Cutscene: The Illuminated Volume of Joseph Weiss
Three Months Ago
As much as Eien had looked forward to the day of the Weiss estate sale, it had turned out to be a crushing disappointment. Her employers had tipped her off about the sale: Joseph Weiss was, like the two of them, a Viennese expatriate, and one of some personal wealth who had retired to Japan and lived the life of a rich recluse for many years before his death. He and the owners of Kaffe Yomiya had a longstanding rivalry in the collecting of rare first editions and other unusual books...and with his passing, though they had loved him well, they wanted their young employee to have a shot at buying parts of his collection on the auction block.
"And as a way to reimburse you for your time and travel...you may bid on something you'd like for your own collection, and we'll pay the cost."
Such sweet words.
But where were Weiss's rare books? Eien folded her arms, tapped her frown with a fingertip as she studied the boxes. Certainly not packed into the crates that she'd already examined, where volumes with worn spines and water damage made up the moldy majority. Just three good crates in twenty! And the man had a reputation for cunning -- perhaps he'd hidden them away? Maybe he'd sold them off, without her employers realizing. It could be--
"Excuse me, miss. I can't help but perceive that you are as disappointed as I am," said a cultured voice over her shoulder.
The man, Eien saw when she turned to look up at him, was tall and distinguished, with a red coat, a crisp, white shirt, and a golden pin where his cravat might be. He wore a monocle over his left eye, and his long, pale hair was bound into a scholarly knot at the nape of his neck. He smiled very slightly, though it was a chilly, reserved smile. "Am I in the company of another rare tome enthusiast?"
"Y...yes. It seems we've both wasted a long train ride."
"I've wasted a great deal more than that!" said the man, with a stern frown. "I was told by Weiss before his passing that there would be two illuminated volumes here -- part of a set, without which the single volume I have already acquired is quite useless to me. Now I am lacking the cost of my train ticket and lodgings, as well as the cost of the volume I purchased -- which was not insignificant!" As he spoke, he drew the book from within the breast of his red coat, and Eien felt her breath catch in her throat. Etched in gold and silver, the cover gleamed with myriad gemstones, and seemed diffuse with an unearthly light.
"A Sangorski and Sutcliffe?" The gentleman's thin smile grew, but hardly seemed to warm. Everything about him was formidable, intense. "I knew it. I know a connoisseur when I see one."
Eien blushed, flattered.
"As for the book," he continued, lifting it up and turning it this way and that, "I'm quite uncertain, but doesn't it dazzle? I'll be so very sad to see it go. It is lovely, but my collection has no room in it for loose threads."
"You're selling it? Really?" Moments after flaring to life, Eien's wide-eyed hope banked to mere embers. "But...it's probably too expensive for a student."
The pale man slanted his eye toward her, as though weighing her worth against that of the book, which his pale, slender fingers coursed across the textured bindings of.
"I might be convinced to part with it for a lovely young woman with excellent taste in editions," he said, slowly. Eien felt her hope rush back in, like a tide of spring, only to quivver, halting, as he continued: "But I did promise Joseph Weiss when I purchased this single volume that I wouldn't sell it, and I would never betray the wishes of the deceased. Of course...he did promise me that I could have the others when he passed away..."
He considers, and then his cool smile returns. "Let's see, now. I agreed not to sell a book. But how about this, young lady: if I sell you the volume, you must agree to split up the stories within it, and distribute them. How, I care not, though you obviously must not sell them. You may keep one for yourself...and the binding, which I take it is the central point of your interest."
At first aghast at the thought of dismantling the book -- it seemed like a heresy -- Eien was forced to admit to herself, in looking at the binding, that she was wholly enchanted by the thought of adding it to her collection. In any case, she could likely make a fun event out of the distribution, using the storefront as a place to start. The cafe would get publicity, some other people would get marvelous stories, and she would get...
"Alright," she heard herself say softly. "I'll do it."
The gentleman's smile widened, flashing white teeth in his white face. "Excellent. I'll leave my information with the auctioneer. We'll arrange for the book's transfer by post. Now, if you'll excuse me."
"Yes, of course, I...thank you. Thank you very much! My name is Eien Seida. I look forward to hearing from you, Mister-..?"
"Count," said the man in the red coat, as he turned to go. "You may call me The Count."
And Eien -- who has never met the Time Count, secret avatar of Nyarlathotep, and who had no sense of the steel jaws of the trap closing even then about her, and about each of the people destined to be caught up in the coming events -- rose from her formal bow, knitted her hands together beneath her chin and watched him go with eager olive eyes. "Thanks," she said again, and meant it.
What business of hers was it if he wished to style himself after aristocracy? All rich people are eccentric.
He was no different.