On March 31st1831 Victor Hugo published a book in which he wrote: “Architecture has recorded the great ideas of the human race. Not only every religious symbol, but every human thought has a page in that vast book.”
The Library knows that this is true. But it is also incomplete: it isn’t the architecture, the physical form of the building that gives the Library its power. It’s the life, and the belief that its inhabitants imbue in it that has nurtured and woken the Library’s magic. The Library isn’t a building. Or at least it isn’t only a building. The Library is the people.
- The Founding
“Here? What do you think?”
Greta smiles down at her daughter. Helga is only seven and still has a young child’s enthusiasm. She loves it. She depends on it: she who can feel the winter in her bones. Helga was a surprise, but a worthy one: left on her doorstep as a baby she has never regretted taking her in.
“I don’t know sweetheart,” Greta says, “Don’t you think that it might be a little lonely?”
Helga shakes her head, dark braids flying from side to side. She stares up at her mother, lip caught between her teeth as she gnaws at it worriedly.
“No,” she says, “Because if we live here it means that the bad men can’t find us.”
Greta’s heart breaks. She crouches down in next to her daughter and gives her a tight hug: Helga bears it for a moment before squirming free.
“They can’t find us,” she promises, “Helga, do you remember the portal that we stepped into?”
“Yes,” Helga wrinkles her nose in thought, “It was small and golden, and you said we had to be very quiet when we went through it so they couldn’t follow.”
“And you were. This is the Neitherlands sweetheart. The part of the fae realms. Those men could never find us here: they don’t have the power nor the courage.”
“Oh,” Helga says, “That’s good.” She pauses. “I still think we should build it here. There are trees for me to play in and a spring for me to splash in.”
Greta laughs, marvelling at her child’s resilience. How easily the young heal: in another few years the terror, the flames, the desperate flight between realms will be little more than a bad dream. In two decades it will be forgotten. Greta knows that she will never be able to forget it though. All of her hopes and dreams, and her precious books… lost to the ashes.
No, she swears to herself, gazing at the spot where they will rebuild their home, they will create a sanctuary. A grand library. And no knowledge will ever be lost again.
- The Monsters
“How could you do this!”
Helga is beautiful even in rage, cheeks red, eyes bright, hair falling out of her neat bun.
“My love,” Aengus says.
“Don’t you dare ‘my love’ me!” Helga screams at him.
“If I could just explain-”
She cuts him off with a sharp gesture, magic flying from her hands. Aengus hastily dispels it before it can reach him. Heavens knows what the spell was: the last person to dare Helga’s wrath had disappeared never to be seen again.
“You can’t say that you wouldn’t have done the same!” he says desperately, “Eternal youth, my love. The powers of a god. All within our grasp. I did it for us! I did it for the Library that your mother built, the Library that shelters us, that is a shining beacon of knowledge. You’re powerful Helga,” he continues, voice softening, “But you’re not powerful enough. Not to fight both the faeries and the Old Gods.”
Helga is calm. Deadly calm. She raises her hands and began shaping a familiar series of tuts.
“No!” Aengus shouts as he recognises what she’s going. She looks at him dismissively, sparing a moment from her spell to flick her hand at him, and he swears as he feels his body freeze in place.
“I might not be strong enough to fight the Old Gods,” she says, “But I am strong enough to defeat you.”
She swallows, tears dripping down her cheeks.
“It was bad enough,” she says, “That you experimented on children. Innocent children, sacrificed to your vanity and you paranoia. That you tore one of them to pieces to fuel your ascent to godhood.”
She snarls the last word, hands in constant motion, golden sparks left in their wake.
“But did you really... Why did you have to involve our daughter in it?”
Aengus snarls, straining against his invisible bonds.
“Iris made her decision,” he says, “The right decision. She’ll stay young and beautiful and powerful, while you wither away until even your bones have turned to dust.”
“Perhaps,” Helga says, steady, “But that is the way of life. Now.”
There’s a pressure in the air, heavy magic surrounding them both, cloying and oppressive.
“Aengus, son of Ardàl. I banish you forevermore from the Library. Bacchus, son of Hephaestion I banish you forevermore from the Library. Heka, son of Sekhmet I banish you forevermore from the Library. Iris, daughter,” she takes a deep breath as her composure breaks, “Daughter of Helga. I banish you forevermore from the Library. Her doors will no longer welcome you. Her secrets will no longer be yours. Though you may look for her, you shall never find her. So mote it be.”
- The Golden Years
“Aemilia,” Flavia hisses, “We shouldn’t be down here!”
“Don’t be such a spoilsport,” Aemilia replies, “We’re Librarians! We’re allowed to seek knowledge: in fact it’s our literal job.”
“Novice librarians,” Flavia corrects, somewhat pedantically in Aemilia’s opinion. After all, they’ve lived here their entire life: have run through the stacks screaming with laughter to avoid their tutors. The Library is in their blood.
“Just because you’re a legacy,” Flavia continues, “Doesn’t mean that we won’t get in trouble if we’re caught.”
Aemilia scoffs. “Trouble! Where’s your sense of adventure? A librarian must be prepared for every eventuality after all.”
Flavia looks longingly in the direction of their dorm but gives in as they both know she would.
“Fine,” she sighs.
Aemilia jumps in joy, impulsively hugging her friend.
“Thank you!” she says, “Thank you, thank you!”
Then she runs off, weaving between shelves like a child, not waiting for Flavia. She’ll catch up: she always does.
Later, wedged into a small alcove and watching the new novices swear their vows, Aemilia feels Flavia slip her hand in hers.
