In Finite
rating: +13+x

Uncy wasn't quite sure he had ever seen a human casually strolling through the Archives before.

The man was elderly; tall, lean, mildly tan, wearing a mismatched outfit of overalls, a trenchcoat, and pants one size too big. Certainly no visible armor, but that was to be expected in a multiverse of thaumaturgy. A light smile tugged on his face as he hummed a peaceful but disorderly tune. The sight mismatched by the decaying rot of endless archives around him made the man stick out like a python in a sauna. Not that there was anything particularly wrong with that, but the metaphor stood.

The Archives were practically off-limits to humans. Unless you were one of the Pages, Docents, or (obviously) Archivists, you were practically good as dead unless you had the cunning or brute force to stave off the challenges. Anyone who knew anything about the Library would tell you horror stories of people who died from inexplicable bite marks or blunt force mutilation from being crushed in the clockworks; long spires of decrepit books and scrolls towering into the Rafters above, darkness encompassing all, yada yada. Dangerous was the weakest word you could use to describe it, and the amount of times the canine had to hear tall tales of the place directly below his home had made him indifferent to the barrage of comments and metaphors.

But that still begged the question: what was this man doing here?

Uncy's tail whipped back and forth as his eyes tracked the strange figure through the maze of shelves, predicting where he would end up wandering. Halfway through Aisle A135, moving towards an intersection where it crossed Aisle A143. At current pace, they would arrive at the intersection in thirty-two seconds. After that, if they didn't turn, they'd run directly into a bear (now native to the Archives) at the next aisle. Hostile, almost invariably fatal when encountered. Painful way to die. And considering the man's appearance and physique…

The canine's legs slowly kicked into action, silently jumping through the beams of the Rafters above the shelves with ease and expertise. He had a minute — at most two — to intercept either the bear or the man. Uncy was more curious about learning why the man was here rather than protecting the fool, but the boredom of waiting for the Gatekeeper kept him looking for new forms of entertainment.

Within seconds, Uncy was already ahead of the man, and had intercepted the bear. Two meters tall, sporting a pair of claws the size of basketballs. It wasn't anything particularly new, but it required concentration. The canine made his way quietly behind the bear, slightly above it before clearing its throat and jumping across the aisles. The creature turned towards the sound, but Uncy had already moved past, creating more noise to continuously draw the beast's attention away from the intersection. When it had finally circled around, Uncy slowed to allow the animal to see it, and it began to make chase. Within seconds, Uncy had rounded a corner, climbed a shelf, entered the Rafters, and crossed over the path the animal was now taking in attempt to find him. With any luck, a Docent would stop the bear's rampage, but for now, it was away from the intersection.

With haste, Uncy returned to where the bear was before, the beast now making growls that were increasingly distant. The dog dropped and landed with a quiet thump, and stretched briefly to straighten the cricks out in its unnaturally long neck. With ease and care, it came to the intersection, and rounded it with only a few seconds before the man would approach.

Yet despite Uncy's best efforts to find him, the man had vanished.

• • •



It had been two days before Uncy saw the man again.

He was dressed in the exact same clothes, walking down the exact same aisle at the exact same time. His gait was more upbeat and seemed to carry an air of positivity with him that hadn't been there before. Around him, the ambient noise of the Archives seemed to churn softly to a rhythm, as though his presence demanded they hummed to a tune. Musty air flowed unencumbered through the shelves carrying the scents of Boilermen and decaying pages. The man seemed entirely oblivious to the fact that, once again, he was likely in mortal danger.

Just as before, Uncy watched with keen interest from high in the Rafters as the fool weaved through the Archives carelessly. Cautious to make no noise, he tracked him from above, peering down through the beams and holes of the ceiling and leaping along to match their pace below. Suddenly, as if by cue, the man had decided to turn around and start walking in the opposite direction he had come from, prompting Uncy to pause. While curiosity may have killed the cat, it certainly didn't kill the canine, so he joined the man in backtracking his path through the shelves of old parchments.

After just under an hour of randomly following and staring at the man, Uncy had just about been ready to stop. Although the elderly human avoided all dangers with almost precognitive precision, he seemed to have no ultimate goal nor intention for wandering in random patterns. The canine's tail flicked rapidly and silently, watching the man complete a third lap around Aisle A158. This was going nowhere.

Just as Uncy began to turn from the man, a shimmering puddle gleamed through the dog's porcelain mask. He stopped, turned, and watched as the shimmering began to grow in size, then rapidly move towards the strange person. Its form grew spontaneously, and within seconds it lumbered over the man, twice his height and almost touching the Rafters itself. Uncy recognized the entity as a Shimmer; although they rarely appeared, whenever they did manifest, their targets became viscera seconds after.

Uncy watched.

