Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chapter 11: The Library

     The Wizards College of Sol sat, rightly enough, in the College District, which was on the other side of the River Ayrst from the Wall Street District. This meant a long walk for Frayg, but it gave him time to mull things over in his mind. Ever since he'd first examined Nodge Prayner's body, he'd been asking himself why anyone would want to take his eyes and brain. His first thought had been that perhaps the boy had fallen afoul of one of the criminal guilds that were known to operate in Ayrst. Perhaps the boy had witnessed something, and the taking of the eyes was meant to be a warning not to examine things too closely. But then, why take the brain, too? His next idea had been that an underground heretical group might want them for some sort of unholy ritual. He hadn't gone as far as to speak with anyone in from the Temple about that possibility yet. Asking around about Dark Rituals was the sort of activity that might arouse the wrong sort of suspicion. Only very specific Temple Authorities would have such knowledge anyway – those being the Inquisitors. If nothing else panned out, he'd have to try to talk to one of them. Frayg shuddered at the thought of their involvement in his investigation.
     Frayg had followed the High Street over the bridge, through the Docks District and along the Heights until he finally reached the tightly-packed College District. This was one of the oldest parts of the city. The grounds of the college itself had originally been a fortress. It sat on a promontory overlooking the River Ayrst and the grounds of the new Palace in the Royal district directly opposite.
     The High Street passed through the district to the Wizard's Square. Frayg crossed the square and arrived at the gatehouse of the college. He showed the gate guard his Watchman's Seal, and was granted access and directions to the Main Library. There were several libraries in Ayrst – some of them even open to the public – but the Main Library of the Wizards College of Sol had the most extensive collection not only in the city, but the whole kingdom. It was also the most likely to hold books on mythical and legendary creatures.
     The Main Library was housed in an enormous marble building called the Capitolein. According to legend the building served as the headquarters of an ancient Orgish kingdom just after the collapse of the Great Empire. Frayg had his doubts that a bunch of Orgs could ever been so coordinated. The only experience he'd ever had with Orgs was in defending a small caravan from Orgish attack nearly twenty years ago. He'd barely been more than a boy at the time, but the memories were still fresh enough to remind him that it was all the experience he'd ever needed with Orgs, and he'd dearly hoped from that day forward that he'd never encounter one again.
     The Watchman climbed the wide marble stairs of the library and opened one of the huge double doors at the top. On the opposite side of a great foyer was a long desk, behind which sat a pair of students in dark blue robes. One was a bald-shaven boy of about seventeen, the other was a raven-haired girl who's age he'd put at around fifteen. They were talking quietly to one another and laughing. Their sibilant voices echoed throughout the chamber, but the reverberation made it impossible to make out any actual words.
     Frayg approached the desk and the two youth went silent. The boy gave him a quizzical look, as if he'd never seen another person in the library before. The girl addressed him: "May I help you, sir?"
     "I hope so," began Frayg. "I'm Captain Frayg of the City Watch."
     The two students looked at one another and then back to him. This time the boy asked, "What's a Watchman want in the library?"
     "I'm here to do some research, and I hear this is the best place in all of Palonias to do it."
     "Depends what you want to research."
     "I'm interested in any information you have about legendary creatures – particularly folk myths."
     "Any particular creature got your interest?"
     "As a matter of fact, yes. I'm looking for anything that some people call an Eye Reaper."
     The girl's mouth dropped open. She said, "That's very curious, I must say."
     "How's that?"
     "Well, it's been a few weeks ago now, but there was someone else here looking up information about that very topic – only he knew the right name of it."
     "What name is that?"
     "Teuthanurae. Although the books have many names for them, depending on when and where they were written."
     "Tooth-an-yur-ay." The word felt strange in Frayg's mouth. "So who was asking about it – wait, did you say them?"
     "Yes. There was supposed to be a whole race of them, with a kingdom and everything – until they were conquered by the Great Empire, that is."
     "All right." It took Frayg a moment to process this information. "So does anyone believe they were actually real?"
     "There's some debate about that in academic circles. There's been very little physical evidence of them. There is quite a bit of writing – and some of that dates back to the Empire itself. I don't suppose anyone alive today really knows, though."
     The boy looked at the girl as if she'd suddenly grown horns. "How do you know all this stuff?"
     "Well, Dranil, you'd know some of it , too, if you ever paid attention in Imperial History! Plus I did a little reading myself after that weird fellow came in asking about them."
     Frayg broke in: "This was a few weeks ago, you say?"
     "Do you remember anything about the man?"
     "Are you really a Watchman?"
     "Yes, I am." Frayg produced his seal and allowed the girl to examine it. She looked closely at it and bent it in her hands and then smelled it. Finally, she pulled a small pinch of powder out of a belt pouch, mumbled a few unintelligible words and sprinkled the dust on the seal. There was a small flash of blue-white light and a puff of smoke which dissipated almost immediately.
     The boy next to her hissed, "What are you doing? You know you're not supposed to be doing spells out of class!"
     "Oh, hush," she replied. "The good captain here isn't going to tell, is he? Besides, I had to make sure the seal was legitimate." She handed the seal back to Frayg. "And it is."
     She stood up and offered her hand with a small curtsy. "I'm Zaria, and this is Dranil. In case you hadn't guessed, we're students here, and to help pay our tuition we're working at the library."
     "Pleased to meet you both. So does this mean you'll help me?"
     "Dranil, you keep the desk. I'm going to take Captain Frayg to the books he needs." She turned back to Frayg. "I'll tell you about the other researcher on the way."

