They were the greatest scholars in the history of the Library, an entire wing dedicated to their tales, treatises, and memoirs.
But that was a very long time ago.
It had been years, but I had finally gained enough credit with the Library to have my card upgraded to include Archive access. As I stepped through the door that the Librarian had created for me, I found myself in a rough-hewn tunnel, lit only by the idea that sight should be possible here. There were pigeonholes bored at random intervals into the rock, each filled with a scroll that fit it perfectly. I touched one, thinking to unroll it, but the tunnel trembled when I did. I decided then that the scrolls were best left alone. They weren't what I was looking for.
With the figurative light outlining my path, I walked into the very literal darkness. My search had truly begun.
I started with their early work, as most did. Even then, it was obvious that they were something special. Their words danced across the page, filling my head with stark lines and empty spaces which my own ideas rushed to fill. Many of the scholars' work was like that. Minimalist, outlining the truth and allowing the reader to fill in the all-important blanks. Every book was a dialogue with the authors. I read their words and I spoke with them then, spoke of my own studies and experiences.
Or I thought I did.
This chamber was brightly lit. Everything was in motion here. Gears twisted through the air, sections fading in and out of view as the teeth interlocked with something I couldn't see. Springs coiled and released with invisible weights. There were faceless beings, a bit like monkeys, swinging everywhere, holding tools, tightening bolts. Their eyeless faces didn't look up from their tasks even as I took out my library card to show them I could be here, as I had been told to do.
The Engineers didn't seem to care. They were obviously engaged in some important work, and had no time to ponder my intrusion. I quite agreed, and walked across the shifting floor as quickly as I dared to, my deliberate footfalls overshadowed by the immense din of the Library's machinery.
My fellow seekers of knowledge dropped off, one by one. They took what they needed to know, and moved on to the next source. People came and went, but not me. I had long forgotten what I had come to learn. I knew only that if they had written it, I wanted to read it. The knowledge became secondary to the writing itself. It was glorious. It captivated me, comforted me, and spoke in a voice that was far more real than my own. I answered back, and the dialogue began anew. I fell in love, not with words on a page, but with the people behind them. I could see them in the spaces between the lines, if I concentrated.
Then I came to the end of the collection, and my vision disappeared. I tried rereading the books, but I found myself repeating my previous conversations. The words were exactly the same as before. They didn't live. They didn't love. They spoke, but it was a recording, a hollow echo of the true genius behind them.
The scholars didn't publish books anymore, but I knew they lived in the Archives. I began my search then. My search for the truth.
I stood in front of the door, trembling with excitement. It had been months, but I had found the place where the scholars lived. It was not very impressive, an old circular hunk of wood, plugging up a knothole in a petrified tree. But of course, I told myself. The scholars wouldn't care about where they lived, as long as they could write. I pushed open the door, expecting to be welcomed by the people who I had come to know as well as myself.
There was nobody there.
The room was carved out of the tree itself. I looked into the corner and saw a dusty old machine for pulping wood and pressing paper out of it. There was a pool, long dry, clearly having once been filled to the brim with some black liquid. A gnarled old tree grew out of the pool. A plum, perhaps, with bark as black as coal. A single fruit dangled from a branch, nearly completely dehydrated. My entrance had disturbed the air, and it fell to the ground, leaving a splash of ink as it cracked open. There was only one bed.
There were stacks of paper all over the room, covered in writing. I looked at it, and saw the ghost of its author flickering in the weak prose. I tried to speak with it, but it faded in and out. It was imperfect. It was unfinished.
It needed some work.
I took up the old, dead plum tree and threw it away. Then I grabbed the withered old fruit on the ground and hunted for the seed. I reached into my pack of belongings that I had seen fit to bring and found a jar of ink. Half went into the old pool, and half I kept to work with. I planted the seed and sat on the floor, surrounded by more unfinished work. I took out my pen and started leaving notes, making amendments. I began my conversations anew, and I knew that I would not be short of company for as long as I stayed here.
My wandering ended, and I took up the mantle that the scholars had left for me.