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Virgo at Hades' Gate

Chapter Text

Strange. 

Five cycles ago, Edan had been lost in the open countryside – missing the structured walls and streets and towers of Cresley. The way life moved like an enormous ticking clock with a thousand hands and gears. Like the way planets orbited the sun.

Everyone and everything had a place – a role to fill. Cities were the place for people, and the wild land the place for daemons.

But now.

The chaotic streets of Cymaria seemed to hang over his head, threatening to choke out the wind and light. What had seemed like order from the windows of Cresley Cathedral was noise and heat and shoving elbows and stamping feet and screaming vendors.

He tried to take several long breaths – in through the nose, out through the mouth – quiet the mind, and the soul and body will follow. That’s what Father Loic always said.

The famous library of Cymaria appeared around the corner, and he breathed a prayer of thanks to Saint Yulia, and elbowed his way to the wide steps. 

Inside the atrium, with the door shut behind him, he closed his eyes, breathing in the new world he’d walked into. Almost no noise filtered in through heavy stone and thick tinted windows, colored with a thousand sparkling hues. The air smelled of mold, paper, and ink.

He smiled, rolling his shoulders back. He was home. Or, close enough.

The books on natural philosophy and astronomy were in the same room, an attendant informed him down his long nose.

“And,” he added. “You’ll have to leave your satchel with me. No bags in there – with the books.”

Edan stiffened. “Excuse me. Brother Edan Lares. And – I’ve got my credentials right here sir. I assure you – as a priest of Cresley, I’m not a thief.”

The man raised an eyebrow. “No bags in the rooms. Leave it here, or leave.”

Edan could feel his face flushing. “But – I – my paper and pens for notes.”

The man pointed to tables across from his massive desk. Several figures sat there, bent over books, and scribbling in notebooks.

“Bring any books you need for notes to me – you get one book at the table with you at a time. Lead pencils only – I see a drop of ink anywhere near these books an’ you’re out on the street.” He shot Edan’s satchel another pointed glance. Edan weighed it in his hand, hesitating.

His stargazing notes were in here. Observations of nature. His travel log. His own two-volume collection of writings from the church fathers and saints. To leave all these things –

The man sighed impatiently. “No one’s gonna steal your bits and bobs, Brother Lares. I give you my word as warden of this library.” 

His tone brought fresh heat to Edan’s face. No. I am in the wrong – he’s right to treat me as any other . There were some Edan knew who carried their position like a key to every lock – blustering and threatening if any dared to question it.

That’s not the way – it betrayed the very ideals of the church fathers and saints. He must not take their path. 

He nodded, swallowing his temper, and handed over the bag. He forced a smile. “Thank you. I apologize. I was out of line.”

The man harrumphed, and promptly ignored him, shifting his squinted gaze back to the people at the desks. Watching for any soul unfortunate enough to bend a page.

 

Inside the room for natural philosophy stood rows and rows of shelves, stuffed with volume after volume of a wealth of knowledge. What man in his right mind would pursue gold when such an endless supply of books was free at hand?

It felt like an endless moment in there – wandering down the long rows. The click of his shoes on the stone was muffled by the paper all around him. And not just paper – some of the largest books might even be vellum. These were so valuable that they sat in metal cages, chained to the shelves. He ran a finger down the spine of one, feeling it through the small bars holding it safely away. 

So old. 

What secrets were hidden away in these books – lost in plain sight – never read in a hundred years?

Astronomy. Cora had a thousand questions for him to look up. The things she’d thought to ask. He’d been astounded by her quick mind, over and over. Each dark hour – he’d leave in the morning, bursting with new thoughts about the Dusk – the planets. Even daemons and the Gale.

Saint Baldwin – he hadn’t dared write a few of them. They’d verged on heresy. But – somehow, had also made sense –

He moved on, finally stopping to read the titles. He pulled one from the shelf. Then another. And another. And then – another.

At some point, his arms began to ache from the weight of books, precariously balanced in his arms.

He tore himself away, refusing to let his eyes land on another spin. He could spend eternity in here, and still have more books catch his eye. Time to actually read some of these.

He made his way carefully back to the door. 

The man at the massive desk gave his stack a black look, but nodded, slapping the desktop. “Put them here. Choose one .”

Moving with extra care under his caustic gaze, Edan slid the books from his hands onto the solid wood. He stretched his arms, feeling flowing back into his fingers.

He gave the man an apologetic grin. “My – my bag?”

“Take paper and a pencil – if you have one – only. The bag stays with me as long as you’ve got one of our books.”

Edan nodded. “Absolutely.”

