The Post Room was small with high ceilings, square windows lining the upper rim that allowed golden sunlight to bleed down the cream colored walls. Along the left side of the wall was a massive mail cabinet that reached to the top of the ceiling, every staff member’s name nearly written on parchment and tucked into the slots of their postbox. A desk of the same length ran underneath, providing inkwells, fountain pens, quills, paper, envelopes, melting wax and twine. Canvas baskets of letters were being sorted and filed into buckets attached to pulley chains, mechanical arms inserting and removing mail across a migrating crane.
Frederick pulled out his key and inserted it into the crane slot, the arm racing across the large board of panels and removing three letters from the box before zipping back down and gently placing them in Frederick’s hand.
“Thank you.” He said, causing the secretary to quirk a brow towards him.
He shuffled through the first letter, seeing his mother’s handwriting and smiling as he removed the pressed flower his sister sent him from their cottage in the outskirts of Silestra.
To my wonderful boy,
I hope things in Silestra are not putting too much stress on you. Your father is doing better every day with the false leg your colleague provided two weeks ago; now I can tell him to get his own laundry!
Frederick chuckled as he read the line.
Your sister misses you terribly and sent you this Cobble Lily as an invitation to come home for a weekend, if the Academy will let you. Keep your eyes open for a parcel I sent a day or so ago. I made a few jerrybuckle pastries from the bushes outback near the cliffside. Stay safe and please tell us if we may see you sometime soon.
With all our love,
Frederick took a whiff of the Cobble Lily, brushing its faded petals against his cheek as he reread the letter. He reached over on the desk for a piece of parchment and dipped a fountain pen in the jar, scribbling a laconic response. He reached into his coat pocket and removed his billfold, removing a sizable amount of blue crisp bills and neatly tying them with a small bit of twine. Folding up the letter, he stuffed it into an envelope, melted some of the blue and copper wax and sealed it with the emblem on his post key.
He tossed it in the Sendout basket, returning to the other two letters. One was the same paper, asking to submit his testing results into the Registry before the end of the month. He glanced over and stuffed it into his coat pocket, now focused on the final letter. This one was folded in on itself, a green wax seal with no distinguishing marks. The paper was darker, thicker and more natural and looking more torn that strategically cut.
Frederick quirked his brow, noticing that his name and address was written on it, but no return address. He shrugged and broke the seal as he unfolded the letter.
Inside was nothing but a circle of strange symbols in the center of the page, a lopsided eye like shape inside the ring. Frederick furrowed his brows, confused for a split second before his eyes widened. The ring of symbols suddenly glowed a bright green, the eyelike symbol wheeling around rapidly before locking straight and blinking once.
The amber rims in Frederick’s eyes suddenly grew small vein-like protrusions deep into his irises, making his pupils contract into pinpoints. He screamed, hunching over as he shoved his hands under his spectacles to press them into his eyes. He collapsed, loose paper and pens crashing to the floor as he writhed and howled in pain.
“Professor?! What’s wrong!?” The secretary abandoned her desk, rushing over to him and trying to aid his thrashing body.
He couldn’t hear her, his eyes tearing profusely as he pressed the palms of his hands into the sockets and screaming horribly. He hunched over on his knees, his forehead barely leaving the marbled floor as his body visibly shook.
“MAKE IT STOP! DEAR LORD, STOP!” It hurt too much to even attempt to open his eyes, forcing them shut as images came rushing back in torrents.
Young soldiers strewn about fields in pieces, innocent bystanders holding crying children as they cleaved fearfully to their mothers, wounds like sprung up like a horrible virus from triggering traps none had ever conceived of.
“Frederick! Frederick! It’s Professor Charleson! Tell me what is wrong!”
Professor Charleson was a small, humble little man, his black hair greased and combed to the side as his waxed moustache obscured his upper lip. He abandoned his parcel to attend to Frederick, grasping his shoulders and trying to pin them down.
He responded with a string of profane words, a tongue of which no one understood and cringed just at the sound of it. It switched between Elban and this alien dialect, Frederick falling onto his side and flailing.
“Quickly, restrain him! He’s having a seizure!”
Frederick felt his arms being wrenched from his face, his eyes red and streaming with tears as his mouth and throat continued to utter strange and bizarre things. A heavy weight was pushed down on his diaphragm, making him think he was suffocating and helplessly struggled. Suddenly, a cloth was forced over his mouth and nose, and after taking a few huffs of the familiar chemical scent, Frederick’s body gave out and lay limp on the floor.
Once they were sure Frederick was unconscious, Professor Charleson and two assistants gingerly let go of him, checking his pulse. His breathing soon returned to normal, his eyes still dripping and his face a horrible shade of red.
“What happened?” Charleson asked, adjusting his gold-rimmed glasses.
“I don’t know, Professor. One moment, he was answering his post, the next, he fell over screaming and grabbing his eyes.” The secretary responded, shaken as she watched the two assistants move Frederick to a stretcher, “I do recall he had opened a small, folded letter. Only about six inches long and wide made out of a thick material.”
Charleson’s brows furrowed, his waxed moustache twitching slightly as he knelt down beside Frederick and checked his hands.
In his right hand was only a smear of grey ash.