Two years before, the Blessed Isle...
The young magistrate sighed boredly as she glanced around the great library, her prayer-etched earrings giving a soft, serene chime as she turned her head. He was late again, the librarians said he should have gotten into port hours ago. With a chuckle, she imagined him scrambling down the edge of the dock at wherever-it-was he'd been this time, leaping and clinging onto the back of the ship as it left like some nerdy little grey-haired limpet. It was definitely the way he was, overzealous to the point of obsession when it came to delving into places he didn't belong. With a sigh, Arathea looked to Crane's usual seat at the long table, still empty. If he kept this up...
Crane burst into the library with an irrepressable grin on his face, doing everything he could to keep from running, keep from skipping as he proceeded down to a massive bookstand upon which an equally massive book was placed. Practically heaving the giant reference tome open, Crane paged through various sections with an insatiable fervor.
"Reagents...no, medicinals, no...not any kind of documentation or recording matrix..." The scholar poured over the pages, flipping back and forth almost frantically, occasionally glancing at the blue jade bauble he now held in his hand. Arathea stood not five feet away, merely observing his frantic curiosity run its course.
"No, no, it's jewelry, not jacketing..."
"Slashing Crane, I need to-"
Crane looked up from the book, his gaze turning to the blue jade amulet, carved into the shape of a dragon's gaping head. With a snap of his fingers, he nodded. "First Age Section." He reached down to the back section of the book's pages, lifting and shoving the correct place open with a WHUMP of aging paper and a small poof of dust.
"Crane, I'm talking to you."
"Collar of Cleansing...no, no, it's just this one piece...wait, here we go."
"I swear, is there nothing in your head that's not about ruins?"
"Hearthstone amulet? HAH! I knew it!" Crane tossed the jade amulet up and caught it with the same hand, triumphantly staring at the artifact's stylized gaping maw. "Knew this was worth the trip."
"Yaah!" Crane shrank backward from the bookstand and bumped into the bookcase behind, finally snapped out of his obsessive search, looking around nervously to find only the young purple-haired magistrate. He'd spoken with her between his expeditions all the time, yet she always seemed able to sneak up on him like that.
"Er...yes, I'm terribly sorry, miss Arathea, didn't even notice you there."
"I suppose next time I should try covering myself in dust and cobwebs, maybe add a deathtrap or two for good measure." The demure woman gave a wry grin. "For such an intelligent man you certainly are blinded when it comes to these expeditions of yours. You make me worry, Crane." And he'd remembered her name again, even. More concerns...
"Ah...yes. Sorry about that. I just, well, I came in from the docks just as soon as I could get the find unloaded. This was the only piece I didn't want in with all the documents we'd found." He indicated the amulet. "It's a first age find, a real first age find. I was going to get it back to the House auditors as soon as I could verify it, it's just, well-"
"You should've been more careful, Crane, you know owning jade is forbidden for mortals, anyone who saw that could've had you arrested." Arathea gave him a stern look, the scholar responding with the whimpering look of a sad little puppy. Sighing to try and cover her smile, Arathea snatched up the amulet from his hand. "Let's get this thing back to the auditors where it belongs, I need to talk to you anyway."
The park between the auditors' vault and the library had always been one of their favorite places to talk. Crane had met Arathea two years ago, a magistrate aide to the Immaculate Order who had been assigned to the city in order to help regulate some of the mercantile exports going through the port. She'd found herself at the Library perusing the Shogunate-era books Crane had been shelving, and once they had gotten over Crane's nervousness and Arathea's sheer emotional distance, the two became good friends. Arathea usually came to see him between his expeditions out to the various threshold ruins, but lately her visits always seemed to carry a serious air about them.
"I'm betting whatever you wanted to talk to me about is of some deathly, horrid, Dragons-preserve-us-the-sky-is-falling importance, isn't it?" Crane said with a sarcastic smirk.
"Actually, it's got to do with you, Crane."
"With me? What'd I do, I mean I've never broken any laws here - none I know about anyway..." The scholar gave her a sideways glance, starting to back up.
"No, no, it's not like that. I just...I'd like you to stop going on these expeditions."
Crane stopped mid-stride, putting hands on his hips and giving Arathea a serious look. "Stop? Miss Arathea, you know why I go on those expeditions. People need the information we bring back, no matter how insignifigant. We're working to educate people. One of these days I want to be able to walk up to an urchin on the street and have a debate with him about the dichotomies between the first Shogun and the Empress - the knowledge we recover is the most important thing in seeing that happen. I mean, we're gathering the truth here, the truth of history and the lessons it tells us. In time we might even be able to bring the Realm back to its real glory days, it just takes time and teaching."
"Then teach, Crane." Arathea's expression was concerned. "Go teach to your heart's content, I know you love doing it. Just promise me you won't go out like this any more. They're too dangerous."
"I think you're overexaggerating."
"What about the omen dogs on your last expedition?"
"Well, that was a natural haz-"
"The guillotine blades in that western temple?"
"Oh, those things barely even-"
"The poisoned arbalest traps in the northern tomb you went to last year?"
"I hardly think that-"
"Crane, I do think that. You think I haven't noticed the fact that you're wearing a new jacket? What happened to the old one, huh? Natural hazard, or was it just another close call?"
Crane looked down and away. "Alchemical fire trap." he mumbled.
"Look, I know the job's dangerous. That doesn't make it any less necessary, Miss Arathea."
"Then let someone else do it, please." Arathea put her hands on his shoulders, her green eyes meeting his hazel-brown. "You're a brilliant man, and a good friend. The Realm, and I, we can't afford losing either."
"...I'll cut back." Crane finally said, not eager to disagree with her too long, he already knew very well how a staredown with her would go. "But I'm making no promises. They need me to go out, I'm going."
"Good. Now, tell me about this one then." She indicated the amulet. "I understand there was an alchemical fire trap involved?"
"Well, it's not as bad as it sounds, really..."