Mace Black, Page 366-372 by Wolfenshire ()
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Mace Black, Page 366-372
She choose one Mathor to watch, it scrambled at least two hundred feet up the side of a stack, retrieved a book that nobody could possibly have reached from the iron walkway, and slid down a pole next to the stack. The Mathor handed the book to someone on the ground, and then went back up the stack, presumably to find another book.
The poles the Mathors were sliding down were everywhere. They ran vertical for sliding and horizontal for walking. Mathors were casually walking across the poles from stack to stack. And the noise was nearly deafening. The Mathors shouted at each other, passed messages to each other, and made all sorts of noise as they ran among the stacks. How could anyone read or research in this chaos?
She pried her eyes away from the activity on the stacks and scanned the floor of the library. There were big comfortable chairs everywhere, each placed on a small round rug, and over each chair was an umbrella. There wasn’t a chair available that didn’t have an umbrella, though she did wonder why nobody was sitting in any of the chairs. Some of round rugs didn’t have a chair, but instead a desk, or a table for studying at, and even others had what might have been a computer terminal, if this was some dark gothic movie – surely those things couldn’t be real working computers with the all pipes and wires hanging out of them.
There was something built on support columns to the outside of the stacks. There was a set of iron stairs going up to a platform. The question of what it was answered itself a moment later as a monorail train came to a stop and took on passengers. “I guess that makes sense,” thought Jasai. “This place is so massive you would need trains to get anywhere.”
Jasai noticed there were also many of the round rugs that had nothing on them. Maybe that was a place to go and sit on the ground and study. She thought that would be the best places to study. She walked over and stepped onto one of the rugs, and immediately ran into somebody and both of them went to the ground. The persons notes went flying and – the library disappeared. She looked down at her legs, they were gone.
Jasai screamed. “My legs, my legs!”
“Oh blast it, look what you’ve done, and stop that infernal screaming, girl, you’re legs are fine.” The man sat up and frowned at Jasai. “Shield off,” ordered the man.
The library reappeared, and Jasai’s legs with it. “What was that?”
“Blasted newbies,” said the man. “Didn’t you read the sign at the door? All newbies must report to the main desk for orientation.” Zil rushed over and knelt to pick up the man’s dropped notes. The man frowned at Zil. “So you already have a Mathor guide,” said the man. “I want your name, I will be reporting you for dereliction of duty.”
Zil’s eyes teared up and he started to cry. “I’m sorry, this is my first time.”
“Excuses will not help you, stupid boy.” The man was starting to shout, which only made Zil cry harder. “I will see to it you never work…”
The man’s shouts were abruptly cut off as Jasai pressed her dagger against the man’s throat. “I’m not sure what this is about, but if you say one more mean thing to him I’ll cut your throat open and rip your heart out through your neck.”
The man started shaking violently. Jasai glared at him. Her night tattoos flared with dark flames and she felt…something…before it arrived. She threw her cloak up and something struck the cloak and slid harmless away. She looked to see what hit her – it looked like a thin silvery rope. She followed the rope with her eyes and saw a spider. She knew this thing from the Paths of the Dead and the story Raen had told her. It was an Eroden – the sentient man-sized arachnoid species.
The Eroden was standing upright on its back four legs. It chittered a command at her. Two more Eroden flanked the first, both in an obvious position to attack if needed. The middle Eroden chittered again, this time with more authority. Jasai understood these were guards – The Library of Shadows had security. It made perfect sense with this many people here.
Jasai removed her dagger from the man’s throat and sheathed it. She stood and took a step back.
“I’ll have both of you thrown out for this,” shouted the man. He opened his mouth to shout something else but the Eroden chittered a command and the man closed his mouth.
“What is going on here,” said a voice.
Jasai knew the voice. She turned to face the woman in the black robe. “I didn’t know these umbrellas were a privacy cloak. I walked onto the rug and accidently knocked this man over. He started shouting at Zil and made him cry.”
“Do you wish to press charges,” asked the woman.
“I certainly do,” said the man.
“I was not speaking to you,” said the woman. “I was speaking to the Temple Raven.”
“I’m the one that was assaulted,” said the man, his voice rising again.
“It is an expulsion crime to verbally abuse any Mathor,” replied the woman.
The man’s face went pale and he stuttered something incoherently.
“Ravens don’t press charges,” said Jasai. “We kill or we don’t kill.” Jasai turned her head to the man and smiled. “Next time I’ll kill you.”
The woman frowned at Jasai. “I certainly hope your philosophies mature before you put quill to paper and begin writing the Raven Law. Come along, let’s get you through orientation before anything else happens.”
“I’ll take this matter to the Council,” shouted the man.