“Thanks for convincing us to come,” she whispers.
“You’re welcome,” she whispers back.
- The Decline
“Librarian enrolment numbers are down,” Everett says, “And most of our workforce is employed in the Underground branch. Freezing time can only take us so far.”
“What do you plan to do about it?” Phyllis asks. Her hairs and clothes are impeccable as always and despite the stringent no smoking policy, she gives the impression of lazily blowing rings into the air.
“I’m going to increase recruitment. Aggressively.”
“The Library’s never had a stringent recruitment policy Everett,” Zelda interjects, “It’s always been the refuge of the desperate. The passionate. The knowledge seekers and those born into it.”
“And where has that got us?” he demands, “Not enough manpower to maintain our repository of knowledge. In a few decades all that we’ve worked for could be lost.”
His voice softens.
“I’m not saying that we start press-ganging people into service,” he says, “But if we approached a few magicians. Glanced through their books to see if they need anything that they we could provide.”
“And in exchange?”
“A billion-year contract.”
Everett raises his hand, “Hear me out. We’ll be providing our employees with amazing benefits: the chance to travel, years more life, the knowledge that they’re contributing to something greater than themselves. It’s win-win.”
“Well, I for one agree with Everett,” Phyllis says, “It’s not optimal, but so long as we put stringent clauses and sub-clauses in place to stop anyone from harming the books it should work out.”
“That’s a majority,” Everett says turning to Zelda, “But I would feel more comfortable if we had a consensus.”
“I…don’t like it,” Zelda says slowly, “But I can see that it has to be done. For the good of the Library.”
She looks up slowly.
“You have my vote.”
- The Battle
Harriet runs through the Library.
She hasn’t stepped foot here for years, not really, but she still remembers its nooks and crannies. Despite herself, despite everything part of her still sags in relief whenever she enters the Library’s walls. It still feels like home.
She had never wanted to return. Not when she was working to free the Library’s knowledge. And definitely not after spending months split into several shards after her mother had trapped her in the mirror realm.
Still. They were trying to do better.
Movement in the corner of her eye, and she ducks behind a bookshelf as the Monsters stride past. There’s a body next to her feet, the red bright and lurid against the drab background. Harriet swallows. She’s enjoying being able to live her life again, she doesn’t want to die so soon.
She counts to twenty, slowly, until she can’t feel the twisted magic the Monsters wear like a cloak, then she cautiously moves from her hiding place.
The holding cells are in the basement, on the opposite side of the building from the rare book store. Or at least, whatever rare books were left and hadn’t been transferred to the Poison Room. Years ago, when Harriet was a girl, the cells had been the dorms for the novice librarians. She had never stayed there though: her mother had wanted to keep her close.
She had memories of sneaking in at night, exchanging sleepy signs with her friends eating midnight feasts of contraband chocolate.
Everything was different now.
She strides down the corridor quickly and carefully, searching for any sign of librarians. Honestly though, she’s not expecting to find anyone down here: they’ll all be more preoccupied by the murderous, supernatural beings stalking the halls.
Peering into each cell, she finally finds it. The right one.
Drawing herself back she sends a powerful blast of battle magic toward the door, blowing it off its hinges. No time to be delicate.
He mom looks up. She looks small in her grey jumpsuit, older than Harriet can ever remember her looking.
“Harriet?” she signs shakily.
“Mom,” she signs, “I’ve come to get you out.”
- The Renaissance
“It needs a lot of work,” Zelda says, “But the Library was great once. It can be again.”
The walk through the ruined pages of books. The bloodstains still haven’t been cleaned from the floor and walls, although they have at least had the time to bury the bodies.
“The Library,” Zelda continues, “Was once a place of safety. Magicians would come from far and wide to drink in her knowledge. It was so vast that we’d have to send in the novices to guide supplicants out from where they’d got lost in the stacks.”
“What went wrong?” Alice asks.
“Arrogance,” Zelda says, “Pure and simple.”
“Yeah, why doesn’t that surprise me.”
“We made mistakes. A lot of them,” Zelda says, “I’m not afraid to admit it. And that’s why we need your help. Both of you. With Everett gone, we need a new head librarian.”
“And you think that I’m the person for the job,” Alice says flatly.
“Yes,” says Zelda. “The organisation as a whole is too insular. We need new blood at the helm.”
Alice shakes her head slowly.
“No,” she says, “I’m sorry. I can’t. I’ve just spent the last few years of my life frantically trying to avoid my death and the death of all my friends. I want to spend time being a normal twenty-year-old. And I can’t, just can’t deal with a restructuring a corrupt organisation.”
“I understand,” Zelda says, “I can’t say that I’m not disappointed, but I understand. We all need time to remember who we are.”
“Why the hell aren’t you taking over?” Kady asks.
“I was part of the problem,” Zelda says, “Because of my inaction-”
Kady snorts. “Bullshit. Yeah, ok you screwed up. But you realised you were wrong, and you did something about it. That’s better than most people do. This is you being scared again. You don’t want the responsibility because you don’t want to be the one having to make the tough decisions.”
“It’s not that simple,” Zelda says.
“I think it is,” Alice says, “You don’t have to decide now. But…maybe just take over for now. Temporary head librarian.”
“And you’re not on your own,” Kady says, “You’re worried about being insular, about repeating the mistakes of the past? Ask for fucking advice. Call me. Or Alice. Or hell, call Harriet. I know that you’re rebuilding your relationship.”
“I-” Zelda doesn’t know what to say so she settles on: “I’ll think about it.”
They continue walking. The Library has been destroyed. But her foundations are strong. She’ll survive this.