A Lonely Tome of Salt-Stained Leather and Dripping Kelp

A tome appears on a shelf. It was not there a few moments ago, but it is now. It is matte black, its spine mottled with saltstains and cracked by old frostsign.

You slide it off the shelf with difficulty, heft it in your hands. It is heavy, dense and solid, as though it holds many more pages than it looks, and a cracking cluster of barnacles dribbles out from the pages as you open the front cover.

The text is indecipherable, flat grey and scraggly like worms crawling on the page. There are diagrams, but they are an oilslick before your eyes, a molasses kaleidoscope of dreamlike nonsense, and you feel a creeping numbness slide down your spine like drool as you stare. But the feeling does not last long: you shake your head and the feeling - and the diagrams - are gone. The experience was ephemeral, nothing more. Disappointed, you place the tome back on the shelf and walk away.

You have lunch. Dinner. You find the book you were looking for – a treatise on radioactive isotopes used to make purple paint – and, after a long evening (or was it morning?) spent sitting on a couch staring vacantly into a milling crowd infinitely more busy than you, your chin hits your chest and you drift off into quiet, empty sleep.

    • _

    You are drifting in a sea, gripping tight with chilled fingers a rickety raft of blistered wood and fraying rope. A coastline sparkles in the distance; fireworks copper and gold splash, shock the blackened sky, and your heart aches with longing.

    Something drifts on a wave, a pale dead jellyfish. Or no, it is a square. A sodden page, ripped and torn and bleeding ink in the dark water. It drifts close and you almost topple from the raft reaching out – you steady yourself with an outstretched wing and rock precariously, clutch the dripping page with numb fingers. Your feathers are too soaked for you to fly, otherwise you would be long gone to the clouds.

    The moon is new and the stars are gone. The darkness of the universe has been a terror of your people for years now, ever since that fateful day when the stars winked out one by one, but to you the dead sky is peaceful, tranquil, like a dead TV screen. You look down at the page and the embedded runes in your face, cold iron and steel under your thin grafted skin, glow with a light just faint enough for you to read by.

    Somewhere deep in the shelves, there is a Tome. This Tome is both like and unlike many others: it has pages, it has a spine, a cover (though this is not always the case for works of the Library, especially those with years behind them (which themselves tend to be loose-leaf papers (carefully stacked) or scrollwork (painstakingly preserved) or mosaics (achingly exact in their replication or, in some cases, transportation))), et cetera. But through all of Wandering, it is still common knowledge that a book, scroll, mosaic, poem, oral tale, bubble filled with collected sound – a work – when it enters the Library is static, unchanging, eternal.

    It is for this assumed quality of literature that this Tome is so unusual. This Tome – unlike its brothers and sisters tight and snug on their shelves, waiting for perusal by some old Wanderer – does not stay in one space. Nor does it stay as static text. Rather, from the limited documentation we have on this Tome, this work travels through the multiverse, seeking companionship, and documents all it can. It does this autonomously. This lends question by many as to whether the Tome is itself conscious or merely a matter of elaborate spellcraft. Whatever its methods, the Tome appears to work to further the knowledge of those millions of universes lost to war, destruction, or that seeping plague of ever-growing Void. More specifically, the Tome seeks documentation of any surviving knowledge of the long-lost Universe 68, home to the Kingdom of Rela. So far, the Tome has been unsuccessful in its hunt.

    You flip the page and almost tear it in half. The faded lettering is like scratchings on glass: nearly indiscernible in the dim light.

      • _

      The documentation of the Tome is neither comprehensive nor complete, nor chronological nor sensible. Through our tracking, we have identified that the Tome has a selection criteria for the worlds it visits. We know the following for certain: all universes visited by the Tome have had a sea, some form of magic, and some form of visible collapse in the world in which the work takes place. This gives us an idea of the Tome’s intended destination and the characteristics of the lost Kingdom of Rela.

      Do not repeat these words to those without hearts. Based on the limited information gleaned from the Tome and an unstructured interview of a known Mage in the Library, we know the following of the Mages of Rela:

      • Relan Mages specialize in universe destruction, their death toll coming first with their own.
      • The Tome seeks worlds, no matter the universe, with features similar to that which birthed it.
      • Relan magic takes no extra energy to keep running and experiences no energy loss over time. While this was presumably safe to perform in Universe 68 (and is still safe to do in shielded worlds like the Wanderer's Library), these operations are dangerous elsewhere and cause a runaway reversal of entropy that results in the undoing of that universe's Big Bang.

