Down in the Libraryrinth, the Librarian waits. For so long he listened to what came, collated it, and recorded it in the book. Then the man came. The man who was not a man. He came for the vessel. He had to sign for it. Oh but if he knew what he’d signed. Some things have high prices, even those you think you have not paid for.
The man took the vessel away. And things began to change. Lost things stopped coming to the Library. The shelves ceased their moving, and the collated items began to grow clamorous, petulant, demanding to be set free. Freed from the urge to record, the Librarian simply stopped. He sat. Listening to the wail of the lost.
In that manner, left to nothing but his thoughts, the Librarian began to remember. He remembered first that he was not always called Librarian. Then, that he had not always been here. He remembered that he is lost. One last time, the Librarian took up his quill. He did as he so often imagined he would, scratching his name into the ledger. And then, he waited. He waited to be found.
The retort of many feet on the steps of his Library echoes down into his small room at the base of the Libraryrinth. The Librarian raises his head, peering upwards and squinting through the shadows, the weak light of torches, to see who comes. Have they come for him?
Nervous, he fidgets, gnarled hands restless in his lap. These fingers are homeless without the quill. What will he do out there? He has always been the Librarian. He blinks. No. He was forgetting again. Not always. Something made him think it was always. Though he cannot remember what, he was something else once. Someone else. Perhaps whomever it is coming knows his name.
Since Moe, Kitty, Leek and a small company of their men entered the Libraryrinth and were struck by the wave of the noise from countless collated items bellowing for release, not one of them has spoken. They are not afraid, nor are they subdued. The silence is respectful. This is a Library. It is the Library. Where things are lost, they must be curated, and so it created itself, and it refuses to disappear.
Moe holds a torch above his head, peering down into darkness through the pale flicker of flames. He listens to the roar of the Libraryrinth, a thousand thousand lost things crying out all at once, baying and howling. Demanding release. He passes shelf after shelf filled to bursting, to brimming, and the noise of the lost grows louder, a petulant chorus rising in fury.
Where is Andreus? If he is lost on these shelves they may never find him, and the Libraryrinth is failing. The Librarian has stopped collating. All is chaos.
How far does it go? Kitty, in Moe’s mind.
I’m not sure. I think we’re nearing the bottom. It’s cold down here. Getting narrower.
Do you think we can find him?
I’m not sure. The Librarian may know where he is even if he’s no longer doing his job. And the Libraryrinth will keep everything contained no matter what happens. Do you think if this world is destroyed they’ll go back to where they came from?
Kitty doesn’t answer. Moe turns to look at him and the expression on his face tells him all he needs to know. If this world is destroyed, even they themselves might not get home. In becoming real, this world that never should have been is sending vast shock waves throughout the Veils that could spell the end of everything. He turns back and speeds up. Time is precious. Margo is relying on him. Rolf needs him. He needs to find Andreus.
The stairs taper to an end, offering them up into a small, round room. It did not used to be thus. Moe and company see the edges where once it was two things at the same time, but the Libraryrinth has changed. In becoming more in synch with the reality this world is making of itself, it has shed some of its layers. Lost some of its splendour. In the room there is but one table, one chair, and one small, bent man sat waiting. Moe raises his torch. Sucks in his breath.
‘Andreus?’ he asks, because he’s not sure. This man is so old, so worn, so shrunken in upon himself. ‘Is it you?’
Andreus, he thinks. My name is Andreus. Andreus Witter. And you are Moe. Moe Piccolo. You worked for me. You work for me. Nothing has changed and everything has.
Dressed in the attire of a military man, Moe steps forward. He is as vastly different as Andreus feels. This world has done terrible things to him. No, not just this world. Andreus remembers. Things were going bad for Moe before. He’d been so worried for his young employee. Fearful for his health, his sanity. But look at what has happened. Perhaps he should fear for his own sanity now?
‘What is this place? How am I here? How are you here?’
Moe reaches him and crouches down, his hand upon Andreus’ knee. Those kindly brown eyes Andreus remembers so well, deep as dark chocolate, are bright with desperation. ‘There’s no time to explain. You came here with an artefact. We need to find it.’
‘An artefact?’ Andreus tries to think. The time before here, the immediate moments before his re-awakening as the Librarian, are blurred, skittish, refusing to still and be seen. But he recalls dimly being with a client. Receiving an item for sale. ‘It was old,’ he says decisively. ‘Older than my preferred periods. Ugly too. But she swore it was worth a fortune.’
Andreus nods, using Moe’s shoulder to lever himself from the chair and go to the small cot on the opposite wall, so tiny they’d not even registered its existence. He reaches beneath the mattress, burrowing his hand deep, and withdraws an item swathed in cloth.
‘A very dear client of mine, inherited from my boss, Albus Small. A widow. I’ve bought and sold antiques for her for decades. Oh, forty years at least. In all that time, she’s never once let me down. Her knowledge of antiquities is impeccable. So even though I thought this item worthless, I took her at her word.’
He unwraps the cloth. Within it is a dirty cylinder, much the same as the one he gave to the man who was not a man.
‘I can’t open it,’ he says. ‘It’s sealed with wax and the wax is unbreakable. I’ve tried. I know I’ve tried.’
He takes the cylinder to Moe and hands it over. Moe gives it to a woman whose hair seems alive, leaping around her head and dancing. She examines the wax for long moments and then smiles. Taking the two halves between her hands, she twists it, her hair flaring brilliant gold. There’s a flash. Explosive white light like the misfire of a firecracker. A smell of sulphur. And the wax breaks. The lid comes loose.
She holds the cylinder over Moe’s palms. ‘Catch.’ She tips it.
A small bottle drops out. Unremarkable and brown. Stoppered with dirty, ancient cork. Moe’s breath ceases as it touches his skin, and he almost drops it, his face draining to bloodless pallor.
‘Dear god,’ he whispers. ‘What is this?’
‘I don’t know,’ Andreus replies. ‘She said the cylinder was worth a fortune, as I said. But the contents…she told me they were priceless.’
Moe looks up at him. ‘She?’
This time, Andreus responds with her name. ‘Madame Eustacia Hermaini. But she has me call her Mother.’
© Ren Warom 2013