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Chapter 8: The Cupcake Affair

Peeking at Week Two's pep talk while you're still exploring the exciting terrain of Week One will cause strange and disquieting rifts in the temporal fabric of the universe, and may needlessly jeopardize the lives of everyone on this planet. Be a responsible global citizen and take the chapters one week at a time. -No Plot? No Problem!

 

The morning sun was rising late as usual over the Nexus, as Tildeworth walked across the square. As an evening broadcaster, her day wasn't supposed to start this ridiculously early. It was practically noon, for Chris Baty's sake, and she hadn't had one cup of tea all day. But business was important today, so she was prepared to sacrifice a few necessities. Under her arm was tucked her laptop, held snug inside a pink case. In her pocket, a flash drive contained the Camp footage.

She was heading in a straight line toward the library, when a terrible howling cut through her ears. It was quiet at first, a distant and otherworldly bay that, even if she wasn't in in her presently sleep deprived state, Tildeworth would have classified as nothing. But it grew louder, interspersed with the mix of claws on stone and wing beats through the air, as if whatever it belonged to couldn't decide to run or fly and had opted for some disjointed mix of the two.

She turned. Something small, tan and white and black, blurred with speed, was heading toward her...

"Awooooo! Wooooooooo! Woooooooooooo!"

And then...

"Kevin! Kevin! My sister is allowed to exist!"

It was worse than an otherworldly howling beast. It was her brother.

Or her opposite, or her counterpart, or whatever you wanted to call him. It wasn't as if he looked anything like her, and he was still some distance away, chasing his... whatever it was. As the creature drew closer, she could see that it was a beagle, baying with all the breath he could muster, with the exception that beagles didn't normally come with a set of black, tan, and white wings that they used to propel themselves even faster along the ground and through the air.

He stopped, and bayed again, before looking at her with an expression that suggested that he was trying to work out what was in front of him and whether it required more noise. "Hello!" he said, at last, balancing on his hind legs and fluttering his wings to keep himself stable. "My name is Kevin! You are my friend now!"

"Um," said Tildeworth. Of course if a winged beagle suddenly wanted to be friends with her, that was no problem, but it did raise a lot of questions.

"I love having friends!" said Kevin, who had now gotten back onto all fours and begun wagging his tail at top speed, as well as the rest of his rear half in case the tail wasn't enough. "Friends make me happy!"

"I suppose you're on your way to the meeting, Macron Brevewin," Tildeworth said, ignoring the beagle and using her counterpart's full name. "What a lovely surprise."

"For the last time, you shrimp, I didn't take your lucky pen, and I wouldn't even go anywhere near room 7a!" Macron Brevewin, the Pep Talker, Third Personification of NaNoWriMo, did not look, to the casual observer, as if he was related to Tildeworth, but since the pair of them had materialised years ago from the fabric of the November Gardens as counterparts and opposites as well as siblings and representations of their respective domains, it didn't matter. He was tall, dark, probably handsome though Tildeworth wasn't qualified to say, and never went anywhere without his faithful megaphone in his hands, the better to spread the word during his shows.

The winged beagle, on the other hand, was a new development. "Are you trying to copy me?" she said, as he pranced and fluttered around her feet, so happy about his new friend that he didn't seem to care that she wasn't paying him any attention.

"No! Why would I want to copy you? This is just my sound engineer. Kevin Jones, meet Cedilla Tildeworth, and I apologise in advance. Look, we have some important business to be doing, so is there any possibility you could go off and help set up my stage for tonight?"

"Of course!" Kevin's ears perked at the sound of Brevewin's voice, and he shot into the air.

"You are so copying me," said Tildeworth.

"Am not," said Brevewin. "He's a dog, and he works sound. Besides, why would I want to copy from you?"

"Because it's better than being you."

"Is not!"

"Is too!"

They glared at one another, Tildeworth holding her laptop close, Brevewin standing with his megaphone in hand, fingers clenched around the handle.

Tildeworth was the first to crack. "Eheheheh..."

Brevewin grinned, and nudged her in the ribs.

"Do you think we should tell people someday that we don't actually hate one another?" Tildeworth said.

"I think they've already worked it out," said Brevewin. "Anyway, everyone knows you're incapable of hating anyone or anything."

"That is true, that is," said Tildeworth.

