Private Tales Bookworms

A private roleplay only for those invited by the first writer

Nina

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Books filled every nook and cranny as far as the eye could see. Holding on to the railing, Nina gazed five levels down, to the torch-lit mysteries of the First Level, and two levels above, to the immense clear-glass star-shaped mosaic set alight by sunset. The mosaic was technically the ground floor, with the library stretching far underground. A grand staircase in the center connected the different levels, and smaller spiral staircases spun like vines around the walls. Bookcases seemed to grow from every wall, folding upon themselves until they shaped labyrinths for readers to get lost in. There were quiet study circles, drawn around desks, that would muffle anything less than a fire alarm, comfy armchairs, and obscure symbols that Nina didn’t know. There were secret rooms, one in which she’d stumbled earlier by accident, containing books that were bound in buckles and chains, and there were the mysterious bumblebees crafting their honey-dripping hives in odd corners.

She held on to her sketchbook, and not for the first time that day, felt her breath stop in her throat. There were books, so many books, a sea of books, so many that even if she’d been locked in that library for the rest of her days as punishment for her intrusion, she’d never be able to read more than a drop. The idea made her both giddy and slightly sad. Nina hadn’t seen many libraries – the life of a travelling painter wasn’t conductive to carrying around tomes – but she liked some books. She liked the way they freed her mind to travel further than her legs would carry her. For a bookworm, to arrive to the Library of the College of Elbion felt like getting a dose of certain mind-altering substances straight into her veins.

She wasn’t allowed in, of course.

Technicalities. Nina didn’t let that bother her. So what if she wasn’t a student at the College? What if her negotiations on behalf of a certain half-giant of Molthal might not have included freedom to explore the Library – or, at the very least, freedom to do so unhindered? There was an entire area of the city limited to members of the college (and support staff, but no one ever mentioned the street-sweeps). However, Nina found that by a combination of street-sweeping, magic-sensing, jumping over a fence, balancing over a ledge, disappearing in a group, and walking purposefully, she was able to find where she needed to go, and step inside.

But once she was inside…

There was so much magic there (so much magic she could barely breathe), sometimes in the strangest places like the soap bars in the bathroom (just touching them made her think of floating bubbles, rainbow bubbles floating around, wait, why was she on her knees on the stone tiles?). The travelling painter got overwhelmed. Nothing here would be dangerous (shouldn’t be) and most of it was fairly weak, casual even, if magic could be such, but every little figment of magic tugged at her attention, until she’d passed out in a section labeled ‘W, X, Y’. When she’d woken up, she’d found that to bumblebees had crafted a little honeycomb in her hair. Nina had carefully put it on a desk and told them:

“Bumblebees don’t make honey.” They didn’t seem to mind.

So she dragged herself to the main staircase hoping to explore the next level down, but by the time she got there Nina felt exhausted again. She sat down on the steps, hugging her knees and sketchbook.

(yes. Of course she’d sketched the library. Was the sky blue?)

She had to find something, but…Where would she even start? There were books on everything, from demonology to the scroll enchantments of the Far East. There were books on scrolls and scrolls on books and parchment made of dragonskin, there were little cylinders that unrolled in strips of carved gold, from the dwarves, and written leaves tied together, from the wood elves. There was a talking fire demon in one of the fireplaces, and it told her that there were very old volumes, written on pieces of clay, in baskets on the first level. Those might be from the period of time she was interested in, but she’d have to go through a specialized archivist to reach them, as they were fragile, and either way they were written in forgotten languages.

Nina drew her fingers over her sketch of the grand staircase. Where does one even start?

Severin Bellerose
 
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Severin Bellerose

Drunken Scholar
Elbion College
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Tap tap tap tap. The lower levels were filled with a certain kind of gloom, only illuminated by magical lights which followed their casters.

While so deep underground was no place for a library, the higher mages spoke that light is for the living.
Despite the depth at which it was located, the open chambers were rather dry, if only, because of the efforts of the libraries many keepers, one of which was Severin.

The damp and dark quickly gave to mould, eating up books and rotting them whole. so many countless mysteries of the world lost.
But not under their watch, not under his watch.

Severin walked through the corridors built of stacked bookcases.
Many of the books here were far out of reach from any mortals, their acquisition only able from ladders, flight or other magics, even though most forms of casting were forbidden and barred, aside from a few exceptions employed for quality of life.
 
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Nina

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It was like sinking deeper in a dream.

Step by careful step, holding onto the railing with both hands, Nina walked down the grand staircase into the half-light below, the rustle of her steps the only sound. She walked past a stone dragon statue and poked its dusty fire frozen in stone. There were drawings hanging on the sides of the bookcases, spindly Shadowkin and a Vampire grinning from the shadows. She walked between them Steps passed by parallel corridors, and Nina held her breath. She hurried, then stopped to stare at a glass bell decoration, with a butterfly made of lichens and branches inside, suspended on strings. The label says ‘Mycolyp, Overgrown. Wax replica.’ Her fingers left streaks in the dust. Here was the Monsters section.

