A Story for an Age Distant and Past (Part 2)
Qela waited until long after the librarians’ footsteps had faded before stepping back out among the books. She pulled her hood back up over her head and made her way to the section on Courtly Studies, checking each corner to ensure the place was empty. Just before she reached the books, she heard a footstep behind her.
She spun around, reaching for her sword, but the guard behind her already had his out and leveled it at her face. He was tall, very tall, and wore a leather breastplate and no helmet.
“Who let you in here?” he growled. Qela narrowed her eyes and went for her sword anyways, hopping backwards outside his reach. He made a hasty swing in surprise, but she was too far away and he almost lost balance. She drew her blade and held it up as she dashed forward, blocking his return slash, and drove her shoulder into his chest to knock him back. His height forced him off-balance and he stumbled back, almost falling.
Qela darted, pommel first to strike him in the temple, but he brought his blade up in front of his face and blocked her. He forced her on the defensive and she had to parry several strikes before she jumped aside. He stepped sideways in front of a wall of books, meaning she couldn’t tackle him without knocking over the shelves, so she crouched and struck out at his legs. The guard easily dodged and thrust down at her low form, but his attack left him open, and as she parried she jumped up and slashed across his chest. His leather armor padded some of the blow, but the tip of her blade caught his shoulder, which twisted his arm back.
Grimacing, the guard reached out with his left hand and grabbed ahold of Qela’s cloak, pulling her off balance. As she fell backwards, instead of fighting it, she brought up one leg and kneed him hard in the groin, then fell into a roll. The guard buckled over and slashed roughly, striking the stones just behind Qela. She got back on her feet and jumped forward. Her sword struck out, blade first, and she swung it right across his neck. There was a sudden spray of blood, a horrible wet grunt, and then the guard fell onto the floor, unmoving.
She let the point of her sword fall to touch the ground. The blood started to pool on the flagstones, and she thought of poor Amiene coming back to find the body there. Still, there was little she could do to clean up the mess, and only hoped that the library director’s involvement in her attack wouldn’t be discovered.
She sheathed her sword and pulled her hood lower over her eyes, then stepped into the library’s section on Courtly Studies. It was considerable, not as large as those in the Miktaban, but respectably sized nonetheless. She could see why a devout Mikat like Amiene had been sent to be its guardian.
After a moment of superficially scanning the shelves, Qela stepped back to take in the entire section. Her eyes studied the contours of the shelves, the old dry wood that they were built from, the books with their thick pages of papyrus and inked characters full of ancient knowledge.
Qela extended a hand, palm forward, and told the books a Story.
“There was an ancient people, who lived in the barren desert, scraping their lives out of the sand and stones. Though there was little in that land for them, it was nonetheless a holy place, for within the hills, deep underground where the stones are cold and the rivers never dry up, lived the Court of Yongit, the world creator. He was God, and God was him, and he wished to serve these people who lived in his domain well. So he, with his many spirits and arcane servants, went forth from their underworld and revealed themselves to this ancient people. And so, through God, they learned of the world. This is what you contain. The holy knowledge of God, of his Court, of his countless spirits, this is what is written on you with plain black ink, and that is why we love you. You are the reservoirs of truth, of power, of goodness and holiness, of God.”
She took a breath, her hand almost shaking.
“But your story is not finished. For many of the spirits of Yongit were treacherous, and sought power above him. They rebelled, and a terrible war tore apart the desert. The poor people who created you were forced against each other, clan against clan, killing for these spirits’ pride. Countless died, the white sands stained with blood, and so terrible was the slaughter, and so long the conflict, that Yongit gathered those spirits still loyal to him and retreated into his Court. Deep underground they returned, where few mortals had ever stood, and there, where the stones are cold and the rivers never dry up, they remained. The great doors were shut, and Yongit, in grief, refused to reemerge.”
Qela’s breath stopped, choking on grief. She looked back up at the books, tears in the corners of her eyes. Her extended fingers trembled and stiffened.
“We are lost without him! This is why we need your help. You know of Yongit, of his Court, please, tell us how to open his great stone door, how to safely enter his halls! His people are scattered, and most have given up the search! Only the most devout still have faith that he will return! Please, if anywhere in your pages you hold these secrets, reveal them to me here and now.”
She dropped her arm.
“I’ve spilled blood for this.”
All was quiet. The shelves loomed over her, lit dimly by the far-off flameless lamps. And even after countless minutes passed, the books didn’t move.
On her way out, Qela grabbed a random book from a shelf.
Qela’s small fire, built on a barren hill just south of the city, wouldn’t be noticed by the sleeping Theyash, not at that dark time somewhere between late night and early morning. She stood looking out over the silent houses, the dusty courtyards, and in the center, the massive palace, where the library was.
She had wasted two Stories in that palace, for nothing. The books had held no secrets for her, for her Story had shown her nothing. She knew it worked, it was one of the strongest she had. There was simply nothing in those pages that would help her.
Returning to the Miktaban would not be fun for Qela. Tajani would be sympathetic, but she would still feel disappointed. And this did not bode well for the future. If neither the Miktaban nor the library of the Theyash held the knowledge they sought, it could very well not exist at all, or been destroyed in the many wars since Yongit’s disappearance.
Qela pulled out the book she had taken from the shelf and held it before her. She didn’t open it, didn’t take in its contents, didn’t discover its secrets. To do so would destroy her, because of what she had to do next.
Maybe the secret of Yongit’s Court was written long ago, she thought. But then a Storycrafter like me came along.
Turning her eyes up to the sky, Qela dropped the book into the fire. It was dry, like everything else in the desert, and the pages were instantly aflame. The thin leather binding crumbled to ash and before the pages followed suit, she could just glimpse the thin handwriting on the paper underneath.
The book’s Story left then, swirling up in the smoke, invisible but powerful. Qela felt it enter her, soaking her skin like parchment doused in water, the Story weaving into her, becoming one with her own. It left behind its details, the characters and setting and plot all burned up in the fire. Only its essence remained, the power of the Story that the writer brought to life on the paper that she had just destroyed.
Besides the new one, Qela had a handful of Stories to use, each an essence use for Storycraft when she wished. Each one acquired the same way, each one burnt up to never be read again. In her years, how many books had she burned? How many Stories she stolen, to reach her ends? And if Yongit is never found, how many countless pieces of art will she have pointlessly ruined in her quest?
Thank god Tajani didn’t know.
Qela put out her fire, breaking up the charcoal and burying the ash, and pulled her hood over her eyes. She turned away from the city and headed west.