      I stress again to you whose eyes are clear: do not repeat these words outside of dead space. Others would destroy what they do not understand.
      You know what to do if you want to find me.
      — M. Red, Doctor of Antiethics and Parapsychology at the University of the Eternal Death.

    This document is an incomplete collection of those few times when the Tome makes its way to the Library and we document its pages before the pages are gone again. These works are stories, poetry, and visual artistry of universes broken and falling which never lived long enough to establish a connection to the Library.
    In other words, this document is the home of all that has long stopped breathing and will never again dream of the sea. Enjoy your stay.

    The words make no sense to you, but you read it anyway, absorbing and digesting the information like a hungry sponge, scattered thoughts drifting through your head like old fireflies. You are not aware of how much time has passed, and when your straggling consciousness comes loose from the page to fit once again within the confines of your skull, you come to the realization that you do not remember how you got here.

    The shock is enough to propel you to standing. The raft lurches and you swing out a limb, but too late.

    You hit the water.
    You. You Who Reads. How can you see these words? I do not know you. Get out.

You open your eyes. You jerk upright, on some impulse, and your hand brushes against your face to wipe away salty rivulets of water running from your hair – but there are none. Your legs are weak and wobbly, like you have been walking at sea for some time, though you cannot remember the last time you stepped aboard a ship. And you curl forward, back aching with a loss you cannot begin to fathom.

A true wetness, now. It rolls down your cheeks from your eyes and you blink it away, unfeeling.

And all at once, from some hidden impulse, you are standing, eyes half-lidded and rolling, and you lurch forward, stumbling and pushing through the crowded halls like a drunkard, weaving relentlessly toward the shelves in search of – something. What are you looking for, exactly?
How much did you hear? How much did you understand?
You can’t remember. But when you find it, the book is already half-pulled out of the shelf, a green waterfall of barnacled seaweed drooling from the pages like the curdled tongue of a rotting fish. You pull the book off the shelf and you fumble, catch the spine on your fingertips and cut your fingers on crusted barnacles. The book thumps to the floor and you collapse beside it in a pool of blood.

Conveniently for you, you can read it in your position, and the tome has fallen open on a page with words you can understand. You skim the table of contents.
I ask again for the last time, interloper. Who are you? Where did you come from?

Title Description //
The Throne of the Usurper Brittle fiberglass creaks and bends with the sins of the sky. 0
It Always Rains The sea is falling. Welcome to college. A
Night Fishing The children of the leviathan are being sold at the market. A
Snapdragon Sunset The stars are blind to atrocities committed in bloodied waters. A
To Look Up in a Forest of Giants To find transcendence is to find peace with yourself. A
Sushi So tasty. 0
The River The River will outlive the stars. B
Changelings, You and I A long, sorrowful deflation, then a sharp gasp. 0
Ambrose Restaurants Ambrose Restaurants: Now multiversal! X
Dance Upon a waxed floor, little changes everywhere. 1
Door to Stranger Stars Fireworks boom in the city. Turn and walk away. A
A House of Raindrops Let your half-lidded eyes drift shut, then spasm violently. A
Sundown Powered by Microsoft Excel A window cannot contain the whole of life. 0
Ambrose Restaurants: A Review Devour senselessly. X
Watching from the City A smear of crimson and Saturnism. 0
Dandelions The beach will not last forever. A
Sonorous You are a painting, my love. 1
Strawberries What do strawberries taste like? 0
Nowhere Express The sand, the sea, a garden of lightning, and the nature of godhood. X
Fireworks at Midnight The garden of change is full of beauty. 0
With Rigging of Gold and a Sky Like Wine Step one: The hull. A
Not You Too Fucking shop-vac. 0
Antlers The moon is a whale and we are its carvers. B
Gloves It laid on the table like the aftermath of a massacre. A

You can’t remember, can you? Your name is lost to the world, even here.
I am sorry.

Seven citrus blossoms nest, each within the next, on a gnarled silver branch.

