The Glasshouse With Butterfly
rating: +18+x

by LAN 2D

To write is to remember through another’s eyes, declared Terrence Tenement of the Glasshouse, eager to pen his name into the Chief Archivist’s three hearts with seven words, equally split; a monumental mathematical task for some, but one which he could not resist the challenge of. Terrence had tinkered with this specific phrase for countless fevered nights, building upon the previous iteration—memories are spoken with a neighbour's tongue—all in service of creating the most wondrous, subtle, yet meaningful phrase in the history of language. Terrence dreamed of his own phrase to rival his teacher’s magnum opus, the famous phrase, king of adages, adage of kings: Quality over Quantity. His teacher, a man called Aurelius Pom, had spent five years developing the maxim, and upon its completion and release into the public eye, had immediately retired from writing, citing the phrase as justification. Terrence resolved to do the same.

In those days, the study of concision was young. Words had not yet been divided into portions smaller than syllables, and despite Aurelius' efforts, the smallest unit of language was just an abstract hypothetical, always out of reach. He had become old without his noticing—the years of brevity had reduced his ability to write almost as much as his hairline. Out of his three students, Terrence Tenement provided him with the most hope for the subject. It was clear he would become a master of both the written and spoken word (as well as the listened and observed, which are equally if not more important to an aspiring writer). Terrence’s use of concise language surpassed both of his classmates because that was the attitude he had always possessed and which he applied to all aspects of life. Terrence spoke with absolute purpose, he wore awkward pauses like medals and considered himself a natural at silence. According to his father, he hadn’t spoken his first word until nineteen months old. In contrast, Mercedes and Daniel Cantalon had no divine penchant for the subject of brevity. They were half-siblings, often mistaken for twins. Wordplay, argument and rambling emotional expression came with the territory. As such, the pair were far superior to Terrence at code-switching between the elaborate and the concise. Where Terrence practised linguistic efficiency, Mercedes and Daniel had learned early on that they could never stick to such firm practices, and at times, language could be as disobedient as them.

Through his studies, Terrence had come to understand the three key aspects of a memorable phrase: brevity, poetry, and a degree of nonsense. These aspects fortunately followed their own rules and thus it did not take long for him to memorise them entirely. Terrence was a perfect student and a perfectionist by birthright. His father circumvented the problem by having poor eyesight while sculpting glass, but Terrence didn’t want to make things that could be destroyed so easily. His goal was to create a legacy through words, and so he pruned and cut and trimmed and tidied until a phrase was done. This method of working was effective for quality, but not for quantity. No matter, he thought, recalling his teacher’s routine maxim.

Yet, Terrence could not continue to turn in his assignments late. One day after class, confident in his dedication to the subject, Aurelius confided in Terrence that his famous three words were not entirely true. He did not consider it his best phrase, or even his most memorable—he had simply caught reality in a giving mood. The trick, he told Terrence, was to be writing, always. Quality over Quantity, yes, but from the pain of quantity quality will always arise. From then on his pen did not cease.

Eventually, with no particular stress or difficulty, Terrence Tenement graduated with a Master’s degree in Applied Brevity and a Bachelor’s in Comparative Linguistics. He celebrated his perfect grades with a shrug, ignored his father’s thousand praises and promptly left the house. His destination was the Cantalon household, which was hosting an extravagant party twice the size of any in the history of the Glasshouse. Familiar with his laconic temperament, Mercedes made him down a full bottle of Manashine, and not long after, he found himself sprawled on the floor, his hair doused in wood cleaner and his shoes on his hands. It was not the place for a scholar, but here and now they were scholars no more. They left word games at the door and danced until that room became the entire universe, until the bell jar they were all trapped inside seemed to disappear and they could breathe at last. Terrence danced until he could see the perfect phrase in his mind, finally discovered; And they danced together, in harmony, until the relief of graduation radiated through the air, pulling the students into the gravity of couches, carpets, guest rooms and floor cushions. Until the world slept.

But not Terrence.

In the quiet hours of the morning, in that strange limbo before waking, Terrence listened intently to Renée Spelthorne, his friend, a sorceress-in-training, tell of her idol and lifelong magical inspiration: the illustrious Grand Archivist Vameliah of the Wanderers’ Library.

*


Graduation came and went, but life hadn’t started yet (that is, if it ever even starts at all). For Terrence, this meant a return to the long evening hours of his childhood spent alone in his room.

