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Rated: E · Short Story · Fantasy · #2303575
Aurelius is taken on to find The National Library. 1st in Short Shots Contest, August 2023
Short Shots Image Prompt (August 2023)

The Library Finder

“What makes you think you might be able to find a Library?”

Aurelius considered the question as he sat before the panel of judges. It was the middle judge who had asked, a little man with wild, frizzy hair and eyes enlarged by the thick-lensed eyeglasses perched on his nose. He stared at Aurelius with myopic estimation.

The problem was that Aurelius had only a vague idea of what had moved him to answer Institute’s call for a Library Finder. He had heard tales of Lumberyard’s find of a travelling Library and it had stirred his imagination with dreams of the information it had released into that community. Already Lumberyard was the most prosperous and active village for hundreds of miles, thanks to its new inventions and methods.

“I am old,” said Aurelius. “In my seventies, to be exact. And I can remember my grandfather telling me about Libraries. He was a Librarian before the Cloud fell and the things he told me have haunted my being ever since. I feel it in my bones that, if there is a Library anywhere near Institute, I can find it. The very smell of it will call to me.”

The judge harumphed. “Well, that’s all very well if a Library has a smell.” He turned to the man on his right. “What do you think, Reno? Do Libraries smell?”

Reno rubbed his stubbled chin in reflection, his wrinkled face creased further in thought. “Be a fine thing if they did,” he said. “But the divvil’s own job, sortin’ it from all the other stinks out there.”

“It’s very distinctive,” countered Aurelius. “At least, that’s what my grandfather told me. And there’s more to it than just smell. There’s an atmosphere, a luring whisper in the wind, that clings to the learning of long ago.”

“Whispering as well now,” commented the first judge, an eyebrow raised in disbelief. But he swung round to the woman seated at his left. “What about you, Olivia? This is more up your street, I think. Seems a bit iffy, if you ask me.”

The woman, tall and slender, fully a head taller than the speaker, bolt upright in her chair, and staring at Aurelius intently, took her time in answering. “He’s the one, Jonas,” she declared.

The other two looked at her, obviously expecting more and, after a long pause, she added, “The Library won’t be found by logic and calculation. It’s sense and intuition will be the key. We have found our Finder.”

Jonas seemed disconcerted with this sudden pronouncement. His gaze wandered from Olivia to Aurelius and back again before he stammered, “Y-you’re sure? Seems a bit…”

“Certain,” said Olivia.

He turned away. “Okay with that, Reno?”

Reno shrugged as though it made no difference to him. “He’ll be as much good as any other, I reckon. Swear him in and let’s get this thing on the road.”

Jonas addressed himself to Aurelius again. “It looks as though you have the job, my boy. Congratulations and happy celebrations, welcome on board, and whatever else suits the occasion. Reno will explain what’s required and then we can get to work in earnest.”

With that, he and Olivia rose and left the chamber, Jonas shuffling bent-backed in her glorious wake.


Aurelius spent the rest of that day with Reno. Although part of the judging panel, Reno did not seem to fit that description comfortably. He was clearly a man of action, not careful deliberation, being large and muscular in physique, with a way of cutting to the point without delay. Aurelius had to run, both figuratively and literally, to keep up with him.

The Quest was, as Aurelius had surmised, to find a Library, just as the neighbouring village of Lumberyard had. The dream went beyond so humble a find, however, and Institute was determined to find a big one, perhaps even the rumoured National Library that was supposed to exist somewhere. The villagers of Institute, descendants of intellectuals and academics as they were, had a powerful belief in the existence of such a treasure trove. It made sense that every nation would have a central Library where the knowledge of the generations was stored.

Who better to make use of such a find than the eggheads of Institute, they reasoned. As the bearers of the brainy genes of their ancestors, no one would be more qualified than they to make sense of the enormous wealth of knowledge that would result.

Such was the gist of their reasoning as revealed by Reno, and Aurelius, being a simple farmer from the outskirts of the village, had no doubt of the accuracy of their logic. His only fear lay in the direction their ambitions were leading them to. They expected to find this king of the Libraries, not in the environs of Institute, but in the City.

The City was a place of evil repute. Long since deserted by all humanity, it was a tangled jungle of overgrown vegetation soaring high over streets now strangled with undergrowth that made travel almost impossible. In these wild spaces dangerous animals now lurked and multiplied, all ravenous beasts that preyed on each other and any interlopers from the more habitable countryside.

It was not a suitable place for villagers to be and Aurelius mentioned this fact to Reno. The huge man laughed. “That’s why I’m goin’ with you,” he explained. “I’m a hunter and am used to dealin’ with the wild. I’ll take us into the City and make sure we survive.” He grinned as he added, “Nothin’ to be afraid of, old man.”

