September 9th, 2014
The table was hard, and the air was stale. The boy blinked as the flash of light receded, finding a hulking Demon leaning over him, though the boy had no knowledge of Demons then. The creature was a faded grey-green color, with spots along his shoulders and broad chest, black hair and a pointed beard. Black horns curved above his head, and he watched the boy with dark eyes.
“Hi, kid,” said the Demon. “My name is Barrett Thomas Martin. I’m one of your fathers. I don’t normally look like this. The Demon I look like now, his name is Barezo. I need you to be quiet–”
The heavy door swung open with a sudden creak. Another Demon entered, a sagging thing with scraggly feathers, and a long sharp beak. The boy’s brilliant green eyes widened at the sight.
“Did I tell you to come in?” snarled Barezo.
“I saw a flash, sir. I thought there might be a Light attack.”
“You thought wrong,” snapped Barezo.
“Failed experiment, then?” asked the bird-Demon, turning his leering eyes to the boy as he stepped further into the room. “Need help disposing of it? It looks tender.” He snapped his beak toward the boy, as if to sample a bit of his flesh. The boy yelped and recoiled, but before the beak could connect with his skin, Barezo grabbed the Demon by the throat, and threw him against the wall.
“You come in here uninvited again and I’ll be disposing of you,” Barezo spat. “This is my business. I paid a fortune for that stock; I’m not about to let anyone else enjoy whatever meager spoils I got for my trouble. Get the fuck out of here before I snap you in half.” Barezo hauled him to the door and shoved him out. The repulsive vulture hissed at him, then stalked off, Barezo slamming the door behind him, and barring it for good measure.
The Demon turned back to the table, and the boy scooted back, trying to keep distance between them.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you,” the Demon said, voice quiet. He approached the table and knelt beside it, so not to loom over the child. “As I was saying, my real name is Barrett. I’m your father– one of them, anyway. It’s not safe for you to be here, as you can see, so I have to get you out of here.”
The boy watched him with wide, wary eyes.
“Are you understanding me?” asked Barrett. “Can you speak?” The boy looked to be perhaps three or four, so it seemed possible.
“Maybe,” the boy squeaked.
“Good enough,” said Barrett with a faint smile. “We don’t have a lot of time. Come here.” He held his arms out, but the boy shook his head and scooted further away. Barrett glanced at the door, then shook himself. The boy gasped as the Demon’s body flickered and twisted, the horns and beard disappearing, the skin warming to a creamy tan, and suddenly he found himself looking at man with bright green eyes like his own, and unkempt dark hair.
“This is me,” said Barrett, “See? I kind of look like you.”
The boy watched him, then extended a wary hand to touch his face, finding him solid and warm.
“I’m going to pick you up now,” Barrett told him, reaching out to scoop him into his arms. The boy found himself enveloped against a strong chest, and could feel a heartbeat under his hand. Barrett carried him to the wall and nudged something with his shoulder. A hidden panel of the wall opened, and they slipped inside, Barrett pushing it closed behind them. He carried the boy down a narrow set of steps, into a dank windowless chamber. The boy glanced around, eyes filling with fearful tears.
“Is this where you will dispose of me?” he asked.
Barrett looked down at the boy, startled by the question.
“Of course not!” he exclaimed. “I’m not going to hurt you, Quinn.”
The boy tilted his head. Barrett gave a sad smile, and asked, “Can I call you Quinn?”
The boy nodded. Barrett set him down on the floor, then went to one of the walls. He pulled a stone loose and reached into a hollow there, producing a tarnished gold key. Quinn watched as he knelt, touching the key to the floor, then drew it up through the air in a rectangular shape, leaving a glowing line of green in the key’s wake. When he completed the shape, a paneled door appeared in the air. The boy watched, curious in spite of himself, as Barrett slipped his key into the lock and pushed the door open. Light streamed out into the room, and Quinn blinked at the sudden brightness.
Barrett returned to draw the boy back into his arms, and carried him through into a vast chamber. Quinn marveled at the Library, an endless expanse of Light and shelves, more books than one could read in a thousand years. Barrett’s swift feet carried them out into the main floor of the Library, and Quinn tried to steal glances down the aisles as they passed. Barrett ducked down one of them, and set him down against one of the shelves. He combed one of the shelves, muttering, “Paper… pen… something!” He suddenly grabbed a loose scrap of paper and a pen that had appeared tucked between the books.