To the canine's surprise, the man turned towards the Shimmer calmly, his smile unwavering and his posture unchanged. The chromium humanoid's arm began to malform and sharpen, before lunging at the man's heart. The human sidestepped fast and with ease, negating the blow by dodging. The creature lunged again at him, aiming for his head. Yet again, the human had maneuvered perfectly to avoid the oncoming attack. Again, it malformed, and again it charged, but repeatedly, the man remained unharmed.

After almost ten minutes, the Shimmer lost its motivation (however ambiguous it was), and shrunk once more into a puddle, flowing back down the library's hardwood floors. The man, no longer in harm's way, turned and continued to walk along his merry way, as though his nearly fatal encounter had been a trivial occurrence.

Uncy watched the Shimmer slither away. When he looked back, the man flashed him a smile, and then disappeared into the bookshelves.


• • •


The last time Uncy saw the man, he was already waiting for the canine to show up.

He had, once more, worn the same mismatched outfit and sly grin, but now had an inexplicable aura to him. Instead of wandering aimlessly, he locked eyes with Uncy and stood still, posture relaxed but with intent. At a closer distance, the man's long hair came down in wisps, wrapping around the fringes of his garments and pooling by his waist. A small peppered stubble pecked at his chin, contrasting against his dark tan skin. He did not move at all, except for his steady, paced breathing.

Uncy leapt from a shelf and into an Aisle, landing only a few meters from the man's position. They were silent. The man's grin changed into a smile. The two stared at one another for a few solid seconds, and the man's position shifted slightly. Then, without hesitation, the man turned away from the canine and towards a shelf, and walked directly into it, disappearing entirely.

Uncy approached with caution, slowly stepping towards the shelf, straining his neck to examine the immediate area. There were no hidden passages around as far as he could tell, and he very clearly saw the man simply walk forwards. However, Uncy knew things didn't always make sense in the Library, so he decided to follow the man's actions and see where it led him. Bracing for impact, the canine stretched his head forward.

As he was about to collide with the shelf, the space around him began to shift and grow. The world began to expand, exponentially elongating until mere inches became miles in every direction. Uncy shifted his body forward, watching as a crack between two shelves mere millimeters across became a doorway, leading to a place he had never seen before. He stepped towards it.

Behind the passageway, two bookshelves lined the sides of a path which stretched on a slant downwards. Beyond the shelves' descent, he could see a maze of infinite bookcases, not unlike those of the Archives; however, there was no ceiling, just like the Library proper, its inky depths with no light penetrating it. Large, metallic claws hung from the sky, slowly lifting and dragging shelves across the landscape to areas unknown. Bulges, like hills, dotted the infinite plane, though they moved, as though the floor was a blanket covering large animals. All the shelves took on a deep purple color.

There were no books to be seen.

Uncy moved forward, unfettered by new experiences. As he walked through the empty library, the gradual curving surface began to come up to meet him, and behind him the floor began to slope down. It occurred to the canine that he was at the epicenter of a bulge, which moved to follow him wherever he stepped. He made a mental note to try avoiding the bulges, though one caught his eye: a small garden a few dozen meters ahead on a bulge, with a very familiar elderly man sitting at its center. Uncy began to walk.

Within a few minutes, he exited the maze of shelves, stepping into the garden. The bulges met, and subsequently merged. The elderly man sat under a tree made of human arms, reaching out to hold one another and branching from the middle into arcs around the base. At the end of most stems, a bright red apple was present. The man, upon seeing Uncy enter the garden, reached upwards and pulled an apple from its stalk. The hand inflated, becoming circular, then turned red; a new hand grew from the red sphere's base to replace the old one, and the sphere began to take on a more familiar shape. The tree was a known predator in the Library, yet seemed almost passive and calm.

The man looked up, took a bite from the apple, and began to speak.

"Welcome, Uncy, to my humble abode."

"Firstly, where in the goddamned hell are we, and secondly, my name is not fucking 'Uncy' you dumbass rot-for-brains ape."

The old man chuckled, and took another bite from his apple. In the distance, a bulge flattened.

"This is the Vacancy, the layer of the Library below the Archives. Metaphorically speaking, of course," he gestured upwards. "I'm sure you have questions, so feel free to ask away."

The canine's tail flicked back and forth, and its gangly limbs folded beneath it as it sat. "Alright Adam-cosplayer, mind explaining what the hell this place is for and why the fuck you brought me here?"

The old man chuckled again, and stood up. A small, insect-like creature resembling a tiny Page buzzed from the hand-tree nearby. "I didn't truly bring you here, you came on your own. No one can enter the Vacancy against their will; it is a protection for those who may not be able to survive its challenges and would easily perish. Though I won't lie to you, I did coax you into coming here. I'm sure you want some context as to where your master, The Gatekeeper, goes each time he leaves for an errand."

