A Story for an Age Distant and Past (Part 1)
Year 2 SC (1510 Stayatam), Sha-Theyash, Theyash Clan east of The Miktaban
Qela dropped from the ceiling, landing silently on her calfskin slippers. Crouching low, she looked down the hallway. The pale limestone in this part of the palace was unpainted, and without any light other than the fingernail moon shining through the open window, it was difficult to make out anything much farther than a few feet. Still, it was empty of guards for now, so, unfazed, Qela started down the passageway.
Thirty feet in, she was able to see the section of wall she was looking for, memorized through careful study of maps and plans over the past week. The whole complex was over six hundred years old, meaning there were plenty of dead ends and winding passages, so determining a safe route was near impossible, even with Tajani’s help. She was forced to make do with this empty stretch of stone bricks which now stood blankly before her.
“Hey!” The shout cracked against the empty walls and Qela spun around to see two guards at the end of the hallway, starting to briskly walk towards her.
“Who are you?” one of them asked, and though it wasn’t a shout this time, it was still far too loud for her comfort. Qela shifted on her feet so that they were firmly planted on the stones below and pulled her cloak around herself, obscuring her figure.
One of the guards got right up to her, brass shield raised. He lowered his spear when she looked up at him in the eyes. “Miss?” he asked, clearly confused.
Her foot shot out, flying under the man’s shield and crashing against the nerve right above his knee. He collapsed, off-balance and crying out, and she pulled out her shortsword, parrying his spear in one swift motion. Startled, the other guard dashed up to them. She jumped back, raising her blade, and the second she landed she sprang forward again before the second guard could properly raise his weapon. She slammed her body against his shield to knock him off balance. As he stumbled back she spun around to the left.
The first guard had gotten back up and turned around to stab his spear at her, but she ducked away, kicking the spear out of his hand. She jumped forward and rammed her sword’s pommel into his brass helmet with a ringing crack. He staggered back, and Qela jumped away from a surprise stab from the second guard.
Frustrated, he went for a second jab. In the middle of the lunge, Qela twirled around to the side and stabbed her blade into the guard’s flank, behind the chestplate and into the gut. He barked in pain as she pulled her sword back out and barrelled at the first guard, knocking him against the wall and dashing his head again. His helmet fell off and he slid limply down the wall. The second guard let out a shout of rage and pain and swung his spear around wildly, arcing it over Qela’s head. She jumped towards him and slammed her pommel against his temple, and the second guard collapsed.
She stepped back, breathing hard. She crouched and checked both of the guards. Both unconscious, still breathing, though the one she stabbed was bleeding a fair amount, staining the tan tunic he wore under his breastplate. He would likely survive a gut wound like that, though it could get infected, so she hoped they would be found soon. Not too soon, though.
Sliding her shortsword back into its sheath under her cloak, she turned back to the empty section of wall. The bricks were big and pale. She closed her eyes, took a breath, held out her hand diplomatically, and told the walls a Story.
“You were cut from the hills nearby,” her voice rang out clearly, and she opened her eyes, staring at the wall. “And carried here six hundred years ago, you have held up the ceilings and halls of this palace, served its masters well, you are reliable and strong, but sometimes strength isn’t enough.” She glanced back at the guard she had knocked out against the stones. “Sometimes strength can hurt the ones you’re meant to protect. Sometimes strength can make you weaker, and sometimes it is better to be open and accepting than stolid and unyielding. After all, every wall needs a door.” She lowered her hand, her Story finished and gone. For a second, the corridor was silent, her breath stuck in her throat. Then the bricks seemed to quiver, and though they must have weighed half a ton each, they began to shift around, pulling away, rearranging until, before Qela, stood a simple square doorway straight through the wall.
She sucked in breath in relief and stepped through the portal to the chamber on the other side. She hated having to Storycraft for a simple door, but there hadn’t been a safer way in. It was dark inside, with no windows, and not very large, so she crossed the passageway quickly to the door on the other side. Just as she reached it, she heard the stones behind her grinding again, shifting back to how they were. She wasn’t surprised, her Story hadn’t been particularly strong.
She pulled her hood back, revealing her short, stark white OnKitabie hair, and rapped three sharp knocks on the door. It opened, and an older man with identical hair stuck his head through. She tensed slightly.
“Do you seek knowledge?” he asked, and she relaxed.
“Yes,” she responded, “I seek freedom.” He nodded and opened the door further, quickly ushering her inside. Through the door was a library, clay shelves holding books and scrolls stacked high.
“Right this way, miss. My name is Amiene, and this is my library,” he said, his confident smile waving away a curious attendant. He led her through the shelves, and she was surprised to see massive blue lamps shedding light on the half-dozen or so librarians busy at work among the tomes.
“I didn’t know they had flameless lamps outside of the Miktaban,” Qela said quietly, trying not to draw attention to herself.
Amiene smiled. “Yes, they are quite rare here in the clans, though I was able to procure some a couple years back. The chieftain didn’t see the point until I reminded him he didn’t want his precious library to burn down.” He led her around a corner and they found themselves in a side office, out of sight of the other librarians.
Amiene spoke softly. “What does the Mikat need?”
“I need to search this library for Courtly documents,” Qela said. “Tajani needs information on the Enlightened Age and the Court’s relationship with the outside world.”
Amiene nodded. “So I take it she’s taken up her search again?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Do you judge the Kjalit Miktabit?”
“Not at all, not at all,” Amiene said quickly.
“Right.” Qela paused. “I’ll need the area cleared for half an hour.”
“Surely it will take you longer to search than that.”
“I’ll know what I need when I see it.”
He nodded, thinking. “I can get them out,” he said after a moment. He went to leave, then stopped. “Will you be taking any books?”
She nodded her head. “Hopefully that won’t be a problem.”
“Not at all. I serve the Mikat first.” He left the room, calling the librarians towards him. Qela waited until long after their footsteps faded.