Here, she should find what she was looking for. There were bestiaries with gold-tinted illustrations, and illegible first-edition journals of dragon-hunters. Yet as Nina looked up at the shadowy shelves, she couldn’t help but feel very small. Some of these books, she’d read, were written in unknown languages. Some of them were in Common, yet they might as well have not been, for they spoke of nothing solid and material, but rather summarized and argued the points of other books, some of which discussed other books in turn. It felt as if the books themselves had built a landscape out of sheer ideas, and Nina had no map to navigate their currents. Some ideas were proven wrong, but how would she know?

She clenched her fists and walked on. Being ignorant made her feel vulnerable. Her mind is what had kept her alive. One step in front of the other, she thought. Keep it simple. Pass through the section for Drakes and Dragons, pass the shelves on Fates, Familiars, Fenrir, Fext, past the entire three bookcases on Ghosts, and then-

Giants.

Her shadow trembled. The further Nina got from the core, the harder it was for the light passing through the glass star to reach her. Pools of golden light around lamps became rarer and rarer. She held a mote between her fingers, a glowing fist-sized mote that painted the corridor around her eerie blue. It might have been a soul. It was just something she’d picked up from an ancient battlefield in the Blightlands. The orcs didn’t like it, and it seemed like a Good Idea to annoy them at the time. Its behavior, Nina had documented, resembled a jellyfish, happy to absorb little bits of magic and keep floating around.

In the light that seemed to pass through seaglass, she took out tomes and leafed through pages heavy with gold foil, shook her head and put them back. Slowly she progressed along the shelf, but felt no closer to her goal than she had been back in the Blightlands. A sea of knowledge was an easy place to get lost in. Nina looked up. She rose to her toes and reached out with her fingers, to the highest shelf they could reach. If she focused, she could just about drag books out safely. Above it, the bookcase continued for a while until it faded into darkness.

Nina looked left along the corridor. She looked right. Her hand went along a smooth pillar of wood that separated two bookcases, and sideways along the edges of the shelves. Quality furniture, she thought. Sturdy.

The girl took off her boots and started climbing.
 
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Severin Bellerose

Drunken Scholar
Elbion College
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While meandering further and taping the spell across the bookcases, a small thump disturbed the mage.
What was this?

Boots?

Severing gazed around and then up when a human lass made a firm stance on whatever wooden furniture she currently stood on.

He steadied his gaze for a moment, seemingly uninterested as if this wasn't the weirdest thing that ever happened in the library.
»Young madam, excuse me,« He called out with a spleen mood.
 
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Nina

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Nina’s shoulders twitched. Startled, her fingers let go and the bookcase started tilting away from her, until a moment later she grasped a shelf’s edge again and flattened herself against it. Her heart was a drum pressing against the spines of the books. ‘They found me,’ she thought. In that fraction of second she imagined a blast of fire against her shoulder-blades, a prison cell deep below the ground, sharp knives cutting to get at the magic thread inside her, all within the intoxicating smell of books. She turned her head to the left, first, then to the right, brushing her nose against a dusty cover, but there was no way to see the speaker without turning more, and there was no way to do that safely. So instead she faced ‘The Giants of the Eretejva Tundra’.

Nina raised an arm to the side, and sketched a thumbs-up.

“Don’t worry!” She said. Her voice came out muffled because of the angle. “I’m just looking for a couple o’ books. It’s even easier than the ratlines, really – doesn’t even move.” She gave the shelves a light pat.

The second law of being invisible, Gray had taught her, was to act like you are supposed to be there. Wherever you were.

Severin Bellerose
 
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Severin Bellerose

Drunken Scholar
Elbion College
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The mage gazed at the lass with half-closed eyes. His arm slowly caressed his gaunt face, caressing his wiry yet short beard.
His face, even though human, had an uncharacteristic resemblance to the face of a fox.
From his tailcoat to his scarf, he appeared overall well dressed, but the cloth was misused and worn, as if the man both cared and cared not for his outer appearance.

After some deliberation, he spoke again. »I am...as one could say, almost at home here, and you look like you need help.«
 
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Nina

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Her shoulders slumped a bit, until her forehead touched the dusty velvet cover. He was right – she was lost. One hand moved at first, then the other, she climbed down, graceful as a spider.

Colorful socks patched around the heels fist entered the bubble of light around Severin, followed by the rest of a lanky teenager – a young woman with sharp, childlike features. Loose clothes of worn blue fluttered around her limbs, traveler’s clothes. She pointed her nose at him and watched him with round eyes, glimmering grey in her bluish light, and she tilted her head with beads woven in her hair in the tradition of pirates and sea gypsies. There was a fragment of honeycomb stuck among them.

She thought, ‘he’s magic’. A faint magic that shifted like moonlight and tasted of ink.

“At home…” She mused, her eyes brushing over the shelves. “It feels like an entire world.”

Nina let out a deep breath.

“Professor?” She asked. It felt like a safe guess. “If you wanted to kill a Fire Giant, how would you go about it?”

Severin Bellerose
 
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Severin Bellerose

Drunken Scholar
Elbion College
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He blankly gazed at the lass still dangling up before she finally made her way down.
A peculiar one indeed.
»With a bucket of water!« He chuckled half-seriously.

