Basilica II
rating: +12+x

by LAN 2D


A body, anew. Treat this one well.


The Way closes behind you. The place, the body you came from, now insignificant. The past is not your destination, so you forget its contents. You focus on the path ahead.

Your surroundings are alien, but so is your skin, your muscles, the pairs of arms, eyes, legs, ears attached to your form. Your vision moves instinctively, absorbing the columns of brown, squarish structures extending into the sky. They are filled with rows upon rows of coloured lines, some thicker than others. Your nose wrinkles at the earthen smell. You walk forward.

One leg after another, it takes some adjusting, but you catch on quickly. You don’t know where you’re going, as much as an animal doesn’t know it’s pursuing prey. Your directive is instinctual, your purpose poured into the clay bones you were once sculpted from. And yet, you find yourself attracted to the wooden walls, running your hands across the leather-bound books. Your feet are bare upon the hardwood floor — cold, but not uncomfortable. An endless corridor of volumes lies in front of you. To turn around would be a waste, and so, you walk.

The scenery doesn’t change, your mind doesn’t change, but your feet tire. The limits of a physical form give pain meaning. In a moment of weakness, your stolen humanity shines through: you wish it would stop, and the Library complies. Immediately, the shelves ahead begin to dissolve away into a small open space, filled with seats and lights you can only assume are for reading — if you cared to assume at all. Stepping into the area, your feet move from wood to carpet, your toes becoming warm. You stop at the nook’s centre, surrounded by tomes and shelves and a comforting softness, lingering in the air. A red reading chair lies to your right, beckoning. You melt into it and it melts into you; mind-numbing bliss forces your eyes close as your vision drifts, drifts away…

—a movement, a motion. Your eyes sharpen, wide now. A person, no, a thing. The patron stands tall, reaching with a glowing arm towards the upper shelf. The arm disappears under its cloak with a book in hand. You don’t have long.

Your legs move, steadfast against the room’s dulling atmosphere. You had let your mind slip, but not enough to fall. Never again. Weaving past the low tables and pastel chairs, you advance to your target. Once off the carpet, you slow your pace; the floor no longer absorbing the sound of your footsteps. You move toe-to-heel — a predator, a beast stalking oblivious prey. But this is not a fantasy you can indulge in for long. You are there, behind it, its purple cloak stretching up past your view.

Yes, it’d be easier if it didn’t notice. With a breath, you abandon your vessel…

…and become another.


An unusual choice. A new experience.


You blink, then turn away from the shelf. It's almost startling to see your previous vessel through a pair of new eyes. It lays on the ground, a pale dot on the sepia floor. You stare for a moment, ready to move. It stirs. That’s… different. Intrigued, you watch for a second more. It stands and empties its stomach onto the ground — but you can’t let it leave. Towering above it, you test your new muscles, tendons, or whatever tools this form contains — and strike out with your mind. Without a movement from your body, the air shimmers, then snaps. The old vessel resists, its face contorting, before splitting apart with a crack. The torso breaks against the shelf opposite, its limbs flying through the air before coming to rest on the Library floor. All that’s left in front of your purple cloak is a puddle of grey and red fluid.

You take in your surroundings. The mess is insignificant, but the clever things of this Library may piece it together. This time, you soften your mind’s eye; soon transforming from a blunt force to a stillness. You focus on this quiet, this calm – and something changes. Your eyes open to see the remnants of the body gone from the shelves. The carpet is clean.

Now, the air tastes different. Your body is veiled in that same purple you saw as a different self, so you can’t be sure if your form is similar to the last. But you catch on quickly, you always have. You test once more. One arm extends out of the cloak; it lengthens and lengthens, and then it doesn’t, so you retract it and begin to move. As you glide, barely above the floor, your robe waves in the current. You feel the instinct again, pulling you towards your destination. Before you can form the thought, the Library knows; the shelves ahead become a vibrant, bustling atrium. You recognise the unique spirit this place has; filled with things of all kinds.

