The Traitor's Heir

Chapter Twelve

Almost immediately Quara realized that the library wasn’t actually as dark as it had seemed when they first stepped through the door. The contrast from the blinding white of the marble outside had made it feel that way for a moment, but almost immediately her eyes began to adjust to the dim lighting, and as Quara gazed around she had an immediate appreciation for the design that had created this paradise of books.

“I’ve never seen a room this beautiful in my entire life.” Quara breathed the words as she stared around, overwhelmed not only by the seemingly endless rows of books that stretched on for as far as she could see, but by the architecture of the building itself.

The entrance to the library was actually rather small compared to the room that it opened into. There were double doors, so that patrons might walk in going one direction and out in the other at the same time on a busy day, but other than the gold flecked dragon carvings that Quara’s finger tips had grazed as she trailed behind her sister, they were rather ordinary when compared to the room she was standing in now, and seemed much too small for such a grand entryway.

The outer door of the Palace Library had brought them into a massive room. The contrast between the world outside the library and the one inside its walls, was dramatic. Quara had half expected that inside it would be much the same outside. Instead every surface was covered in a dark wood paneling that had been polished to shine every bit as brightly as the world of marble that stood outside the doors. Many of the panels were smooth but others were ornately carved and told stories that were already ancient when they were carved into the flat wooden surfaces when the City was at its height. Quara glanced at them knowing that in the present age they had long since been forgotten in all but the dimmest of legends. Dragons larger than mountains slept with snow upon their backs and smaller members of the dragon family fought a war against a fierce looking fleet of griffins in a tree filled scene.

Quara’s eyes continued to be drawn upward and she gasped, frozen in place when her eyes found the top of the wooden panels. The ceiling was not a ceiling at all. It was a massive stained glass arch that ran away from where they were standing, as far as the eye could see. The colors were as dazzling as any jewel that she had ever seen and for a moment she stood and stared, her eyes tracing the outlines of the shapes that danced across the glass.

There was a dragon and a griffin and a centaur. A mermaid sat on a large stone, combing her hair, and an enormous serpent made the waters around it boil as if the cobalt sea that it swam through was enraged. And then there were creatures that she had no name for, and her eyes must have registered a question, for Lina, who up until that moment had been watching her sister silently, gauging her reaction, decided to speak. “These are some of the Za’Reekan creatures, who live in the far north, but really this isn’t the most spectacular part of the library at all. You see the library wasn’t built to be used by the people of the city at all. It was built by a book loving king many years ago. He spent many hours here and his collection grew and grew. Over time his heirs continued to add to the library, even those who hardly turned the page of a book outside of their lessons, because having the largest library in the world had become yet another sign of the kingdom’s wealth and success.”

“The original entry way, the Grand Entry as it was called, faces one of the largest of the palace’s many courtyards. That is the entry way that visiting nobility and heads of state would use. And of course it’s the entry way that the royal family would use, if they didn’t use the connecting passage that goes directly to the king’s quarters in a private portion of the library.”

“The level that we’re on right now is one of the smallest of the library’s twenty two floors, and is also one of the highest. There are a few towers, which were never made available to the public, closer to the body of the palace itself. The largest floors, however, are far down under our feet, deep within the mountain. Some go on and never seem to end. The deepest of the levels if far below us, and is at least two miles long. I haven’t explored the entire thing yet.”

“It’s amazing.” Quara’s words were filled with a quiet awe when she finally spoke. “It’s just amazing. I can’t believe that you’ve kept it to yourself for all this time.” As she said the words Quara found herself wondering just how long Lina had spent in this city by herself. It must have been a very long time. Had she come down here instead of going to class every single day for years? She seemed to know everything that there was to know about this strange place.

With a shake of her head she continued to scan her surroundings, trying to commit every detail into her memory. Outside the world was awash with white marble. Here the light was soft against the dark wood of the walls and shelves.

The books rose up to meet the arched glass ceiling on sturdy shelves built into the walls. There was a balcony that ran around the top of the first set of shelves, which Quara guessed was nearly four times her height, before another set of shelves, exactly the same height as the ones below began. Every ten lengths or so there was a ladder that could be slid back and forth to help those searching for a book beyond the lowest levels of shelves.

There was a huge desk, where a librarian had once sat, noting who borrowed what book and when it was due back. Next to it there was a cart piled high with books of various sizes and colors. In the center of the room there were tables where people must have once sat and studied and further down the hall Quara thought that she could see giant overstuffed couches where she imagined she might curl up with a book and read the day away.

While the windows were gorgeous and the architecture stunning Quara knew that if she were to describe the room to someone who had never set eyes on it, she would tell them that the most beautiful part of the enormous room was the great number of books housed on the strong, tall shelves. In fact, the longer that she stood and stared at them in silence the more convinced she was that they were the most beautiful part of the entire city.

