Through The Abandoned Wing
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Chapter 1: Through The Abandoned Wing

The shelves that would usually stretch upward like literary redwoods were creaking and splintering if they were not outright collapsed. And the books that would typically line them lay ruined in piles on the ground. This is a place that the librarians ignored, a place that wanderers rarely ventured into: The abandoned wing. That is, except for a wanderer with a flat cap on their head, a flight jacket on their shoulders, and a machete dangling from their hip.

Cedar Bardot squeezed their body through the only space that was left after a shelf fell onto its neighbor. They shoved their pack further through the gap ahead of them before shimming after it. Another push and they were finally out the other side. Cedar looked around at their new environment as they put their backpack on. Here, the stories made sense. Scorch marks painted the floor and shelves with a thick layer of ash and soot. Cedar picked up a somewhat intact book lying next to their foot only for it to fall apart. They sighed and dusted off their hands. The grunts coming from the gap they had just pushed themselves through suddenly reminded them that they were making this trip with a companion. They reached an arm back into the gap to help him.

Professor McElroy emerged from the hole. If it weren’t for Cedar's grip on his arm, he’d have fallen onto the floor. He looked at the former inferno around him, “My god, what happened here?”

Tossing the remnants of books aside and checking the backs of the shelves, Cedar answered, “There’s a lot of conflicting reports. I’ve heard everything from some ancient war to the GOC taking their nickname a little too literally.”

Cedar had met the professor only three days prior. He introduced himself as a professor of some obscure Ivy league school that even the Deer College graduate Cedar had never heard of. He said that he had a job for Cedar, all they had to do was help him find a particularly rare book. McElroy was rather cagey. He refused to disclose why he wanted the book, in fact, the whole job seemed sketchy. But, Cedar was short on cash and the last person to pass up an adventure for ancient knowledge. So they accepted with little hesitation.

Cedar pushed against the back of another shelf, it cracked easily. They punched the spot, putting a nice fist-sized hole in the shelf. Looking through the hole, Cedar could see the significantly less burned parallel aisle. A smile crept across their face. The professor sifted through a pile of burnt books as Cedar began pulling, punching, and kicking through the shelf.

“This does not bode well for our mission,” The professor said, adjusting his circular glasses.

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Cedar replied as they pulled out another piece of wood, finally making the hole in the shelf wide enough for a person, “After you.”

This aisle was pristine compared to the one they had just come from. Much of the wood was rotted, and there were still some scorch marks, but it seemed more intact than the other one. Cedar retrieved a map from their backpack. Trying to make sense of the rather archaic document, Cedar squinted at the map. Which winding corridor were they meant to travel next? Cedar traced a finger across the map before taking off their cap to run a hand through their Aubrey-colored hair that was only a few shades off from the wood of the shelves.

The professor, who had been looking over Cedar's shoulder in an attempt to understand the map himself scratched his head, "So, which way do we go now?"

"Up."

The two wanderers gazed up at the gigantic bookshelves. They would be easy to climb, but from the floor, their height seemed near infinite. This would be a test of endurance more than anything else.

“Alright, I don’t have any climbing gear, so try not to look down,” Cedar said before climbing up the shelves that creaked and groaned with each ascension. Professor McElroy hesitated a moment before following them. Ignoring Cedar's instructions, he looked down. They had only been climbing for a couple of minutes, but it seemed that they were already seventy feet up.

“How do you know it’s still intact?” The professor asked, trying to hide his fear.

“The book?” Cedar answered, “I don’t really. But word around the Library is that it’s still legible. Most of it anyway.”

The professor was shocked, “You mean to say that we’ve come all this way based on rumors? The damn thing might not even exist!”

Cedar laughed, “Welcome to the job.”