Terrence and his father lived in the hills, where the ocean could be seen on the few days of summer when the panes shed their condensation and the sea lost its foggy demeanour. It was these summer nights that Terrence used to wander along pulpsand beaches, watching Cromwells perch and mingle on the cliffside, not due to their avian nature, but because the Library had given them a job—a purpose: to deliver words that would otherwise be lost among serpentine walkways and turpentine shelves. Upon his return, his shoes sand-covered and his hair salt-sprayed, Terrence and Percival Tenement would eat together by the fireplace, in their gargantuan, empty house.

Now emancipated from his self-inflicted study, Terrence resolved to study some more. Books always had a home in his room, but now they seemed to spill from the walls themselves, building, brick by leather-bound brick, a holistic, utterly complete, universal Theory of Everything—that is, a theory all things brief. In these times of intensity, Terrence would lock himself in his room (not in the traditional sense, but with the massive pile of books blocking the doorway), and study for hours without distraction, only ever stopping to reply his father’s pleas to eat dinner or say hello to a guest or perhaps even take a walk around the garden for ten minutes, the fresh air was good for his health. As the corridor flooded with tomes like boxes in a soon-to-be-sold house, Terrence calculated more efficient ways of living. His weekly correspondence with his mentor Aurelius Pom became the result of a finely-tuned paper aeroplane thrown out of his window and into the view of the Cromwells below, instead of the short walk to the post office. His fireside dinners with his father had to be stopped, of course—not simply because he couldn’t exit his room, but because he had become paranoid of his miniature library being destroyed by a stray ember. Food and water were pushed through a crack in the book-mound by Percival Tenement, too proud of his son’s dedication to academics to tell him he had converted his own room into a prison cell. Terrence had no real dialogue with anyone for weeks at a time, and he didn’t much mind. Conversations always used too many words.

His studies eventually reached a blockade. Nothing technical, he didn’t think, just a lack of inspiration. Where he had once used the sand to spark his creativity, he now found himself casting his gaze past the cordons of glass surrounding the town, protecting him from the sky, and, further, what lay beyond: young wonder and the unexplored infinity of the Library. Past those perpetual windows, he watched the siblings/half-twins, Daniel and Mercedes, cross the Sea of Words in a vessel not of glass but of wood, to join the awesome shelves of East-West Libraria. They would see the Great Hall without him.

In some ways, Terrence had known he was alone from a young age. He couldn’t relate to his father, a working man, and his mother had been gone so long that he only remembered her by the scents of her clothes, remaining in the house’s attic because Percival refused to give them away. When he was younger, his child’s mind thought he saw her reflection in the many glassworks placed around the house, upon mantelpieces, window sills, chandeliers, mosaic tiles, framed paintings, eyeglasses, telescopes and monocles. He told his father this, knowing he himself had fashioned these works of art—believing innocently, somehow, part of her spirit remained in those many transparent miracles. “Stranger things have happened in the Library”, Terrence said. Percival sold the business soon after.

Years later, as he watched The Esmerelda fade into the red haze on the horizon, Terrence felt an abject, almost unbearable emptiness. It felt dull and hollow, as if it had been brewing in the background, invisible, for years. And at the same moment, he remembered the story Renée Spelthorne had told months ago, untouched by his mind since. The tale of a beautiful witch with three hearts: one of fiery platinum, one of flesh and blood, and one of stories.

Over the next few weeks, as he forever tinkered with reducing the word count of his works, Terrence found he could not dispel Renée’s story from his mind. She had spoken of a great ceremony held before either of them was born. A young child cursed with nightmare eyes and a forked tongue, but with a burning soul only rivalled by the heat pulp of the Boilerforge, and an unwavering curiosity about the world equal only to the first magicians, realising for the first time what life could be.

When Terrence looked back on his writings for the week, consisting of countless index cards filled with words the size of acorns, he realised that, in a slightly different way, each one was about her.

*


One evening, after the loneliness Terrence had been nurturing became too much even for him, he hesitantly, shamefully emerged from his room. He wandered through the corridors as if a stranger, observing with faint nostalgia the choice of wallpaper, brushing past old family portraits, hesitating at turnings. Halfway down the entrance stairs, Terrence realised he had forgotten the location of the loudest floorboards, the ones he used to avoid.

