"This is it?" Druz grunted. He was easing himself up against the wall, looking worse than she felt.
"Yes," Shuchun said.
"What is it?"
"A weapon, some say," Shuchun said. "Others, a lesson or a punishment. All I know is that the Lorewalkers made it long ago and must bear the burden of keeping the world safe from the consequences."
"What's so dangerous about it?" Ziya said.
"A blank scroll—any blank scroll—contains possibilities. It could become the tale of Rakalaz," Shuchun said, and Ziya looked up. There was a crack in the ceiling, trickling sand. Somewhere above, she had told a story. Had the scroll listened?
"Or, perhaps, it could record the legend of an infinite army made of sand, a legion of spiders," said Shuchun, "or worse."
"So, you're sayin' that it brings characters to life, like Lorewalkers do?" Druz said.
"No," Shuchun said. "You do not understand. I can call on Di Chen to argue with his desert witch and battle his legendary army. I could not turn him on my enemies."
Druz raised an eyebrow. "It can do that?"
Ziya heard the hunger in his voice. Could Shuchun?
"Perhaps," Shuchun said quietly. "Our legends say it can change words into flesh. Hopes into reality."
"Sorry, but that just sounds like summoning to me," Druz said. "Warlocks do it all the time. Nothing wrong with that, minus a few demonic invasions."
"No?" Shuchun said.
A gun cocked.
"No. I ain't denying it's dangerous," said Druz apologetically, his rifle leveled at Shuchun. "But a weapon's a weapon. It won't shoot unless you pull the trigger. So to speak. Ziya, get the scroll."
Shuchun gave Druz a look of such sorrow that Ziya wondered how he could bear it.
"I told you," Shuchun said, "I won't let you take it."
"This ain't a discussion," Druz said. "Ziya. Scroll."
"You think you can control it when we failed?"
"Me?" Druz said. "No. Mr. Gallywix wanted whatever was in here. He's gonna get it."
"'And so, the goblins decided to take the scroll,'" Shuchun said softly.
Her words raced across the scroll, and it pulsed like a single ivory flame. The walls of the room cracked, and white light spilled through the gaps.
Out of instinct, Druz pulled the trigger.
"'Out of instinct, Druz pulled the trigger, and—'"
—the bullet flew.
Bearing the scroll, the goblins left the lorevault and entered the private quarters of Trade Prince Gallywix.
Ziya stumbled, fighting nausea. Druz swayed into her and steadied himself on her shoulder.
How had they gotten here? The last memory she had was of the rifle firing at Lorewalker Shuchun's solemn face, which seemed only seconds ago.
They were somewhere else now. The muted roar of the uberzeppelin's engines throbbed behind the walls. Ziya and Druz stood in a dark, narrow space. A tinker's workroom with a simple wooden stool. A workbench. Carefully organized tools.
Jastor Gallywix sat at the workbench, drawing a schematic freehand, and Ziya's disorientation fled. It had just been a long day.
Gallywix was thinner than she remembered, but not by much. His gut spilled through a plain, open vest. Back then, he'd also had an outrageously oversized top hat, glittering rings, and a megawatt horror of a grin.
This Gallywix wore no riches and wasn't smiling at all. "Maybe you don't know him like I do," Druz had said…
Druz straightened beside her.
"This is it, boss," he said thickly, and he tossed the scroll onto the workbench. Gallywix didn't touch it.
"The Lorewalker?" he said.
Guilt washed over Ziya. She had seen the bullet fly. Shuchun was gone. She had to be.
"Dead," Druz said, but he sounded unsure.
"Too bad," Gallywix said, and he nodded at the scroll. "What is it?"
"Apparently it's a kind of portal that makes stories real," Druz said. "Things got out of control before the Lorewalker could explain more."
The trade prince considered the scroll. Ziya braced herself for whatever terrible thing—
"Sounds like bad news," Gallywix said. "I'll put it in the lower vault when we get back to Azshara."
Ziya's jaw dropped.
"Boss," Druz said, almost pleading. "If you don't use it, someone else will."
"You know what I'm gonna say," Gallywix said, glancing at him.
"Yeah," Druz said, sighing.
"Good. The last thing we need is another big gun floating around," Gallywix said. "Get it outta here."
"And that's it?" The words were in the air before Ziya realized she had spoken them.
Gallywix regarded her. She could see the gears turning in his head.