If Uncy was surprised, it didn't show through his mask. "This wasteland? Why would the Gatekeeper need to come here?"

"No one really needs to come here," the man said, now walking over to a singular meter-tall flower in the corner of the garden, "But the Vacancy is a stepping stone to even further depths. I have met with your master a few times, but he pays me little regard. Ah well. In any case, interacting with you has definitely alleviated some of my boredom, and I'm sure you're not so bored yourself. Am I wrong?"

The canine wanted to refute the man, but truth be that he was intrigued. "I'll bite."

He smirked. "Is it worse than your bark?"

"Fuck off. Are you going to tell me what the Vacancy is or not?"

"Very well," the man showed no signs of annoyance, smiling and sitting back under the tree, "the Library is often known to be infinite, and that much is true. Yet a highly neglected fact is that literature is not. All sentient races across all dimensions for one hundred million years could not produce infinite amounts of writing — the amount will be vast, yes, but not any closer to infinity than a child's diary. The Library exists infinitely despite that fact."

"And that's where the Vacancy comes in."

"Precisely. The empty shelves need to go somewhere, and they end up here."

A groan rang out in the distance, distracting the canine briefly. A claw reached down, and yanked a shelf from a flat terrain. It lifted it with almost impressive ease, and floated back into the starless night above.

"Well," Uncy said, turning back towards the man, "why exactly is the Vacancy so dangerous then?"

"Ah, there's the question," the old man smiled, "the one I'm always asked. The answer is there." And he pointed towards a bulge in the distance, slowly sweeping across the landscape.

The man couldn't see it, but Uncy's eyebrow raised. "The fuck is it?," to which the man replied by shrugging his shoulders and taking the final bite from his apple. He threw the core at the hand-tree, which absorbed it back into its mass. Uncy's other eyebrow rose in realization.

"Depends. It can either be a friend or a foe. There's no pattern, but if you ever encounter one, I suggest you pray its the former. Sometimes they're fellow Librarians who are looking to arrive somewhere even further into the Library's multiple folds — such as your master — so those are the ones you'll want to see. Sometimes, they're patrons too dangerous or esoteric to exist within the Library proper, so they come here to ask the Pages for books."

Uncy remained silent. The two stared at each other for over a minute before the man spoke.

"…Uncy?"

"My name is Uncertainty, you cock-weasel," the dog said, standing. " And frankly, why the hell should I care about any of this? You rope me along for five days on your disappearing act and reveal that there's a spooky new level below the Library, great, so what? The Library proper is already a shitshow, I don't need nor want to hear about its dark, empty, and frankly disappointing pathetic excuse for a cousin."

The elderly man frowned, and blinked repeatedly. "Uh, well, I just—"

"And while your disguise may have fooled me when I first saw you, that shtick with the apple gave you completely away. I've read about those trees in the Shelves Guide, you know."

The silence pierced the conversation. Uncertainty's tail swung back and forth in a steady rhythm, and after a single blink, the facade fell through. In the man's place was a humanoid creature of hands, with memetic and thaumaturgic runes carved into the location the head should be. Uncertainty could clearly identify three by heart, though two mildly eluded him. The hand creature vibrated.

"Well, uh, this is certainly awkward."

The canine sighed. "Well the wise old man archetype is getting old. Is this how you hunt for food?"

One of the hands, which seems to be an actual, functional hand, reached behind where the man's "head" was and began scratching it. "Yeah, usually. Though I don't really think that'll work now."

"No shit."

More silence.

"So… what now?"

"You point me to the fucking exit so I no longer need to breathe your air."

One of the hands lifted from the man's "forehead", and pointed towards a specific shelf directly outside the garden. "Right. There. I uh, take it you wont be coming back to the Vacancy?"

"Not in a million years."

"Ah, sorry then."

In that moment, the hand-person seemed almost sheepish, though Uncertainty didn't plan on giving it any satisfaction of pity. Just as quickly as the canine entered the garden, he turned and walked out of it, half expecting the hand creature to pursue — but it didn't. Walking into the shelf, the universe expanded once more, and a few seconds later, he was back in the Archives. Compared to the Vacancy, the Archives were incredibly cramped, but the canine adjusted quickly.

Uncertainty occasionally thought of visiting the Vacancy again, possibly even to pursue the Gatekeeper into whatever dimensions of the Library he was exploring. There was a lingering curiosity about the place and the lands beneath, but the canine knew better than to let his impulses get the best of him. Besides, with patience, the Gatekeeper would return, and he wanted to be present when that happened. He continued to shove the thoughts of the Vacancy from his mind — if there was any reason to know more about the place, he simply didn't care for it.

Uncertainty never saw the man again — for better or for worse, he couldn't tell.

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