Tag Archives: Fantasy Fiction

Phantom Library

A bit of fluff inspired by Be Kind Rewrite’s Inspiration Monday prompt: Phantom Library

It is also a sequel to Raised by Dragons. The names of characters have been altered to protect their identity. Any resemblance to real people is unintentional and highly amusing. ;)

 

You know what it’s like in the morning when you really don’t want to wake up? Your bed is comfortable, the air is a little too cold on your face, your body feels twice as heavy as usual.

It’s even worse when you’ve been working hard, and I had been.

Some people talk as if magic’s the easy way to do things. But real magic is only easy in the same way that lifting a huge weight becomes easier once you’ve invented, and then built, a pulley. And of all forms of magic, wizardry is the most complex. With nothing more than a mediocre high school education under my cap, my teacher had me studying higher mathematics, the sciences, the arts, and most of all, philology. In some ways, I’d never felt more alive. But living is tiring.

I had been training for months, only getting breaks when Ren, or my foster-parents, would kidnap me for a holiday. Teemu, my teacher, didn’t seem to know, or maybe he just didn’t care, what holidays were.

So there I was in bed, with the morning light screaming in at the window. My blankets smelled faintly of cedar, I was warm, and the room itself was chilly. So I did the natural thing. I stretched a little, rolled over, and closed my eyes.

That’s when a sound like a large ball-bearing spinning against frosted glass made me leap up.

Never ignore a growling dragon.

Teemu was standing just outside my room, teeth clenched, lips barely parted. He was wearing human form, as he usually did for our lessons. A full grown Draconis Major in its true shape is awkward indoors, to say the least. Still, he had a way of being scarcely less intimidating as a ‘human’ than when he showed scales and row on row of teeth.

Without a word, he turned and walked down the hall.

I scrambled into my clothes, trying to ignore the twinge that suggested breakfast. It was unlikely that Teemu, already angry at my oversleeping, would wait for me to grab anything from the kitchens.

Maybe, I thought,  Tesni will bring me something…

I caught up with Teemu on the stairs and cleared my throat. “Sorry. I’m, uh, still not used to being without an alarm-clock. …Or electricity.”

Without looking around, he lifted one hand and spoke a word in Draconic that I didn’t know yet. Before I could react, he turned on his heel and planted one finger on my forehead.

Have you ever had an unpleasant encounter with electricity?

It felt like a combination of that moment when a roller-coaster starts to plunge, and being punched in the face.

The next thing I knew, Teemu was glaring into my eyes.

“Better?” he said, emphasizing the hard consonants, a sure sign of annoyance. “Don’t make weak excuses. Do you want to learn how to weave an alarm? Or how to power a toaster?”

I dug my hands into my pockets to keep from punching him. Speaking of which, just in case you’re ever tempted to punch a dragon in human form. Don’t. Remember, they may be smaller, but they still have the same mass.

I took a deep breath and answered him. “…Yes.”

“Then dedicate yourself to this apprenticeship. Potential is meaningless when not applied. And don’t give me disrespectful one-syllable answers.” He turned and continued down the stairs.

“Yes, teacher,” I said, following.

I had expected to stop, as usual, on the ground floor. Our lessons mostly took place outside, in Teemu’s workshop, or in the mansion’s little library. But Teemu kept following the stairs down into levels I’d never seen before. It was still clean and tidy, Tesni would have it no other way, but it was not as airy. We sank down into subterranean cold and scents of cavern and cellar. There were still plenty of lights, leaping up in niches when we approached, and falling into darkness again behind us.

“Where’re we headed?” I asked.

“I’m going to teach you how to use the phantom library. That way you can continue your theoretical studies when I’m too busy to give you practical lessons.”

“Phantom library?”

Teemu laughed, always a disconcerting sound coming from him, and gave no answer.

As we continued, I began to realize that I would have to climb back up the stairs in the near future. I wished I’d insisted on getting breakfast.

Two more flights down and we stopped. Water covered the steps a little way ahead.

But I soon realized that it wasn’t water.

It was translucent, and rippled along the surface, but it didn’t reflect the lights in the cavern walls, nor the helictite-encrusted ceiling above us.

Whatever it was, I could see slowly-moving blooms of glowing color, and pale points, like stars, beneath the surface. I wondered if these were living things, algae or fey, or chemical reactions of some kind, or simply images projected from who-knows-where.

Teemu turned left and stepped out onto the surface.

I followed. The first step was the worst, for though I could see the edges of a platform about an inch under the ‘water,’ I didn’t really know what I was stepping into. Whatever it was, at least it didn’t seep into my shoes.

The platform led to an alcove, raised just above the surface of the pool. For being in a cave, it was shockingly homey.

There was a massive roll-top desk, well-supplied with notebooks, pencils, pens, and various old-school calculating tools. Several armchairs sat by a stone platform, like a coffee-table, and there was even a worn couch with a blanket thrown across its camel-back.

There was, however, only one small bookshelf. I found this terribly disappointing. Three shelves, none of them full of books, with book-ends and knickknacks taking up valuable space. The books themselves were an odd mix. An Ethiopian cookbook, a technical study on some planetary cataclysm, volume “Q” from an encyclopedia, and Through the Looking Glass were among them.

