By the time Firbank returned to Essenias Publishing House he found the bulk of the offices were empty and the corridors were mostly in darkness. The sense of unease from his close encounter with Hawkswood had not subsided and the desolation of the workplace only served to increase his uncertainty and fear.
Firbank was relieved to find Wilkins still waiting in his office. His colleague stood close to the balcony, oblivious to the unrelenting rainfall that continued to drown the streets and rooftops of Ceraphoon. Wilkins was smoking with trembling hands that Firbank deduced was more down to the cold than his earlier meeting with Hawkswood. Wilkins didn’t know the truth.
‘There you are, Firbank,’ Wilkins said, tossing the remnants of his cigarette outside onto the balcony. He watched the cigarette strike the parapet, flip briefly into the air before falling to the streets below. ‘Where have you been? What is all this strange business with Hawkswood?’
‘Sit down, Wilkins,’ Firbank replied, shaking off his sodden jacket and remaining oblivious to the scattered droplets that struck the pile of manuscripts on his desk. ‘Now, listen to me. What I’m about to tell you cannot leave this office, Wilkins. Do you understand?’
‘Yes, of course, Firbank. Now, tell me what is going on?’
Firbank opened one of his desk drawers and produced a bottle of whisky and two glasses. Wilkins shook his head as he watched Firbank’s trembling hands slowly fill each glass before restoring the bottle to the seclusion of the drawer.
‘My grandfather first spoke of Hawkswood,’ Firbank said between eager sips of whisky. ‘When Essenias Publishing House first opened Hawkswood brought a book to his office that answered questions from Elenchera’s past that have left historians either baffled or in a permanent state of dispute. Little was thought of this first book. My grandfather ensured its publication but contemporary historians dismissed many of its answers as delusion and folly. However, all this changed when my father met Hawkswood.’
‘Wait a second,’ Wilkins replied, ‘so you’re telling me that Hawkswood has visited the same publishing house when three generations of your family have been working here? Just how long do these Sargonians live?’
‘Sargonians can live for centuries, their longevity far outweighs the life span of humans.’
‘In that case, what’s the problem, Firbank?’ Wilkins asked, folding his arms and leaning back in his chair. ‘Surely it’s just a coincidence that Hawkswood has paid us three visits and a member of your family has happened to work here at the same time.’
‘When my father first met Hawkswood he felt the rapture of an almost forgotten memory of his school days. The name ‘Hawkswood’ seemed important somehow. My father travelled north to Kaluminia to use the great library – Prescience. After weeks of research he found something.’ Firbank drank the rest of his whisky then reached into another desk drawer. He produced a crumpled piece of paper and handed it carefully to Wilkins. ‘Read this and promise you will speak nothing of it to anyone.’
Wilkins unravelled the sheet of paper and found it to be an extract from a diary that Firbank’s father had clearly torn and stolen from under the unsuspecting noses of the librarians in Prescience. At first, Wilkins squinted at the handwriting before producing a pair of glasses from his jacket and reading Hawkswood’s secret.