The expedition was composed of three persons, Reno as the Tracker, Olivia the Seer, who would deal with any people they encountered on the way, and Aurelius the Finder, whose only job was to find and identify The Library. They had named it as such and capitalised its initial letters in true honour and respect for its potential.

Reno led them in a southerly direction, assuring them that he knew where the City lay, having hunted in its outlying regions on occasion. “Fat pickin’s there,” was his judgement of the possibilities of that area. Aurelius wondered whether he would be as enthusiastic about the deeper interior of the City. For that must be where any National Library must be.

They met many people on their journey, inhabitants of other villages gathered around once thriving industries. These had formed nuclei of order in the Great Chaos that had followed the Electro Magnetic Pulse and the fall of the Cloud. Mostly, the people were friendly and the expedition swapped trinkets, goods and information in trade with them. But never did they mention the object of their journey, preferring to speak of hunting for the additional supplies of food needed by their village. The closer they approached to their goal, the more enthusiastically the locals spoke of the rewards of hunting in the edges of the City. But they warned against going farther in.

“Bad business in the deep forest,” they said. “And not just the wolves and bears and tigers. There’s evil things, dark things without names, that come out in the night and kill any who trespass in their domain. Stay near the edge where you can come out and camp in the open at night.”

And so the three came to the City at last. It towered, green and ominous to the south, great vertical mountains covered in steaming vegetation, and its outskirts spread to the woods and outermost trees that shaded their approach.

Reno led them confidently into the darkness, their eyes accustoming to the gloom as hordes of flying insects descended to harass their progress. They stumbled on, hacking their way through undergrowth that grew ever more tangled as they struggled toward the centre of the City.

Reno chose their camps at night with care, opting for spaces that could be cleared, and backed by large trees that prevented attack from one direction at least. Each of them would be on watch for a few hours each night, listening to the hoots and howls of unknown creatures in the enveloping darkness.

In daylight they travelled, their progress frustratingly slow as they hacked their way through the vegetation. Occasionally they would glimpse the back of some animal that sprinted away as they disturbed it. But they were not attacked, their number perhaps deterring all but the most ferocious of beasts.

Towards the very centre of the City, the going became easier. Overhead, the foliage became so thick that little light managed to reach the floor of the forest, and what undergrowth remained was thin and sickly through want of light, or buried under the mass of leaf litter. They began to wander aimlessly through the streets bordered by the leaf-cloaked buildings, allowing Aurelius the time and space to search out the fabled Library.

They came in time to a place where the buildings and the foliage that covered them receded to leave an open area in the middle. Here the sunlight ensured that the lesser, lower plants could thrive and turn the centre of the square into an impenetrable mass of interwoven greenery. At the edges, however, the thick shade from the towering green mountains allowed a strip of open verge to exist. And here Aurelius wandered his way around the square as he considered the buildings confronting him.

He came to a place where the vegetation raised itself in stages up to a mountain rather lower than those around it. It was very wide, however, and the way the grass led up towards what must be an entrance seemed like an invitation to him. He began the climb up the slope and realised that he was ascending steps, each one placed carefully so that a natural stride would take one a pace upward each time. It was obvious that he approached a building that required some imposing introduction, as made by these steps.

The entrance proved itself to be a massive arch, filled with heavy doors, one of which fell back drunkenly, as though shoved hastily aside by some fierce storm. It was possible to step through the resultant opening into the darkness beyond. Aurelius squeezed through and found himself in a vast and gloomy chamber, draped in places by a thin veneer of vegetation that had somehow managed to hold on to life in such dark and dry conditions. From above, light streamed through high, soaring, but dusty windows, the beams falling upon the indistinct forms of furniture in the great emptiness of that room.

As Aurelius moved slowly further into the vastness, his vision adjusted and he was able to make out more and more of the detail in that place. The walls were lined with books, more books than he had ever imagined, enough books to fill the greatest buildings in Institute from floor to ceiling, books that continued along the walls of passages that led from the entrance chamber to other rooms, themselves filled with books.

Aurelius had found The Library.

As Aurelius stood in wonder, gazing at the wealth of knowledge represented by this cornucopia of books, his thoughts turned to what effect this would have on the little village of Institute, that place he knew and loved so well. With this unimaginable knowledge, Institute could build again the great and glorious civilisation that had created this vast expanse of knowledge, invention and creation. Once again, humanity would reign as the master of this world, the being that brought all things beneath its feet and ruled without opposition.

And with those thoughts came the realisation that it would all be as he imagined, that things would happen just as before, time unravelling with monotonous inevitability towards the same end, the same fate, the same destruction. And he, Aurelius, would be responsible.

He turned and left the building, resolved never to mention his find to the others and to continue the search, if necessary, to the end of time.

Word count: 1,998
For Short Shots Official WDC Contest, August 2023
Prompt: As per illustration.

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