Chapter 10.4

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"Completely unnecessary," he puffed. "Oh, who is this?" He craned his neck out and looked around.

"My friends." Ward said. It felt strange to say this. "We need to speak with you. We've got a problem. I told them that if anyone could solve it, you could."

Snapper looked at Slops. "He said that?"

"Well not exact -" Slops began.

"Course he said it," Mildew said. "Everyone's heard of your problem-solving. You're a genius they say – a regular progeny."

The door opened a little further. "Well I wouldn't usually allow – but in this case, I think – well okay, come in then."

Ward thought Snapper might insist that Grim and Leif stay outside, but he seemed to have no aversion to them. The fel and the gillywig prowled about Snapper's richly furnished but somewhat decayed lounge while Snapper served a light repast of coffee, fruitcake, shortbread biscuits, blueberry muffins, and cupcakes.

Perhaps the food sharpened Snapper's senses, but he soon reverted to his earlier suspicion, staring at each of them in turn over the top of his ruff, which had sprung outwards alarmingly, as if it was a natural defence mechanism designed to protect the soft Snapper neck within.

The ruff eventually spoke.

"Young people these days ask too many questions. I never asked questions as a boy. It's a dreadful way of finding anything out."

Mildew, not one for introductory speeches, replied: "Does the name David Nassar mean anything to you?"

Ward thought Snapper's suspicion would intensify, but instead his eyes lit up. "Yes it does! Let me show you something."

He swept over to a cupboard, drew a hoop of keys from his pocket, unlocked the door, and returned with something under his arm. He propped it on the coffee table so that they could all see it.

"Twenty-seventh century," he said proudly.

It was a woodcut like those Carmen had seen in the books in the library under the Old City, except this one was in a picture frame. Cages hung in the background. There was the suggestion of a river beyond. People in strange clothing stood in the foreground, while about their legs twined animals that may have been cats or dogs, though their faces looked oddly human. The sky was filled with birds. Dozens of beaks fought for purchase on the clothing of the man they were carrying away. The noose that hung about his neck had been severed, and it trailed through the air. He seemed hardly a man at all. His hands were like the talons of an eagle, his knees bent backwards like the hind legs of a horse. There was a suggestion of nightmarish deformity beneath his clothes, as if someone had dressed a spider. His eyes were closed.

"He's dead," Mildew said.

"Asleep," Snapper said.

"I wouldn't be snoozing if a pack of birds was making off with me," Mildew said.

"Art from the Middle Period was rarely literal," Snapper said. "It's a symbolic sleep. The artist was trying to tell us something."

Ward looked up at Snapper. "What?"

Snapper stared at the woodcut for a moment. "That David Nassar was always asleep. He was one of the Seven Sleepers."

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When a pack of birds is making off with you but you still manage to take a selfie.  Priceless.

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