Echoes of the Searing
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"If you ask six people what the Great Searing was, you'll get seven different answers."

"Nobody's certain of what caused the event, or what exactly it even was. Such is the nature of the Library, I suppose. We exist in a state of natural anarchy. Librarians aren't a governing entity, more concerned with maintenance and upkeep than politics and order as we are. We simply enforce the rules — one of which, yes, is that there will not be any fighting within the Library."

"Violence is the unspoken threat underpinning power hierarchies. Without that, an entirely new kind of society arises. The Library's patrons are hospitable and generous. Room and board for those who need it, with no expectation of compensation. Property is shared, and knowledge even moreso. This status quo could only exist in the absence of the ability of anyone to pick up a heavy book and bash another patron's skull in."

"Now imagine what happens when violence is suddenly reintroduced into the equation."

— Jericho Benalsh, Seventh Grand Archivist of the Wanderer's Library

The shelf exploded outward, throwing incinerated books into the corridor below. The gaping hole in the mahogany bookshelf was empty for a split-second before two figures rocketed through it and into the shelf opposite, destroying another handful of tomes. What few patrons were underfoot scattered, dashing away to the relative safety of the nearest way. One of the figures floated in the air twenty feet up, one hand pinning her quarry against the shelf and the other quickly winding back.

Good, Auger thought. He had just enough time to compose a second thought, which ended up being "duck". His head weaved out of the way as a rock-hard fist smashed into the wood where his brains had been a moment earlier. No, not rock-hard; rock. The tree-trunk thick arm was made of a dense, cracked concrete up the bicep, where it transitioned to an almost blindingly-pale gray.

As his captor struggled to pull her arm free, one of his hands made its way to the inside of his coat.

"Skin's looking a little dry, love. Try moisturizer?"

"Are you always this talkative before you die?"

He thought for a second.


Then jammed the knife deep into her exposed belly. She let out a harsh grunt and loosened her grip, dropping Auger to the floor below. He tucked and rolled, landing on a pile of books about anatomy. He winced at the irony before scrambling to his feet and hauling ass to the end of the corridor.

He was interrupted by the hiss of air behind him, and ka-THUNK as his knife embedded itself in a book inches from his leg. He spun around, whipping another three knives out of his coat lining. She was gradually descending to the ground, her face screwed up in pain and clutching her side. The knife had left a long, ugly wound in her stomach, dripping a murky-gray liquid onto the floor. Auger watched over the next ten seconds as the gaping hole turned grey and grew smaller and smaller, knitting itself shut. The only evidence she had been so much as touched was the tear in her plain black shirt. She looked up at him and smiled. "Nice try."

Blindly, he threw two of the short daggers in her general direction and yanked the longer one out of the wall, spinning around the corner of the bookshelf. He dropped to one knee, pressing his palms against the floor for a moment and closing his eyes. A dark, murky shape flashed through his vision. 200 feet away. He held his breath, then tried to recall the shape. It was hazy and blurred now, but brighter. 197 now. He opened his eyes and quickly scuttled backward into the safety of another shelf while doing the math in his head. 3 feet a second, he had a little less than a minute.

He heard a rough, gravelly voice from the next shelf over. "Surrender and tell me where the book is, and I may just make it quick." She was getting closer. He backed up, trying to keep his footsteps light. He stopped when he heard breathing right on the other side of the thick mahogany bookshelf. Holding his breath, he grabbed a book from the shelf — not too heavy, not too light. Some treatise on rare fish anatomy. Flipping it over, the hard cover was blank from behind. Excellent.

He drew a piece of black chalk from his coat pocket and scribbled something onto the cover, then loudly snapped it shut. He heard her skin creak as she pivoted. Then he reared back, and chucked the book over the shelf.