There were books so large she wondered how a person might sit and comfortably read them and books so small they would nearly fit in the palm of her hand. Some were incredibly thick and looked as though they could have been split into a half dozen volumes, and others were so slight she could hardly see them where they sat on the shelves.

Walking slowly she ran her fingers over the edges of the bindings. A book with a deep emerald cover read A Concise History of Dragons. Pausing she tilted her head to read the words printed on the bindings of the books closest to her. Griffins and Dragons: An Uneasy Alliance, Serpents of the Seas and Other Legends that Are, Battles and Broomsticks: A History of Wizardry and Warfare, Starseekers and Other Medium Sized Dragons, The Ancients: Relics of a Time Forgotten, The Griffin Wars, Fairies and the Fair Folk: A History, The Centaur and Centauride: A Brief History, The Unicorn and the Winged Horse, Za’Reekan Geography and Sub Kingdoms.

“This is the Hall of Za’Reekan Creatures.” Lina, who had been standing silently watching her sister examine the book covers for several moments finally spoke. The books here more or less confirm the legends that we’ve been raised on and say that all of those so called mythical creatures that we’ve always imagined actually exist.”

“I guess nothing should surprise us at this point, should it?” Quara murmured the words, still absorbed in reading the titles that were in front of her as she moved slowly down the shelf.

“I wish we could stay here all day. I really do. And if we get out of being grounded, I promise that someday we’ll get to spend an entire day in here reading about centaurs and dragons and unicorns until we’ve had our fill. But I have so much to show you and I don’t know how long we have. I mean, it will be all day if we’re lucky, but we really have no idea whether or not fortune will continue to smile on us or whether the blasts have already brought the miners through into the city and whether they’re on their way here as we speak.” Lina glanced around as she spoke as if she expected a group of explorers from the miner’s group to jump out and surprise them at any moment.

“So do you have a plan of where you’re taking me, or do you just want me to move through these shelves more quickly so that we can see more before our time runs out?”

“I want you to move more quickly to a specific place that I have in mind. Come on.” Lina grabbed hold of her sister’s hand and began dragging her deeper into the library. Quara sighed and allowed herself to be pulled along. There was no resisting Lina when she was determined and after following her this far, it seemed futile to begin arguing about where they were going now.

The large bronze door swung open easily when Lina’s palm touched against its center. A long spiral staircase wound around what was clearly the center of a tower and Quara stepped forward, putting her foot on the first of the grey stone steps leading towards its upper chambers.

“Not that way.” Quara turned at the words and saw that her sister was already on the steps leading in the opposite direction. “I mean what you get when you go up the stairs is pretty and all. But it’s hardly extraordinary. It’s just a lookout tower where you can see almost the entire city, and it’s full of maps, both of the City itself and of the outside world. There are a few books about the City too, which is one of the reasons I know so much about it. But when you go down the stairs you get to my absolutely favorite place. It’s where I found the journal. It’s where I’ve spent hours reading.”

They walked on in silence for a time, heading down the stairs, before Quara spoke. “The stone here is granite. Which if I’m right in guessing, and I have a feeling that I am, is the natural stone that would have made up the majority of this Cavern before it was built up into this City.”

Lina nodded confirming her sister’s guess. “Some of the very oldest buildings of the City still have exposed granite in their less important rooms. The outside of all the buildings, however, has been covered in marble. They wanted the City to have a uniform look and so somewhere around a thousand years after it was founded a massive project was undertaken to build only in marble, and to replace or cover the granite in the older buildings with matching stone. It took nearly two hundred years to completely finish it, and even after it was declared finished there are still a few places here and there like this one, where the granite remains. But this is a private section of the library, so it was never a priority.”

“I still can’t believe how much you know about this place Lina.” Quara’s hand skimmed over the railing attached to the wall as they headed down one level and then two, going deeper into the hill that the library and palace were both built upon. “I mean Mom tried to ask you questions about what you’d learned in school and you refused to say a single word. Yet you could talk about this place all day.”

“Because this is where I’ve been and it’s what I’ve been learning about. So it’s not that I was a bad student. It’s just that I wasn’t studying the same things that all the other students in my level were learning about. I know next to nothing about the history of the Caverns, but I know a lot about the geography and layout of the City and I know a little bit of its history. I also learned quite a bit about Za’Reek and its many different residents and regions.” Reaching the bottom of the stairs they came to a wooden door. Lina grasped the handle and pulled it open, putting her arm out to keep her sister from stepping forward into empty space. “There’s a drop here. But if you feel along the wall there’s a ladder.” Lina stuck out her hand to demonstrate and then disappeared around the corner of the doorway as she rapidly descended down into the bottom of the lowest level of the tower.

