by Dan Hiestand
The Invisible Library
Where Angels Sleep
Following yonder Star.
The House and its mysterious architect are not about to release their captive without a battle, however.
The Thief of Always
I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free.
The Invisible Library
“Makes you wonder if it was ever really there at all, doesn't it?”
Relic had already ascended to the second level of the massive library, and as he searched for the section, the stories his father used to tell him started rolling through his mind. More specifically, the kind of libraries in those stories, and they as came quickly — and unbidden — as one's life flashing before their eyes.
For Relic, from the time he was a very young child, libraries were magical. He could still recall the moment of sheer wonder and exhilaration the first time he understood what it meant to use one. All of those books, all of that knowledge. The stories his father would tell him, usually at night beneath the stars, off on one of their trips to sell their watches, embraced that magical feeling.
The depictions of libraries in those tales could almost be neatly categorized into three essential magical types:
The library containing all books regardless of written-status: The library of all the books that ever have been, or ever will be written.
The library where the books speak to each other: nattering to each other in the quiet time between visits from browsing and visiting patrons — encouraging each other or being a bad influence upon one another, each to their own agenda.
Then there were the libraries as portals to other worlds, and places, and times: Not the ones where the books were the actual portals, but those that opened the gateways to other places simply by their existence.
But what was truly magical about these categories was the way they corresponded with the way libraries worked in the real world.
In the end, for Relic, it was the feeling of all that potential. He could feel it when he walked between the shelves, the rows and rows of books. It was a place where fledgling ideas came alive, and came out into the open, and grew. They were places of sanctuary, for escapism — serving as grounds for exploration and inspiration. Libraries were magical bridges between fantasy and reality.
And in that way, he couldn't help but think ...
In that way, it almost felt fitting that he should die in one, in this place that had always been most sacred to him. And try as he might — and he tried very hard — Relic couldn't keep that horrible thought at bay.
Isabelle was directly beside him.
Below, on the first floor, the library proper contained unnumbered collections of mostly unique and ancient books, parchments, and artifacts. Jace was standing at the large table that stood in its center, like the eye of a storm. Cedwyn, who was the last to enter, closed the door behind him and ran to the table as well.
Gods of Sun and Sacrifice, the immense book they had flipped through was still there, and now Jace was thumbing through it again.
"No dust," he said, somehow knowing exactly what page his friend had found the day before. "Remember how much dust was on this stuff yesterday?"
Jace glanced up.
"Makes you wonder if it was ever really there at all, doesn't it?"
The revelation seemed to mean very little to Cedwyn.
"I guess, man," he said, now standing right beside him, looking down at the book for himself. "So, I mean, you wanna get back to running for our lives now, or ..."
But Jace remained eerily calm, having stopped on the obelisk illustration and the coat of arms. It was a five page section altogether, and he ripped every one of them out.
"The insignia in this book matches the sails on those ships out there," he said, jogging over to the narrow staircase leading up to the second level. "If we get out of this, these pages might prove useful."
"Good thinking," Cedwyn said. "No move your stupid ass."
Jace smiled as they climbed the stairs together, side by side.
"Waiting on you, Knight."
"Mm. Just remember, secret assassin or not, I could still kick your ass if I wanted."
Relic and Isabelle were in front of the location they were looking for, even before Jace and Cedwyn caught up to them in a particularly constricted aisle.
"20-402," he said, running his finger over the spines of a dozen books. But then a look of frustration swept across his face when he got to the one etched clearly with the number 402. He brought his hands to his hips, glancing at the number 20 above the shelves again.
"What?" Isabelle asked.
Relic sighed, pulling out the book and handing it to her.
She raised her eyebrows, passing it along to Cedwyn.
"Um ... alright look ... it might be time to start seriously reconsidering our strategy here," he said after getting a look at it.
Jace looked back at him, bouncing his attention between Cedwyn and the book.
"What is it?"
"Not what I would recommend risking our lives for," Cedwyn said. There was more concern in his tone than annoyance, but the annoyance was certainly there. "Unless, of course, you think we could use," he glimpsed down to the cover again, reading it. "Trowel & Error: The Neophyte's Guide to Gardening by Rachel Ayers to somehow save Ciridian.
Jace stepped closer and snatched the book out of Cedwyn's hands.
"That doesn't make any sense," he said, disbelieving.
"Yeah, on that we agree completely," Cedwyn said. "We're going back out to the entrance and taking our chances. C'mon."
He started to move away, past a demoralized Jace, when Isabelle grabbed his wrist.
"Wait a minute," she said, looking stunned.