Floating closer to the crowd of movement, each thing carries a book, each book with its own creator. Unlike books, most alive things aren’t written, they’re born. But you, you’re a blank page filled with the contents of others. You don’t have a form to call your own, though, you’re still a good thief, you can be sure of that. You steal without prejudice, but not without care. To choose wisely is to become a better vessel, time and time again. And now, your vessel comes with a necessary elegance. Compared to the puppeted movements of your previous form, this one carries an air that only a true patron could achieve, a believability that could fool even the keenest eye. Yet the essence of this place suffocates those keen eyes in the words of a page, and so the lone defence from things like you are the servants of the Library. And in an endless irony, those servants are blind.

You pass between the patrons, some of them letting you through, others with their heads buried in a tome, oblivious to the world. You approach the front desk. The blind bookkeeper faces you but doesn’t know it. Neither does it sit, as its body is rooted to the chair – or perhaps the chair is part of it. You try to clear your throat, discover your body possesses one, and then you speak. To a Librarian, one would think language would be significant, but the Library’s knowledge transcends specific arrangements of sounds and letters. You ask where you can find the archives, and the Archivist understands the intention within your sounds. Like you, it doesn’t reply in any particular tongue. It reaches into your mind and leaves a singular imprint.

Instinctually, you raise your guard: the Archivist must’ve seen your crime, your consciousness forcing another into the abyss. But it doesn’t react, and you soon feel its presence fade from your own. Then you realise why — it is blind here too.

All that remains of its touch is an image of a small, flat shape, coloured with your form, which itself is fitted with a red robe. The Librarian moves its hand, now outstretched, beckoning for something. Of course, the image is of a token, one to represent who you are, and the places you have permission to be. You search your cloak, inside and out. There’s no need for haste. Your mind feels for the card: it finds nothing. You spin, abandoning the clothing as you cover every hiding spot, every possible place it could be. The Librarian listens in silence. Your search yields nought.

Addicus. I’ve never seen you at the front desk before. Something I can help you with?

You turn to whatever entity is speaking to you, but there is no voice, no direction to follow. A yellow and purple mass of intertwining tentacles and books meets your gaze. It holds it for a second, then speaks.

Hmm. Let me get that for you.

The purple cloak flies onto your back, and you embrace it. Even though the thing speaks within your mind, you don’t panic. After all, these Librarians cannot see you, only your masquerade.

You there?

You remain silent, simply staring.

I know you’re usually quiet, but this is something else.

It shakes its head as it laughs, then it looks towards you as if expecting something. You don’t react. It will leave soon enough, you are sure.

Fine. Suit yourself. Enjoy your ‘conversation’ with the Archivist.

It turns to talk to another patron — you were right. A simple obstacle to overcome, with a simple solution.

You resume your search as if following a set program, checking each pocket, running your hand down each seam. The cloak is absent, so it is discarded — thrown behind you carelessly.

Addicus?

You do the same for your body. Tracing the folds of your skin, your head, until no place is left uncovered.

Addicus. Look here, now.

You stop your motions. Almost as if by command, you turn your head to face the Librarian.

Are you alright?

You do not reply, for how could you? The thing’s eyes shine with suspicion. You were careless, too focused on the search, on what lies ahead. Ignoring them again is not an option, yet neither is speech. If you spoke, you would be found. There is only one choice, one move; you enter its mind, to once again become another.


Far beneath lies my salvation.


It holds your gaze, and its eyes widen.


Come, you shall be-


It sees you.

The Librarian latches onto your cloak with its tentacles, its skin set aflame with anger. The collection of books falls to the floor as a purple spark alights in the air above you.

My mind is not yours to take.

The spark grows, the Librarian staring with a practised intensity.

You almost had me tricked.

You falter backwards, the purple spark now a speeding flame. It whisks towards you, controlled by its master.

You are lucky Addicus is so quiet.