The woman stopped, sighed, and glanced back at the man like he was nothing more than annoyance to be swatted away. “I’m sure you are aware that Master Aestar holds the Senior Chair on the Library Council, and if you had read the Library Daily Publication this morning you would have been aware that this young lady is here by Master Aestar’s personal invitation. Also, if you had read any of the posted security warnings, you would have known a new species was arriving today with a higher danger classification than even the Eroden. Her photograph has been clearly posted on ever security bulletin board. Now, would you like me to go ahead and file your grievance with Master Aestar?”
The man decided to cut his losses and quit. “I suppose it was just an accident, no need to bother Master Aestar with such trivial affairs,” said the man.
Jasai tipped her head to the side at the woman. “Really, I’m more dangerous than the big spiders?”
“Miss Raven, you will be fined 50 gold coins for drawing a weapon within the library.” declared the woman. The warning didn’t go over Jasai’s head. She knew from experience at the Raven Temple that when a Priestess was scolding you for violating some rule, it was best to remain silent and show no emotion. Jasai stood as still as a statue and waited. The woman nodded, satisfied that Jasai understood the rebuke. “Come along, this matter is resolved.”
Jasai held a hand down to Zil to help him up. He was still sniffling and looked miserable.
“I’m sorry,” said Zil. “We can go back to the rock and get you a new body protector.”
“What? I don’t want a new protector, this wasn’t your fault, and I’m perfectly capable of defending myself,” said Jasai.
“We will begin your orientation now,” said the woman.
“At the Raven Temple, orientation is a Priestess standing at the end of a hall, if you make it to her alive, you pass orientation,” said Jasai.
“That is an interesting technique,” said the woman. “We don’t do anything like that here.”
Jasai gave the woman a sarcastic half-grin. “Really? Looks to me like that is what just happened.”
The woman didn’t reply to the childish taunt. One of the spiders, maybe the one that had shot the web at her, skittered alongside and chittered something at her.
“She is asking what the armor is that makes you invincible to Eroden silk,” said the woman, translating the spider’s language.
Jasai glanced at the spider. “It’s made from the tears of my enemies,” said Jasai with a flip of her head.
The spider chittered something at her.
“She says she is impressed that you defended the Mathor, though there were better ways to do so, and that your answer to her respectful question is that of a spoiled child taught no respect for herself or others,” the woman translated.
Jasai turned bright red and stopped walking. The spider was right, Jasai knew it, she wasn’t stupid, but she didn’t know why she did the things she did. Jasai faced the spider, two rebukes in one day was a lot, especially for a Temple Raven. She should think before she acted – after all, she was rated one of the most intelligent minds of her generation. Jasai bowed her head. “I apologize for my childish answer. This cloak is called a Raven Battle Cloak, but the Master Craftsman that made it did not share the technique of its making with me.”
The spider raised one of its legs to her and chittered a reply.
“She accepts your apology and says you possess more power than your current maturity should allow,” the woman translated. “She invites you to attend a…there is no word in your language that translates, it is a class the Eroden give to their young that teaches about respect and honor, even while in the heat of battle. If you want to accept…hmm, the closest translation would be ‘not enemies’, touch the tip of your fingers to the tip of her offered leg.”
Jasai lifted her arm and touched her fingertips to the spider’s leg. The spider chittered and moved off with the other two spiders. “I guess I’m not making a very good first impression,” said Jasai.
“It could be better. You did make an enemy of the Sarltar, but I wouldn’t worry too much about that,” said the woman. “Their entire species is puffed up on their own self-importance, and you did impress the Eroden by admitting your mistakes, and more importantly, you have forged an unbreakable bond with the Mathor. I’m certain the story of the Darai that defended a Mathor boy simply because someone made him cry is well on its way to the furthest reaches of the Land of Shadows.”
Jasai grinned and blushed. “I like Zil, and anyone that hurts him will answer to me. I don’t understand why he thinks I would trade him in.”
The woman motioned for Jasai and Zil to follow. “He is young and you are his first patron, he only wants to do a good job.”
“I don’t understand,” said Jasai.
“Look around you, Miss Raven, the entire Mathor species is here, they have nowhere else to go,” explained the woman. “Their sun exploded and destroyed their home world.”
“Oh, that’s terrible, their whole species is dead?” asked Jasai.
“Not at all, their story is a story of the purest heroism,” replied the woman.
“What happened?” asked Jasai, watching Zil wander over to the big main desk at the entrance. Jasai grinned, he must be bored with the conversation already. She raised a brow and tipped her head as Zil grabbed a stack of newspapers from the desk. Was he stealing newspapers? Jasai spread her hands and gave a questioning shrug to ask him what he was doing. The woman was still talking and Jasai tried to pay attention to her and Zil at the same time.