“This is the biped study,” said Teemu. “If we’d turned right, we would have reached the dragon’s study, but you wouldn’t be comfortable there. Still, if one of us is down here, you know where to find us.”

I moved over to the desk and picked up a yellow ruler-looking thing. More accurately, it looked like two rulers bridged together with metal brackets, and a third ruler between them that slid back and forth.

“Slide-rule,” said the dragon, pulling a worn book from the shelf. “You’ll figure it out. But first, let’s show you the catalog.”

I came up beside him as he knelt down over the edge of the not-water. Several pale, glowing points converged like nibbling minnows when Teemu placed his free hand against the surface.

“It’s a communal library,” he said, “shared among the Draconis Major and Draconis Minor as well as a few select members of other species. You won’t be allowed to access the restricted works, of course, but that leaves plenty of trouble for you to get into. So the first rule is: Theoretical Study Only. This is not the place for experimentation. If you defy that rule, I’ll know, and your free-study privileges will be revoked.”

“Yes, teacher.” My earlier anger had vanished. The only thing I felt at the moment was excitement.

“The first step is to identify yourself to the library. That’s what I’m doing, now. Place your hand next to mine.”

I obeyed. Little lights clustered around my hand, too. The surface of the ‘water’ felt like mist, insubstantial and a little warm. The lights dispersed, leaving a blank space around where we were kneeling.

Teemu began to write with a finger on the black surface, leaving a silvery trail. Title: boolean AND search.

A moment later, the images of several books appeared under the surface. Teemu flicked one of them and it opened. A few more flicks and he had ‘turned’ several of the phantasmal pages.

“This is how you select a book. Then, once you have found the one you want…” he dipped the physical book he was holding into the image of the book in the mist. When he withdrew it, it had become the book he had been looking at.

He opened it to the cover page, and I saw his name scrawled in Draconic runes. “This is my copy. That is the next important thing to know about the phantom library. You will not be able to draw my copy out. Instead, you will have your own copy where you can, if you like, take your own notes. And every time you draw out a book, it will be that copy, your copy, just as you left it. Do you understand?”

“I think so. What… what happens to the notes I’ve taken if, for instance, I die?”

Teemu smiled, as he only did when he liked one of my questions. “Marginalia is absorbed into the library and can be retrieved, if one knows how and has the right level of access. But this is enough to keep you busy for now, don’t you think?” He offered the book to me. “I suggest you read this, first. Otherwise you will find searching the catalog very hard. Dip it in to change it to your copy.”

I was obeying his instruction when I asked the wrong question.

“What happens if I fall in?”

The dragon casually batted me off the edge. For a moment I was in freefall, and I screamed accordingly. A moment later, and I was blinded as the bright points of light mobbed me. The next thing I knew, I could feel solid stone under me again, and my vision was full of afterimages. Teemu’s amused voice drifted to me from not very far away.

“The library doesn’t absorb life-forms.”

I answered him in language I won’t repeat here.

“If I hadn’t thrown you in, you’d have been curious. Now you know, and you can focus on your studies instead of wondering.”

My vision was clearing, and I looked at the book that was still in my hand. The cover was a patchwork, shreds of countless books mashed together, and the pages were sticking out at odd angles, words overlapping words until they were nearly black.

“Go ahead, dip it again.” Teemu backed up to reassure me that he wouldn’t push me off the edge again. Grudgingly, I obeyed.

“There is a water-closet over there,” he pointed to a little door beside the desk that I hadn’t noticed earlier. “The penalty for peeing in the library is a five-decade ban, so don’t be stupid.”

I nodded and sat down in one of the armchairs. The book looked dry, and I don’t mean in terms of moisture. I began to regret, more and more, not having breakfast. Teemu seemed to be going over the list of things he meant to tell me.

“Oh, and I almost forgot.” He knocked on the stone coffee table, then wrote with the tip of his finger on the surface. A few minutes passed, and a knock sounded from the table itself as a cup of tea appeared on it. “There’s a direct line of communication to the kitchens. But don’t over use it, and always say ‘please’.”

“Yes, of course.”

He paused to think for a moment, then nodded. “Tomorrow, 8 am, sharp.”

“Yes teacher.”

As he turned to go, the realization of where I was, and what was now in my reach, began to sink in. Boolean method book notwithstanding, I was on the brink of a literal sea of books.

I called after Teemu, hoping he was still in earshot. “Thank you!”

No answer.

He probably heard, but didn’t bother to respond. I would thank him, again, in the morning. I settled comfortably in the armchair, with the cup of tea, and started trying to absorb the book as quickly as possible. It was going to be my map to this sea.

Advertisements

Fallen Writer

~*GASP!*~

What is this? An original post? It can’t be!

Well… to some extent, it isn’t. The first part of this post was written a year and a half ago. The quoted text is not how I currently feel, so no prayers or sympathies are needed for depression as I am not presently in a depression (prayers and sympathy for stress, however, will be much appreciated!). The insights I apparently had during that grim time, though, are still relevant to my mind, and as I did not post it back when, I have decided to post it now and tie it in with my present thoughts.