     Zaria led Frayg through a door in the wall behind and to the left of the desk and into an even larger room that was full of tables and chairs. The walls were covered with bookshelves. Frayg hadn't realized there were this many books in all the world, much less in one room.
     "I see by the look on your face that this is your first time here." Zaria smiled. "It's quite all right. I imagine my expression was much the same my first time, too. Most peoples' are."
     She paused a moment to let Frayg take it all in, before asking, "Isn't it wonderful?"
     "I … it's so … that is, I mean to say ... Yes. Yes it's wonderful."
     "And this room isn't half of it." With that she led him to the center of the room and made a left turn towards the south wall, where a hallway led off the main room. "Upstairs in the south wing is where we want to go."
     Zaria fairly bounced her way down the hall. She clearly enjoyed showing off the library to newcomers. She was short in stature, but very pretty. Her dark hair fell about her face in loose curls, creating an oval shape that accented her large brown eyes and the bright smile she wore.
     "Now, you want to know about the other researcher. Normally, I wouldn't talk about any of our patrons to anyone else, but as you're a Watchman, I expect you have a good reason for asking after him."
     "Yes, I do."
     "Well, he was a Dvergar, to start. That ought to interest you. We don't see many of them this far south, even in a city as large as Ayrst. Of the six hundred students here at the college, only fourteen are Dvergar. They don't tend to go in for human magicks, but a few of them come to study history and yes, occasionally folklore."
     "Can you describe him any further than that?"
     "Yes. He was a grubby-looking fellow, tall for a Dvergar, but short for human – I'd say about five feet even – right about my height, actually. He wore a short brown beard and long mustaches. He had a northern accent, but I guess most Dvergar do, don't they? Their original homeland is in what is now called Rivvenland, though many of them now live around Rndak and Bergheim."
     "But this one in particular: did he give a name?"
     "No. The library is open to the public except during exam periods when we students need priority, so we generally don't ask people's names. I did introduce myself to him when he asked me for help – out of politeness, you see – but he only shook my hand and didn't give a name."
     They turned right and climbed a set of stairs. Up here there were mostly rows and rows of bookshelves and very few tables. They climbed to the very top of the stairs which ended in a large landing on the fourth floor. Here was another long hall lined with shelves.
     "What, specifically, did he ask about?"
     "The same thing you did, only he used the correct term, as I said."
     "Did you help him long, or did you just point him to the right books?"
     "Well, I tried to help him. I even brought him up here personally as I'm doing for you right now. Once he found what he was looking for, though, he didn't seem to want my help any more."
     "But you came back to do some more research on your own?"
     "Yes, well the little man had piqued my curiosity, you see. Magicks are all very well, and I'm pretty good at them if I do say so myself, but my true interest is in history – especially the stuff surrounding the Empire."
     They continued their progress until they reached about halfway down the hall, where Zaria pointed into an area between two large shelves. "Back there is the stuff on Teuthanurae."
     Frayg went ahead, scanning the shelves. There were so many books: great leather-bound tomes and scrolls and some leaves of parchment held together with wood and string. He didn't know where to even begin. He turned to look at Zaria, who was standing at the end of the little opening created by the shelves. The other end of the passage was against the wall. Frayg suddenly realized he was sort of trapped here.
     Zaria spread her arms and took in a deep breath through her nostrils."Ah! Don't you just love the smell of these old books? It's the smell of history!"
     "I suppose it is." Frayg reached under his cloak, where he wore a small club on his belt. Could this be her, he wondered. She matches the description, but isn't she too young?
     "Right there, on the top shelf. Folk Tales of Rivvenland. That's probably the best place to start." She pointed to a large volume. "I'd get it for you, but I doubt I could reach it."
     Frayg looked up at the shelf while simultaneously trying to keep an eye on the girl. He spotted the book and pulled it down off the shelf. Zaria stepped a little closer to him and took the book from him.
     "Here. We'll take it over to a table where we can get some light. It gets so dark in the stacks, it's a wonder anyone can read up here." She led the way to the middle of the hall.
     I must be losing my mind, thought Frayg. I could have sworn she was going to attack me. He followed her to a table near a window. She dropped the book on the table, plopped herself in a chair and began leafing through the pages.
     "Let's see ... here's the chapter on the Grey Mountain Affe – he's like a big hairy Org, but even less intelligent – and there's the Noekin –the Dweller in Ice, who lures children to their deaths in winter – " Frayg took a seat opposite Zaria as she continued scanning the pages. "Ah! Here we are: the Eye Reaper."
     She turned the book towards him and pointed at a paragraph with the heading Teuthanurae. He began to read.