They set off together down the square toward the library's imposing facade, neither of them speaking for a while. Brevewin kept more flexible hours than Tildeworth, for sure, but even he didn't like a morning start. But if they were both to make their shows that night (and both would, because they were professionals, Baty damn it) it means wrapping things up as early as possible. And Vicki had been right, too. This had to be brought to everyone's attention, and fast. It didn't stop her from yawning as she approached the first of the library's broad stairs.

"You okay there?" said her brother.

"Fine, fine," she said. "Was up a little longer than I should have been last night. Sue's on a case, you know? The shovel thing. It's taking a while, and I haven't seen her in days except over the phone..."

"Sorry about that," said Brevewin, and Tildeworth felt a steady hand on her shoulder.

"Thanks," she said. It was early enough there weren't many people about to see, but she didn't care if they did. She only wished she could have been a bit more honest with him. It didn't stop her from thinking she should have been more careful, maybe called in advance to warn Sue. But she kept the guilt to herself, because Sue didn't need it, not after what happened. She'd returned that night to a home that felt emptier than ever. "And I really should call more often..."

"Is everything... okay with you?"

"Yeah, we're okay. No us problems, if that's what you mean, just personal things. That's the thing about love, I suppose. Even when you're in a story, it doesn't fix everything."

When the doors opened to let them in, she spotted a few characters wandering around, or being guided to their destinations by crackling librarians. None of them approached her or Brevewin. They had their own destination, deep within the shelves. Tildeworth had always known that, much like the November Gardens, the library's interior occupied a rather larger space than its exterior, growing year on year as more novels added themselves to its depths. It probably explained something about the librarians, if they had to keep filing an ever increasing number. Nowhere was this tangled interior more evident than here. It took longer than it did to cross the square than it did to reach the double doors leading into the meeting chamber. Each of them was at least twice her height, built of dark red-brown wood into which the helmet and shield emblem had been carved, and then polished and lacquered to a brilliant sheen. They'd passed two more sets in giant glass cases on their way here - one carved with the runner and pencil that Tildeworth remembered from the earliest days of her existence, and another with a typewriter that pre-dated her, though Brevewin remembered. Pep talks were old.

She nudged the door open. Her footsteps echoed over a floor tiled in a mosaic of pale blue, creamy white, and rich brown. If you listened hard enough, you could hear the phantom keystrokes of a million stories being written, just out of earshot...

"Hello dears! Would you like some cupcakes?"

"Ooh, cupcakes!" Brevewin ran on ahead, and Tildeworth followed with haste. Sure enough there, on the long table in the centre of the room, was a broad plate with a display of cakes in every colour Tildeworth could think of. By their side was the second personification, the Keeper of the Dares, who stood and smiled at them like a grandmother treating her favourite charges. Tildeworth picked one up. It was bright blue, and tasted of raspberries, prompting he to wonder who thought raspberries ought to be blue.

"These are great," said Brevewin. "You made these?"

"Oh no, no, I'm far too busy looking after all the dares to do any baking these days," said the Keeper. "The Validator made them."

The first of the personifications was looming over the table now. A great swathe of blackness, as though someone had turned out the lights in the far end of the room and the remaining ones didn't want to cross any boundaries, filled the space remaining. The Validator was a cold and ancient thing from the depths of history, there at the dawn of time when the magical fifty thousand word goal had sprung from the nebulous minds of the storytelling sphere. A dark being of ever so tangible shadows, it slipped through the cracks from novel to novel, following its robotic word counting children, bestowing blue and green at the start of the month, turning to purple for the hallowed winners. In all her existence, across the many and varied beings of the Nexus, Tildeworth had never met any so deep and unfathomable as the Validator.

"Awesome cupcakes, Validator!" said Brevewin.

"Mmm," Tildeworth swallowed a mouthful of raspberry icing. "Really good! Thanks!"

A taste of blue spread across her tongue. Not the strange, raspberry flavour from the cakes, but a taste that came unbidden, a synasthesic riot in her mouth, the pure taste that she knew, without any prompting, as the favour of blue.

"You're welcome," she said, and laid her laptop on the table. It was low and oval, made of the same dark red-brown, polished wood as the doors, and circled around the edge with bands of cream, brown, and pale blue to match the floor mosaic.