"We don't have one," Cedwyn shot back, pulling his arm away. "You know better than anyone that I would never disregard any information gained through a trance, alright? But there's nothing here. Our problems are slihtly more serious than choosing the right kind of soil for—"
"Shhhh!" she cut him off, turning to Relic. "When we were in here reading about the Beacon Fleet ..."
Relic looked confused by the unexpected delay.
"Yeah?" he finally urged.
Jace looked up.
"What? What's up?"
"There's another level above where the locations are marked with a series of three numbers, not two," she said, and her eyes widened before she took off running.
Jace dropped the book and was in fast pursuit, chasing her through a maze of bookshelves and past a large bust of some unknown, long-dead aristocrat. When he got to another flight of stairs, he bounded up them skipping every other step.
"Where are we going?" Cedwyn yelled, even more nervous now with the first floor completely out of sight behind them. At any moment, he knew, it could be filled with golden riders and there would be no way of knowing.
"It isn't 20-402," she shouted back at them. "It's 20-400-2! Three separate numbers!"
"Damn, I don't know if she's a genius or we're just stupid," Cedwyn whispered to himself, unable to contain a rush of optimism. "But I'm pretty sure you're a genius, girl!" he yelled up ahead.
Right in front of Cedwyn, Jace smiled as Isabelle stopped. She was already scanning through an array of colorful books, pulling several off the shelf and out of her way. Relic was beside them now as well, watching eagerly as she found the spot.
The book: The Shape of Things to Come by H.G. Wells, was not the true discovery, however. It was the false back of shelving behind it, complete with a finger hole.
Isabelle never hesitated.
Pulling it free, she reached behind the paneling and into the wall, far enough so that her arm was fully inside.
"I think I ... feel ... something," she announced. The others looked on like fascinated children as she stood on her toes to reach deeper. "And ... got it." She withdrew an old, tattered book, and opened it at once, flipping through a few pages before looking to Relic with a very serious expression on her face. "I think you're the one who should look at this, Avery," she said, handing it to him.
For awhile, a considerable while, Relic said nothing as he read. For all his expression betrayed, he could have been reading about the meaning of life or how to properly darn a sock.
"What is it, Relic?" Jace was the first to ask, losing patience.
"It's ..." he took another long moment to let it sink in, then shook his head to clear his thoughts. "It's Artemus Ward's record book."
"Of course it is," Cedwyn said, sighing and rolling his eyes. "Great."
The book was tattered, even more so than the ones Thean had given to Jace and Foy had given to Relic — and while they were all from the same time period, this one looked all the worse for wear. It was also marked to the pages had been reading.
Beside Relic, Isabelle jostled around, trying to get a look over his shoulder but he was holding it too low.
"It's a layout of the entire mansion," Relic said, staring at the floor plan drawn out flawlessly in Artemus Ward's hand. He turned to Jace and pointed down at a specific room. "We gotta get here."
"Where is that?"
"It's that room next to the Communion Vault," Relic said. "The one Artemus not-so-subtly guided us away from last night."
Cedwyn stepped closer to look for himself, then leaned a little closer still.
“Those dimensions can’t be right,” he said, stunned. “Can they?”
“I wouldn’t doubt it,” Relic said.
Jace shook his head.
“No. No way, that’s impossible.”
“Guys?” Isabelle chimed in, and they turned to her. “This was in there, too.”
She held up what appeared to be a beautiful orange marble.
Jace was looking down at the book again, but Relic and Cedwyn kept staring at the gemstone.
“It’s a golden sapphire,” Jace said.
“How can you tell?” she asked, holding it up to the light.
Jace took the book out of Relic’s hands, opened the pages further and held it up so Isabelle could see. There, next to the sketch of a fountain crafted into the likeness of a serpent, the marble gemstone was drawn. Labeled beneath, the words: Golden Sapphire.
“Okay then,” she said.
Jace handed the book back to Relic, turning to Cedwyn as he did so.
“That fountain is hiding a staircase. A sort of secret passage. It leads down to a series of tunnels.”
“You’re kidding me,” Cedwyn said, and after a pause he started laughing, excitedly ruffling Jace’s hair. “You’re kidding me!”
Relic and Jace exchanged a glance, something unspoken passing between them.
But there was time for nothing else, and then Relic was reading again.
“According to this, it’s an old escape route.” He flipped through the pages mapping out the caverns. “One of them leads right to the stables!”
Isabelle didn’t bother to hide her excitement.
“Looks like we might get out this, after all!”
“Okay, okay,” Jace said, trying to calm himself as much as the others. “Let’s just relax for a second. That fountain’s in the conservatory, which is right next to the Communion Vault.”
Relic had the page saved with his finger.
“Right,” he said.
“Alright,” Jace said. “That's our play. But we still gotta try to get that message to Aleister.”