    • _
    Title Author Why I Love It
    Stygian Blues Maxyfran73 Aside from having my name on it, this work covers life, death, and what it means to be inanimate yet filled with memories, hopes, and dreams, wanting to continue living through thought and memories, and what happens when one is unable to do so. This work is absolutely gorgeous, and will stick in my mind for a long, long time. Wonderful work, Maxy.
    The Warmth of the Other Din-Bidor I found many hidden meanings in this, most of which were completely unintended by the author. The music linked in the article is delicious, and the author, despite not typically writing poetry, did a splendid job of writing multi-layered, many-interpretationable1 verse on love, pain, and the double-edged sword of desire for something that hurts deeper than anyone can understand. Beautiful work, Din.
    I keep peaches where ants can reach them carolynn ivy I adore this on a spiritual level. Each time I read it, I feel an easing of my anxiety, a lightening of the depressive fog that seems at times to hold my mind at sea, cloaked out of sight from the neon shores of reality. This work is beautiful, sweet, and the very thing that made me desire to do poetry in the first place. It transformed my ideas of poetry from that of an old, musty, confusing art form to that of emotion stripped down to the soul, brilliant and shining and warm. Gorgeous work, carolynn.
    Stories About Power rumetzen The sheer breadth of emotion on display here is breathtaking. I don't say this often: This work shows a depth of shared human experience rarely seen elsewhere. Though the themes and narratives expressed here are done elsewhere hundredfold, this work focuses on the minutae of changes to life that happen with every passing human connection, be those connections oppressively large or incomprehensibly tiny. Well done, Rum.
    Black Market Magic MaliceAfterthought This story. I adore it. The level of quiet, tight worldbuilding, the sharp, tense atmosphere, and the holy-shit-it's-anomalous-drugs all blend seamlessly into a dystopian-toned SCP-smelling Library-tasting masterpiece. I will not hide that I am a big fan of stories with unreliable narrators. Fun fact: drugs take that up to eleven. I will also not hide that I am a massive fan of self-consistent short-distance time travel worked into a single timeline. Unsurprisingly, I'm the biggest fan of the video game Katana ZERO you'll ever meet. It is then no surprise that I adore this story immensely. This author skillfully blends all of my favourite things without flaw to make the best time travel drug fuelled crime filled noir shaded dystopia of a story you'll ever read. Excellent work, Malice.
    Kidney Stone Snapdragon133 Do I have a strange obsession with poems about fruit? Maybe! Who knows! I eat kiwis with the skin on! This poem is tasty and juicy, and I will never eat fruit the same way again. Keratin on putamen. What a lovely line. This work has some of my favourite imagery in poetry that I have seen. It's about the experience of eating a hard-pitted fruit, but it's not, really. It's about all the things that surround it, like if someone went to an art museum and described the way that everything was set up to display the fruits of conquest and history instead of dryly illustrating the contents of the paintings. In my opinion, some of the best works are the type that —following the museum metaphor — construct the building and let the reader fill in the paintings with their imagination. This work does that, and the skill to which this is accomplished makes this work all the sweeter. Additionally, the white text is splendid. Delicious work, Snapdragon.
    Every Story Someday Jack Manganese I found this while working on the mass tagging project for Wing 1 of the Wanderer's Library. I found it in the middle of my tagging shift, when I was already bloated with stories and pretty much just nibbling on them to get a taste of what tags were needed before moving on. It was dark and sweltering hot — this was in the middle of a heat wave, and I wanted to go home — and yet this story still caught me. That's how good it is. I can't tell you how long it is, nor how long or little I spent reading it, but I can tell you that once I saw it I devoured it whole without chewing. It was delicious. It is a story in a world of words where butterflies flutter through the air with wings of the word "tintinnabulation." It's a world where sicknesses are the things editors are needed to help fix. It's a world where not everything is perfect, and sometimes you just have to let some things go. Delicious words and sharp hooks, Manganese.
    How the Ocean Came to Burn Tufto This work bleeds into my heart and soul and dreams and nightmares. It sails the axons and synapses of my mind, green trailing ghost-lights wafting in the breeze like comet tails behind it. The water is black and the sky is an overexposed staticky grey and the auroras are nowhere to be seen. This crew is all of skeletons and I killed them. Welcome aboard and well done, Tufto.
    Ramblings of a Retired Tramp lzhoudidion The best work in technical prowess and in compelling storyline and pacing and in engaging characters and in themes and in making me feel emotion every time I read it in the Library. You make the best, Didion. How do you do it. I want to dissect you for your secrets. I fear, though, that that would be killing the goose, and I want to keep your magic a secret so it's always a welcome surprise when the next work comes.
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