London, Waterloo Bridge Station — August 1848
Ravenea stood on the platform surveying the unfamiliar surroundings and glancing anxiously at the outside world folk hurriedly walking by. Was her clothing appropriate? Would she pass among the people of the outside world unnoticed? She could not decide whether she was being overly anxious or respectably cautious. Perhaps if she were here on official Council business, or perhaps if this unconventional location were a crossing point at which she intended to greet a potential Initiate, her usual calm professionalism would prevail. Instead, much too late to change her mind, she repeatedly second-guessed her choice. What could possibly be worth this risk?
“Good afternoon,” said Fraxinus. Ravenea flinched slightly. Despite his flowing white hair and voluminous robes — highly unorthodox amidst the station’s occupants — she had not seen him approach. “Our time here is limited. I will be boarding a train within minutes.”
“Am I to join you?”
“Of course not!” His ice-blue eyes snapped at her, punctuating his words. “What excuse could you possibly offer the Alchemists’ Council if Azoth Magen Quercus learned you had embarked on an outside world train journey with a Rebel Branch Azoth?”
“What excuse am I to offer even for leaving the London protectorate for this station?” she asked. She glanced around once again at the passersby, worriedly skimming for a familiar face.
“Simple curiosity. Is this station not an architectural marvel of the modern world?” He gestured up and outward. For the benefit of onlookers, she smiled and nodded.
“And for what reason other than mutual observation of this outside world spectacle have you requested a meeting?”
“To relay information that may affect your future.” He paused.
She waited, hands clenched.
“Let me rephrase,” he continued. “To relay information that may profoundly affect the future of all three dimensions.”
Ravenea shivered despite the summer heat.
“Yes?” Her impatience grew.
“The Osmanthian Codex has been activated. If memory serves, the manuscript will mature fully within thirty years. The Rebel Azoths will then, once again, possess the knowledge to create an alchemical child.”
Ravenea froze, momentarily stunned. Her thoughts raced.
“But the bloodlocks! Osmanthus himself sealed the Codex with his primordial blood. And Makala sealed the secreted libraries from intruders after the Second Rebellion.”
A smartly dressed man within hearing range turned immediately to frown at her. She did not recognize him. He must merely have found her words vulgar.
“The ancestors intended worthy descendants to open the bloodlocks on both the Osmanthian and Aralian manuscripts,” said Fraxinus. “And Makala followed their lead.”
“Who is responsible?” she asked him. “A Rebel Branch Elder?”
“An Elder? Really, Ravenea, if an Elder both carried the bloodline and met the required prophetic conditions, one of us would have enlivened the manuscript centuries ago.”
“An outside world scribe,” he responded.
“That cannot be. Makala would not have allowed—”
“Yet here we are. And we have you to thank for this evolutionary exception.”
Another chill coursed through Ravenea.
“In what sense?”
“Our scribe was born in the outside world to exiled alchemists.”
She stopped. He smiled. She understood. She caught her breath.
Ilex and Melia.
Fraxinus turned, walked along a nearby platform, and disappeared into a train. Engines bellowed. People shouted. Wheels shrieked. Ravenea could not move.