the sealed library
Day 1 after the barricade.
The diary of junior librarian [REDACTED]. The doors and windows remain secure though the ceaseless banging and distant screams still fill me with dread. I tell myself some of the others might have survived. Today, I must begin choosing and moving the most important works, or what remains of them, down to the catacombs. I hope my food and water will last until my task is complete.
Before going to the Reading Room, I explored our break area for resources knowing that Glaice always stashed smoked meat in her cubby. After ravenously devouring a few pieces, I noticed a small bundle in the next cubby over: Cyril’s. Unraveling the strip of linen revealed an amulet from his mother in the likeness of a snake with faceted emerald eyes. Strange to find it here now as I was accustomed to spotting it on his lapel close to his heart. Did you sense this was coming and kept it here hoping it might outlast you? I pocket it, the golden scales warm to the touch or so I imagine.
After an unexpected breakfast, I made for the eastern wing: poetry, our bread and butter for recording all the great histories of our people. Epic stories, illuminated odes, sweeping cantos, all waiting to be sung!
While grabbing indiscriminately, something unusual caught my eye—a skull with deep, hallow eye sockets, distinctively human in shape and size. Perhaps not unlike those outside leading the seige…
According to the label, scholars argue about the origins of the piece but most identify it as Princess Alice Belmont, though who exactly SHE was is subject to still more scrutiny. Some say she was swapped for a changeling. Others speculate she stumbled here and simply never found her way home or, perhaps more peculiarly, elected to remain. Regardless, she ruled for many years in a minor fey kingdom, but despite her obscurity there is such grand poetry for her documenting all kinds of exploits from her youth, or of her exquisite beauty, or of her cruel reign.
Maybe this skull is hers. Maybe not. But considering the Changeling Wars reaching its peak outside, I add the case to my cart.
When I returned to the main hall to swap carts, I heard the unmistakable sound of running water. I followed it to an art archive and discovered a leak. Family trees going back hundreds of generations, sketchbooks from famous adventurers, maps of far off kingdoms, all unsalvageable. I managed to plug it for now and filled a few empty planters with the cool spring water. My thirst quenched, I moved on.
Just as I emerged, there was a crash that scattered debris on the ground. I pushed the larger pieces aside and a chill crept up my spine. “I’m being watched,” I thought. As I raised my eyes, I saw them: a murder of crows above me, waiting for something. Assessing.
I like them not.
Day 2 after the barricade.
I returned to work in the art gallery before the rest becomes lost to the water still tricking through my makeshift dam. I pulled frames off the walls and found myself fall distract at the ink spilled over canvas, hide, and pulp. How many gorgeous worlds are depicted here? Places some fey have traversed still longer ago…
Great trees with whole bursting towns carved into the trunk. Hideous poison flowers with a gaping maw swallowing the mightiest serpent. A mushroom that grows in lake water that looks strikingly like the face of a beautiful woman. A willow whose hanging branches sweep fey right from the sky and grows around them, plunging them in a deep slumber to slowly suck their magic.
I finally pulled myself away and stumbled over the debris to grab a new cart. The wheels wouldn’t turn and I found the cause: a key jammed in the spoke. It must have fallen by mistake, right?
According to the Head Librarian’s notes, the key goes to the Magicks section in the north tower. A crow cawed as I closed the book. Ill omen or no, I knew going there might prove crucial to our mission of preserving our people's histories.
The room was in a sorry state. Sigils in some foreign language. Some were drawn all over the floor with tapers long melted down to nubs at each point. I’m not very practiced in these arts, but the mirror at the center of the display Told me what I needed: a curse was placed here sometime within the past few days. A spy? Only so many had access to that key…
I must not give up hope. The rest of us, however many there might be, deserve to have our efforts complete.
Day 3 after the barricade.
I slept restlessly last night, haunted by the image of the willow, wondering if the Head Librarian was behind this too.
I resumed investigating the magick wing and found several books out of place. It took hours to translate the titles alone. All on contacting the human realm. Portals. One-way gates. Exhausted, I found a small stash of preserves and wine retired early to my quarters after consuming my fill.
How could he do this? And, well, what exactly DID he do? Why am I so readily able to believe him capable of this? Am I jumping to conclusions? Alas, I must sleep.
Day 4 after the barricade.
Awoke early due to the crows and screams. I’m safe and fed.
I headed to the western halls and focused on practical texts. Simple surgical and apothecary healing. Necessary knowledge for when we begin anew.
While there, I snatched a few outdated texts for archaiac medical uses. I’m low on paper for my own documented journey. I can cover these old pages and write in their margins. As long as my time here is recorded.
While moving a dolly to the hall, a scream echoed through the antechamber. It came from below—deep in the cellars. We were given strict word not to go there. Rumors spread of dragon hordes to prisons to tunnels that go no where for miles of darkness.
I nailed it shut. Just in case.