Quinn watched his hand move in almost frantic strokes along the paper, scribbling down marks and lines the boy did not understand. When he finished, he knelt beside the boy and pressed the paper into his hand.
“Someone will come for you here. Give them this.”
“You’re leaving me here?” Quinn looked up at him.
“I have to. There’s not time for me to explain. It’s not safe for either of us for me to be here long. You’ll find your way to your other father. He’ll look after you.”
Tears began to spill down the boy’s cheeks. Barrett took the boy’s face in his hands and kissed his head. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You’ll be ok. Remember I love you.” He rose and started back down the aisle.
“Will you I see you again?” asked Quinn.
Barrett paused at the end of the row, and looked back, mask slipping for just a moment, awash in sadness. “I don’t know,” he said. “Goodbye, Quinn.”
Then he was gone, disappeared around the end of the shelves, headed back to the Dark stronghold they had left.
“Don’t go!” cried Quinn. He tried to push himself up to his feet, as he’d seen his father stand, but couldn’t get his balance. As he toppled back to the floor, he called, “Father! Barrett! Don’t leave me here!”
The Library was quiet. Quinn settled for crawling, pulling himself down the aisle. When he reached the end and looked back, the door was gone, and so was Barrett. There was only an ocean of shelves, tables, and aisles, seeming to go on forever under a beautiful lofted ceiling. The boy snuffled, wiping his face, and sat back against the shelves, looking upwards. The ceiling seemed to be painted with constellations, planets, and all manner of twirling celestial things. As he stared, Quinn realized the art moved. It was slow, almost undetectable, but the stars and galaxies all wheeled together overhead, as if he looked upon the sky itself.
There was a chirp nearby, and a rustle of feathers. The boy looked down to see a small brown sparrow perched on one of the shelves. It hopped along the length of the shelf, past the fine leather-bound spines, to peck at a small glass beaker that had appeared there. It was filled two-thirds with a faintly green liquid. The boy reached for the beaker and sniffed it. It was sweet and inviting, like fine nectar or berry juice. The sparrow warbled at him. Quinn glanced around, finding himself alone except for the bird. This place was very different from where he had come into being– it was bright, warm, full of color and some sense of kindness. He glanced down to the beaker, then back up at the empty expanse where Barrett had disappeared, and decided he had no better prospects.
Quinn brought the beaker to his mouth, and found he was thirsty. He gulped down the sweet contents fast enough it surprised him when he realized the beaker was empty. He licked the last drops from his lips, and set the glass aside. The sparrow cocked its head at him. Quinn mirrored its pose. All of a sudden, it flew off, disappearing into the shelves. The boy felt a sudden pang at its abandonment of him.
Before he could long brood on the loss, the boy’s vision started to swim. He rubbed at his eyes, and felt dizzy. He toppled over onto the wood floor, yelping in surprise at the pain that flared in his wrist. Something jolted through his head, and the boy flailed. Everything was blurry, his surroundings seemed to spin–
Animals of the Land
Quinn blinked. He was lying on the Library floor, looking with dazed eyes at the dark green spine of a book on the lowest shelf. In gold letters, the title read Animals of the Land. Beside it was a blue book: Animals of the Sea. Then a gold-toned one: Animals of the Air. The boy pushed himself up, not understanding how he was making sense of the marks. He braced a hand on the shelf and pushed himself up, kneeling, then hauled himself up to stand supported against the shelving. He stretched, fumbling for one of the higher shelves, until his fingers closed on the paper Barrett had left.
This is Quinn, said the note, He is the son of Lask Corilius and Barrett Vocanbrael. Deliver him to Lask and the Alkesh Alushain at Avigdell. And be careful, he doesn’t know what he can do.
Quinn glowered at the note in both confusion and fury, as if it were Barrett’s face.
“What don’t I know how to do?” he sulked. He set the paper back on the shelf, then screamed when a book flew out and hit him in the chest.
Quinn ducked, expecting more incoming, but there were none. The Library lay quiet and undisturbed. The boy teetered on unpracticed legs and collapsed again, then pulled the book into his lap. On the cover was written Walking and Other Motor Functions. The boy opened it, finding diagrams of a child moving through poses of crawling, walking, running, jumping, climbing. Quinn gazed enviously, and a breeze passed through, blowing the pages to where was written only one word: PRACTICE.
Quinn eyed the book in his lap. “Are you talking to me?”
There was a gust, and the pages settled open on the word YES.
The boy swallowed. He glanced up at the painted constellations, around at the shelves. Nothing stirred.
