When Jon returns from the Lonely without Martin K. Blackwood, he finds himself alone. Elias is gone, Peter is – well. And the desiccated corpse of Jonah Magnus isn’t going to be having insightful conversations any time soon. He’s alone in the Panopticon, and he tells himself not to do anything he might regret later in his pain and his grief.
But that’s never stopped him before.
The Archivist returns to its desk in the Institute proper. The halls are deserted, the normal employees having fled in the aftermath of the violence and the ritual, so there is no one to react to its form until it reaches the office of the entity formerly known as Jonathan Sims, and there is someone there. And she reacts. The Archivist recalls a threat she made to Jonathan Sims ages ago. She would kill him, she said, because he was becoming a monster. And Beholding informs it that she got that gun from a dealer in a parking lot, shows it the transaction, and it barely has time to remark about how supremely unhelpful that is before she is shooting him, several times, while she backs away. She stumbles over a desk and looks panicked, so he stands completely still and does not approach her. This will be harder without assistants, but it has all the time in the world.
When her ammunition has run dry, the Archivist opens its eyes. Not the typical ones, the others, the ones that make you feel seen to your very core. And Basira is Seen and Known, and, to her credit, she does not drop the gun, but she does flee. The Archivist returns to its office and sits at its desk. It has a lot of eyes, more than Jonathan Sims ever had, and all the eyes belong to it. It is the Ceaseless Watcher. And all the doors are open, now.
The world settles down, eventually. The Archivist watches it happen.
The police don’t come near the Institute, when all is said and done. There is too much else to do, and no one wants to investigate the epicenter of the awful changes wrought upon the world. The Archivist watches them, and it sees Basira find Daisy after weeks of following a trail of corpses. It actually averts its gaze (well, not all of it) at their displays of tenderness, certain that they would not want it to see. Beholding stabs into its mind at that thought, reminding it that everything is available for it to see, regardless of what they want. It considers this, and turns two more eyes toward them. Still not all of them, but enough to dull the pain to an ache. Enough to pacify the Eye. It watches Basira pointedly not kill Daisy, and it Knows that she had begged for death when all this was over. It understands the difference between it and Daisy, but it does not think about it.
It is so distracted by not-thinking-about-it that it does not notice the thin, cold fog coalescing in its office door. It is gone just as soon as it appeared.
The Archivist knows that Beholding is the entity of seeing and not comprehending, but that does not stop it from being bored. It wants to make things happen. Beholding reminds it that its job is not to instigate, but to record, and it does not think some choice unkind things in return. It gets up from its desk and feels a chill when it passes by the chair in front of it, dusty from months of disuse. It hadn’t had visitors in a long time, even when it was Jonathan Sims. It pauses in the chill, focusing many, many eyes on the space around it, and it thinks it spots a curl of wet fog. It is too faint to be sure what it meant. But it was there. It files the curiosity away for later.
Jonathan Sims was very good at finding trouble, and at having trouble find him. The Archivist has to remember how to do this, now. It is especially difficult with the Beholding screaming in its head, but it wanders the halls of the Institute and Looks. It doesn’t have to walk in order to see what the aftermath looks like. It wants to anyway. It stalks the corridors, looking at the dried blood on the walls and floor, the spots on the ceiling where something had soaked through and gone moldy. There aren’t any bodies, and it Knows this is because the Hunters hadn’t left anything behind. It reaches Elias’s office and is honestly surprised to find that it looks completely normal. There are papers on the desk, shockingly messy. A pen case in one of the drawers containing 3 different fountain pens. There are no signs of a struggle. Why would there be? Elias has been missing since Jon went into the Lonely. It’s strange not Knowing something, but there it is. The Archivist entertains the possibility that Beholding has snapped him up, taken him into its being, and simply refuses to tell it this fact.
A cold draft passes over it again, and the Archivist snaps open eyes all around the room, this time quick enough to catch a ghostly human shape flee the space in front of it. It makes a pleased noise at the discovery and almost expects Beholding to chastise it for that, too. But it likes knowledge, and it likes new things, and it begrudgingly acknowledges that it is difficult to Know about things that concern other entities. Whatever or whoever this is, Beholding can’t See them, can’t pry into their secrets and make them tell it what makes them tick.
When the Archivist returns to its office, there is a mug of tea on his desk, curling steam like fog into the air.