Posted December 1, 2022 at 11:27 pm

Back at it! Thanks for reading!

~

[Transcript]

        Teatime in the Slanted Manse was a complicated balancing act under the best conditions. The crooked floor reclined Isaac’s recliner an extra ten or so degrees, give or take another ten if it was resting on its haunches, and both the chair and its occupant were prone to fidgeting, which introduced still more degrees of instability. His teacup, too, was alive, and the saucer underneath it, and so remaining upright was both Mario Party minigame-esque and a matter of life and death, at least for the sentient porcelain at the top of the tower. Today, Isaac was complicating things further by leaning forward and excitedly gesticulating, far too cheerful to see that much of his tea had been lost as cold chamomile sweat.

        Doorman, meanwhile, always kept perfect balance in the mansion. He had an effortless balletic poise that Isaac paid no mind to. It was because he took this subtle sign of his mentor’s skill for granted that Isaac hadn’t noticed when it failed him for the first time since they met

        Doorman sat reeling in his chair, detached from the gravity of the room by what Isaac had just said to him.

        “The... Activity Consortium, is it?” He hid the words’ familiarity, hid the tension Isaac speaking them had sent shivering through him. He was, of course, already well aware of their connection to his pupil... but he’d just learned the crisis in Mayview was far, far worse than he’d expected, and that Isaac had strayed unawares right into its very heart.

        “Yeah!” Isaac beamed. “I thought Isabel was messing with me at first... I mean, it all just sounds so... supernatural!” The still air in the room whipped up into a warm breeze, causing the cup in his hand to softly squeak in panic. “Agents all around the world, doing just what we do, meeting every night inside a dream...! It’s wild, right?? But Max and Ed confirmed it. They told me everything they knew!”

        Doorman took a tasteless sip of tea. “I... see. Then your friends have welcomed you, if not this... group your teacher serves.”

        “Yeah! Well, yeah,” Isaac said, effervescently insistent, “but we’re all part of the Consortium! Even if I’m not supposed to know, Mr. Spender’s been training me to be a secret agent like him this whole time! I just lost clearance, or... or hadn’t earned it yet!”

        Doorman’s cup returned to its saucer with a hesitant click. “And so... you’ll share the prophecy the sphinx spirit gave you with this Activity Consortium? The one about the town being destroyed?”

        A shrug and a nod filled the gap while Isaac was forced to reluctantly catch his breath. “Um... well, Isabel said to wait for now. Or, well, we all agreed to—she says she’s leader, but—”

        “To wait... for now?”

        Isaac nodded. “In case it’s bogus! I was telling everyone, there could be a trick to the Sphinx of Truth’s prediction. Summer’s end could be this summer, or any summer, or someone named Summer... or maybe we can change what’s true now that we know it’s coming!”

        Doorman was too familiar with that shard of the shattered sphinx’s power to share in Isaac’s optimism. There was leeway in the wording, yes, but the blue one’s truths were absolute. In some form, they would always come to pass.

        “So yeah, Isabel’s gonna ask her grandpa before we go to Mr. Spender,” Isaac added, echoing Isabel’s reluctance in his voice.

        Doorman’s teacup fell the last inch between it and the table, but Isaac wasn’t troubled by the clatter.

        “She thinks he might know something since he’s lived here for so long.”

        Isaac didn’t know the first of it. Francisco Guerra had been there when the Great Sphinx was split to pieces. No doubt that day had helped to forge the ruthless dogma he subscribed to now, the uncompromising justice that had come to eclipse Doorman’s teachings. If he learned the town was under threat by the wights he’d seen defeated...

        Isabel’s grandfather wasn’t one to tolerate loose ends. Not the sphinxes... and not Doorman.

        The hundreds of years Doorman had lived weighed heavy on his shoulders. Too much time... too many friends lost, too many that became his bitter enemies. Doorman took a deep breath in and out. Each task in turn. Calm and careful thought.

        “And your friend Max... what does he think of all this?”

        “Max?” Isaac seemed surprised to hear his name. “Um, well... I guess he and Isabel are why it’s sort of secret. From Mr. Spender, I mean.” His gaze drifted off into the rafters. “So much happened back at school... Isabel never used to question him, you know? But Max changed everything.” Isaac smiled. “Now it’s the four of us.”

        Amidst every new anxiety, a pang of warmth spread out through Doorman’s chest. If he could only keep this spark of innocent happiness safe from the shadow that surrounded it... Isaac was so young.

        “We’ll loop Mr. Spender in when we know it’s safe. I thought it was just me, but he’s a mystery to the whole club. I think we’re all just learning that.” In a small and hurried voice that nonetheless betrayed his reverent wonder, Isaac added “Did you know he has a secret boyfriend?”

        Doorman answered from within a daze. “And have you... noticed anything strange about Max since you brought him here?”

        Isaac blinked, perking up. He’d been talking right past Doorman this whole time, and only just now seemed to notice him. “Huh? Like what?”

        Doorman caught himself too late. “It’s... it’s no matter if you haven’t. Forget that I said anything.”

        “...Like what?” Isaac repeated, setting down his tea upon the table. The soft breeze in the room came to a sudden stop.