“Who’s talking to me?” he asked.
Another gust, another page. I AM.
Quinn frowned, finding this answer less than helpful. “Who are you?” he ventured, trying again.
Movement on a shelf nearby drew his attention. His head whipped toward the sound, and he saw a book had shifted out from the rest. On the spine, in elegant script was written THE LIGHT. Quinn reached for the book, but it sprang from the shelf, opening midair, and fluttered away into the expanse like the sparrow had. The boy gawked after it. A warm breeze ruffled his hair, and turned the pages of the other book back to: PRACTICE.
Quinn spent the afternoon pulling himself up on the Library’s shelves and tottering down the aisles until he could manage a reasonable walk. At first, the distance daunted him, but he was soon eager to explore. There was no way to know how much time passed. In his haste to know more of his surroundings, the boy wandered into the expanse, until he realized he no longer knew where to find Barrett’s note. For a moment, he paused, torn with a sense of loss, wondering if he should make his way back to look for it, but in the end, the boy decided he would continue– Barrett had left him here; there was no reason for him to stay where Barrett had left him.
Quinn ambled down the center aisle, toward a glowing horizon in the distance. Everything looked so similar, he had no way to know how far he had gone. Now and then, he would sight birds flying among the shelves, or animals of the forest darting through the rows almost too quick to see. The horizon never seemed to get any closer. Eventually, though, he realized faint wisps of fog were swirling around his feet. Looking up, he could see fog billowing out of the expanse ahead. He felt dizzy again, but kept his footing, and pressed on– why, he wasn’t sure. It was, perhaps, only the pull of sheer curiosity.
Movement drew his attention to the left, and the boy spotted a pale luna moth drifting above the coils of fog. It landed on a shelf at eye level, so Quinn went over for a closer look. Having no reason to fear it, he extended a hand, and the moth walked up his finger.
“What are you doing back here?”
Quinn started, spinning to scan all direction. There was no one around.
“Stop that. You’re making me dizzy.”
“You’re talking to me?” the boy exclaimed, raising the moth to a few inches before his nose.
“Of course. Who else would be talking to you?”
“How are you making sounds?” asked the boy. The moth had no mouth or tongue that he could see.
“Magic, of course.” The moth walked up his arm. “I’ve been looking for you. Your father sent me.”
“He left me here,” Quinn grumbled.
“No, no, the other one,” said the luna moth. It reached his shoulder. “The White One. He didn’t want you to venture too far yet.”
“How do you feel?”
“Bit dizzy,” Quinn confessed.
“You’re at the Borderlands,” the moth told him. “The fog only gets thicker from here. Before long, you’ll be seeing things, and things might be seeing you.”
“Borderlands,” Quinn echoed. “Border of what?”
“Eternity,” the moth replied. “You probably haven’t much grasp on that yet, but you will.”
“I want to see it,” Quinn said, and started off again.
“Naturally, but not yet, young master.” The moth fluttered off his shoulder, and bounced about his face.
Quinn sputtered. “Why not?”
“Your other father will be looking for you; you mustn’t make it too hard for him to find you. Besides, there’s things out there much bigger than you, things you aren’t ready to see yet, and shouldn’t have to.”
Quinn found the genuine compassion in the moth’s voice more compelling than reason to be resentful. As if to reinforce the thought, the luna moth said, “I only want to look out for you. You’ll make your way out there soon enough, but you ought to give yourself time to learn a bit more. You don’t want to be caught unprepared.”
It seemed like solid advice, so Quinn let the moth lead him back the way he had come, out of the wisping fog, and down an aisle to the right.
“Here, young master,” said the moth, “I think that will interest you.”
Quinn looked up the aisle to see a pedestal at the end. On it rested a thick book bound in leather so dark green, it could pass for black. Set in the front was a huge tear-shaped emerald, and it was held closed with darkened brass clasps. They fell open when the boy hefted the book. The weight of it sent him stumbling, so he decided to sit before he fell. The luna moth landed on his shoulder again as he opened the cover.
Vivalamaria, the inner page read, Of All Things that Live.
The boy leafed through the pages, seeing beautiful illustrations of all manner of plants, beasts, and things that seemed only of the imagination. Every page was laden with colorful ink, gold leaf, and crisp script detailing the anatomy, behaviors, and life cycle of seemingly everything.
“You could be any of that, you know,” remarked the moth.
“What do you mean?” asked Quinn.