“Normally when an egg dies in the Land of the Living,” the woman was saying, “it arrives here alone and dies again several hours later and is sent back to the Well of Souls to be reborn. However, there was no place to send those innocent Mather souls back to, their world was gone. Those souls would have ceased to exist. But, since the entire Mathor species died together, billions arrived at the same moment. They understood what would happen to the millions of eggs that had come with them. The Mathor set aside the horror of their mass extinction and within the hour were searching for all their eggs. They found and cared for the eggs, and in the proper time the eggs hatched. But, a person cannot be born dead, the Universe strictly forbids that sort of abomination, so all those eggs were born alive.”
Zil had stopped at a newspaper rack and was loading half the newspapers he was carrying onto the rack. Was he a newspaper boy now? What the heck was he doing? Jasai shook her head.
“Wait, are you saying Zil is alive, just like Gaevin?” asked Jasai.
Zil ran past Jasai with his remaining newspapers. “Zil is alive,” he said with a broad smile.
“Yes, he is alive,” said the woman. “The Mathor saved their species from extinction, but now all those living souls were trapped here in this Universe and could not leave. The Mathor dead knew they must give purpose to their living children.”
“Oh, I get it, they brought their living children here to the Library of Shadows to protect all the books ever written in the Universe,” said Jasai. “That’s a noble purpose to give them.”
“Close, but not exactly,” said the woman. “The Mathor were an incredibly advanced civilization, though their achievements branched in a far different direction than that of the Darai. They are brilliant engineers. The Mathor built the Library of Shadows for their young.”
Jasai’s mouth dropped. “But…but…huh?” She turned her head to stare at Zil. He was depositing the remainder of his newspapers in another newspaper rack. “But Zil can’t even read,” said Jasai.
“That is true, he cannot read, yet,” replied the woman. “The Mathor raise their young in the desert as their ancestors lived to impress on them what it was to be a Mathor. When they are old enough they go out to the road and sit on a rock to wait for the next available patron. Take a look up at the stacks.”
Jasai looked up at the countless thousands of Mathor’s crawling around the stacks.
“There is no computer in the Universe that could ever catalog this vast collection of nearly infinite books, but the Mathor’s brain works a bit different than yours and mine. What you are looking at is a living organic database retrieval computer, and Zil is your personal terminal. All the shouting you are hearing is the Mathors calling out requests for books to be pulled, or put away, and there, do you hear that shout being passed just now?” Jasai could not distinguish one shout from the next. “A request is being passed along the stacks for a book that is about ten miles from here. The book will be passed back here to the patron within the hour.”
“This is amazing,” said Jasai. “So, Zil isn’t dumb?”
“Certainly not,” said the woman, “Though they do tend to be…innocently naïve, as they have never experienced the living world. They thrive on listening to stories from the Land of Living, you must ensure Zil receives plenty of time to play in the Storybook Forest.”
Zil had run back to the main desk to get another stack of newspapers. “Okay, seriously, what is Zil doing, did someone hire him to deliver newspapers?”
The woman laughed. “No, do you see those older Mathors at the beginning of each stack. Think of them as the network hubs, each stack has a Controller responsible for that stack. One of the Controllers noticed you didn’t have Zil doing anything productive, and since Zil was the closet Mathor to the front desk, he shouted down a command for Zil to refill the newspaper stands here in the lobby.”
Zil ran past Jasai again with a big smile on his face and an armful of newspapers.
“He is happy because he has purpose,” said the woman. “There is one rule you must never violate. You must never request a book from anyone except Zil. If he is unavailable, you can go to one of the Controllers, but no one else.”
“Why is Zil called a body protector, shouldn’t he be called a research assistant?” asked Jasai.
“This library covers most of this Crystal World, and as such, has many of the same dangers as any world has,” said the woman. “You will be housed in a very old and remote section of the library, Zil will be your only companion, and protector. The two of you will truly be on your own, if you get in trouble, you only have each other to rely on.”
Zil, riding on the back of a cart full of books, sailed past Jasai with a gleeful whoop. Jasai grinned at the silly boy.
“Where are we going now?” asked Jasai.
“We are here,” said the woman. Jasai looked down at the ground. There was a set of rusted train tracks that hadn’t looked to be used in a very long time. “You will wait here. A train that hasn’t run in thousands of years will come for you. Instructions have been left for you on the train. I wish you the best of luck, Shadow Justice.”
The woman turned and began walking away. Jasai stared at her. What did she mean by Shadow Justice?
“Excuse me,” Jasai called out. “You never told me your name.”
The woman stopped and turned back to Jasai, but when she turned around, she was no longer a woman, but instead the tallest and most muscled Darai Jasai had ever seen. No, thought Jasai, not a Darai, the man didn’t have wing blades.
“You may call me Master Aestar,” said the man. “We will not see each other again for many years.”
Jasai’s mouth dropped open as the last Creator turned and walked away. Zil came up to her carrying an umbrella and held it over her head.
“It’s going to rain,” said Zil.
Jasai looked up at the umbrella as the first drops of water began falling on the train platform.