          Teuthanurae (also known as Feasters on Souls) were vicious creatures 
     which used the Darkest Powers. They tended to live in moist caverns and
     other underground locales. According to some legends, they were even
     known to have created small subterranean cites, though during the 
     Great Empire they ventured above ground in great numbers. They 
     believed themselves superior to all other races, and used other intelligent 
     creatures as slaves - even going so far as to hold groups of humans and 
     Aelwyn like cattle.
          Most, if not all Teuthanurae in the Southern Colonnade Region were 
     hunted down and destroyed by the Holy Crusaders during the reign of 
     Queen Eustace (70 - 177 UC).

     "Wait a minute. This makes it sound as though they really were real."
     Zaria smiled. "Yes, but as I said, there is some debate about them. Most scholars believe they were real creatures, or that there were some real creatures at the heart of the legends. Of course, legends always grow with the telling, so there's a great deal of doubt about their Dark Powers or whether they were numerous enough to found a kingdom or capture humans and Aelwyn as slaves."
     "Oh, the Aelwyn were the ancient race of Aelfin. They were nearly wiped out during the Great Empire period, and little is known about them now. It's believed that some of them fled into the Endless Marsh. Supposedly they intermarried with the Marshmen and that's how they fathered the race we call Aelfin today."
     "And these Teuthanurae were powerful enough to take these Aelwyn and humans as slaves ... and for ... food?"
     "And evil enough. Or so many legends say."
     "This mentions Queen Eustace ... so these things were supposed to have lived in Palonias?"
     "They were supposed to have lived all over the region."
     Frayg turned back to the book.

          The Teuthanurae live on in Rivvenlander folklore as the Eye Reaper. 
     According to these tales the Eye Reaper awaits children who wander 
     too far from home or disobey their parents or engage in whatever behavior 
     the parents wish to curtail – even if they cry too often. It is said that the Eye 
     Reaper eats the children's eyes and finds the eyes of a crying child to 
     be a particular delicacy.
          There are varying descriptions of Teuthanurae. Some accounts refer 
     to them as larger than humans, others as small as Pixies. They are 
     usually said to have green or grey-green skin like a frog or a toad, and 
     long frog-like fingers. The only feature that all accounts do share in 
     common is the Teuthanurae's lack of eyes, though some say they have 
     empty sockets where eyes would be on a human and others describe 
     sucker-like appendages or tentacles, instead.

     Frayg sat back in his chair, bewildered. "If it has no eyes, then how does it see?"
     "That's all that book has to say on them," replied Zaria. "But we have others. I remember one of them said something about them screeching like bats and that they used the echoes off of their surroundings to see. They're supposed to have quite keen hearing. Some other book said something about using Dark Magicks in place of vision. If they were able to use those sorts of powers, it's no wonder the Crusaders hunted them down."
     "All right, then. Let's see what else there is. I especially want to see the books the Dvergar saw, if you can remember which ones they were."
     "Sure thing. Just wait here and I'll be back." Zaria left him alone with his thoughts.
     He wondered if would be possible for one of these things to have somehow managed to live in the city. In the sewers, perhaps? Surely it couldn't have been here long, or something like this would have been reported before. And why would it have come into an inn rather than go after someone in some back alley somewhere? And what had the girl to do with any of it? Could she be its slave? That made no sense at all. Why wouldn't she just run when she had the chance, or get help from the Watch?
     He suddenly realized that his hunch had been a foolish one and that he was wasting his time. Zaria returned with a small stack of books and some scrolls.
     She said, "Some of these are older – closer in time to the source of the legends."
     Frayg rose from his seat. "I'm sorry to have wasted your time, but I really don't think any of this information is going to help me."
     Zaria frowned. "Really? That's too bad. Some of this stuff is really creepy – like the book that describes how they eat people's brains."
     Frayg sat down again. "Wait. On second thought, I think I'd like to see that one."