December 21 at 12:00 AM
Photo by Anna Cervova
Lawson held the torch in front of him, careful not to fall behind.
"Here it is." Laurent pointed to the stone door. He took a key from his pocket, turned it in the lock, and pulled the iron handles in a circle. With a loud clank, the lock cleared, springing the door open, a foot deep.
"The tunnels are extensive," said Lawson. "Hopefully we will not keep your father waiting."
"How deep do you think we are?" Laurent asked, not really expecting an answer. "Would you believe we are in the middle of town, three hundred feet shallow?"
"Every bit of it." Lawson stepped inside.
Books covered every bend of the circular expanse, thousands of books, raising thousands more questions. "Remarkable."
"The Vangley manor is the only one connected to it. Its walls are fireproof, and locating it is no simple venture. By Lord Vangley's design, all who wish to indulge in its secrets must go through him. Of course, this is not Vissorouy's only archive."
Lawson smiled, if fleetingly. "Not in my wildest dreams did I expect such collections, complete and unworn."
"And these are only the ones he wants you to see." Laurent pulled the door shut.
Lawson held the torch over the volumes, staying a cautious distance away. "You have texts written before Christ."
Laurent nodded, and leaned against the wall.
The hunter took one off the shelf, and considered the title. "Red Wind," he said aloud. The words stirred through him. "I know of this place."
"Then you shall know more," said Laurent. "Take it with you; I will return it when you are done."
Lawson traced his finger over the bindings. The Butcher's Grave. Fallen Godslayers. The Conquest of Massadin. The last gave him chills.
He cracked open Red Wind, and devoured the text.
Laurent stared at the hunter, taking amusement in his fleeting manner.
"Although her army was great," Lawson read aloud, "she did not bleed us dry...cut off our supplies, poison our waters, kill the merchants in transit, and the priests for our dead; slay the horses, cattle and sheep; but you will not cut out our hearts.
"Sweet Carmella, goddess of the battlefield, thirsting for the blood within these walls. All you will eat is sand this eve...Carmella, O Carmella, when will you descend upon us? We will feast upon your error; among us you shall fall."
"Lyrical," said Lawson. "But poetry is rarely drafted on the battlefield." He shut the book. "Is this the last stand of Red Wind, where Carmella of Mesopotamia underestimated the will of Red Wind, and was summarily defeated?"
"That is the one," said Laurent. "History teaches and torments. One would think that we would be learned by now, but if it does not provide a system of record, how can we recall its teachings? Yet more lost grains of sand."
"Thank you for the gift. I shall take its words to heart. And if there are other teachings that can help my people, allow me to impart a few passages."
"So it shall be." Laurent's smile was brief, but sincere. "You may come here as often as you like. Indeed, Lord Vangley would rather an educated general at his command, than one who can only see half of the battlefield. Come, let us not keep my father any longer." He pointed to a second door.
"Are we not going back the way we came?" said Lawson.
"That way is now flooded," said Laurent. "We shall go this way; of all places, it will leave us by the kitchen, also his design."
Lawson gazed at the archive one last time, and stepped through the door.
"You are in luck. My mother prepared a special meal for you."
"How special?" The hunter raised his eyebrow.