Son Of The Black Sword – Snippet 35
Once inside the restricted collection, she fully opened her lantern. There were shelves filled with books, so it looked pretty much like the rest of the place, only dustier. She was a bit surprised how small the room was. After years of not being allowed inside, she’d built it up in her head that the restricted collection would be far more impressive. Like most forbidden things she’d sampled over the years, reality was a bit of a letdown. She locked the door so her search wouldn’t be interrupted.
It was believed that books had been common long ago, but when the demons had arrived, they’d ruined most of them. During the Age of Kings they’d started binding books again, but many of those had been lost when that age had descended into evil. Most of the works from the tumultuous time between the ages were scrolls or unbound stacks of paper. It wasn’t until reason returned and the Age of Law began that proper books had as well. Now her Order even had marvelous pressing machines that allowed them to make multiple copies of a page at a time. If Rada had her way, the world would be flooded with books and everyone would know how to read — but that was just her being silly, and she knew it.
There were shelves filled with wooden boxes and piles of paper, and unlike most of the regularly accessed parts of the library, it had been quite some time since this place had been properly inventoried and organized. This could take a while.
One nice thing about the Capitol was that the air was very dry in the desert, and since this part of the library was deep underground, the temperature never fluctuated. It was the perfect environment for preserving paper. Rada put on her soft gloves. Many of these works dated back to the first centuries of the Age of Law, and some from even before that, back when mad kings reigned, or even before, when demons rained from the sky and lived on the land, so these works would be very delicate. They would need to be handled with the utmost caution. She pulled her scarf over her mouth, because even moist breath could damage an old book. Then she put on her glasses so she could actually see.
Rada began her search.
* * *
It was easy for a voracious reader to lose track of time when given access to new books. But then her lantern ran out of oil.
Rada had been sitting on a stool, reading Melati’s Testimony of the Prior Age when she’d been plunged into total darkness.
No need to panic. She’d spent her entire life inside the library, so ending up in the dark in a windowless room wasn’t particularly remarkable for her. The worst part was that she’d been interrupted. The book was fascinating, and the casteless question was far more complicated than she’d ever imagined, certainly more complicated that the modern judges suspected, and in fact, it was astounding that so much had been forgotten about this particular topic over the centuries. She held the delicate page between her gloved finger tips so as to not lose her place.
Then Rada realized that there was no way that she could have run out of oil already. Sure, Melati’s words were difficult to decipher because their language had evolved so much, and it was hard to sort out the truths from the myths, but she’d only skimmed about a hundred pages, so she’d not been down here that long. Why had her lantern gone out?
Blind, she slowly reached toward where she’d hung the lantern on the wall with her free hand. She was hesitant, waiting for her fingers to bump hot glass, but instead they hit something soft. Cloth? It was hard to tell through the gloves, but that hadn’t been there before. Then as she lifted her hand, she touched a face.
Surprised, Rada screamed and nearly fell off the stool, but a hand clamped onto her throat and choked off the sound. The ancient book was torn from her grasp. The fingers around her neck were like iron. She was lifted off of the floor by the neck. As she thrashed about, the man didn’t seem to care as he carried her effortlessly across the room and slammed her hard against one of the shelves. Several books fell on the floor, and she inadvertently kicked the priceless artifacts as she thrashed about, but he didn’t let go of her neck. Desperate, Rada remembered her ceremonial knife and pulled it from her sash, but her assailant swatted it out of her hand with bone-jarring force, and then he squeezed her neck, just a bit more.
She couldn’t breathe.
“Quiet, Archivist, or I’ll snap your neck,” the man said. He pulled her over, so close that she could feel his hot breath on her ear. Terrified, she began to black out. “I know anatomy like you know books. You’d be amazed how little pressure it takes to snap a neck, especially a scrawny one like yours. Scream again and I’ll kill you.”
The grip relaxed just a bit, and Rada gasped for breath. “Please don’t hurt me.”
“If and how much you will be hurt is entirely dependent upon the honesty of the answers you provide.” His voice was neither old nor young, but it was frighteningly calm. “Do you understand?”
“Yes.” She couldn’t understand how someone had gotten in. There was only one door, it was locked, and she would’ve heard it open. A wizard?
“I have magic,” he said, almost as if he’d read her mind. “So if you lie, I’ll know. What have you read so far tonight?”
“Ancient history, nothing more.”
“A history of the untouchables, yes?”
“The War in Heaven? The Sons of Ramrowan? The fall of the kings and their priesthood?”
“Yes,” Rada wheezed.
“Too bad. You should have listened when your father warned you not to come here…Yes, child, the walls have ears.”
The walls have ears? That was a common saying about the Inquisition. Rada hadn’t thought she could be any more afraid, but she’d been wrong. “You’re an Inquisitor?”
“I don’t know.” His voice was a menacing growl. “Are you a witch?”
“No! I was only trying to research an assignment from the judges!” Hot tears had leapt from her eyes and were streaming down her face. “Please…”
The shadow gave her throat a bit more of a squeeze, fingertips on her artery, and it was enough to make her almost pass out. “I’m familiar with your task. That’s why I’m here, to ensure the integrity of your investigation. Now it’s too late and you know things you aren’t supposed to know, which makes me wonder if you can keep a secret. Can you keep a secret, Rada?”
Rada tried to nod, but couldn’t move her chin up and down with his iron hard fist there. “I won’t tell.”
“Good answer. My inclination is to kill you, but I have friends who hold a great deal of respect for the Lord Archivist, and they wouldn’t want the embarrassment of a daughter of the first caste hanging from the Inquisitor’s Dome. So due to that respect, you will be given one chance. One. You will never speak of this. You will finish your report, but there’d better not be any mention of these old histories. There’s no need to confuse the judges with superstition or the ravings of religious fools. Use what you have been allowed, nothing more. We’ll see what you write long before the judges will, and if my friends don’t like it, I’ll come back. Do you doubt me, Radamantha?”
“No.” She flinched as he stroked her face with his other hand.
“Good job,” he said as he removed her glasses. There was a crunch as he ground them to bits in his fist. “We’ll be watching.”
He let go of her throat and Rada sank down to the floor. The room slowly filled with light. Her lantern was glowing again.
Ancient books and little bits of sparkling glass littered the floor. She was alone and her throat was bruised and aching. The book she’d been reading was missing. The door was still closed and locked.
What have I done?