Around the table were three chairs and a space cleared to allow the Validator, a being that did not require such concerns, to rest. In the centre, placed upon an embroidered cushion, was the Helmet of Speaking, its plastic helm sprayed with gold paint and its horns trimmed with a ruff of tatty faux fur. The Dare Keeper nodded to Tildeworth as they all sat down, and, at her prompt, Tildeworth took up the helmet and spoke.

"I, Cedilla Diane Tildeworth, Fourth Personification of NaNoWriMo, master of Communications and Podcasts, and host of the rather well respected evening NaNo Video production The Tildeworth Hour, call this meeting," she said.

"Macron Hallgren Brevewin, Third Personification of NaNoWriMo, official Pep Talker and host of some pretty good outdoor shows if I do say so myself."

"Marni Woon, Second Personification of NaNoWriMo, Keeper of the Dares, coordinator of all Adoptions, Progenitor of The Travelling Shovel of Death and Mr Ian Woon."

(a sky blue sensation on everyone's tongues, lingering and fading with a slightly azure aftertaste.)

"Right, that's that done with," said Tildeworth, who had unzipped the case while everyone was speaking and opened her laptop. She didn't plug it in. There was no need to here. "Now you might have been made aware of the technical failure in a recent broadcast which meant that we had to cancel, at the last second, one of our planned segments for my show."

"Someone had a screeeew uuup," chanted Brevewin.

"Shut up, Brevewin." Tildeworth inserted the flash drive. There was a little bloink noise as the computer detected it.

"Sooomeone had to run a film on urinal cakes!"

"Shut up, Brevewin. You don't have the helmet. I have the helmet. Ah, now here we go. I've studied the footage along with my best video editors and... well, it is viewable, but it didn't show exactly what we expected. Take a look."

Three humans and one cloud of darkness gathered around the screen as Tildeworth hit the play button. Her voice emanated, somewhat tinny sounding, from the cheap speakers as she talked about Camp NaNoWriMo and the importance of supporting events outside of November, while gripping her microphone tight in the event of another Block Ness Monster sighting. The clip played on... and the screen flickered.

"You see that?" Tildeworth said, hitting the pause button. Brevewin and the Keeper exchanged glances, and Tildeworth caught a rather navy flavour on the tip of her tongue. "It's grey, all grey. Not a glitch in the cameras either. I checked them all myself, to be sure." That had been a long day, too. "No, there was something there. I think I saw it after an earlier take too, but we didn't have footage of that moment because I'd just had my microphone eaten... look, it's a long story, okay?"

"Blockie?" said Brevewin.

"Yeah. Now watch for a few more seconds.." She played the film again, and stopped, just as she saw the movement in the cabins behind her. "There, that shape at the window. You see it?"

Brevewin held out his hand, and Tildeworth removed the helmet and passed it to him. It settled neatly onto his short hair as he spoke. "Yeah, I see it. Like a hood from a robe, all in grey." He tapped the screen with a finger at the spot in the cabin. "Funny to see someone in Camp this time of year. Could be a Dementor? Auditor? Hooded figure? Got itself lost on the way to the fanfic section. Really lost." He removed the helmet, and handed it back to Tildeworth.

"Oh, I thought of that," Tildeworth said. "And if I'd seen it properly, then I'd have been more than happy to give directions back to the library! Even a lift there! But I'm afraid not. I didn't know it was there, until I ran the film. And I'm afraid after this point the signal degrades entirely, so there's not much sense in going on unless you really like looking at static. And yes, I did check that too, thank you. It's plain natural white noise. No alien signals, no disturbing psychic transmissions from the dead, nothing. I do all my checks, you know. I am a professional."

She took a deep breath, and grabbed a minty green cupcake from the display. A little more sugar was exactly what she needed, and she nibbled at the icing before continuing.

"Though I'm afraid the part about my not knowing it was there before then might have been a little inaccurate," she went on.

Two pairs of eyes and one mass of darkness were trained upon her with every word.

"Well, I didn't see it. But on the take before that, there was a failure, and... and then I didn't see anything, but I felt it. You know how it is, when you think something's behind you and then it isn't? It felt like that.