The two continued up the shelves, the only other interruption to their climb being a shelf collapsed under Cedar’s weight, an obstacle they quickly recovered from. It took them nearly an hour to reach the top. After pulling the professor onto the shelf, Cedar looked out at the Libary around them. It seemed to go on forever, an endless expanse of books and knowledge in winding corridors and impossible geometry. Cedar wished they had a camera. They came to the library for its literary contents, yes, but it was impossible to ignore the sheer beauty of the thing, even here in the abandoned wing. Every day Cedar got to live in these shelves, and every day they were grateful. It would be easy for one to muse on the fact that the layout of the shelves looked similar to the folds of a human brain, but other matters were at hand for Cedar Bardot and Professor McElroy. They both started walking down the length of the shelf.

The floor beneath the shelves dropped off into an inky back abyss that almost seemed to breathe. Something was shifting around at the bottom of it. Occasionally, something, or a part of something, would come up just far enough to break out of the darkness. Maybe it was just the mind playing tricks, but Professor McElroy thought he saw scales.

“How far down does it go?” McElroy asked.

“Forever, probably. I’ve heard some say that it leads to the tunnels. For all our sakes, I hope not.” Cedar answered, “In any case, it’s not in our best interest to find out.”

The walkway that was the top of the shelves became narrow as the two traveled down it. McElroy was so focussed on staying on the walkway as to not discover what was at the bottom of the pit, that he almost didn't notice the storm of books was before them. Hardcovers swirled around the walkway, caught in an eternal tornado. The winds sounded like screams of agony. It went infinitely up and infinitely down. The professor wondered if the thing in the pit was causing it. Cedar continued forward, holding up their arm to block incoming books, “We’re almost there! Try not to get hit!”

A book hit Professor McElroy in the shoulder blades. He grunted and followed Cedar. The eye of the storm was near silent, other than the sounds of the roaring winds it was surrounded by. It was peaceful, and the air was oddly clean. McElroy took a deep breath, partly to enjoy the air but mostly to calm himself. Cedar started counting their steps. Thirty… Forty… Fifty. They stopped and looked down the side of the shelf, “Here.”

It was hard to tell if the shelves were floating above the pit or emerging from it. The professor feared that the item of their quest could be deep in the abyss, “How far down is it?”

“Thirty, maybe forty, feet.”

The professor stared down into the void beneath them, “Do you have some kind of harness?”

“Nope,” Cedar replied, already descending the shelves as if the thought of falling was something they hadn't even considered. Carefully, they put their foot on the shelf beneath them and tested its strength before putting their full weight on it. At thirty-two feet, they started scanning the shelves. The first one didn’t have it, and neither did the second, nor the third. Shoving books aside and tossing them down into the void, Cedar rapidly searched through each shelf.

Professor McElroy watched anxiously, the image of Cedar losing their grip and falling into the bottomless pit repeating in his mind. At the fifth shelf, Cedar grabbed the spine of a book, only for it to sprout legs and teeth. Both Cedar and the book screamed before they threw it over their shoulder. Cedar didn’t realize it immediately, but the book's scream wasn’t one of surprise, but a cry for backup.

Cedar continued to comb through the books when they heard the professor yell, “Cedar!”

“Yeah, yeah, I should find it soon,” Cedar replied dismissively.

“Cedar, look!”

Cedar finally looked up at the professor, and then at what the professor was pointing at: A pack of around a dozen book mimics coming to their right. Cedar checked their left flank to see another dozen. Retrieving their machete, Cedar swung at the closet two, sending both into the pit. They dropped down another shelf and prepared to take a swing at the next mimic, only for it to catch their eye. Lying unceremoniously on the shelf was a red book, the only identifying feature being the word ‘A chronicle of the Daevas’ printed on its cover.

Cedar shoved their machete back on their hip and tucked the book under their arm. With the mimics in pursuit, Cedar scrambled back up the shelves as fast as their rather limited strength would let them, “Professor! I got it!”

