A book flew through the doorway and struck the wall opposite, exploding into ill-glued leaves and leather. Obraxious Gooth was in a mood. I bent to collect the papers, noting the unfortunate tome was the rather rare Ristant’s Guide to Emphemera and Suchlike Bric-a-Brac of Diverse and Intriguing Natures, Compiled for Those of Curious Dispositions. One for the rebinding pile. I entered Gooth’s office to see just what had so disgruntled my employer.
Gooth was in a proper baboon-faced huff, gammon pink and trembling with rage. His luxurious white hair had been fisted into tufts and he looked more like he’d tumbled out of a tree than fallen into tenure at Meridional University. He was striding about, carving grooves into the polished harp-wood floor with his ever-present spurs, which accounted for the tortured shrieks that had echoed down the halls, terrifying students. He’d never explained the spurs. He rode no beast. I suspected he just enjoyed being able to damage something merely by dragging his feet a little. I should, of course, be labelling him “Chancellor” Obraxious Gooth, but honestly, familiarity has not bred merely contempt but utter bafflement. In time that has mutated into a sort of morbid fascination with the man. I’m actually compiling a small collection of my own, recounting the behaviours, rages and panics that most would never expect to emerge from one of the university’s foremost academic minds. I come to work just to watch him, amazed.
It seemed Gooth was still frothing up to some greater rage – he hadn’t even noticed my entrance – clutching in his meat-coloured fists the latest edition of the Journals Biologinary. He’d screwed it up so much that I couldn’t see who was on the cover, but I had my suspicions. Rosenhatch Traverstorm had featured in the renowned journal more than any other researcher at the university, to great controversy. The man was reckless, probably a liar, and had barely any true research to his name. Nonetheless his sheer fame and popularity had led Gooth and the board to grant him a post, if only to prevent any rogue academic from upsetting the candy beetle, as they say. It hadn’t really worked. Traverstorm still did exactly what he wanted to, and had lately set off on another expedition to the other side of the Great Bane Desert. There was every chance he’d die, or at least get a great many others killed in pursuit of a myth. Gooth had been outraged when he learned that the whole affair had been funded by the impossibly wealthy Lady Corshorn and her husband, neatly circumventing the need for a university grant or university approval.
I’d truly thought Obraxious was going to have a stroke at that point, but he did at last breathe and deflate like a grand barricole dropping from the clouds to squat in fouled water. He could well be working himself up to another of those moments. I made sure I was attentive and would be able to recount it later (an attentiveness easily mistaken for concern and professional courtesy). While Gooth was saying words, they weren’t in any particular order so far as I could determine, and that they were alternately hissed and bellowed further reduced their intelligibility. At last the big man blanched, clutched his chest and fell backwards into his rotating leather chair, which promptly turned further and dumped him onto the floor. I stepped forward and peered over the desk, taking care to keep my hands clear of the shattered and spilled detritus on the desk.
“Chancellor…?” I politely enquired, looking down at the sweating mass behind the desk.
With a noise that was half roar, half sigh and all failure, a meat-fist grappled with the edge of his table and as the finger nails turned white with effort, he hauled himself up. When the other paw came up, it brought the copy of the Journals. He slapped it down in the middle of the wreckage marring his writing slope, with sufficient force to crack it. Another item to be re-ordered. As Gooth’s fist cleared the crumpled cover, I glimpsed what had so enraged him, but he was keen to fill me in and share his suffering anyway.
“Bloody Traverstorm! Bad enough! Prating fool. But this!” Obraxious gestured at the magazine with fingers curled in contempt, and I recognised the second figure on the cover. They’d been arranged as if this were a poster for a lumping match or similar, the opponents in their corners, mocked up in costume and cape for the fight. Traverstorm in the red corner, and in the blue… oh my.
“Ryme?! That fool Guldwych Ryme has also undertaken to venture into the Corrigible Mountains in pursuit of that maximum cretin Rosenhatch. Outrageous!”
He continued to bellow, though I was a mere three feet away.
“Tea?” I enquired, “some cooling lance-water, perhaps.”
This elicited my desired response, drawing the chancellor ever nearer to that nervous collapse which would permit me to serve some other, perhaps less bestial chancellor in future. With a propulsive gasp, Gooth fell backwards into his chair (which supported him this time) and emitted a high pitched scream at the ceiling.
“I’ll kill them both,” he hissed between screams, “I’ll have them both murdered in the night.”
To have so much apparent power and yet be utterly undone by his faculty’s waywardness never ceased to delight me, and I well knew that Eslie Chem would be similarly delighted. Chem had vanished off with Guldwych Ryme of course – that had been the plan all along. Gooth continued to writhe in anger and distress.
“They didn’t even submit funding applications!” he wailed despairingly.
“I’ll just fetch that tea then, shall I?” I took his rolling eye for assent. I stepped carefully around the other books that littered the gouged floor of the chancellor’s office and trotted off in search of tea, and a nice spot to sit down and make some notes on the chancellor’s tantrum. Whatever Chem was up to, goading Professor Ryme into a mad jealous chase after his hated rival, anything that brought Gooth closer to a heart attack was all fine with me.
This story feels a little like I’m cheating because it fits neatly into The Desert Crystals, a series I’m keen to pick up again and continue…