Professor Hagberg stood by the shore and watched the world in front of him turn to dust. Trees, plants, rocks and even animals dissolved into a black, coarse powder as an invisible hand combed the horizon. Not even the water stood a chance.
A normalised world, he thought.
He pulled up his left sleeve and inspected the scar tissue on his pale arm. Crude cuts that while healed now still formed a paradox in the symbolic language of grammar magic. He ran his fingers over the markings; like visible veins empty on blood, or hollow sculptures that lost their meaning.
The grinding crept closer, and left a silent landscape of black powder behind. The grass in front of him transformed as the inevitable came closer. The grinding was all about its by-product; if it wasn't for the terrible fact that it turned you into a powder, you wouldn't ever notice it.
It swept past a rock (turning it into dust) and continued onto his foot.
Nothing happened. Not even a tickling feeling.
I must admit, he thought as the grinding went over him and turned everything but him to dust, I'm a bit disappointed. It could've least tickled.
As the grinding continued on behind him, he burrowed his feet into the ground. Like a shovel, he lifted a patch of black dust into the air and let the wind catch it.
Fascinating. Tiny particles. Little entities. Just like she said.
He gazed over the black landscape that once was both water and hills. Though dust, it had kept its elevation so the silhouette of the area remained.
Let's see if these little entities remember anything, he thought and raised his arms. As he vocalized the strange symbolic language behind grammar magic, the millions and millions of dust particles in front of him slowly regained their previous colours. They started to lump together into bigger and bigger shapes.
Fascinating, he thought as the landscape returned to its former shape. It worked. It even rebuilt that poor fisherman over there, eye-patch and all.
Billobi stood by his bedroom window, trying hard not to stare into his own reflection. It was in the middle of the night and thus dark outside. He could hear the slow breathing of Ana sleeping on the bed behind him. Their daughter - Anabel - slept in another room and dreamt about soft things. Or, he could only hope she did. Anything was better than the dreams he'd been having since he left Horsehead two days ago.
They all revolved around the same sequence: talking to Mr Hagberg (or whoever he was; a ghost with a monocle), the fear that grew as the ghost kept talking and the eager to flee to a place that didn't exist. The urge to run back to Badgerbrough, to leave Horsehead behind and pretend the talk never happened.
His breath painted foggy paws on the cold window. He took another deep breath, held it for a second and then released it upon the glass. Grey fog. As he prepared to repeat the procedure, a similar pattern appeared next to his.
That's strange, he thought, I'm not even...
A face materialised on the other side of window before he had a chance to complete his thought. His heart gasped for blood and he was forced to take a step back, for that face was all too familiar to him. It was the face of a little girl.
I'm dreaming! his brain cried. Ana will wake me up any second now!
No, you're not, the face spoke to him although no sound was to be heard. It's all very real, Billobi Rustfoot. Do you recall my face?
He nodded slowly, and added: Don't kill me.
No, not now, the face answered. The Grinding has begun. Too soon, we're afraid.
The face ignored him, and continued: It was the Trickster's fault. He came to me, pretending to have questions for his book. But it was all a scheme. I told him to never return, but yet he did. The Trickster. The Turner of Squares. The Fixator of Changes. When I was to grind him for his returning, he played out his plan and became permanent. Reverser of Dust. Taker of No Giving. A scale that tips too much on both sides. We call him many things since that day, but I guess you best know him as the Grammarian.
I...know no one of that name, Billobi whispered.
I see that your dull senses haven't left you, Mr. Rustfoot. The Grammarian is tainting the balance that is the dust of this world. It builds, only to grind. And it grinds, only to build. But he took too much. He's unnatural. He's living on borrowed dust. Because of this, things that would have been need to step back, or take from future beings' dust. The dust in his body doesn't belong to him. We realised this too soon, and now the Grinding has begun to reclaim the portion that was stolen. But he has shielded himself, and is thus protected. The Grinding can't reclaim him, but it won't stop until it has.
It sounds a bit like...like it won't ever work, Billobi mumbled.
It won't, the face said grimly. When eternity ends, all that will exist is the Grammarian and the invisible force that is the Grinding, in a void that will never be rebuilt. You must stop this, Billobi Rustfoot.
At the sound of his name, a coldness struck his heart, and he shook his head as hard as he could. No, he whispered. No. No! Why me? I don't even know who this person is!
You do, the face answered. The Grammarian's mortal name is Carl August Hagberg. He needs to be destroyed before the Grinding reclaims us all and enters its infinite loop.
But... I can't... I don't even... I write! I can't possibly do what you ask of me, that's beyond my knowledge and sanity! You snapped your fingers and...took a piece of my fingernail. I snap my fingers and nothing happens. Why can't you do it? You're more powerful than I am!
Because the Grinding has already reclaimed my dust, the face said and disappeared.