While on this mission, I was swarmed by rats. They bit as I hammered and I only managed to throw so many off. I’ll need to treat my wounds tonight.
Back to my search for practical texts, I find sacred tomes on defensive and offensive practices from archery to shield encantations. I practice using my fists from an anthology on weaponizing the body, but grew short of breath and feverish unsure whether I pushed myself to hard or if my woundswere worse than I originally thought.
Day 5 after the barricade.
I woke in a cold sweat. Wrapped myself in a heavy coat, too preoccupied at first to notice the chanting. Something about tearing out our wings, plucking at our strings.
I’m thankful, for once, I know little of this language.
I returned to the magick tower to resume work translating the sigils. It was indeed intended to open portal but without a candle and blood a dagger and light, I can’t make it work. But maybe…
I don’t want to get ahead of myself here.
The fever is much for now with no new books collected, I have been my room for the better part of the afternoon. My skin is hot and itching all over from the bites.
Soon. Soon. Cyril and I will be back together and far from here. I’m closer to cracking this each day.
Day 6 after the barricade.
Back to the grind. More journals. How to decide which are worth keeping? Would anyone keep mine?
I find a volume by a sorcerer on the floor near a shelf that was otherwise empty save a stick. On closer inspection, it appeared to be a wand with runes similar to those upstairs. At the end is a rat’s tooth. Could this be connected to the cellar?
I return the journal to the shelf. Some things shouldn’t come with us.
Day 7 after the barricade.
Done with medical research, I turn to geography. The library has an impressive collection of hand drawn maps, some even enchanted so when you unfurl the scroll and hold it in the moonlight, the path you tread lights up. I couldn’t carry them all, though I longed to do so.
After storing historical maps of our own kingdom, I began sorting the rest. The globes would have taken too much room, so I focused on papers.
In my study, I found the city tree—a map of its intricate roots, the transport system of its massive branches. And the coordinates right there in the corner.
If I can crack the portal, Cyril, maybe we could make a home there in a hallowed acorn, watching the stars through so many boughs.
After that room, I tried the religious wing. I pulled down few compendiums for the sake of cultural preservation, but a black book with green gilded pages caught my eye.
I don’t recall holding it, let alone its fall from my grasp, but next I knew I was split open on the ground. My eyes shot wide open and seared with pain though I could not see.
The walls shook. I cannot say why, but I was flooded with this overwhelming feeling that this library would make it but not my body.
I locked the door behind me.
Day 8 after the barricade.
Though not eager to dive into philosophy after religion, I tried to clear as much as possible early in the day.
The section was sparse in comparison to others. Perhaps whole shelves had been borrowed by some overeager grad student working on their thesis. As I flipped through a heavy text on the ethos of transfiguration, I heard another bang from the antechamber. I waited it out for a minute before adding a few more books on activism in gnomish communes when the banging gave way to scurrying above.
I grabbed the transfiguration book and a few more on changelings for research and returned to the front desk, sweat beading on my neck as I prayed to find the barricade intact.
But it was only the crows dropping shields bearing the mark of my kinsmen as though to constantly mock me.
I leaned against the desk for support to catch my breath and deposited the books on the cart. Almost ready to call it a day, I noted a small loose page poking from a changeling book.
It was a map hastily scribbled on the back of a quiz A student earned half marks on. It wasn’t too far—in the geology room. So I followed the instructions eager to shake free this despair.
There was a false panel in the geode display containing a backpack of supplies for late night study. Some of the contents were long rancid — cheese, bread, a sachet of nuts— but there was also preserved figs, olives, a pot of honey. I took the loot and made a mental note to apply the amber liquid to my wounds.
With food in tow, I return to the antechamber and retrieve keys to the Head Librarian’s study. There’s sure to be more in there for my search to make the portals work.
A cursory sweep of the room yielded nothing unusual that might explain his complicity with Cyril’s disappearance or his conflicting ideation of our kingdom. All I found were two unburned tapers and a bottle of aged wine that smelled of chocolate.
The first sip warmed my stomach and burned cuts In my mouth I was not aware were there. I slumped into the leather chair and take another long glug, spilling red juice onto the table.
I was reminded of when Cyril and I would steal sips of brandy in the soft amber light of the archives to sort returned books to their proper sections. By then, we’d string stories of adventures we would have one day outside the walls of the library. Leaving him each night grew harder and harder and then my tears of grief started falling of their own volition, swirling with the wine in watercolor puddles.
It was evening when I woke. Covered in a sweaty snotty mess. I corked the bottle and resumed my work in the sociology room.
Termites. An entire wall of books ruined. Whole histories on ancient elvish customs and literature on the cultural exchange between centaur and Pegasi.
It took hours to burn it all. There was no other way to stop the spread on short notice and the fire kept me alert. There’s much more to do.
When I returned to the breakroom to stash my findings, I uncovered more signs of rodents: half-eaten bread, droppings on the counter. Other loaves went moldy. My supplies are dwindling. They’ll make better kindle than food.