The man narrowed his eyes, apparently judging if Edan was mocking him.

Edan tried to look as humble and pleasant as possible. How do you look humble?

Finally, armed with a book from the top of his pile, his notebook with some blank pages and a pencil, he slid onto the bench. 

The older man across from him looked up, smiling a quick welcome. Edan grinned. The man was also dressed in priestly garb. Not – from Cresley. He couldn’t place it, but – somewhere. The man seemed to notice the same, and his polite smile shifted to a wide grin. 

He held out a hand. “Greetings, my son. I’m Father Pierre – Ivan Pierre.”

“Brother Edan Lares – of Cresley.”

Father Pierre nodded. “Welcome – although,” he laughed softly. “I feel a bit forward for welcoming you to a city where I, too, am a guest. I’m from Vespas. Here to meet with the faithful, and learn from my brothers.”

Edan could feel his grin widening. “Oh – I visited your beautiful city – two – no, three, cycles back.”

“Of course – you came over land then. I’m sorry to have missed you.”

Edan could feel his face flushing. “Oh – well – I’m sure –.”

“And,” Father Pierre interrupted his quiet babbling, giving his hand a final squeeze and let go. “And one day, I’ll have the privilege to visit your own esteemed city.” He smiled again. “Cresley is the shining example we encourage our own cities and guilds and monarchs to emulate.”

Edan nodded, ducking his head, trying to hide his exploding embarrassment and joy at the praise.

“Thank you, Father,” he muttered. “Now –.”

“Oh – forgive me. You came here to read, as did I. Maybe – after? Can I buy you supper? I’d love to hear about your studies –” he glanced down at the book. “Astronomy. Truly a study for the high minded.”

 

Time shifted back into that space where it seemed to have no connection to Edan. He turned pages and scribbled notes until his wrist and fingers ached. But still, there were more and more books to be mined.

He had to convince Cora to come with him some day. She’d love it here so much – once he got her to just – come – just try it – she’d see how right he’d been. To not bring her here would be almost cruel for a mind like Cora’s –. Careful . It would be so easy to Obligate her while convincing himself she wanted it. He winced.

No. Either she came truly by her own choice, or she didn’t come at all. His job was to pull every scrap of information out of these books to bring back to her. Hers was to decide if she wanted to come herself.

At some point, Father Pierre placed a written note by his book. “I’m staying at the Crescent Sun inn. Come see me when you’re finished, and I’ll buy you a supper of the best grilled fish you’ll find this side of the Dusk.”

Edan had given him an enthusiastic nod, and gone back to his notes. 

When he noticed the note again an hour later, his stomach twisted painfully. I haven’t eaten in – nine hours?

He grimaced and cast a mournful look at the pile of books still remaining on the warden’s desk. 

Once awakened, his hunger now refused to disappear back into the far corner of his mind.

He sighed, set down his pencil, and shut the book. I’ll be back. 

The warden handed over his bag with a suspicious glance up and down his person – as if checking for any book-shaped bulges in his clothing. “Thank you for coming,” he muttered, turning away. 

Several helpful vendors in the act of packing up their stalls pointed Edan toward the inn, and Father Pierre’s promised fish supper.

 

The older man hadn’t exaggerated, and the food was delicious. Encouraged by a glass of excellent wine and a full belly, Edan had finished the evening by babbling about his passion for the natural philosophies, the mysteries of daemons, and his love for stars.

The man was an engaged, active listener. Asking questions, offering thoughts, and encouraging.

“What the church needs,” he remarked at one point, absently swirling his wine glass. “Is young men and women with fresh passion and joy in learning. Do you know – I’d love to sponsor your study – bring you to Vespas for a year or two. What do you think?”

“Oh – that’s – that’s too kind.”

“Nonsense.” He smiled, thoughtful. “You know my offer is purely selfish. I’m trying to steal a few of Cresley’s brilliant minds – get them to share the wealth. And – that friend of yours – Cora. Is she also a priest?”

He shook his head. “Oh – no. Just a country woman. From Eleosa – but – her mind! You should meet her – you’d forget all about me. If you offer anyone a scholarship – it should be her.”

“From Eleosa, you say?”

“Well – she moved there with her mother, I believe she said. I don’t think she’s got any family there herself.”

“I see.”

Edan nodded. “But she’s working just – writing letters and things for the townspeople. She should be writing books – be a published author.” 

“Yes. I think – I think we might have a place for her.” Father Pierre raised his glass. “I shall look your friend up on my return. But – before you sell yourself short – come see me in Vespas. We’ve got a place for you as well, if you’ll have it.”