Snakes in the Ruins
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It was a fairly normal day at the Library, or at least as normal it could possibly be in such a place. The halls were bustling with patrons of various species, each looking for their specific pieces of literature or a place to read. However, despite this normalcy, there stood three men in the Head Archivist’s office whose mere presence inferred the existence of a great danger to the Library. Only a select few Library officials knew the name of their clandestine group, The Diamondbacks.

The first of the men to step forward was an elderly man of Caucasian descent who had the sort of face more used to scowling than smiling. In fact, it was a scowl he wore when he addressed the High Archivist. “It better be important for you to summon three of us for the occasion.”

To outsiders, the importance of this exchange would be entirely lost on them. To frequent Library patrons, they’d know just how outrageous it was to speak to the High Archivist in such a tone of voice. There were many who held him in great reverence, even going so far as to form a cult of worship around the centipede-like figure. The High Archivist narrowed its many eyes down towards the man as he replied, “It is of the highest importance, Gildhel. I would not have summoned you, who holds the seat of Second in the Diamondbacks, were it not.”

“What about the others? Sykes is still green, put in the Fifth seat hardly a year ago. Marlowe is experienced and has earned his seat as the Sixth, but he’s still getting over his injury.”

At the mention of the injury, one of the others stepped forward. A man of South Asian descent, he had sharp features and could be called very handsome, were it not for the jagged and fresh scar that ran down the center of his face. “With all due respect, I’m more than ready for the task.”

It was much the same with the last of the three men, who was much younger than the other two by at least a decade. He had a wild look to him and chose not to wear the cowboy hat that his compatriots did, instead letting his fiery red hair run rampant. “I’m with Marlowe. I’m ready.”

Gildhel threw a scowl back at both of his partners, but neither yielded and remained where they stood. From the High Archivist, a low chuckle arose that sounded more frightening than charming from his insectoid throat.

“You have admirable compatriots, Gildhel. I requested each of you because the skills you possess will be vital in this mission. How familiar are you all with the Tome of Sarcavo1?”

At the mention of the Tome, Sykes visibly flinched. This did not go unnoticed by the High Archivist’s many eyes and he immediately turned his attention to the youngest of the Diamondback trio. “Oh? Do you know something, Mr. Sykes?”

“I’ve dealt with the Tome before, Archivist. To be frank, people fucking around with it is what landed me in the Diamondbacks.”

“I know of the incident. That was not the first time Bookburners attempted to steal it and it was not the last. They successfully took it from the Library only a few hours ago and entered a Way leading to Sarvil.”

“Sarvil?! Why the hell would they go there with it?” Gildhel shouted, taking a step forward towards the High Archivist.

Marlowe and Sykes threw each other a confused glance, neither seemingly aware of what or where Sarvil was. Marlowe would be the first to ask, directing his question towards Gildhel. “Gildhel…what’s the High Archivist talking about?”

Gildhel looked back at Marlowe with an incredulous expression, as if the Diamondback had just asked him how to shoot a gun. “The Forbidden City ring any bells? Have you ever read a damn book, Marlowe? That place was closed off from the Library for a reason, the place is teeming with shit that’s nigh unkillable.”

The High Archivist interjected at this point, winding his long and insectoid body between the pair. “And that is why I called you three here. The three of you are more than capable of retrieving the Tome and dealing with any threats that get in your way. Or are those weapons on your hips just for show?”

The High Archivist pointed with one of his many feelers towards the revolvers that lay on each of their hips. They were weapons created with a shard of the Creator and gave each of them powers vastly beyond that of any normal human. They also served as proof of their pledge to serve the Creator and her brother, the Serpent. In a way, that made them bound to the rules of the Library more than most.

“We’ll go, dammit. Just don’t be surprised if the Tome's already been lost to that gods-forsaken city.” Gildhel replied with a huff, already turning his back to leave. The other two gave a respectful bow to the High Archivist before departing with their leader.


It was fairly easy to reach Sarvil, as the Bookburners had failed to close the Way they’d used to escape the Library. The trio found themselves in a ruined city of unimaginable proportions, which seemed to stretch beyond the horizon. The buildings resembled those belonging to the Victorian period of England, but contained dilapidated and deteriorating futuristic machinery. A thin layer of sand covered everything within sight and continuous wind blasted through the abandoned streets.