“Shouldn’t be a problem,” Relic said. “But I …”
Jace was already turning to Cedwyn, and had opened his mouth to ask him something when he recognized Relic’s concern.
“What?” he asked.
“Nothing. It’s just that … alright, even discounting the fact that this is all just a little too convenient, Gabriel refers to these caverns as The Tunnels of Armageddon. It may not be the free ticket out of here we think.”
“Listen,” Cedwyn said. “I don’t care if they're called The Tunnels of You’re Definitely Gonna Die Down Here. That’s where we’re going. Far as being too convenient, well, the laws of logic and reality don’t appear to apply within these walls. Now, apparently,” he nodded to Jace. “Ghosts told this idiot where to find his record book, and if that doesn’t count as divine intervention, then I don’t know what does.” He paused a minute, looking back the way they came and growing antsy with the action. “But I don’t have to remind you guys that that door at the end of the corridor we have to get through, in the foyer before Paladin Hall, leads right back out into the lobby. If someone starts coming after us they’ll be able to cut us off before we get there.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was just about to say,” Jace agreed. “We gotta get going.”
Isabelle was looking at Jace, and her eyes narrowed slightly; watching him as if she had noticed something the others had not in that briefest of moments. Was it just her imagination, or had she really just seen the Jace on the balcony flicker in his expression?
Relic nodded, opening his cloak just long enough to stow the record book in the pack around his shoulder.
Isabelle opened hers as well, but to take it off.
“No sense in keeping them anymore,” she said, tossing it in a heap on the floor. “They’ll do nothing but impede us in a fight. Plus, we’re not exactly trying to hide our intentions anymore.”
“You’re assuming there won’t be guards anywhere else in the mansion,” Jace said. “That we’ll only come into contact with those who have to come through the lobby.”
Isabelle shrugged, slipping the golden sapphire into her pack.
“A chance I’m willing to take.”
“So am I,” Cedwyn said, shedding his cloak as well. “She’s right.”
Jace and Relic simply followed suit without another word.
“Shall we, then?” Cedwyn asked, extending his arm in the direction leading back, and he waited for the others to pass.
The Outrider point team was on the move now, running at full speed through the top levels of the library, sliding down the brass railings of the staircases to descend them without touching a step. It was only a matter of seconds before they were back on the first floor, and much to their relief, the door was still closed. All remained quiet beyond. Speed was their priority now, and risks would have to be taken.
Cedwyn’s words rang loud in Jace’s ears, and intensified with each passing step. The whole world felt as an hourglass, and he opened the door at the back of the library with the sensation of slogging in deep mud. He stepped out into the corridor beyond, finding himself for the second time in as many days, face to face with the Greywall captain in the portrait across the way.
"Khayn Ahara is a Sindell legend," Jace said, and with the memories flooding back at every turn, he started to sympathize with Relic's penchant for blurting out thoughts as they came into his head. He snapped and pointed. "That was him in that painting as a kid in The Faraway Cry." He also knew The Greywall surrounded his hometown of Zarponda, but resisted the urge to speak it out loud. Then he glanced to the right, in the opposite direction of Paladin Hall.
“Fascinating, idiot. Now what’s the hold up?” Cedwyn asked, waiting behind with the others to advance.
“What’s down that way?” Jace asked. He knew that while he had been napping the day before, Cedwyn was exploring the mansion. “A quicker way, maybe?”
Cedwyn drew his crossbows, Relic and Isabelle beside him doing the same.
“No,” he said. “Just the kitchen. Then it goes down into those wine cellars and menageries I mentioned.”
“Alright,” Jace said; he was moving down the narrow corridor even before the word passed his lips, and then right at that moment, their worst fears were realized.
A colossal boom heralded the manor doors suddenly opening, echoes mingling in the lobby with the sounds of shouts and heavy footfalls.
“Jace!” Cedwyn yelled. “Looks like they just discovered—”
“Yeah!” he acknowledged, but he was already running as fast as he could. All they could do was focus on what was in front of them; that little stretch of hall was the only patch of ground in the world.
Jace was at the first step leading up to the landing when the door to the left began to open, and he was just a little too late; his only chance to close it was to dive forward, falling over the last step, pushing against it with that brief, wild momentum.
It was sheer surprise that hobbled the golden rider, forcing him to stumble back. It was only by chance that the Outriders hadn’t been cut off right there in that moment; that everything hadn’t been lost. Now, regaining his bearings, the enemy was trying to force his way again, calling back to his comrades that he had found the Outriders.
Cedwyn was there now, helping Jace brace the door shut.
“They’re here!” said the voice, muffled only slightly. “In the foyer!”