And, uh, Merry Christmas/Happy Holiday-of-your-persuasion! It doesn’t look like I will be doing much Christmas-posting, but I will, again, re-post my carol countdown for any who are interested. :)

I am going through some stuff right now. Nothing is “wrong,” but then my brain chemistry doesn’t really care. It never has.

It’s moods like this that make me want to burn down the world. Luckily for me, and everyone else, global immolation is not in my power. Besides, I would probably remember who and what I love in time to stop me, even if it was.

Depression will pass. It always does. I have learned the hard way that the dimness of the world I see right now is no more real than if I were staring at it through rose glass.

If only knowing were feeling.

Different established aspects of the characters I write become more or less real to me depending on my mood, at least in the abstract.

I have found that I do not need to understand a character for them to reveal themselves in my writing, but the insights I get when I am not writing can help me see the “big picture,” what the characters themselves do not see. You know how we, as people, are often too “close” to our own lives to see ourselves objectively? It seems characters are usually like that, too.

Anyway, I’ve known for a long while that I am dealing with two protagonists who have a (mostly unconscious) deathwish. They have forgotten how to love themselves in the way that allows a person to really love their neighbors. In contrast, I have a protagonist who “loves his life” (John 12:25) so much that he is willing to do nearly anything to survive. Right now I can clearly see the irony of the fact that all three are, despite their differences, self-destructive.

If they change, it will be painful, but then processes that create lasting change are ALWAYS painful. Break the twisted bone so that it can heal straight. Even my dull-dark mood is not enough to hide from me the beauty and joy inherent in redemption.

Cheery stuff, no? Though I do touch on eucatastrophe at the end. It relates, in an acute-angle kind of way to what I will say next.

My stories, all of them, are rife with questions of redemption: what it is, what it means, how it works, if it works, what happens when it doesn’t come into play, etc. Being part of a Fallen race, the question is of deep importance to me.

What I’ve been pondering lately, in a more balanced frame of mind, is how to deal with the concept of Fallen Humanity in-story.

Stories are funny things, aren’t they? So many varieties, and yet so many common notes.

My genre is, I guess, Fantasy Fiction (or speculative fiction, if you want a bigger umbrella). Not particularly High or Low, Heroic or Dark. In fact, running down the list of sub-genres, I’m not sure where it falls. That’s neither a good thing nor a bad thing, by the way. Some of the best (and worst) fantasy fiction out there plays to type.

The reason is that each type has its aim and the formulas work. If you want a peanut-butter milkshake, you use ice-cream, milk, peanut-butter, and maybe some chocolate syrup. You don’t add chicken soup, or gravel.

So, I am not writing dark, cynical fantasy because my aim isn’t deconstruction. But most of the alternatives have heroes that, while flawed, are still… well… heroic. And their villains are villainous. And I look at them and wonder: how much difference is there, really?

In one sense, of course, there is a vast difference. I am not attempting to diminish the importance of choice and freewill. But the Fall cuts through everyone. In a sense, it brings us all close together, even if we’re together in bondage. I may cheat, or lie, and another person may commit mass murder, but without salvation, we’ve both walked through the gates: “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.”* If we both find salvation, we both find salvation, regardless of what we’ve done. In this sense, at least, there are no levels.

We’re all sinners. But the world, as a whole, rarely seems to agree. There’s a persistent feeling (one that I have to fight in myself) that some things just aren’t forgivable. That some marks, once made, are indelible.

So what does this mean for my writing? I guess it means that I’m walking a fine line. On one hand, I want my reader to like and sympathize with the “good guys,” to be horrified by the destruction wrought by their antagonists, and for the two sides to be quite clear (well, most of the time, anyway). But without ever being able to forget that the degree of separation is not as wide as it seems. I’m not necessarily talking about anti-heroes or anti-villains. I’m not exactly dealing in gray and gray morality.

I guess, maybe, I’m asking how we approach the Fall. How, if we believe in true Good and Evil (as I do,) and know that we’re Not Good (yeah, that too), do we view those whose Not-Goodness horrifies us?

I know that, for a lot of people who share my faith, this may sound stupidly obvious, but I’ve always believed that the obvious needs saying sometimes: I feel like this is Important. Not just on an intellectual level, but on an emotional one.

How do we love our enemies? How do we face mass murder, exploitation, corruption, and cruelty? We must condemn these things because we know them to be evil. To excuse or ignore them in a story, as in real life, would be a sin. But in real life we’re forbidden to judge the perpetrators. Part of that may be because of our human limitations. We can’t really understand our fellows. But maybe it’s also because, when we come right down to it, “we” are not as far from “them” as we would like to think.

To an ant the size of a pin-head, an ant the size of  a bean seems huge. To a human they’re both very small, nearly the same size, even.

The Fall makes us all ants.

And so, dear possible-future-reader, if you ever think it strange that I touch on a monster with sympathy, or deal harshly with a protagonist for a comparatively “small” fault, remember that it isn’t because I’m a relativist.

It’s because I’m not.

 


 

*Dante’s Inferno – “Abandon all hope, you who enter here.”


 


%d bloggers like this: