Appendix A: Chapter 14

[Editor's note: Chapter 14 of my 2008 NaNoWriMo entry.]

That night, Roland got some much-needed sleep in a proper, clean, well-maintained bed for what felt like the first time in months. While the Order’s facilities in Blackstone were hardly luxury, they felt close enough to Roland after weeks of travel followed by about a week of having no bed at all.

Now that the entire situation with Anna and Derek and Castle Helioth was officially handed off to the Royal Knights, Roland could finally focus his attention back on his original assignment. The detour to Blackstone had put Roland far behind schedule and well off his planned route to pass through the villages in the northwestern portion of the kingdom before returning to Castle Telerand and the Order’s headquarters there. But even sticking to the roads, the trip from Blackstone to the next village on his list would take another week at best, and Roland was hardly looking forward to pushing himself that hard to resume what would probably continue to be a futile task.

The other option was to simply write the entire thing off as a loss, return to Castle Telerand, and explain in his report to his superiors what had happened. Roland pulled the map from his pack and held it in front of him as he lay in bed. The journey from Blackstone to headquarters would take around ten days or so, and if he left now he would arrive a few days before he was due.

Roland was reluctant to set out immediately, a feeling he was only partly able to attribute to not yet wanting to get out of bed. A corner of his mind was still preoccupied with the encounter with Mattias, and Roland feared such thoughts would continue to nag at him unless he could prove to himself that there was nothing to worry about. He also still felt the need to make sure Anna and Derek were going to be able to settle in to their new life after their ordeal, and it would be impossible to tell until at least a couple days had passed in Blackstone.

Satisfied that he had adequate justification to delay his departure from Blackstone for at least another couple days, Roland rolled onto his side and went back to sleep.

—-

That afternoon, Roland found himself standing in front of a long, low stone building. Large windows were spaced regularly in the walls, though the glare from the sun made it impossible to see inside. A pair of stone pillars stood on either side of the entrance, but aside from that, little attention had been paid to decorating the building’s exterior. At first Roland hadn’t even been sure this was the building he was looking for, but it was the only one within the castle’s walls that matched the description he had been given.

Roland shrugged and stepped through the entrance, deciding there was only one way to be sure. He entered a small lobby, with a second set of doors leading into what Roland assumed would be the main section of the building. He stepped up to them and was about to reach for the handle when a voice behind him cried out, “Halt!”

Roland instinctively froze, turning to see a guard walking away from a desk at the side of the lobby. “Pardon?” Roland asked politely, unsure of the reason for being stopped.

“All patrons entering the library are subject to search for prohibited items,” the guard explained, “by order of the Royal Archivist. No exceptions.”

“A paladin is to keep his sword by his side at all times,” Roland responded. “Surely you do not believe I am going to go in there and–”

“It’s not the sword I’m worried about, sir. Now, if you would please remove your pack so I can search it.”

Roland reluctantly handed it over to the guard, who set it down on the desk and began rummaging through it. In hindsight, bringing his pack with him was completely unnecessary, but he had done it out of habit from his constant traveling of late.

The guard removed an unlit torch and pouch of flint stones from the pack, and with a look of smug satisfaction, said, “Incindiary devices are prohibited from being taken into the library. You may reclaim them when you depart.” The guard handed Roland his slightly lighter pack.

“Will that be all?” Roland asked, slinging the pack over his shoulder.

The guard nodded. “Thank you for your cooperation,” he said, returning to his desk.

Roland rolled his eyes and grasped the door handle, swinging the door open and stepping through into the library itself.

Roland froze after taking a single step. The room was nearly as bright as it was outside. Sunlight streamed in from every window and, as Roland saw as he looked upwards, from the countless windows that nearly covered the ceiling. The light reflected off the dust suspended in the air, revealing the outline of each individual beam. As he traced their path through the air, he saw that some of them fell on mirrors mounted to the pillars supporting the roof; these mirrors reflected the light down the narrow aisles between rows and rows of wooden shelves, each one crammed with all manner of books. Only now, once the initial shock of seeing the room wore off, did Roland notice the dozen tables immediate in front of him, with a few scholarly-looking men seated at them and staring at thick tomes opened before them.

“It’s an impressive sight, isn’t it?” a voice called softly from Roland’s right.

Roland turned to see a man standing behind a desk next to the door.

“It’s easy to tell first-time visitors to our library; they get that exact look on your face,” the man continued.

“It’s… certainly something,” Roland agreed.

“My grandfather designed it way back in the day. All the sunlight means we don’t have to have torches or anything set up to light everything up, which means we don’t have to worry about the whole place burning down some day. My grandfather didn’t keep this place running even through the Demon War just to see it all go up in smoke just because some careless visitor dropped his torch. Of course, it means we need a full staff of people just to keep all the windows and everything clean, but it’s worth it.”

“I see,” Roland said, absently.

“I’m the head librarian, by the way, in case you hadn’t figured that out,” the man added. “Is there something I can help you find?”