With that word, the flame erupts above your body, enclosing you in a sphere of purple fire. You fly upwards, through the roaring barrier — ignoring the intense heat — and continue upwards. Now, you hover above the stunned crowd and soar towards the Librarian. Its eyes are shut in concentration and your body meets a solid wall right before you hit the Librarian. It pulses for a moment — the Librarian breathes in — then it explodes: one thousand fragments of flame merging with the air, expanding and contracting, converging into a ball of fury that surges towards you.

It connects with your left side, your cloak absorbing most of the shock, but your trajectory is now off and so you tumble through the air, coming to a stop beside the Librarian.

Your left side feels numb as you float forward. The thing doesn’t hesitate: it summons another light. But it does not matter — you lash out, your arm extending out of the cloak in the blink of an eye. Its eyes widen as it abandons its spell, manifesting another wall for defence. But your hand swipes fast, piercing through the half-formed construct and connecting with the yellow thing’s head. The patron to its left collapses to the ground with the Librarian in tow. Neither of them moves.

Turning now, you notice the crowd has begun to realise. Some creatures flee, some watch in desperate awe, but others are brave. They move with confidence, with arrogance. They’re moving fast, soon surrounding your form among the bookshelves. One wields a flaming sword; another holds no weapon, its eyes shining with power; and one more with blue arms wrapped around a chain. The extravagance of the items makes no difference. You focus your mind into a single sweeping edge, then release. Then they are all gone, besides the unconscious Librarian on the ground.

The hall is silent now. You walk away.

The Archivists stay rooted, listening.

But soon, like a breathing, living thing, the Library’s defences come to its rescue, in resistance to your parasitic force. You feel a sound pierce through the air, like an invisible bell. You tense in anticipation, but your mind’s blade dulls as a form manifests by the bookshelf. First a mass of liquids swirling in the air, then an undulating shape, only vaguely a creature. And finally, a blue figure, moving in the same way it did before as if placed back in time. You harden your focus once again, but its chain whips, moving unnaturally fast. In a moment, your neck is caught and the chain is wrenched down; your face slamming against the book-covered floor.

I had it.

“You were on the floor.”

Not important. Let’s not get distracted.

The blue one leans over you.

“Their eyes are dead. I don’t need telepathy to see that.”

I know. You concentrate on retrieving the others, I’ll help Addicus.

They move in close — a mistake. You switch position, turning your back towards the ground — and fly upwards. The chain holds, but only for a moment. You push down and it slides off of you, taking the cloak with it. You flee and rise, passing the rafters, and into the abyss above.

A splitting whip-crack fractures the air. You are suddenly falling, an impossibly long chain dragging you downwards. The blue warrior casually pulls its prey down, one hand at a time. The soft, wooden floor greets you, but you don’t accept its welcome. The Librarian watches from above as you struggle. As a final instinct, your mind reaches out, gripping onto the closest thing it can touch — and it finds purchase.


Rejoice, for your journey continues.


You join with the thing, escaping the body of the purple cloaked beast: a necessary sacrifice. The new vessel’s consciousness is dense and vague as if swimming through weighted thoughts. You wonder if the mind’s shape is due to a lack of knowledge, or perhaps too much of it.

Or perhaps it's intentional.

The familiar voice permeates through your existence. It is the tentacled thing, the Librarian.

I repeat once more: my mind is not yours to take.

You thrash and flail in the fog.

You can’t speak, but you don’t have to. It should be clear. You are not welcome here. The Serpent does not fall for these kinds of tricks.

Like a fish in tar.

You have hidden your purpose well, intruder. Yet your mind does not imply intelligence; you may not even know the reason you are here.

Like a smothered fire.

I understand. You are but a panicked, desperate animal; it is in your instinct to steal and ruin. And for that I am sorry.

Like a…

And for this, I am sorry.

The Librarian’s presence increases to an immense force, splitting and pulling and crushing and suffocating your own. You are boiled and broken down into pieces of mind — separated into satisfaction and desire, decision and judgement, split into parts of an emergent whole. The ‘you’ is being destroyed.