Cautiously Quara stepped forward and glanced down. She could see a flickering light down below. With her right hand she reached across her body and slid the palm of her hand across the familiar, smooth stone, until she felt the wood of the ladder. Hooking her leg around the doorway she reached with her boot until she found secure footing on one of the rungs of the ladder. Then she slowly pulled herself over, so that she was standing atop one of the highest rungs, and with cautious feet she began to make her way lower and lower, listening to Lina’s reassurances as she neared the bottom of the ladder that she was nearly there.

After what seemed like a far longer span of time than it actually was Quara felt her sister’s hand on her shoulder and gathering her courage she looked down to see that she was less than half a length from the bottom of the tower. Jumping down she slid her hands rapidly down the sides of the ladder until her feet were planted firmly on solid ground.

Turning in a full circle she ran her eyes quickly over the entire room and was surprised to find that it didn’t appear to be anything particularly special. She was certain after being there for only a few moments that it didn’t belong to royalty. In fact if she had been asked to guess she would have put forth the idea that it was a servant’s quarters. Perhaps it was the place where the person tasked with overseeing the cleaning and care of the library slept.

The room itself was circular and seemed to make up the inner footprint of the tower above them. It had no windows and the only exit was a rectangular doorway carved just below the rooms ceiling, which from the ground she realized was actually two different heights. The ceiling on her right hand side was higher and rose two lengths above the doorway, so that a person might enter the room without stooping down, but then it dropped down at least two lengths on her left side, so that the wall ran along the ladder for nearly three lengths before the much lower ceiling began again. The walls were roughly hewn grey slabs, stacked one on top of the other and the floor was a rather rough slate that seemed to be carved into the stone of the actual cavern floor.

Under the lower ceiling was a sleeping area, with a bed, covered in off white linen sheets, neatly made, as if it expected its owner to return shortly and was ready to offer a good nights’ sleep. The ceiling above the bed was barely high enough that a man might sit up in it without hitting his head on the stone above, unless he were particularly tall, in which case he might have a rude awakening if he sat bolt upright in the middle of the night. Next to the bed was a small ledge, chiseled into the rock at the same level as the bed, with a half melted candle sitting on a battered silver candle holder.

Seeing the candle, unlit, caused Quara to stop and look around the room. She saw a lantern sitting near the wall atop a small table. And near the top of the ladder she now realized that there was another lantern, bound with a metal hook to the wall. Yet all of these were entirely dark. Turning she saw her sister standing next to a book shelf, watching her with a small smile that did not quite reach her plump pink mouth, lighting up her eyes.

“You’re waiting to tell me something?”

“I’m waiting for you to ask.” Lina’s voice was filled with a level of excitement that surprised Quara.

“Ask what?”

“You know what. You noticed. I saw you notice.” The smile reached her lips now and as she said the words her mouth turned up at the corners.

“About the light? Yes. I wondered how we were so deep unground, and inside, and yet it’s as light as day in here. At first it was just a flicker of light, but now it’s bright.”

“Yes.” Lina nodded and Quara realized that the girl who hardly ever stood in one spot for more than a moment during her waking hours was now standing oddly still.

“The shadows.” Quara looked down and saw her sister’s shadow stretching tall across the floor. “You must have lit a lantern. It’s behind you on the shelf. You’ve gotten quick with your flint.”

“Not that quick. At least not today.”

“Then what is it. You’re acting odd. Now that I think about it, this room was alight almost immediately when we came in. All the upper rooms have windows to let in the light from this City’s Heart. But down here the light doesn’t reach. And yet I cannot imagine that any lantern, even one from this strange place, could have burned all that time while you were up in our world, nor can I imagine you leaving a lantern in this place all by itself, still alight. So tell me. What’s the great secret? And why in this entire grand city did you bring me to this little servant’s quarters?”

“When I first came here I explored nearly the entire library, and the palace, and all of the shops before I found this place. It must have been a year after the first time I came down here before I went down this staircase instead of up. And the light was one of the first things that I noticed.” Lina pushed a strand of hair back behind her ear and Quara knew that she was picturing that first time when she’d discovered the little room and climbed quickly down the ladder to explore its secrets. “It wasn’t obvious right away where it was coming from. It wasn’t on the bookshelf then. It was actually sitting right there, on the foot of the bed. And I think that it might have been the most shocking thing that I’d found the entire time I’d been down here. I mean, apart from the existence of the City itself.”

With that Lina stepped aside, making a dramatic sweeping gesture with her slender arm. Behind her was a bookshelf with six shelves, nearly two lengths across. It was undoubtedly the grandest thing in the entire room. It was made of brightly polished wood that was so dark it was nearly black, and it was covered from top to bottom in books with the exception of one spot in the middle of the fourth shelf where a bright sphere sat on the middle of a small plate.