His descent finished and Terrence took in the state of the grand foyer. Even there, volumes filled the room almost to the ceiling. He moved past language books piled in Babelian towers, pillars of newspaper columns and columns of religious pillars; from the Planasthai, pressed up against the windows, to twenty-year-old editions of the Glenmire Gazette. Terrence waded through petrified pulp, unstapled pamphlets and hot-off-the-press presentations. One would think a concisionist would have no use for geological research papers, but no, Terrence found value in understanding the structure of worlds outside the Library, and thus they grew in leather-bound stalagmites all over the entrance hall. He had tomes on igneous paper formed from the heart of the Boilerforge itself, and on the other side, his library contained a copy of a sedimentary work from the Page tunnels, flattened over ages by the weight of a million words.

Most of the works were third-hand, on loan, borrowed from semantically privileged individuals, etched from First Editions, perfectly memorised, stolen, or, in one particular case, regurgitated. As such, Terrence’s library contained an unusual degree of esoteric, antique and largely unknown pieces, which is the polite way of saying ‘whatever he could get his hands on.’1 Terrence passed the makeshift shelves, skimming the names of books he had once read. There was Hellbound: An Unfinished History of the Archives, the lesser-known sequel to Muhammad Antigonus’ celebrated piece; The Loiterers Manifesto by the infamous anti-Library group, only ever distributed by hand; The WayWard by Harriet Glimsey, winner of the Ghostly Guild Award (the first to be won prehumously); The Archivist’s Game by Reinmont Rousmaniere, a mystery thriller written from the perspective of a fictionalised Third-and-a-Halfth Grand Archivist; Orm and the Spirit of Writing by an unknown author, the rarest book in his collection—-and many more.

It was perhaps the most elaborate, verbose and positively pretentious library to ever be assembled. Halfway through his solitary confinement, Terrence became frustrated by the strangeness of the collection he had compiled, and so, he employed his father to employ his assistant to employ the local archivist who, in turn, employed the strategy of begging their contacts across the water, to perhaps, and by no means was this a demand, spare a tiny amount of their weekly stock for the bright academic youth of the day. They are the future of the Library, the archivist had written, blissfully unaware of the fact that Terrence’s future was set in stone, written in the stars, and indeed, penned into most natural phenomena if one looked closely enough.

When Terrence finally arrived in the dining room, he found the table set for two. The fireplace was lit—much against his wishes—and the long table had but two chairs at the far rounded end, facing inwards. His father was sitting on the left. Their embrace was quiet.

As he sat, Percival gently explained how he had let go of the house's extensive and seemingly invisible cleaning crew, catering staff and renovation team. He wasn't a lavish man, but an author's inheritance can only go so far. Terrence understood, even if he didn't say her name. Slowly, a breath left Percival's lips. He would make it work, his son's education would always come first.

They sat there together, for the first time in years, eating in silence while listening to the crackling of the industrial fireplace spin the embers into a fine chain like an expert weaver. Hot tongues kissing brick goodbye, in bitter-sweet celebration of ether.

Father, what is it like to love?

Terrence did not say these words.

The torment in his chest, the image of the Grand Archivist, a woman he had never met but thought of at every quiet moment. He couldn't tell his father. Whether it was pride or stubbornness or fear or shame or all of them at once, it wasn’t so easy. He had played through the conversation before. Terrence would ask and his father would look away, stand up, and sigh. And they would not speak of it again.

Terrence never had that conversation, and, as one does, he turned that pain inwards. It was a mechanism operated by his hands, his legs, his body and his mind, all seconds of all days. It ran through his sleep and it coloured his thoughts and dreams and it had for his youth and it would for his lifespan, to continue unabated until he received the news of his father's death, a lifetime and a day later.

To Percival, the silence spoke a different set of words.

I am leaving the Glasshouse, Terrence.

His own father had done the same when he was old enough to inherit the family business. A young man abandoned in a glass cage, too afraid to break through in fear of the shards. He had lived in that house for fifty-three years and it was too late for him to change. For him. There, in the moonlight pouring in through undrawn curtains, Percival kept a promise he had made to himself the day his son was born.

"You are to leave the Glasshouse, Terrence. It's time."

*


Hearing Percival's words that he could actually leave the Glasshouse—a realisation which struck him as absurdly simple once he thought about it (and sadly a process which neither his father nor any of the population had ever really acted upon)—Terrence decided to attend to the overwhelming piles of concisionist study material in his home. Do a bit of spring cleaning, so to speak.