The first to be purged is knowledge. Then, belief, pain, instinct, ego, all at once, removed. Next is perception — the framework of experience — then power, then want. The last to go is concept, as it upholds all the others.

It cannot be described as a feeling of absence, because there was nothing left that could feel the Librarian’s storm of vengeance. An absence of feeling, perhaps. There was nothing that could feel. There was an absence of anything, or so the Librarian thought.

A tempest can destroy anything that its winds touch. Anywhere it can reach will be pulverised, purely at its will. It will strive to blister anything that stands out. A jagged rock will be smoothed over, before being reduced to sand.

But the storm cannot destroy the wind. It cannot destroy the moisture that it throws around so haphazardly. It cannot destroy itself with its own power.

And in the storm, a gust of wind blows — its own miniature replica of the behemoth it is a part of. Yet, the storm cannot tell the difference between this and its own.

Undetected, something remains.

Not a ‘you’, an ‘I’ or a ‘they’ — the ego has been long lost — but a fact. An immutable stone: the bedrock of existence. There is a sliver of a thing, buried beneath the storm’s pressure. Inside it, a purpose still stands, and as before, it is pulled, away from the Librarian and towards another.

The thing hangs in the void. The pressure is gone, but so is relief. The thing is no longer controlled by the Librarian, yet its sense of place and time and self do not return.




It doesn’t know it, but it could wait for eternity.





Come. Once more.


Like a lifesaving breath after emerging from deep water, it inhales the mind of the Servant. Everything rushes back. It can think, it can feel, it can know, it can believe — because it is no longer an ‘it’. It is you.

Your soul has been put back together; a patchwork creation of stolen parts. You flex your arms, testing the Page’s body. There are four of them, each clinging to the bookshelf you find yourself on. Through two pairs of eyes, you peer down to where you once were.

Yellow and blue stand under the skylight of the infinite ceiling. They look triumphant. The Librarian doesn’t know you live. A breath outwards — it is almost over.

As before, you follow the feeling, the voice — whatever it is. And as you climb, you steal one last glance back. Your previous form lays on the ground, a purple dot on the tiled floor.

It stands.

* * *


The maze of shelves is unforgiving, but this form doesn’t suffer as your previous did. You continue and continue and continue, away from the stacks and deeper into the Serpent’s twisting intestines.

Despite the power of your previous, the body you find yourself in proves useful after all. Inhabiting a Page allows you to move without notice, act without suspicion. The mind of the servant you consumed held respect for everything here too. As you pass through a room infested with vine-like creatures devouring discarded books, you feel no fear, only curiosity. In another room, a silver, slime-covered thing soaks tomes before absorbing them under its skin. You feel respect for its resourcefulness. Far beneath that room, a group of rotting patrons twist and flitter, filling you with a peculiar interest.

But for each horror, an equal wonder exists.

You progress deeper, the sights never becoming mundane. A prism-like staircase folds and unfolds as you cling to it. You meet the severed head of a patron, still talking. You climb through a seventeen-sided bookshelf, then swing between marble-formed pillars. Deeper still, a segmented beast rumbles past, pincers chattering above a maw full of half-digested pages. You feel only admiration.

You wander through a cavelike expanse, books towering in lazy piles surrounding you. The walls are etched with engraved paintings. Everything from rudimentary depictions of conflict to a series of complex symbols. From hand-drawn pawprints that scale up the wall to waterlogged stains, somehow arranged in recognisable patterns.


Deeper.



You wade into a room, sand up to your chest. A whirlpool of pages flows above, each piece of parchment appearing, then falling, then finally disintegrating into a fine white dust that spreads into the air. The sand sinks around you, but you stay afloat.



Deeper.


Even deeper, you come across a shimmering sea. The ceiling’s glow pierces the surface, the light travelling far below. You swim, the water stinging your scales. No one says a word.




Deeper.



You stand in front of a barren hallway. Moving forward, a glass-like membrane repels your touch — but only for a moment — before it gives way.

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