“Looks like another flood today,” said the Rootsmith, taking off her headphones.
Across the room, Sagistus looked up from his newspaper and said, “Why?”
“Voices from the sewers,” said the Rootsmith. “Mumbling from grates and cisterns.”
“Nonsense,” Sagistus said, returning to his newspaper. “They always panic in the lower terraces. Besides, there are plenty of other things to worry about on those streets than a little chattering come down the drainpipes.”
The Rootsmith chuckled, sensing easy money to be made. “Fine,” she said. “I'll wager you one golden sovereign on it.”
Sagistus hesitated. He already owed the Rootsmith a goodly amount, even for one in his position. Yet, his nature contained a capacious optimism and an abiding sense of his own inerrancy.
“Done,” he said.
Smiling, the Rootsmith asked, “What do the enigmatists write on?”
Sagistus put down his paper, fished a clementine from his pocket. “Usual,” he said, as he peeled the fruit. “Big brass are in fits and furies over the campaigns two stations down, no progress, loads of casualties.”
Sagistus offered a segment, which the Rootsmith refused.
“Well,” she said. “What did they think? That it would be some sort of pancake war, with medals and glory for all? Big gleaming press conferences and multicolored interactive maps showing triumphs daily?”
“Well, yeah, apparently,” said Sagistus.
The Rootsmith looked out the window, surveying the detritus from the last flood.
“Any changes out there?” said Sagistus.
The Rootsmith shook her head. She noted the shattered reliquaries, their bones all washed away, and the votive paintings strewn across the streets leading from the bridge, adumbrations of love and chaos. “Ah,” she thought. “Our bridge...” The bridge soared into the sky, the bridge that she and Sagistus had made out of iron ore they had extracted from a meteorite. What days those had been, when the formula for iron was new, when with windful heat they beat the air into a shimmering madness!
“No changes,” she said. “That one lonely red slipper is still bobbing in the eddies by the bridge pediment on the farther side. We should correct those currents, I think.”
Sagistus had barely finished nodding his agreement when an alarm blurped on the wall.
“Well, well, well,” said the Rootsmith. “What district?”
Sagistus unfurled his wings, turned off the alarm with a bronze pinion. Clementine segments went everywhere. “Ah, of course,” he said, squinting at the indicator lights. “The dealates in sector six report multiple breaches.”
Picking up her guns, the Rootsmith said, “I'll just add that sovereign to your tally, shall I?”
Sagistus smiled. He had believed he would win this time. Still and all, losing the bet wasn't really a loss, more like a gift to them both during their shared vigil of ages. He strode past her, uttered an antediluvian cheer, and was already aloft when she exited their watch-post.
Pausing in the courtyard, the Rootsmith looked over her shoulder, at the distant walls and turrets behind her.
“Well, well, well,” she said, flexing her wings. “Whose idea was it – truly—to close the gates in the first place?”