A mimic jumped into Cedar’s path above them. Cedar used the book to smack it out of the way without a moment's hesitation. They hoisted themself up a shelf when another mimic jumped and latched onto Cedar’s left calf, sinking its jaws deep into it. Cedar kicked at the arachnidian book but its jaws only seemed to get a tighter hold. Cedar kicked again, hard and the mimic went flying, taking a good chunk of Cedar’s leg with it. Adrenaline numbing them to the pain, Cedar began to pull themself to the next shelf, only for the shelf they had their foot on to break. Mimics swiftly approaching and the void calling to them, Cedar dangled within arm's reach of McElroy.

“Professor!” Cedar shouted, “Pull me up!”

“Throw up the book first! I’ll be able to grab both of your hands then!” McElroy replied urgently. Cedar looked at the book and then at the professor. The mimics were getting closer by the second, Cedar was out of better options. They tossed the book up to the professor, who caught it and hugged it to his chest. He started flipping through the book and smiled, “I’m sorry, Cedar. But I can only trust myself with knowledge of the Daevas. Thank you for the help.”

Without so much as a glance at Cedar, Professor McElroy ran back through the storm with the book tucked tightly in his arms. Cedar wanted to curse him, but they didn’t have the time. The shelf that they were dangling from gave way.

Thud, thud, thud, thud

They went plummeting through shelf after shelf. Down closer and closer to the beckoning abyss. Their arm shot to their hip. Their fingers barely wrapped themselves around the handle of their machete before Cedar ripped it from its sheath and thrust it into the shelf wall. The sudden drop nearly took the wind out of them. They were far from the mimics now, but that barely solved their problems.

With all of their weight on it, Cedar’s machete began to bend and crack the wood it was jammed into, it wouldn’t hold for long. Cedar spread out their limbs and pushed against the sides of the shelves to hold themself up. They yanked the machete out of the wall and shoved it back into its sheath. Taking a moment to breathe, Cedar searched for any possible escape. The storm had closed in a little, it was no more than a few yards out from them. Looking up again, Cedar saw the descending pack of mimics snapping their jaws in excitement. Perhaps there was a safer way out of this situation, but Cedar couldn’t think of one. They took a deep breath.

“One… Two… Now!” Using the sides as leverage, Cedar launched themself from the shelves and into the storm, praying to any deity in earshot that the winds were strong enough to carry them. Luckily for Cedar, a few must have been listening.

The storm caught Cedar and dragged them through its current. A few of the mimics tried and failed to jump after them. Relief was short-lived, however, as Cedar held onto their flat cap and braced for impact. They were slammed back into the shelves, though now much closer to the top. From what they could tell the storm had brought them back the way they had come. The shelves shook from the impact, much more than Cedar expected them to. All seemed calm for a moment, until…

CRACK

With the sound of a lightning strike, the wood of the shelves splintered and shifted. The entire section was coming down.

Cedar pulled themself on top of the shelves and sprinted, trying to ignore the growing pain in their leg. The shelves toppled and fell into the void behind them. The wood under Cedar’s feet seemed to become more unstable with every step. The cracking wood grew louder. They ran so hard they were sure their soles would be bruised. Another shelf collapsed. Finally, Cedar could see where the pit ended and the Library’s floor began. The walkway beneath Cedar started shaking. It was going down. Just as the shelves beneath them collapsed Cedar leaped.

Their jump wouldn’t land them on the floor, but it would get them close enough. Cedar caught the edge of the floor and dangled there for a moment as the rest of the section fell into the abyss. They struggled to climb onto the floor. Cedar lay on their back, out of breath.

Their first thought was to kick themself for not bringing a gun to this job, they could have shot Professor McElroy right through his stupid circle-rimmed glasses the moment he betrayed them. Their second thought was of the long trek back through the abandoned wing they still had before them. Cedar wanted to cry, but they’d need the water. They stood up and took a first aid kit from the back. The rubbing alcohol made them wince as they applied it to their wound. Their long day just got a lot longer.

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