, off-the-road shop." Cornell took a sip directly from the bottle and cleared his throat. "Way too boring for you Mal."

The two smiled at each other.

Šefčovič elegantly performed the equivalent of a frown. "Shops are notoriously unreliable. I thought the old man would have reflected on that by now."

The crow went on to elaborate on the multiversal currents arbitrarily washing artifacts and rubbish into the blind spots and forgotten corners of all of existence, but Anubis didn't really listen. Instead, he eyed upward at the coffered ceiling and its angled shadows. The jackal knew shadows and their qualities intimately and something had stirred his third eye. The shades up there obscured, ducked away from the flickering lamps but they held on to the cassettes as if to peer over the edges. Since when did… Anubis flinched as he suddenly noticed Hector standing beside him. The old butler had managed to sneak up without him hearing a sound.

"You are being expected," he announced.

Cornell's bottle swayed like a fescue. "Your turn Anubis."

The canine sighed and left the smaller part of the salon. This was going to be great, he thought sarcastically.

The little salon opened directly into an adjoining splendid library hall with an additional floor and high windows. The numerous sofas and chaise longues were deserted. Apparently, no one else from the staff was in-house. This little hall was the only room in the château to feature paintings of persons, mostly large canvasses covering the available walls, depicting persons and entities in various fashions. They watched the jackal's silent steps on the ancient wooden floor with disinterest.

Anubis reached another narrow corridor through a northern door, then took the first creaking staircase leading upstairs until he arrived at the - or rather, one of the - second floors. There, Anubis had to slightly tuck in his ears to avoid them brushing against the ceiling beams. Except for the one hallway ahead, he was practically unfamiliar with this storey. It was simpler than the others downstairs, with bare wooden walls and black wrought iron for bolts. A dim light emanated from a short staircase leading up through the pitched roof into an adjoining part in the relative middle of the building.

Anubis stepped closer, his paws completely silent on the fancy carpets laid out on the wooden floor. At the foot of the staircase, he composed himself briefly and exhaled before ascending.

The grand room was essentially an attic, its high tapering ceiling obscured in darkness. Chests and shelves filled with books or displaying peculiar artifacts lined both sides, while strange contraptions hung down from chains. A hefty conference table in the center of this chaotic order stood strewn with papers, and the wall next to the staircase was practically concealed by a shelving system. While the room was quite high, it still felt crammed and the shadows here were alive between the lamps and rafters. The air was dry and warm.

At the very back, in front of a large triangular window spanning the entire southern wall, sat a human behind a desk, engrossed in reading a book.


Anubis stepped closer. The Observer, as this aging man with high cheekbones and piercing blue eyes called himself, didn't bother to raise his head. His gaunt but sturdy physique was encased in a white shirt and dark vest. The gray hair was strictly tied back and emphasized the narrowness of the face. It seemed as though he was meticulously finishing a paragraph with unwavering concentration. But in due time, he did look up, and recognized Anubis, interlocking his fingers before his mouth - as if unceremoniously considering a judgment. A simple iron ring on his right hand reflected the lamplight, presenting the only hint of a personality on the human.

Anubis managed not to wince.


"Have you been successful?" the Observer demanded without further ado.

Anubis tried to relax his stiff tail. He produced the book and softly laid it down on the desk.

The Observer inspected it with his eyes before looking up again. "This is the one?"

Anubis nodded.

The man released his posture and fetched the book, briefly examining the cover, then flipping through its pages.

"Our offer was rejected." reported Anubis plainly.

The Obersver's blue eyes found their way up to Anubi's face again. "I said stealing was a last resort."

"The shopkeeper had no interest in currency and neither in any artifact on the list. He didn't want to communicate much at all."

The Observer stared a short while longer at him, before tending to the book again. "That is unusual for a shopkeeper." he remarked.

Tell me about it, Anubis thought. The very new memory of the shopkeeper's form pushing through the shelves of their locale, howling in that very deep roar at the thieves, made the fur on his neck stand on end.

The Observer made a noise between exhaling and actually sighing. "We won't be able to visit that particular shop for a while." Thoughts and considerations worked in the mind of the old man. " …but that shouldn't be too much of an issue."

"Well, I won't complain." murmured Anubis.

That earned him a look on the Observer's face as if he was expecting a useful comment, but found himself somewhat disappointed.

The jackal ignored that - as always. "Since when do we collect books on omens and transdimensional foresight?" he asked, actually curious about it. "We're usually more practical."

"It is something I want to investigate." the Observer said. "It might tie in with other information that requires more context. There are not many editions left according to my knowledge. It was likely that a larger shop would pick up one of them through the currents."