“Anything you see in that book, you can become.” When the boy turned his head to squint at the moth with puzzled eyes, it said, “Or haven’t asked who you are?”
The thought hadn’t occurred to him.
“Best do that first, then,” said the moth. With that, it lifted from his shoulder and disappeared into the shelves. Quinn closed the huge book and clutched it to his chest, as if he were afraid it, too, might fly away. When it stayed in his arms, he took a hesitant breath, and asked,
“Who am I?”
There was a flash of Light in the distance, and a black book came soaring out of the expanse. It was smaller and lighter than the Vivalamaria and opened easily at his touch. Much of the ink in the book was red and damp, but the first few lines had already dried to black:
Quinn was born on September 9th 2014 to Barrett Thomas Martin, from the stock of Lask Maveran Somadar, which had been stolen during his capture by the Sinfusel Coramell. Of their combination, a son was born with green eyes and hair that turned auburn under the touch of the sun. Their son, beyond even his father Barrett, could take the shape of any thing capable of life. He would be the Library’s chosen Oracle, and in him would dwell the power of Life and Death…
Quinn heard footsteps on the fine wood floor of the Library. He set the book aside and listened. The steps were distant, but coming nearer. A smooth voice called through the expanse, “Lo el Quinn?”
The boy rose and went to the end of the row, peering around the edge of the shelves.
“Lo el Quinn?” called the voice again.
He spotted the source of the voice perhaps thirty feet up the main aisle. It was a tall man, white as pristine pages, clad in red and black, with a full mane of black hair. He turned then, and his eyes locked on the boy. Quinn met his scarlet gaze, unafraid.
“There he is,” said the newcomer with a smile. He approached with careful steps, in the way one might approach a spooked horse. Quinn noticed he carried basket with him, but said nothing as he came near.
Lask knelt before the boy and smiled at him, a look of warmth that almost banished Quinn’s wariness.
“Hello, child,” he said. “It’s good to see you.”
“You’re my other father,” said the boy.
“I am.” Lask extended a hand to him. “Pleased to meet you.”
Quinn slipped his hand into his father’s, studying how white Lask’s fingers were and how much larger his hand was than the boy’s own.
“You can call me Adar, if you like,” Lask told him. He motioned to the basket. “I brought some things for you. Would you like to see?”
Lask opened the basket, revealing a soft green blanket with gold embroidery along the edges. Wrapped in it was a dish of candy, a container of strawberries and grapes, and two books. Lask offered him the candy dish.
“What is it?” asked Quinn.
Quinn selected a piece and popped it in his mouth. Lask chuckled, and said, “Here, give me that.” Quinn made a puzzled face and spat the piece out, offering it to him. Lask unwrapped it, pulling the red foil off, and handed it back. “Try it now.”
Quinn took it back, and grinned as sweetness played over his tongue.
“You’ll have to unwrap whichever pieces you want,” Lask told him. “Keeps them from getting stuck together or tasting funny.”
Quinn worked the candy in his mouth, studying his father.
“You’re bigger than I thought you’d be,” Lask remarked.
“How are you here?” Quinn asked, having no way to know how big he should be. “The Library said you were in a cursed sleep.”
“I am,” Lask replied. “I’m from later.”
“Later,” Quinn echoed.
“After I’m awake.”
“Obviously,” said the boy, and frowned at him.
Lask laughed. “You’re a very serious fellow,” he said. “Hasn’t the Library taught you anything about fun?”
“I can become twelve different animals,” the boy boasted, “That’s fun.”
“You’re making excellent headway then. Where is the Vivalamaria?”
“How do you know about that?” Quinn eyed him.
“You’re awfully suspicious for one so small.”
“The second thing I met tried to eat me.”
“Fair enough,” Lask conceded. He studied the boy a moment. “I brought you some other things.” He reached into the basket and pulled out a set of clothes, then offered them to the boy. “If you want them.”
Quinn unfolded them with a skeptical eye. “Do I have to?”
“I suppose not,” Lask replied. “You’re alone here, and… well, I don’t really know why we wear clothes. I suppose it’s just a tradition we picked up from the humans, probably so not to scare them.”
“Why would being naked scare them?”
“They’re silly about a great many things,” Lask replied, with a note of fondness.
“I’ll save them for when I leave,” the boy decided, and attempted to refold the clothes.
“Do you know when that’s going to be?” Lask inquired.
“No, only that you’ll take me back when it’s time for Falient to come looking for me.”
