The Architect's Essence, The Diary of Sunrise

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Unknown Date 2479 A.R.T

In the early hours of the morning Skull had written an exclamation of victory on his slate as the rusted bolt he’d been beating throughout the night had finally broken. Though the sheered bolt had loosened the creature’s mask considerably, it was still held in place in two other places. Wearily, Skull had begun work on the second bolt and Taboo had started an assault on the third, writing a string of insults on his slate before he’d begun. Unfortunately, Taboo’s abuse had seemingly had no effect whatsoever on the offending bolt and despite many sharp blows from both his and Skull’s stones it had held firm, preventing us from freeing the creature from the oppression of its mask. I must admit that by this point, the sound of stone striking steel was grating upon me quite brutally and I can only imagine what it must have been like for the poor creature within the mask.

Due to the noise and our tensions, none of us had managed any sleep during the hours of darkness and all of us, Omen especially, had been on edge, listening nervously to the calls of the nocturnal creatures and keeping a weather-eye open for the light of the Doll-Faced Rider’s box.

I had been relieved to see that, with the return of the sun, the column of smoke which flowed from the fiery pinnacle of our mountain was still visible in the distance, a sight which had greatly lifted our spirits, knowing that the forest had not yet bulged back to its original position and our home was still within our reach. As the joyous birdsong of the dawn chorus had settled over the forest Horizon had suggested that we continue onwards and so, once again, myself, Skull and Taboo had lifted the creature onto our shoulders. Skull had warned the remaining bolts that he was not yet finished with them and he had vowed that he would conclude their dispute at a later date. Omen, Oats and Butter had collected up the rest of our foraged supplies and Blancmange had packed away his nut-shell pots, promising that he would fix us another batch of stew once we had reached our journeys end.

Spurred on by the promise of stew, Horizon had led us west around the edge of the spectral bramble-fringed lake, using the position of the rising sun and his compass to plot our course. Though it has little baring on our tale, I had noticed many interesting creatures milling around and upon the lake. The most numerous creature we had encountered had been an odd, reptilian-looking beast which had resembled the upper half of a duck which had been affixed to the lower half of a miniature dragon, fused at the waist and upper shoulders in much the same way as the human and equine aspects of a centaur are fused. (Quite obviously another of the Architect’s rushed designs.) They had boasted leathery wings, four squat legs built for running and an overabundance of needle-like teeth which had lined their fleshy beaks. When the creatures had taken to the water, they had swam using much the same technique as otters or river scrundles, powering themselves through the water with their webbed paws and tail. As well as the spectral bramble the water’s edge had also been abounded with masses of rushes and reeds. One plant, a tall, wispy grass, had borne large, fluffy seed heads or ‘clocks’ similar to those seen adorning sedgebucks and dandelions. To our alarm these fluffy seed heads burst into flames if touched or knocked, an attribute which we had discovered when Butter, in her usual fashion, had fallen head-first into them. The resulting conflagration had been almost explosive and had momentarily engulfed Butter in flames, leaving the brim of her hat and the beak of her mask singed and smoking. Luckily Skull had been on hand to pluck her from the burning vegetation and carry her back to safety, a heroic act which had prompted Taboo to draw a rather crude illustration of Skull and Butter embracing, a large love-heart blossoming between them.

Looks like Skull loves a bit of melted Butter on his crumpet, he’d written as Skull had patted the embers from Butter’s suit.

After I had mediated the resulting squabble between Skull and Taboo and had made quite sure that Butter was fully extinguished, I had questioned Oats about the combusting reeds. He had rather excitedly informed me that he believed them to be bulbeacon, a species of marginal grass which was widely believed to be extinct. Apparently, as means of a defence mechanism, bulbeacon had the ability to combust without much provocation, an attribute which had caused it to burn itself into oblivion. (I’m sorry to once again attack the work of the Architect but it seems to me that combusting and burning yourself to death when faced with danger is quite possibly the worst defence mechanism ever devised.) Apparently, in the kingdom of plants, bursting into flames is a trait possessed only by bulbeacon and ablazelea, the latter of which Smoke named his fire. It ignites itself in order to spread and germinate its seed, a goal which in my opinion is a much more sensible reason to catch fire.

Oats had been overjoyed by his rediscovery of bulbeacon and had referred to it as ’the horticultural discovery of the decade if not the century,’ and he had endeavoured to collect several handfuls of bulbeacon seeds, badly burning his numerous fingers in doing so. I had advised him that, upon our return to the mountain, it would be prudent for him to keep his discovery of bulbeacon from Smoke, as I felt sure that if Smoke new of their powers of spontaneous combustion then any specimens Oats managed to grow would quickly become ash.

Horizon had headed away from the waters edge, leading us up a steep incline covered with jingle nut trees, a route which had been rather difficult whilst supporting the serpentine body of the creature. As with the other jingle nut trees we had encountered, several of the winged duster creatures had sat in their boughs, polishing their wares and munching on pizzle pears.

As we’d neared the crest of the incline, Horizon had abruptly halted as the Doll-Faced Rider appeared from the line of trees ahead of us.

For a moment all parties had stared at one another in shocked surprise. Despite the obscuring nature of its mask the rider had clearly been taken aback by the sight of the ten, strange, leather-clad creatures which stood before it, perplexed further by the fact that we were carrying the creature which it was hunting. The creature, which had been quite calm due to Cloud’s continual petting had suddenly erupted in panic, squirming and thrashing in our arms, its wings flapping and its body coiling, behaviour which had made it very difficult to keep a purchase on.

It had been Taboo who had stirred us into action, his simple message of ’Plegging hell! It’s found us! Let’s haul ass!’ rousing us from our dazed indecision.

Some had taken the time to write panicked exclamation marks on their slates and others, mainly Butter, had simply fallen over in alarm.

All of a sudden, the rider had bore down on us, its manticore leaping through the trees toward us. Turning, myself, Taboo and Skull had attempted to flee but due to the thrashing of the creature we had quickly followed Butter’s example and had tripped, knocking down the other members of our party like skittles, a mishap which had sent all ten of us and the creature cartwheeling down the embankment towards the spectral brambles and the glossy surface of the lake, our extremities quite entangled and flailing. I recall jumbled images of the rider looming above us, interspersed with flashes of hanging jingle nuts and fallen leaves. There had been a flash of heat and flame as we had vaulted into a patch of bulbeacon before we had tumbled toward the surface of the lake. I remember, in that split second before we met the lake, reaching up to pinch the end of my beaked mask for fear of water splashing up my nostrils, orifices which, even now, I’m not sure I possess. My irrational fears had been irrelevant however as we had never hit the water, hitting instead a much harder and unyielding surface which had bludgeoned all consciousness from my being.

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