I remember, I think… Forgive me, it's been so very long since I've remembered… I remember looking at his corpse and thinking I should close his eyes. Maybe I'd tease him about it later, that he was too lazy to close them himself.
But even though it was just a discarded shell, touching a corpse didn't feel proper. After a moment, I roused myself and fetched one of the servants, telling him that there was a body in need of disposal. As he dashed towards the mosque, I began my preparations, gathering the vials and powders, leafing through the various texts.
A half hour later, there was a great din as the home was invaded by an imam bellowing incantations through a runny nose. Two bored-looking assistants, one tall, the other short, stood behind him. I pushed the imam out of the door as he bellowed and instructed the two assistants to carry the body away. The two stared at me dumbly. I repeated my instruction. "But without the imam, how will your brother get to heaven?" the short one asked. I suppressed a smile. After a moment more of staring, they began to sew the body in up in its shroud. His eyes stared blankly at the midday sun as the sheet closed around him. That was the last time I saw my brother.
My brother and I came of age in Alexanderia during the reign of Ptolemy. I like to imagine that as children we played on the site of the Library, but honestly, I can't remember. Our family, friends, enemies, lovers, our pasts were forgotten many centuries ago. I remember a feeling of frustration at our limitations, at not being able to learn quickly enough.
The first distinct scene I can recall was the feeling as we walked through the doors of the now-complete Library hired as translators or possibly archivists. The sounds of the outside died away, replaced by whispered conversations and the scratchings of quill against parchment. We both knew immediately that this, the center of the world along the coast, would be our home for the rest of our days.
We spent every waking moment awash in books. Philosophy, medicine, astrology, tales of great explorers of the age. Under one name, we penned scathing rebuttals to authors both alive and dead, excoriating them for misleading the feeble-minded with their flawed logic or lies. Over the decades, we taught ourselves to read the true meanings of the books, to read the words between words. We learned many great and terrible things in those days, solely for their own sake. It was no matter; every day we imagined came closer to the Truth of the World, whatever it was.
However, even as we grew nearer to the truth, our bodies steadily decayed. Every remedy we tried failed to reverse or even permanently halt the process. Life-prolongation became our primary concern, and we turned to increasingly unforgivable means to achieve it. However, no amount of ancient clay or children's blood could stave off the effects of time, and we soon found ourselves almost too weak to move. Then, as our death drew near, we found a method, ascribed to a mountain cult, that would allow us to shed our mortal bodies but preserve our souls from the fires of damnation.
With the last of our strength, we worked, finding the necessary components: three copies of the holy script of the mountain cult, powders and elixirs, a pair of slaves, and an ornate knife. We sprinkled the powders in the intricate patterns ordained in the book and chanted ceaselessly in the dead tongue of the cult while the slaves looked on in confusion. I was the first to go through with it. I plunged the dagger into my stomach, still chanting, and died. An hour later, I awoke in the body of the slave. A huge grin broke out on his face as the enormity of our success sunk in.
Over the centuries, as we moved from body to body, we refined the old mountain practice, removing the religious nonsense and streamlining the shapes. After several lifetimes, we came to the point of being able to channel a spirit to a new body after death. It came to the point that we only took leave of our studies to take a new body. Eventually, we found our way to the Library proper, having read and re-read everything available at the House of Wisdom. Our lives were measured in bodies and books. We scarcely noticed when the House was destroyed by the sons of the great Khan.
The last body my brother inhabited turned out to have a malevolent little secret. It wasn't two months before he began to grow weak. We immediately recognized it as cancer, and we made preparations for the death of his body. A new body was prepared and taken down below our home.
My brother's body passed, its eyes still wide open. After it was removed, I went downstairs to bring him back. I preformed the rites on the new body, as I had done a dozen before. I waited as the slave regained consciousness. Then, nothing. I did not see my brother in the eyes of the new body. The body looked at me and yawned. I realized that my performance of the ritual must have been incorrect, so I did it again. The new body awoke and began to shout in its language. I tried three more times, and three more times, the spirit of my brother refused to enter the new vessel.
The unsuccessful attempts had rattled my nerves, and I went upstairs for a breath of fresh air. Before I was even the threshold, I felt my blood run cold. I saw through a window the dull night sky of Alexandria, and I realized that I was too late. My brother was gone now, gone forever. The rites had ceased to be effective, or maybe the new body was tainted in some way. For a moment, I stood, staring at the window in silence.
Suddenly, the quiet of the night was broken by a most ungodly howl, the likes of which I have never heard before or since. It wasn't until my throat began to ache and my vision began to blur, that I realized the source of the noise. I pounded the walls with my fists. When the servants came to investigate, I could only scream. I knew that I should look through our books, through the books of the library and of the Library, to find some new method to revive him. But at that moment, all I could do was wail, as I felt half of myself suddenly snatched away.
I spent years, so many years, looking to retrieve my brother. I tried the ritual again, on others, only to find that it had utterly ceased to work. I searched through every volume I could lay my hands on in my own library, without success. After many years, I grudgingly admitted the incompleteness of our own library, and instead turned to the Library proper, searching through the wisdom of the worlds for something to return my brother to me.
Time had been measured in page turns and books tossed aside. The frailty of my own body did not occur to me until I found myself struggling to pull a thick flesh-bound volume from a shelf. I realized then that my window to find my brother was closing rapidly. I had to keep myself alive long enough to retrieve my brother. Rather than transference, I began to look once more to life extension.
As it had been several centuries since last I studied it, initial successes were few and far between, and my body nearly passed on several times before finding a suitable, if temporary, remedy. Once more, buying more time consumed all of my time. My original intention was overshadowed as time was marked by a new cure for my own ailments rather than that of my brother.
I… it has been many centuries now since I last saw my brother. The elixirs and charms I concoct can reverse the physical aging process, I've found, but not the degradation of the mind. It has been so long since I remembered him… I lose sight of my reasons.
Most times, there might be a hazy recollection of something that I must do about someone far away. Increasingly, my days are spent in a stupor as senility and decrepitude take over my mind. I imagine that some day soon I will simply forget to find a way to extend the life of this body, and then I will simply die. Perhaps then I will finally find my brother once again. Gods, it's been so long… I can't remember the last time I remembered… I have to keep him in mind I have to…
I have to… I must…
I have… what was I talking about again? I think it was something close but I… Oh, I'm sorry. Please, forgive my rambling.