»However you are in the entirely wrong section of the library to find such information. The culture and nature manuals are here, the slayer's manuals are on the top left-wing.«
 
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Nina

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A smile flashed on the travelling painter’s face, pink gums and white serrated teeth like a young child’s. A bucket of water, dunked on the Fire Giant! Maybe from floor-washing, to add insult to injury. It would have been nice if it’d been that simple. Or…maybe…? Her features turned serious again.

In the background of her mind, glass wheels kept ticking.

“I guess another way to ask my question is: how do you kill something that has never been killed?”

The giant Menalus has ruled the Blightlands for more than a thousand years. That was long enough to be forever.

“To the best of my knowledge.” It was forever, for those who lived under his rule. Dozens of generations of slaves. Dozens of generations of slave-owners. Nina knew perhaps three things about her great-grandparents, not including their names. Just thinking of those timescales made her feel like falling. The professor told her that she was in the wrong library section, but was she really? “I thought it might be helpful, you know. To know everything. Trying to find maps of Molthal, to see how its architecture evolved over time, and where are its weak spots.” As she spoke, her fingertips brushed the air in expansive gestures. Her thoughts went back to the stories she’d heard round the campfire, the Blight Orcs legends and fables that the Warlord felt it was below him to listen to. That’s why Nina now had had knowledge of ancient Molthal sewers (potentially), and the Half-Giant did not. “Trying to understand its history, so I could uncover the tales and legends of when Menalus first appeared, before he retreated into his shell of iron and smog, back when he was vulnerable. Trying to understand Molthal’s culture, so I could misuse it.”

A smirk curled in the corner of her mouth. She’d already started misusing it.

“So I could bring the stories back. Did you know? History has a bad habit of disappearing when it’s inconvenient for the ruler.”

And perhaps that bothered her more than she wanted to show. It wasn’t even the surgical rewriting of history, as a Dreadlord would do, but simply the lack of care in maintaining it beyond this year’s payment sheet for the armies. History was big. Without care, it tended to collapse on itself.

“I’m sorry. Got…” She shook her head, and murmured something like ‘overenthusiastic’. For a moment Nina wished to slip below the floorboards.

But then her curiosity won.

“Has there ever been a slayer who killed a Fire Giant?” She asked.

Severin Bellerose
 
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Severin Bellerose

Drunken Scholar
Elbion College
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»Young miss, that is quite a massive request. You could likely spend half a day merely searching for these books.« Severin Bellerose walking up and down the short hall before the miss.

»To kill a fire giant. You must first study him. Not in books but in person. However, that is my first instinct. If you truly want to read books on the history of molthal, that will likely not get you far as many things might have changed since the day the books have landed here to gather dust.«

The professor stopped, turning towards the lass.
»However I do have the means to help you.«
 

Nina

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“Oh, really?”

Was what Nina said in the end.

Her voice tasted metallic, with just a bit of sting – ‘ironic’, as one would have it.

Her interlocutor was strange. Strange, as one would expect a denizen of this book-infested half-light world to be. She wasn’t sure how much he actually knew and how much he was pulling out of the thin air between the bookshelves. He could be just an older student taking the piss. Yet he also reminded her of academics she’d encountered on her travels, devilishly knowledgeable and yet with less practical thinking skills than their quill.

I mean, why would Nina not want to stalk an ancient evil up close?

Carefully, she nodded.

“I would be grateful for any help you could offer.”

Severin Bellerose
 
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Severin Bellerose

Drunken Scholar
Elbion College
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By a bronze chain on his belt lay a book so thick. Fatter than any normal book you'd consider thick. He released it from his binds but offered it not to the girl.
»First I must introduce myself. I am Severin Bellerose, Professor of Scripture Magic. And who would you be?«

The mage didn't bother opening the book, or waiting for a response. He proceeded with his little presentation.
»This is my index book, it has all books categorised in this library and available for shipment. Do you know whatever book you want by author and name?«
 

Nina

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“I’m Nina. I…I dabble a bit in runes. I…”

Just like that, she was reminded of how out of place she was in this world. The book dust in the air felt dry on her lips as she admitted:

“I haven’t been to a library before.”

Lost. She was lost. Was he her guide? Even the language felt alien here. When you’re lucky to find an old spineless book of fairytales under a haystack or in a ravaged temple, during long travels, questions of authorship and exact titles lose their meaning.

“I don’t know. Unless…Unless there’s anything written by the man himself.” That was a joke. She gestured expansively. “The head honcho. Menalus.”

For a moment she looked at the chain tied to the professor’s book, smiling, imagining it preventing the volume from flying off. Then she paid it no mind. He was a librarian, so he had a book about books about books. Then it struck her.

“There’s pages within. Pages.” She blurted out. Then she grew quiet, digging her toes into the thick carpet. Ashamed of how stupid she sounded.

Because she’d looked with more than her eyes, and emerging from the space between the pages there was an array of glistening rules as complex as she’d seen only once before, in an assassin’s clockwork tower.

Severin Bellerose