The explosion was enough to knock him on his ass, even from the other side. Smoke began to rise up into the air. Anyone who was still dumb enough to be in the area bolted. Auger raised himself to his knees, shaking his head clear of the ringing. There was no rocky pounding, no enraged scream. He got to his feet, quickly moving away. Hmm, maybe that did it after all. Might not even ne-

The thought slammed out of his head when a massive, rocky fist punched through the bookshelf, inches away from his nose. Before he had time to react, another one, this time directly in his chest, slamming him through the air and into the shelf opposite. He landed in a heap, books tumbling down over his head. The shelf she had just punched through was listing dangerously, spilling books as it rocked back and forth.

He managed to roll to his left, just barely avoiding it as it came crashing down. His hunter was standing behind it, flexing granite muscles. Then she leapt. He danced back, avoiding the high punch but catching a low knee. Dropping to his feet, he sweeped his own leg out, stumbling but not tripping the one-ton beast — then pulled back to avoid getting his leg stomped on into about a million pieces. They danced like that for a bit — him avoiding her freight-train punches, her shrugging off his pinprick attacks, neither gaining an advantage. Then they separated, jumping back from one another

"You- planning to- avoid dying- with fancy footwork?" She was panting. Her body was massive, but that meant moving it exhausted her faster. He wasn't doing great either. Bouncing back, he pressed a palm to the floor.

"No, just killing time."

"Until what? I might need to breathe but I don't sleep, don't eat. Even if you get out of here, I'll find you. And it's not like you can kill me."

He squeezed his eyes shut, concentrating. Ten fee- oh, shit.

"Yeah, but he might."

They both heard it before they saw it. A heavy, fast thumping — then the bookshelf from the opposite side suddenly smashing into a gigantic hole. The twelve-foot Docent standing in the hole let out a tortured, muffled screech, violently swinging its lantern and rattling the chains that dragged behind it. Its red eyes glowed as they settled on the two figures in front of it. Then it lunged towards her, bounding on all fours like an animal. Auger barely heard the scream as the Docent wrapped her in its long claws, raised her up, then smashed her into the shelf. Then again, and again, and again. Bits of concrete and granite and assorted rock crumbled and fell to the floor or become a thick dust.

He had no idea what had happened to the Librarians, but there were some things you could depend on. The screams faded away as he rounded the corner, buckled his coat, and fell backward through the nearest Way.

"The Librarians obviously become reclusive and violent, retreating to the Archives. Very few of them still traveled the open avenues of the Library; I've always believed they had their own ways of getting around, like a vent system or something. Either way, the ones that were left were… rabid, almost. The exception to this is of course the Fifth Archivist — her grace kept us all grounded. And having a seven meter tall bird-lion-warrior-beast on your side definitely helps morale. On one side, anyway."

"But my point is, things stopped functioning like normal. The rules were enforced loosely, if at all, and with violent summary punishment. The physical laws bent and buckled. And most importantly, the Ways stopped working right. You'd be lucky to find a stable Way a few months in, and the inherent filter that threw undesirables right back out stopped working. Hell, you didn't even need to Knock most of the time. Anyone who wanted in, got in. Including our enemies."

— Sam Redwell, of the Serpent's Hand

Syndra laid belly-down on the wood, the hood of her robes up with her face covering. The thick red fabric left only her eyes and part of her nose uncovered, both of which were peeking over the edge of the shelf. She was about thirty or forty feet in the air, looking down on the Main Hall — or at least, what was left of it. Under normal circumstances, the furniture was constantly replacing and repairing itself, to ensure that the most visible and obvious part of the Library was fulfilling its function. Needless to say, these were not normal circumstances.

Most of the broken furniture had been moved to the rear of the hall, fortifying the Main Desk. The tables and chairs were stacked and glued together, some by magic and some by actual glue, to form a makeshift barricade about four feet high. From her elevation, she could see a number of people huddled behind it. Some in robes like herself, some garbed in the green of the Serpent's Hand, and many in their regular clothes, declaring no particular allegiance. Some were human like herself, many were roughly humanoid. About half clutched weapons ranging from sharpened spears to rifles to chakrams, their metal glinting in the low darkness, and plenty were unarmed, like herself. But not harmless.