With the help of his father, he pried the door to his bedroom open and squeezed his slim frame in. Like a reverse bricklayer, Terrence passed the books through the crack in the door; And as the stacks shrunk, that crack increased until finally, Percival himself could enter. Sighing, almost in awe, he gazed upon the academic pigsty his son claimed was his bedroom, and got to work.

Percival hid his enjoyment of the process, encouraging Terrence when his will plummeted and he began to ask existential questions. Many sore knees later, they had managed to sort the books into piles based on quality, in ascending order. The majority of the books in the discard pile were taken by wheelbarrow, through the Glass Gate and dumped over the cliffside onto the beach below. Terrence considered it a horrific waste. Percival didn’t consider it at all. Some of the tomes would be buried in the sand, only to be uncovered centuries later by a boy who liked to take walks on the beach; some would be collected by bookhunters to be smuggled and sold outside of the Library; and some would wash away, to be reclaimed by the wordless tides and absorbed into the Serpent herself, whose knowledge cannot be destroyed, only repurposed.

Those that weren't so eagerly chucked off a cliff were given to neighbours, acquaintances, friends, or to Silvana Silverwood, the local Archivist. Over the past few months, she and Terrence had exchanged over two dozen polite letters about his education, concisionism as an emerging science (and, according to Silverwood, artform), and — although Terrence was never the first to bring it up — the logistics of constructing the melange of a private library he so desperately required.

Terrence sent notice of his reversal after procrastinating for over a week, rewriting and rephrasing just in case she admonished him for being a fake scholar, a waste of precious Archivist time, and an immature boy who couldn't handle real literature and deserved never to write again. Yet, as we know, anxiety is a poor sage and the Archivist soon wrote back that she was equally happy for a portion of the books to return to her hands, regardless of the immense effort she had put into acquiring them in the first place. Silverwood was a woman who categorically lived by the benefit of the doubt, so he needn't have worried. In the months Terrence had come to know her, Silverwood had not passed judgement once, rather, she possessed an uncanny ability to view the world as it was and cooly identify the merits and faults of a situation as if turning clay in her hands.

In three paragraphs, the Archivist proposed a series of statements to stimulate Terrence's mind, clearly and concisely, as he so liked it.

First, let the future happen as it wishes. Even the Grand Archivist's scrying magic cannot prepare her for what is to come. Live now and you will live well.

Second, writing is not about writing, it is about life. The decision to leave may be uncomfortable, however, the work you will create by doing so will far surpass a life lived at home. Though, do not forget that home. That is to say, write to your father when you can, and write to me if you want. I will always be here to listen.

Last, curiosity is a virtue, she said, but all too often can it veil a lack. It takes a lifetime to fill an empty library.

Signed, with hope,

Archivist Silverwood

*


An earlier, inferior description of the Tenement household might've contained words like 'exceptionally large' and 'empty', but such a description would be insufficient in comparison to the present day, as the house was now well and truly both.

Devoid of books, rid of tomes, excised of volumes, it seemed all rooms were larger, and the furniture could finally be rearranged to Percival's liking. It was a new sensation for the Tenements. Percival was not a reader, but he could read—regardless of his thoughts on the matter. He would've abstained from assembling bookshelves into the walls if not for his wife, and despite her encouragement and his open-mindedness, Percival could never discover what was so interesting about stories that never happened and never would. Terrence, on the other hand, saw his childhood home as if its beating heart had been removed in an extremely dangerous and (in retrospect) wholly unnecessary procedure. It was too late to do anything about it, and thus, it was too late for regret. Unfortunately for Terrence, the feeling was just coming into fashion and would remain the dominant emotional paradigm among young men for some time.

Plagued with a perpetual unease, Terrence would return to the beach, walking the trek through the gate, down the cliff steps and out of the city. Sand between his fingers, he thought of the enigmatic, unattainable idea—someone who would understand him, someone who could point to his soul (they would know where it was instinctively) and be able to interpret the lights and colours, the kaleidoscope of experience and being that he surely was. He looked out across the water, imagining what lay beyond the fog; And he knew he longed for her, because beyond those ocean waves was the Library true.

Terrence thought of his father, and how his attempts at comfort were unsuccessful. It wasn't his fault. He didn't have a writer's heart, he couldn't understand how he was feeling. He didn't know the security that came from stories, the confirmation that, for a short while, he could be safe in the pages of someone else. Eventually, Terrence realised it was probably unwise to remain in a place where he was consistently reminded of what was lost. He packed the few books he still owned, hugged his father, and left the house without a word.