They had been transported into what was presumably a park at some point, considering the rusted and broken playground equipment. They each pulled out their revolvers in unison, although there was no sign of any threats yet. With some trepidation, the group began to move down the only street that lay before them.

“Sir, what the hell happened to this place?” Marlowe asked as he glanced towards a skeleton that was halfway down an open manhole.

“There’s all sorts of theories and claims, but the truth of the matter is we know fuck all about this place. All you need to know is that there’s things here that don’t stay dead.” Gildhel replied, momentarily going to one knee to check for footprints.

“They went through here not too long ago. Pick up the pace.”

They quickly switched to a light jog, Sykes and Marlowe forced to simply follow along after Gildhel as he found the tracks the Bookburners had left behind. This continued for a short while and just as Sykes opened his mouth to say something, a cloaked figure slowly stumbled out of an adjacent building and right into their path. They stopped dead in their tracks and raised their weapons, ready to fire at any moment. It slowly turned in their direction and glanced upwards, revealing a mummified face underneath the moth-eaten cloak it was draped in. One arm reached out for them as it slowly started to shamble towards the Diamondbacks.

BANG!

Gildhel was the first to fire, quickly followed by Marlowe and Sykes. They released a torrent of gunfire on the creature, causing it to stumble backwards as the bullets ripped through it’s desiccated and crumbling body. Despite how many bullets they’d put into it though, it remained on its feet, its hand still outstretched towards them.

Gildhel let a curse under his breath and began to run past the creature, still following the path of the tracks. “We can’t kill it, just keep going!” he called out to Marlowe and Sykes.

They both lowered their weapons and ran after their leader. With the creature seemingly only capable of shambling at a snail’s pace, they quickly outran it and caught up to Gildhel.

“That one of those unkillable things you were talking about?” Sykes asked as he reloaded his revolver.

“What the hell do you think?” Gildhel replied with a grumble as he stopped momentarily to inspect the tracks.

“There! I think that’s them!” Marlowe called out, pointing to two figures in the distance that were slumped against the statue of some forgotten war hero. The trio broke into a sprint and raised their weapons, ready for a fight. However, when they reached the two Bookburners, they quickly realized that there’d be no gunfight.

The two men were writhing on the ground, moaning and muttering incomprehensible words. They’d been reduced to a state not dissimilar to the creature they’d previously fought, wrinkled and mummified corpses. The Tome of Sarcavo lay between them, a low hum emanating from it’s glowing pages. Sykes quickly scooped it up, depositing the book into his knapsack.

“What the hell did this to them?” Marlowe asked as he crouched down to get a better look at them.

“This place, probably. There’s a reason why people go missing here. They become part of the city, trapped here. Thing we saw before was probably some poor fucking Wordsmith that got himself lost in here.” Gildhel replied, his eyes scanning the area for any potential threats.

“Wait, I think he’s trying to say something…” Sykes said, dropping down next to one of the Bookburners. He lowered himself just close enough to hear the whispers that were coming out of what had once been a man.

S’hal Var Shatul, G’hal Nar Vhatul

As the mummy finished it’s whisper, a burning sensation would envelop Sykes’s side, where the Tome of Sarcavo had come to rest in its bag.

“THROW THE BOOK AWAY!” Gildhel roared at Sykes as he reached for his bag. However, it was too late. A white light suddenly enveloped the area, a deafening buzz quickly accompanying it.

After a few minutes it would subside and the group quickly found themselves in a place that wasn’t the abandoned streets of Sarvil. They were in underground ruins held within a cavern the size of a small city. The heat generated by the Tome of Sarcavo had nearly completely dissipated, leaving the book in its normal state once again.

“Fucking hell…my head. Where the hell are we know?” Sykes asked with a quick glance at their surroundings.

Before any of them could give an answer or even a suggestion as to what new ruins they found themselves in, a squad of armed figures would suddenly spring forth from behind various pieces of destroyed walls and pillars. The Diamondbacks, although still disoriented from the sudden teleportation, drew their revolvers and levelled them at these possible new enemies. The silent standoff lasted only a few moments before one of them stepped forward.

“Hand over the Tome.”

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