She looked to her sides. Many others also laid at the top of the shelf, and she could see the shelf opposite her, across the flat, carpeted expanse of the Main Hall, had a similar situation. They were all holding their breaths, watching, waiting. They had been watching and waiting for hours. Maybe they-

Syndra's reverie was broken by a familiar quiet hissing, like steam being let out of a pipe. She wasn't the only one who heard it — every person beside her stiffened. She could hear a couple of them praying or chanting. The mass of people behind the barricade visibly contracted. The hissing grew louder, and sparks began to fly in the center of the Hall. The stream of sparks became a shower, and the shower expanded, forming a large semicircle about fifteen feet wide. This was a big one.

Through the Way, a landscape was visible; ancient ruins, all sand-blasted and sun-baked. The sky was a grim orange and cast a long shadow for the men marching through the Way. With the sun to their backs, it was hard to see their faces — but that wasn't needed. Their armor said enough, hammered black cuirasses and studded leather pteruges. One of them raised a heavy standard: an eagle, wings spread, bearing down on the enemy. Caesar's Eagles.

The full complement made it through the Way. Thirty warriors, in neat rows of six. Presumably the one barking orders was the commander. Syndra didn't understand his language, but the tone made words unnecessary. The soldiers looked around at the darkened main hall, illuminated only by the light of their own sun. For a minute, it was deathly silent. Then, she heard a sharp cry overhead — something between a roar and a screech. She leapt up, along with the half-dozen others on the shelf. And they bore down on the enemy.

The soldier she landed on didn't even have time to swing his sword before she wrapped her fingers around his eyes and imploded his cranium. All around her, her people attacked, as silent as they were violent. All the screams and shouts came from the Eagles as they suddenly came under fire from spells and runes they couldn't hope to understand. Those Wanderers who decided to take the fight up close risked their bodies, tearing apart the formation by engaging each soldier in vicious mano-a-mano combat. She leapt to another soldier, quickly chanting a spell and pushing the rune into his chest. He fell, tearing and screaming at his own skin as the wasps began to shred him from the inside. The Wanderers flanked from both sides, leaving the central lane of Eagles whipping around to support their fellows.

Which is when another battle-cry went out, and the barricade at the far end was suddenly covered by Wanderers leaping over, leveling their swords and guns and whips and daggers, and charging headlong at the exposed front-line. By the time the Eagles realized what had happened, it was over. A few at the back were able to throw themselves back through the way before it shut, but most of their comrades lay on the floor of the Hall, unbreathing. A few of the more ruthless Wanderers went around with sharp implements, ensuring they were all dead. Syndra didn't approve, but she couldn't blame them. She leaned against one of the shelves, breathing heavily.

Overhead, she heard another cry. This one wasn't as sharp — deeper, more rousing. She looked up this time. The Gryphon circled overheard, barking another shrill victory cry. Her troop responded in turn, and they heard themselves echoed by a dozen others across the Library.

"No one ever expected war to come to the Library. I think on some level we always thought we were above that, that magic and knowledge and wisdom meant we would never have to struggle with the law of the jungle again. That the Library was a refuge from such primitive things. That we were better than the Bookburners."

"Stupid, of course. We all lost a part of ourselves during the Great Searing. A shared, universal trauma. If you look around the Library today, it's hard to believe that this place was a battlefield. But if you pay close attention, you can see remnants, echoes of the lost — a sword plunged into a shelf that the Pages have declined to remove. Places where the carpet was damaged by phosphorous. A small shrine of candles underneath a fading bloodstain."

"The Library seems real peaceful now, doesn't it? Yeah, sure does. Count yourself lucky, kid. The stories about the Searing are written in Wanderers' blood."

— Haarthus Kal'thik, Patron

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