The former mayor of Ketch-in-Loch would've been pleased as the grinding claimed the old tree in the town centre. Unfortunately, it claimed everyone else as well.
The Sole was the first of the three Ogreprovinces to vanish, with Ogrebelly soon to follow. In the middle of the deep, dark forest, an old man locked out from his brick house by his fat cat had a short epiphany before turning into black powder. A feeling of déjà vu, if he only could've felt it longer.
Up in the Talltops, the great mountains accepted their fate. They needn't walk any more.
The grinding didn't really swoop across the land, but rather devoured it in a straight line. Not that it mattered for the old man with his cursed cart, coming down the gravel road between here and there. For a split second, he had two free hands. Unfortunately, the next he had none.
The town of Woostershire disappeared as well, linen and all.
Before entering the town of Horsehead, it pulverising every last one of the haunted tombs outside. Although devastating, most people in the old settlement never noticed the grinding taking place. Thomas Althorp was just about to cross-pollinate a bunch of spellbooks when every single building block in his body fell to the black ground.
Billobi was no more special than anyone else. He just happened to look outside his window at the exact right moment, to see his old street turn into a black powder, moving toward his house at an alarming speed. His daughter's face crossed his mind, and then nothing more.
hen nothing changes, time's passing is wasted.
A figure materialised in the void, taking the shape of a human being that had walked the earth a bit too long. It was an approximation, he knew that. Not his shape - he was all too familiar with it by now to get it wrong - but the exact location. If he had done his calculations right, he should be in Badgerbrough. More or less.
Only one way to find out, he thought to himself and raised his scarred arms.
The black powder on the ground in front of him lumped together and formed a table in a couple of seconds.
Not too specific, I'm afraid.
He raised his hands again, and vocalised line after line of grammar magic. More and more dust formed into recognisable things, retaking their previous shapes. Tables, books, walls, floor, people...
As Billobi reformed, his body's entities regained their most recent memory and put him in fear of losing his daughter. He quickly opened his eyes, only to meet professor Hagberg's amused gaze.
"Hello, Mr. Rustfoot", he said politely. "Headache?"
Billobi shook his head. Confused and scared, he looked around to see if Anabel was safe, but met a view that scared him even more so. It was as if the world around him was only partially built, some thing more completed than others. Looking out the window, a world of black dust met his eyes.
"No need to panic, Mr. Rustfoot", professor Hagberg said and formed a chair for Billobi to sit on. "Take a seat and I'll try to explain. I wouldn't worry too much about all this" - he said and waved his hand around - "I will mend it as soon as possible. And I'm not only talking about your little house here in Badgerbrough."
"Is it all gone? Everything?"
"As a matter of fact, the answer is both yes and no. Yes, it is gone in the sense that your mind can't see it, but it is still there. Every single turnip, quarrel and smell still exists. It lives on in the dust."
He grabbed a handful of the black powder from the floor, and poured it over his empty hand.
"Fascinating, actually. Go on, swallow some. I ate some back in Skiff-in-Loch, it doesn't taste anything, and I promise you won't remove anything from the world. I hope. It would be such a waste if old lady Darnton suddenly had disappeared..."
"Did you do this?" Billobi asked with a hoarse voice, as if the shock had a firm grip around his throat.
"Again, both yes and no. The grinding is part of the natural order of events, and will happen whether you want to or not. It would be foolish to stop it. Granted, this time it happened a bit too early, and I'm partially responsible for that, if not fully."
"The girl said you tricked her."
"The girl? Oh, I see, you mean that thing in Skiff-in-Loch. Yes, I took my research a bit too far. I knew there had to be some way to preserve things through grammar magic - or any magic, for that matter, it's all just about formalisation really. Why did the grammar square lack any means to sustain things? Oh, don't give me that look, you do remember the grammar square, don't you?"
Billobi shook his head.
"Move, Create, Fixate, Destroy, and Change? Oh well. Any way, I thought I had it settled with fixation, but how do you fixate a constant change? And that's where the paradox rose, Mr. Rustfoot. You can't fixate someone's life to make them immortal - every organ in their body will freeze and you'll end up hanging from a tree when the mob finds you. No, what you want is to change yourself to your previous self - a change, followed by a change, followed by a... The constant change."
"Is that what...started the grinding?"
"Well, you could say that. Or you could say that I managed to cut down the time for the next grinding with a couple of thousands years. The girl - as you call it - calls me a trickster, and maybe that's right. Maybe I did cheat a bit. But on the other hand" - he said and raised his hands to reform a crumpled copy of the Inquisitive on the table - "I know how to turn things back to normal again."
"She called you 'the Grammarian'."
"Did it now? 'The Grammarian'! Ha!"
Professor Hagberg leaned against the table, and sighed. His eyes aged as he gazed outside.
"I guess I should have stayed a theoretical mathmagician."
He sat there silent for a moment, playing mindlessly with the monocle in his hand. Billobi couldn't stop looking at him. It was the only calm spot in this new world he knew of. He didn't dare look in any other direction of fear of losing his mind. Again.
"Now then, Mr. Rustfoot", professor Hagberg said and stood up. He put in his monocle and adjusted his clothes. "I must press on. I have a world to restore. Fear not, before you know it you'll hold your daughter again. And after all this", he said with a sigh, "I guess I have some borrowed dust to return."