The question returned Roland’s mind to the purpose behind his visit. “Maybe. This might be something of an odd request, but do you have anything that dates back to the Demon War?”

“You’ll need to be more specific than that, I’m afraid; we have records all the way back to the founding of this very castle.”

“I’m looking for books or documents or something that might’ve come from Castle Helioth.”

“Oh? Oh!” the librarian’s eyes lit up. “We do have a few items in the special collection that might be what you’re looking for. Follow me.”

The librarian reach behind the desk for a ring of keys. He then led Roland to a locked door at the far end of the library, and opened it to reveal a small, darker, but still surprisingly bright, room.

“This is where we protect the historical artifacts that are too rare or valuable to leave in the open collection,” the librarian explained, as he led Roland through shelves. Unlike the ones he saw before, these shelves contained various valuable and not-so-valuable items along with a smaller number of bound volumes. “It’s rare for someone to ask for something we have here. Most of the time, we just get servants sent by one lord or another to look up some decree or deed or something. Ah, here we go: Helioth artifacts, Demon War period, shelf one of one.”

Roland looked at the shelf before them. Upon it sat half the hilt of a sword, a scrap of black fabric from what might have been a uniform, and a small leather-bound volume.

“It’s not much, but the valuable-looking spoils were probably sent off to Castle Telerand to be displayed as trophies,” the librarian sighed. “I’ll be over by the entrance in case you need anything. Let me know when you’re ready to be let out.” The librarian bowed slightly, squeezed past Roland, and walked back the way they came.

Slowly, Roland reached up and picked up the book. He carefully opened the front cover and saw, written in large letters on the first page:

Folzyej Gaguoghn Zaekvec
Sicopi Cnbui

Roland wasn’t about to try to wrap his tongue around those words, but their presence here suggested the journal Mattias had shown might not have solely been the product of a delusional mind. Roland turned another couple pages and his eyes fell on another passage:

14 Esgoc, 4 Zasoed

Cocydk ocbupwc meelaq. Vogwyv vuxomcy hajxexyr bizabu gapeetovh qaqbbal. Leujnoajehw ojguhivux cibxic qygt’c hjaj gag ka jjusoky muiz gvuj. Hajzloqvetw jujenbd nuxn kokc xuul’x gefxtoqw nagv. Cohh iz mqagcispu bicxuut xykz oqq vogwyv kva teina? Vuux zebkvaj dkehu.

Roland couldn’t read it either, but the handwriting looked shaky, as though the author was uncertain of what he was doing. It was almost as though the author had only recently learned to write, but the lettering wasn’t quite that rough. Many words were scratched out and re-written, and even though Roland had no idea what it said, he had a hunch that several words were misspelled.

Roland gingerly leafed through the book, seeing page after page written in a similar style. There was a sudden shift beginning with one page about two-thirds of the way through, with the passage:

23 Duqcycbik, 4 Fivueg

Didhydj! Nujhun og ebla bi hiuq efx djyki sobudcca et haru ngijmk ca yfcneufda at guxrkodaq geln gwuln. Blek dokc huhu poovvouqojx ngy bukaibqv baohtuc cidg yejuaj efx nydj ikjih-qkaju.

Ngod ots avwik juqiqb didhydjix ojguhivu qkywogubyatx bi coevqw ngy tetuc whabyqk duv mufov ewiuq iz khnugeny.

The writing suddenly became much cleaner, as though produced by a master scribe. Roland still couldn’t read it at all, though. He continued paging through the book until he came upon the final passage, after which came only blank pages:

1 Zily, 6 Fivueg

Y oh uzefxivyff vu bukaibqv. Zab jutbuut vajkvx vin ngy vogwyv ac cnu guxrkodaq geln gwuln bi ginofug hajkgic iz ngy gagnq va ha nej kjyjk iryby xuu yf ngy qokccu cumjehy, xbogyovh wuxbihuag iz pubvcix ciff jidk. Ngybu ux vi etsoqonoaj kvog geln tlotwy, jag gifu U sodqarybux u xey ni qyjqack kva lexuh ajqi ob lok myuf dugv.

E divqcesy vwoc bluka imelobyuk uju kai qyzcotocn ca qatcjic cij ecl mev kva lijn mided im vokpg, tag dnyqv ob yj tib gagcn vwi xbbouq ab uczabk ni tejn cnu powoq et cnu zukgv slutu. E kgikc mayw sikoiguh xekdg afug cnu coxb vogwyv, ec ivky aeb iz dejyakoba, bec O ra tib efnotysocy efy hneffa.

Roland carefully returned the book to its shelf. He had no idea how to even begin to interpret the passages contained within, but it did tell him one thing. Mattias had indeed found something in the ruins of Castle Helioth, and if he did have a way to read what Roland could only assume was some kind of dark writings, he could become very dangerous indeed.

Chapter word count: 1,909 (according to wc)
Total word count: 25,853 / 50,000 (51.706% complete)

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