The Burning City
Somewhere in Chapter 4…
Av’niel waited until nightfall, until the students of the Citadel would be asleep. Until even the most diligent of blood mages paused their studies and blew out their candles for the night. He told himself it was because he liked the night; not because he didn’t want to be seen. Both were true—but tonight, he didn’t need any unnecessary questions. He pulled his robes a little closer to his chest to fight a chill that wouldn’t go away. He checked behind him before he opened the doors to let himself out of his office.
Nightwalker Kellea waited for him. Her dark blue glittering mask watched like a statue from the hallway. Av’niel froze in the doorway.
“It’s late to be wandering the halls alone, Grand Master.” Her voice was muffled behind the mask.
“That’s how I prefer it.” Av’niel replied as he closed and locked his office door.
“Perhaps you would prefer an escort to the Library?”
Av’niel paused as he tucked his door key away in his pocket. He sighed. Of course she knew where he was going. There were no secrets between them unless the Bloodied Tongue demanded it.
“I can’t think of anyone else I’d prefer, Kellea.”
They walked in silence through the late night halls. Kellea knew the Grand Master didn’t wish to be disturbed. They never touched in public, the closest Av’niel felt was Kellea brushing up against his arm but it was accidental. He wanted nothing more than to reach out and wrap a tired arm around her tired shoulders and pull her close. But now, and perhaps never, was the time. It was nights like tonight that Av’niel cursed Jaq’s name for leaving him appointed Grand Master.
He smiled slightly at the thought. As miserable as Av’niel was–he couldn’t imagine his old friend sitting at a desk without someone sitting on top of it. He’d no doubt have one of his many women decree laws and sign paperwork, while Jaq drank and yelled in the background.
No, Jaq knew what he was doing for once–and Av’niel was thankful for it.
It seemed like a lifetime ago that he had last seen his friend. Although the older Malisyn grew, the more of her father became apparent in the lines upon her face. Her blue eyes were like looking directly at his old friend, and the slight dimples in her smile. Her hair was more like her mothers, though, and managed to subdue some of the beauty in the young girl’s face.
Av’niel considered it lucky that she wasn’t as pretty as her father–it’d save the girl a lot of trouble later in life.
“What are you smiling about?” Kellea asked as they descended the steps to the Library. Av’niel hadn’t even noticed the passing of time, and that alarmed him slightly.
“Just memories, nothing to worry over.”
“I worry any time you smile. It’s so rare these days.” Kellea arched a graying eyebrow towards him and continued without another word.
The Librarian who waited at the end of the hallway stood up as he saw them approach. A lumbering man, nearly a foot taller than the Grand Master, with shoulders and arms thick enough to break any man. But the Librarian was a prisoner of the Library, and the blood relic around his neck would only allow him to live within the walls of the Citadel. Escape would only mean death; and chances are, even a life of a prisoner was better than whatever life the Citadel had delivered him from.
The Librarian’s milky-white eyes studied the Grand Master and a chill crept back in to Av’niel’s chest. He was never proud of the Librarian’s custody, treatment or acquisition–but it was an integral part of the Citadel. And although they had traded one life as a prisoner for another kind of imprisonment, he had to believe that the work they did for the Citadel was worth the cost. He had to believe it, or he’d never sleep again.
The Librarian moved to the doorway and, with his and the Grand Master’s blood, they opened the door to the Library. The man’s pale eyes darkened to green for the briefest of moments. Av’niel wondered if, in that moment of clarity given from blood magic, if the man remembered who he was. Before the memory could consume him, his eyes faded to white, and the memory was lost. The door stood open, and the Librarian waited for them to pass.
“Do you know what you’re looking for?” The Nightwalker asked when they had passed the doorway. Her voice echoed inside the darkened hallway. A Librarian, as if thinking of the same darkness, approached and began to light candles down the hall.
The Grand Master waited until the Librarian had lit the candles and had gone again before he responded. It was an unnecessary precaution, perhaps, but he could never be certain just how far the Bloodied Tongue’s influence infected the Citadel. The Librarians may not be able to act of their own free will, but they could be given instructions, and if those instructions included killing anyone who–
“Yes.” He said, loud enough to stop the incessant thoughts in his mind. “I know what I’m looking for.” He turned and finally looked at the Nightwalker. “Wait until we’re inside.” Kellea nodded in agreement and they finished their walk through the Library in silence.
A few doors down, past the door that always made Av’niel a little sick to his stomach, and through another hallway, was a room that the Grand Master had spent many a sleepless nights in. While the Library was, as the name suggested, a repository for information—the most valuable information to the Grand Master rested in this room. Walls upon walls of books, leather-bound, with delicate hand writing on each and every spine. Some books were faded beyond reading, others looked burned, another book looked covered in frost. There were no labels on any of the shelves or any order that Kellea could see.
The Grand Master alone knew how the books in this room were organized.
A Librarian was quietly sweeping the empty floor between the shelves and stopped when the Grand Master entered. Without a word, the Librarian picked up their broom and left, locking the door behind them. Kellea couldn’t help but notice that the Librarian paid special attention to her, as if trying to remember who she was.
Av’niel motioned to a worn chair that rested against one of the shelves, and the Nightwalker took a seat.
“A demon spoke to Malisyn,” Av’niel said finally, once he was certain they were alone. The Nightwalker nodded and tried to relax in her chair. She had a feeling she wasn’t going to be able to. The
Grand Master paced across the floor, his focus on the shelves and shelves of books.
“Demons have spoken to blood mages before, Av’niel. It is nothing to be concerned about. Usually they are mindless beasts, whose only words are to torment–”
“Not this demon. Not this time.” He was staring at a book shelf now, eyes flickering back and forth as he read the hand writing on the spine.
“Go on.” Kellea said, remembering the breathe.
“You know who else the demons spoke with. And the price he paid for it.” Av’niel stopped pacing and approached the book shelf. He hesitated, then reached out to a worn leather-bound book. Frost line the edges of the leather. A delicate skeleton key was stitched in to the cover, and a large gem was embedded in to the cover.
“Is that a blood relic? One of his?” Kellea asked as Av’niel took a seat beside her. He ran cold fingers over the cover of the book and nodded.
The name on the spine of the book was Ubel Gale.