There was never any doubt in Quara’s mind from the moment that she saw the sphere, of what it was. There was really only one thing that it could be. It was slightly larger than the palm of her hand, and while at first she thought that it was perfectly spherical in shape, she began to realize as she drew closer that it was actually shaped exactly like an egg. If it hadn’t emitted the clear, radiant light that was nearly identical to sunlight, she would have thought that it was simply a lovely piece of amber. Still, the light that it gave off left no room for doubt. It was a miniature version of the Heart.

“It’s impossible.” Quara gasped aloud as Lina reached out and picked up the Egg in her hand.

“It’s not. I mean, I might have thought that it was if I hadn’t held it in my hand. Here.” As she spoke she had crossed the room and as she said the last word she dropped the Egg into her sister’s hand. Quara winced for a moment as it touched her skin. “I know. I was afraid to hold it the first time I came down here and found it too. But it’s not that much like the sun. Or it would never have been able to exist down here without burning the whole place down.”

Quara ran her hands over the smooth surface of the egg. It was warm to the touch, but not hot enough to burn the palms of her hands. It felt as though it was made of stone, and the light that it cast across the room, along with the warmth which she quickly realized was turning the skin on the inside of her hands a rosy pink color, were the only things that marked it as truly extraordinary.

“This is a treasure.” Quara whispered. “How have you kept it to yourself for all this time?”

Lina shrugged. “I’ve only had to keep it until now. I knew that someday I would be telling someone and that that would be enough. And so now I’ve told you. And I guess in a way I was only waiting all this time for the time to be right so that you would agree to come down here with me. As you might imagine, being in the same class as you has put a little more pressure on me, since I actually have to go to class now. I haven’t been here in weeks. I was getting homesick.”

“Homesick?” The older girl ran a hand over her tightly plaited golden hair and shook her head. She laughed quietly, but it was a sad sound.

“Yes. Homesick. That’s what I’ve imagined the feeling is at least, since we’ve been trapped underground for all of our lives and aside from coming here I’ve never really been away from home. For whenever I’m away I always find myself longing to come back. Sometimes I feel more like I belong here than I do up there.” Lina took the egg back out of her sister’s hands and sat at the small table staring at it as she spoke.

“But there are no people here. How can you belong without people?”

“I just do.” The girls sat in silence for a long moment and Quara tried to think of something to say. She studied her sister’s profile and tried to force her mind to process all the things that she had learned about the younger girl in the last few days. It was odd to think that she had known the smaller girl so well, had spent every day of their lives sharing the same room, only to discover that Lina had an entire other world that she’d kept carefully hidden away, year after year. Then again, she reminded herself, in a way Lina had always seemed as though she were living partially in another world and her consciousness was weaving back and forth between the world within her mind and the sometimes overwhelming world around her.

Her mother had once said that sometimes when she was trying to tell Lina something she felt as though someone had just blown out a candle. Or slammed a door, leaving her knocking on the outside, unable to tell if anyone was there to answer it. The light would go from her eyes as she drifted inward into her own world. It was only then, as she watched Lina rolling the egg back and forth across the palms of her hands that Quara began to suspect that the petite girl, who so often seemed lost in dreams, was very much aware of what was going on around her at all time. There was no denying that Lina perceived far more than any of her family members had ever imagined.

“Lina.” She said her sister’s name and was about to say more when she first heard the rumbling. She paused and listened, watching as her sister rose silently, and turned to face the doorway above them. The sound grew no louder than a whisper before fading away. “I almost feel as though I imagined it now that it’s over.” Quara said, sinking down into the seat that her sister had been sitting in a moment earlier, looking very pale.

“You didn’t.” Lina’s voice was tense as she spoke and her eyes were still fixed on the doorway high above their heads. “I think it would probably be better if we,” but she didn’t get a chance to finish her sentence. All at once the ground beneath their feet began to buckle and roll. Quara bent her knees and crouched close to the ground. Her first instinct told her to get out of the room, but she knew that there was no way that she could climb that ladder until the earth was still again.

“Quick Quara, into the bed.” Lina was already dragging her sister across the room by her hand when she said the words.

When they reached the overhang of the lower ceiling that came down over the bed Quara balked at the idea of getting down under the giant rock slab, but Lina pulled at her hand insistently until they were both crowded on the tiny bed. The little cave like opening for the bed was carved into the natural rock and Lina was willing to bet that it wouldn’t come raining down on them.

“I think it’s over.” Quara whispered after a few moments of silence. Lina shook her head and it was clear that she was still listening with all her might. She bit her bottom lip distractedly as she waited, trying to discern what was going to happen next and what their best course of action would be.

Then came the roar. Books began to fall from the shelves. The chair smashed to the ground. And then the worst sound of all, a great crack echoed overhead, reverberating through the entire library as the rocks began to fall.

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