"So you didn't actually know it would be there."

The Observer didn't reply. Anubis felt tempted to begin a staring contest, but he knew he would lose. He had heard all the Observer would tell him, he knew that.

"I'll talk to Hector about payment." he simply retorted and turned to leave.

"One more thing."

Anubis made sure his 'employer' couldn't see the annoyed grimace he made before turning back.

Again, the hands interlocked before the Observer's chin. "I may have found another Patron. I need you to seek him out and offer him a bargain."

Anubis frowned, remembering the conversation he had overheard in the salon. That's what they were talking about, he thought.

"Who is it?"

"His name is Dragomir. He is another canine."

That also answered the question of why Anubis - of all the Patrons - had to fetch this ominous person. The jackal couldn't help but feel slightly offended by this, because… Why wouldn't he?

The Observer ended: "We will talk about this in twelve hours in more detail. That is all."

Nobody had informed Anubis that Før was in the château. Thus, he only spotted the red-brown dragon in the garden when he coincidentally looked out the window of his chamber. The jackal had discarded his more genteel garments and exchanged them for an overcoat of gray linen. In it, he hastily made his way down the northeast wing by the quickest route.

Garden was perhaps a bit of an overstatement for the fact that the medium-sized patch of grass with an olive tree in the relative center looked a bit more manicured than the rest of the nightly landscape. But Før was an unpretentious creature and didn't mind staying there when he wasn't being paid dearly for an assignment that took him across the multiverse.

The dragon's eyes shone in the glow of the lamps on the cobbles as he raised his head. For a creature of that stature, his calm demeanor was quite easy to notice, but that may have been due to the fact that he was covered in flat scales and his sharp teeth were hidden behind lips that could produce a quite pleasant smile.

"A shadow is visiting me.", he said with a deep, resonating voice that sometimes vibrated in Anubi's organs. "What does it cast?"

The jackal perked up his ears at the friendly salutation and indicated a bow to return the favor. "I didn't know you were here. The others didn't mention it."

"There is no adventure to be found here for Mal, the other human does not talk much at all, Šefčovič most likely thinks he is the one supposed to lecture others about the inner workings of the multiverse, and Cornell is probably already drunk by now." The dragon's eyes narrow with amusement. "I have plenty of time before my next mission."

Anubis sat down in the grass. "How do you know Cornell is here?"

"If one of you is here, the other is usually not far."

The jackal snorted. "Yeah, I don't know how that happened. The old man and Šef make the plans. Not me."

"Is that so." The dragon didn't elaborate on that comment. "What mood is he in?"

"Cold as ever." He sighed. "Did you expect a different response?"

The dragon lowered his head. "No. But your reaction to that question is usually most informative."

Seeing eye to eye now, Anubis could make out individual scales on the creature's maw. "Pretty highfalutin to try and interpret a shadow."

The dragon smiled. "Perhaps. But need I remind you that you first came to me because of my shadow?"

Anubis put on a condescending visage, but he did not withstand the dragon's shrewd gaze. "What can I say?", he shrugged. "It's comfortable to be in."

"If I'm the most pleasant shadow in this place by now, you probably have lousy taste."

Or no alternatives, Anubis thought to himself.

The dragon stopped staring at him. Ever since they met, this peculiar place that was their base of operations had been driving them together. It was something between bare tolerance and actual respect that had produced this strange non-friendship. Some company was better than none in a place neither of them would call home.

"I take it you will stay next to me for the night then?" Før tilted his head towards the sky. "However long that may be in this corner of existence."

Anubis thought about a snappy retort but then let it go. A hearty smile gained dominance over his face. "I'd gladly. Won't be for long, though. The old man found a new patron and I am to fetch him."

"I wonder how he does that.", the dragon mused.

"What? Finding patrons?"


Anubis shrugged. "The Observer deals in knowledge. He's got to know things, doesn't he?" He snickered. "Why don't you ask him?"

Før peered down at him disapprovingly. "You know how our noble employer reacts to questions. Especially when they come from me?"

"Is that so?"

"I am a pursuer of knowledge. I think the Observer already feels he is overpaying me with any further bits of his knowledge anyway."

"Well, he's the only one who's better at staring than even you."

"There's a time and place for every question.", the dragon said, a certain determination in his voice. "But this château doesn't usually leave space for either."

Their gaze met and both knew they were on the same page. But in the spirit of Før's remark, the two acquaintances left it at that, with the dragon letting Anubis sit by his flank - in his calming shadow - and rest, as he had done many times before. As he dozed off, Anubis imagined that there would come a point when he'd ask Før why he had begun to tolerate the cocky jackal around him in the first place.

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