“I wish I could take you back with me.” Lask reached for him and the boy stepped out of reach. Lask gave a sad smile and folded back, not wanting to spook the boy. “I’m looking forward to meeting you when I wake up. For me, this isn’t the first time we’ve met. I’m sorry if I seem too comfortable around you. I love you, you see.”
Quinn tilted his head. “Do I love you?”
“I suppose that will be for you decide,” Lask answered. He shifted over to sit against a nearby shelf, stretching out his long legs, and giving the boy space to peruse the basket. “I asked the Library about you,” Lask said as Quinn grazed over the strawberries.
“I asked about you too,” said Quinn.
“I’m sure. You’re a smart fellow. What did it tell you?”
“I am your second child, and your first son. You are a Darkslayer, a Timewalker, and the one they will call the Magnus. I was made from what was…” the boy paused, “Stolen from you.”
Lask gave a nod, conceding the boy was right thus far. Quinn faltered then, and tears sprang from his eyes. Lask pushed himself up and reached for him again, but still the boy would not come to him.
“What is wrong, my young prince?” Lask asked.
“You didn’t want me, and neither did Barrett,” snapped the boy. “You’re going to leave me here too.”
“That’s not at all true,” Lask murmured, keeping his hand out. “Did the Library tell you what I’ve been building?”
“Your watchtower,” sniffled Quinn.
“Yes, and do you know what I saw in it?”
The boy wiped his face and looked up at him.
“You.” Lask smiled at him. “You’re very dear, and very important, Quinn. It doesn’t matter that you come from something stolen. You were made by someone I care about, and I care about you very much. It’s true I can’t take you home today… the Library will not let me, but soon I will take you back to meet Falient. He’ll never find you this far in.” Lask looked at him with a certain pride. “Until then, I will return every day to make sure you are fed and kept company. I imagine the Library will feed you if you’re hungry in the meantime. The Light provides whatever we need.”
“I’ve noticed.” Quinn watched him.
“I was in the watchtower one day,” Lask said, “And I saw something terrible happen. The children Falient rescued were captured, and I would be taken by the enemy, tortured, and poisoned within an inch of my life. I was so upset by what I saw, I fled immediately to the Library, and asked how I could stop it. It told me I couldn’t. I wouldn’t accept that answer. I cannot help but try to fix and save what I can, but the Library told me no, and said I must go back to the watchtower. I didn’t understand why, but I did. The lenses were as I left them. I found myself looking again at myself lying poisoned and unconscious on the Demons’ table, but I looked more closely at what they were doing to me. Before she left, Leska cheated Coramell and took something for herself, something she knew she could fetch a lofty price for: a bit of me. Barrett paid almost everything he’d gained to get it, and with it he made a beautiful green-eyed boy, and asked that I call him Quinn.”
Quinn listened in silence.
“So I had to let it happen,” Lask told him. “If things had been combined any other way, had it been any other day, any other time, I would never have you. And that just wouldn’t do.”
Quinn watched him, as if searching for lies.
“So you see, I did want you,” Lask said. “I wanted you badly enough to let them steal from me, to gamble a lot in the hopes Barrett would succeed in rescuing what was stolen, to risk what would happen if someone else should procure it. You’re worth it all, my boy.”
Quinn approached him, and Lask was still, not wanting to frighten him. Quinn reached for his hand, and Lask smiled, but as Quinn touched him, Lask’s skin blackened before his eyes. He went to draw back, but Quinn gripped his hand with surprising strength, and Lask watched as the skin of his hand dried and peeled away like charred paper, his fingers turning to dust.
“You wouldn’t lie to me, would you, Adar?” asked Quinn.
“Why would I lie to you, Quinn?” Lask replied, trying to mask his terror at the ease with which his son was reducing him to ashes.
“Answer the question.” The blackness began to spread up Lask’s arm, his sleeve fraying and dry-rotting before his eyes, exposing his skin beneath, as it too decayed away.
“I have not lied to you,” Lask told him, “And I would not unless I must.” He glanced down at his arm. “Our magic is of the same blood… you shouldn’t be able to do that to me.”
Quinn gazed at him, silent and a bit smug, and Lask wondered how so small a child could wield such fearful magic.
“The Library said one of my fathers shall be the Liar King,” Quinn said. “It didn’t say which one, but I believe you.” He squeezed Lask’s fingers, and all at once, the blackness receded, Lask’s skin smoothed back into its usual whiteness, and Quinn smiled at him.
“Do you know what you wield, young prince?”
“Death,” said the boy. “I got it from you.”