"Now you might be saying 'Tildeworth, there's nothing unusual about entities that cause ghostly presences!' and I'd be entirely with you. But it made me feel something else too. It was as if I'd done something wrong, myself. I stumbled. This wasn't an outtake, I mean... I thought I was the most dreadful broadcaster who ever dared to exist. And I mean that seriously, people who will not be named but might be sitting nearby and have some relation to me! No... it was gone in a second. A creeping dread across my very core, as if I were to be plunged into darkness and it was all I deserved... and then it was gone and the Block Ness Monster had eaten some very valuable broadcasting equipment."

She took another bite, chewed, swallowed, and put the half eaten cupcake down. "I think I know what it is." She laid her hands flat on the table. "I think it's an Inner Editor."

In the silence that followed, she removed the helmet one more time, and returned it to its position on the cushion.

Nobody took it, for a while. Nobody wanted to be the one to say "That's impossible," or "Don't be ridiculous, Inner Editors don't congregate unless there's a plot going on," because nobody wanted to be the one to inevitably find themselves on an Editor's hit list. Editors might have preferred to strike at individual plots rather than something as high level and abstracted as a Personification, that was true, but you never knew.

Or was that it? Were they trying to find out how to voice their concerns in a polite way? Did they think that what she'd seen was nonsense, that she was interpreting patterns on a screen?

That was how it had felt at the filming, too. The way something had opened her up, just for a second, and told her that maybe, she ought to be doing something that wasn't so useless, so full of failure...

Yes, that was exactly how she felt. When she looked up, Brevewin had the helmet again.

"You know," he said, "I don't want to say this, but I believe you..." He laid it down again.

Now the Keeper of the Dares took it. "I've seen many Inner Editors over the years," she said, "and from what you've told me, and what you've said, I have no reason to doubt at the moment, that this is an Editor."

The helmet vanished into the darkness. There was a sustained taste of indigo peppered with cornflower over Tildeworth's tongue, and then the helmet clattered back onto the table. It was covered in a thin rime of hoar frost that immediately sublimed as she watched.

"...Thank you..." she said.

"You didn't really think we wouldn't believe you, did you?" said Brevewin. He touched the helmet, as if not quite sure if it would burn his fingers off. "Editors do show up every year, that's why we have removal specialists."

"He's right you know," said the Keeper of the Dares, placing the helmet back on her white hair. "The concern is here that it appeared in an unusual area, do you say?"

Tildeworth nodded. "Yes," she said, "if you'll forgive me." She accepted the helmet when the Keeper held it out to her. "Thanks. Now you're all aware that there's this ongoing issue with the Travelling Shovel of Death related disappearances? I've been keeping on top of these... I mean, I'm not a detective or anything, but my girlfriend is! She's a very good detective, too, so I like to think I might know a little. And I wondered if they might be linked." She held out the helmet to anyone who wanted it.

The Keeper accepted it. "Now that I'm not so sure about that," she said. "The Travelling Shovel of Death is the natural enemy of the Inner Editors. All dares repel an editor. They long to destroy their nonsense, yet conversely they fear them. Dares, in a high enough concentration, are the best Editor repellent there is. The good old things are sometimes the best."

The helmet vanished again, and there was an appreciative taste of cobalt.

Tildeworth watched the shadows unfurl from it, and picked it up. Nothing exploded, so she put it on her head. "I still plan to tell her." That was the problem with being the Fourth Personification. Everyone else thought they knew better just because they were the Third or Second or First. You never got any respect when you were the youngest. "I didn't want to discredit the possibility that they might not be interconnected. Sue always said that you should never discredit something until you're sure you can, and..." She drummed her fingers on the tabletop. "Listen, I'll be broadcasting a message regardless. This is Week Two. You can never be too careful. At least that's what people say. Just before falling over cliffs, I find, but maybe they didn't take their own advice seriously! Look, my point is this. There are some people who deny the existence of the second moon, and it's best not to be like them, because I am afraid I must call them idiots." She took of the helmet, and planted it firmly in the middle of the table, waiting to see who'd pick it up after that.

"Actually," said the Keeper of the Dares, placing it back on her own head, "I don't see why not. If people are afraid of the Travelling Shovel of Death, I see no reason why they wouldn't be more open to an Editor attack. Anything the two of you could do to boost everyone's spirits can't hurt, I'm sure."

I'm not sure this is just about everyone's spirits, thought Tildeworth. But she said nothing, and picked up where she had left off with the mint cupcake instead.