He sat on the beach, awaiting the boat that would take him away, to the Great Hall, East Libraria, the 12th Island, it didn't matter. Above him, the cromwells screeched messages to each other, diving in a ritual dance of paper. They would drop letters, only for another identical cromwell to pick it up and soar in the opposite direction. Silverwood would be able to tell them apart. She had once explained to him that the iridescent plumes under their contour feathers indicated their destination. They were magic creatures, far more intelligent than a normal bird. Or perhaps they weren't, she had said. Perhaps all they knew was to deliver messages and do their duty. They never stopped long enough for her to ask.

He watched the ways the cromwells swooped low, hollering the secret lives of wanderers. He listened to the sound of the waves lapping the shore and he imagined more than he could ever put to words. Below that nexus of stories, Terrence felt among infinity. When he was in education, Aurelius Pom had told them of his travels past the Western Ice Fields, about books encased in glaciers, only to emerge when the time was right for them to be read. Daniel had tuned out after the first sentence, but Terrence and Mercedes sat, awe-struck, looking up at their teacher's eyes, ablaze with the fire of exploration.

In the same way, Silverwood had given him books on the many worlds outside of the Library, accessed simply with the right combination of actions: a pinpricked finger and a fisherman's dance; the crossing of a lone threshold in the desert; a kiss planted on the cheek of a winged statue. How far did these combinations stretch? Even Silverwood couldn't know—they changed always, based on where and when and what and who. It was said that the Grand Archivist Vameliah had been given the Serpent's blessing. A sixth, Wayward sense, to see the combinations as easily as forks in a road. In tragic generosity, the story detailed that the Grand Archivist could not leave the Library, only guide others to the elsewhere they desired.

Terrence was filled with a sudden passion to write, pulling out index card after index card, concision all but forgotten. Poetry or prose, fact or fiction, he scribbled everything—a replica of his mind on paper. And somehow, along the way, it became addressed to her. While he wrote, the dream was more real and genuine than anything his bloodline had ever experienced, he was certain. He could imagine the future as he wished it, full of hope and optimism he had never before felt.

Terrence wrote his letter on the beach of his childhood, surrounded by the life of the Library. Days later, when he had calmed down, and with the help of Archivist Silverwood, Terrence packaged it in a wonderful bow made of Docent tears and gently pushed it into a glass bottle with a cork top, to sail across the Sea of Words, be carried by the Black Current and fruitfully arrive into her loving, erudite embrace.

The following evening her reply was delivered. A Cromwell with a sombre expression dropped it onto his windowsill. Terrence's hands shook as he opened the envelope, eyes widening at her gentle handwriting—the penmanship of a goddess. It was as if she had invented the art of calligraphy simply for this letter. And yet, he knew he wasn’t special to receive such a reply. For one, the First Grand Archivist (or Arch Librarian, as it was known at the time), had invented calligraphy whilst attempting to fuse the acts of painting and writing—not her. And secondly, it was well-known that a Grand Archivist could never fall in love, not because of a vow of celibacy or similar rite, but for the simple reason that it would cut into their reading time.

Terrence knew the position of a Grand or Chief Archivist was a social responsibility as much as a personal and lifelong project. This, as is evident, requires a great deal of time, copious amounts of scheduling, and a preternatural disposition for patience. In addition, one cannot simply ‘charm’ a sorceress into true love, as be charmed by one; nor could seven words possibly make a difference to the millions she had undoubtedly consumed in her lifetime.

Nonetheless, Terrence had worked for years for this opportunity, slaving away in the forges of the written word, intricately converting the mysteries of emotion and experience into concrete, tangible verbiage, as a soothsayer interprets cards or tea leaves or bone to divine the future, all under the ruthlessly taciturn Aurelius Pom, man of few words that he is; And now, ironically—or perhaps poetically, depending on your stance on the matter—he had finally received an offensively verbose letter bearing news he had once thought impossible: the opportunity to witness the nigh-divine majesty of the woman of his literary dreams, face-to-face, in the pre-eminent chambers of the current Grand archivist, where he would, hopefully, (and despite his apprehension he had full confidence in his ability to charm, at least in the audience of a fellow book-lover), hopefully, enter with but trepidation and leave with the fire of requited love in his heart and the ecstatic, all-fulfilling joy of the Serpent upon escaping the depths of Ignorance, bless her name.

Terrence dropped the unfinished letter and curled his face into his hands.

If only.




END OF PART ONE

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