As golden hour settled, the sun poured through the crow’s landing. All seemed quiet for once. I tore into my salvaged loaf and remember when we first met, years ago. A game of hide and seek in the stacks. How the Head Librarian scolded us. No one was supposed to even know of Cyril, let alone play games with him, let alone form a lasting bond.
I tire now. There’s not enough light to write more.
Day 9 after the barricade.
After offloading a dozen tomes from languages (including one on ancient runes I mist remember to study) I heard the distant hiss of snakes. One look over the stairwell confirmed not only snakes but scorpions.
I had to think quick and my throbbing headache did little to support that endeavor. The library’s safety thus far had been thanks to the magical barrier. So I ran up to the tower and frantically parsed titles for charm spells (certainly not my specialty.)
It would require a lock of my hair, a feather, and a match. I grabbed my ingredients, took a deep breath and ran to the antechamber. My hands fumbled with the matches (so few are left) and I snipped my hair past my shoulders careful to save the extra strands for later.
“Please wisened crows lend me your talons and beaks and in exchange you shall feast.”
I bowed my head and spat on my offering to seal the pact.
It’s nightfall now. I can still hear their shrieks like harpies at the gate. One day they’ll call on my favor. For now I must rest.
Day 10 after the barricade.
My day began in the astronomy room collecting star maps, astrology theory, and celestial histories. There was a shelf of unmarked valet books of erotica, but I dared not open them knowing they might seize my mind.
The dollies are slowing under the weight of our civilization. I must learn how to open the catacombs soon.
Atop the first cart was a book I wrote my junior thesis on: The Epic of Citron—a pirate fey who sailed the wind currents on the back of a bluejay. My father read it to me every night when I was young and still had cause to dream. My notes are scrawled in this copy ink that only appears in moonlight not unlike those maps. A trick I used to annotate my research.
I spent my breakfast hours nourishing my spirit by reading the tale of Citron. The bread supply is steadily depleting and I must ration my meals if I’m going to make it.
Overhead, I heard the crows tearing into the snake carcasses as though stripping meat off the bone was what they were born to do. Blood and guts splatter in the rubble as they make haste of their reward.
Driven by my fever and impatience I devour the last of my grain and preserves. I don’t know how this hunger seized me so. I fear it will be my undoing.
I steal away to my quarters. And try to nap, but my eyes refuse to stay shut. They’re coming faster every day. How much longer do I realistically have?
While on my nightly walk to catacombs, I saw the purple smoke creeping up from the basement stairs. How had I overlooked that? And for how long?
Tomorrow, to herbology and back to the apothecary. My health is still declining. I fear I may be dying after all.
Day 12 after the barricade.
I jolt awake choking on own blood. I rinse my mouth at the spring in the art gallery before going to the herbology room on the Southside. A pack of crows yell at the door and scatter only when I neared.
It smelled rank of copper and burnt
flesh. A sword ran through this villain’s stomach and Fellon, a senior librarian, lay dead beside him with a letter opener in his neck.
I vomit bile and blood. The crows peck and rip their favor given.
Who else might be lurking here?
There by the bay window, I spotted the salt circle that must be how Fellon arrives—perhaps he had a hitchhiker on the way?
I’ve copied the patterns in my notes but I’ll need to study more to figure out how to replicate it and set my own destination.
Wary as I was, I fished through Fellon’s pockets and was rewarded with a folded message.
“Cyril arrived at destination.”
Whose side? Was this an interception? Or from our own?
If they made it through so readily then the barrier might be breaking. My hope of finding a cure dwindles. I put out the fire and made a hasty retreat.
Still reeling from all this information, I crawled to the break room in vain as there was no new food to be found. I ran my fingertips over the dimpled paper of Fellon's message all the way back to my room.
Day 11 after the barricade.
There’s no more meat save the rotting snakes. I attempted to turn it into jerky but my stomach refused with the little I managed to swallow. My body is failing me.
Day 13 after the barricade.
Found tools in the back of the storage room. Repaired the broken window. No cure yet.
Still in the archives where Cyril and I worked. Spilled ink all over a catalog of treasure maps; my hands perpetually shake.
Minor success. I found the codex On unsealing the catacombs. Tried to bring the carts over, but my strength wanes. I might not have it in me to open it.
A discovery from Cyril’s desk as I bump into it: a false cover hiding a stack of handwritten stories. The kinds you might have been told as a child of far-off places with magic and fairies and wonder. You never shared your tales though you were eager to hear mine. There's a danger to holding them, to your origins. I wrap them around the golden snake and its knowing eyes.
Wake in the magick room.
Didn't see him coming.
Never made it, did we Cyril?
At least this confirms he was behind this.
The light is fading now.
All my efforts for not.
Unless you find this.
Combine my papers with yours.
And tell our story.