Breakfast hadn’t arrived yet, but some risers with the dawn were mulling about. She needed to find Dr. Bani’s book, and fast.
Who was this Dr. Mokts. She knew she couldn’t trust his shifty eyes. But here was a scholar she had never seen before, certainly never heard of. She scanned the open vestibule, searching for someone who would likely respond to her.
Drake. Of course.
She hurried down the steps, wondering why the presence of these scholars made her conform to everyone else’s mode of transportation. It had been a long time since she’d gone out into the open air, and running free under the sky had breathed something curious inside. Something like freedom despite the depressing circumstances that she had unintentionally been introduced to.
“Can you help me?” She gently nudged the drunk.
“Eh, hm?” He opened his eyes and squinted up at her. “You been standing here all this time?”
“No, it is morning now,” she sat down across from him and folded her legs, subconscious of the scholars who would look their way. “I met with Dr. Francis and he has told me things that are deeply disturbing.”
“They’re all like that,” Drake replied, propping himself up and blinking his eyes. “Try not to think too hard or you might end up like them.”
“I have a problem, Drake. Last night, I was visited by a man I’ve never seen or heard of, and when I awoke this morning, the book Dr. Bani gave to me last night was missing. And what’s worse, someone had placed a sleeping spell on me while I slept to take that book from me.”
“Sleeping spell, hm? Interesting…” he scratched his nose and stared glassily into the distance.
“You know a lot, I’ve come to notice, and would you have ever heard of a Dr. Mokts?”
“Hm,” he frowned and looked around him, peering at the meandering scholars and acolytes.
She hoped beyond hope he would have. An imposter would mean trouble for this secluded library.
“Recently, I believe. Nervous kind of fellow? Doesn’t finish his sentences?”
Freya nodded. “That sounds correct.”
“I think he’s new, but don’t take my word for it. Came here months ago, I think. Don’t like him.”
She nodded again. “I can understand that.”
Drake leaned forward and said in a low voice, “You think he’s a thief? And a spellcaster?”
“I’m really not sure, but he was the only one who came into my quarters and saw the book.”
“I thought spellcasters were ah, uh, not accepted round here these parts.”
She sighed. “You’re right, but they still exist. Would you know where he resides at this time?”
“Eh,” he turned around to look at the doors behind the columns that held the balcony above. “It’s in the southern quadrant, but you should look in the reading rooms first. But,” he turned back around to Freya. “What are you going to say to him? You know how accusations go around here.”
“…I need to follow him.”
“If there’s a lost book in this cave here, you best give yourself a few years to find it.”
She closed her eyes and shook her head. He’s right. But I have to try. She felt her racing heartbeat and willed it to slow down. She pictured the book in her mind’s eye, focused on it, recalled its feel and the fleeting vision of the words inside. No. Try as I might, I cannot trace an object. What would I say to Dr. Mokts, should he confront me? I must be prepared.
She opened her eyes and stood up. Drake was already nodding off. She make a short bow and thanked him, then set off to scour each reading room and cove.
She found him with another unknown scholar in an aisle of the upper tier library where she had first met Dr. Francis the night before. The book wasn’t anywhere in sight, but their hushed conversation piqued her interest. Luckily, their backs were to her so Dr. Mokts hadn’t spotted her from the corners of his shifty eyes. She walked silently down the adjacent aisle.
“…found out about him. He won’t last much longer.”
The stranger replied in a quieter voice she found hard to hear, and she took another step closer and paused. “…tolerate the lies? How much will … before … the spell?”
For the first time, she found the stone architecture very unaccommodating.
“How should I know? But who will go? Lizer?”
A sound of contempt. “… can’t even walk a straight … a better choice, but it’s … him. I pray he … I can’t…”
“It doesn’t matter, as long as it’s done quickly. Have you read it yet?”
“I wouldn’t …heard what happened …”
“You’re too weak. Very well. I will summon our leader. Go now before someone sees you.”
She tightened her lip. They would pass by her in a moment. She looked up and jumped atop the shelf. A moment later, their figures passed by her from both ends of the aisle. Her eyes followed the stranger. Never seen him before, either. She watched them both leave at separate exits. I’ll let this stranger pass for now. It’s Dr. Mokts that’s the suspicious one. The book was still here, and she could fathom that the stranger wished not to read the book because of what happened to its author. So why is it so coveted?
Making sure no one else was in the room to witness her abilities, she leaped to the exit Dr. Mokts went through and peered outside. There he was, scuttling around the balcony to the stairs going down.
But he never reappeared at the third level. She waited a moment more and then went to the stairwell. It was empty.
Her first instincts went to the elusive nature of caves. She began going down the stairs, pushing on the stone wall, but found nothing as she reached the bottom. I must have missed a trigger somewhere. And now I’ve lost the other guy, she frowned. I’m getting rusty. Dare I wake up Dr. Francis? He can’t be right about the nature of this book. Something is terribly wrong, but I can’t put my finger on it.
She sat down on the bottom step.
The breakfast bell clanged once but all remained as quiet as before. This isn’t me. I need someone who can make plans. I’m just a soldier, I take orders, not make them. She put her head in her hands. I’m going back to places I don’t want to remember. Fratley, why have you abandoned me? I can’t make it on my own! Without you, I’m lost in the puzzles of this world. … No, I have to do this. I must solve this. Who can help me?
She stood up and strode to the balcony, looking down to the mess hall near the entrance of the lowest level. Dr. Sloma, one of the head librarians here who didn’t do much work at all, leisurely made his way through the double doors. His arthritis must be bothering him. Now he’s been here for a very long time. Perhaps he would notice oddities such as this one.
“Who?” Dr. Sloma slid his eggs through the gravy and shook the pepper dispenser vigorously.
“Dr., Mokts,” she said slowly. Am I talking too fast?
The head librarian, one of a few, spooned the scrambled gravy eggs into his mouth and looked up at her, chewing.
“I heard he’s only arrived here recently.”
“Oh,” he swallowed and clicked his tongue. “I don’t keep track of them new ones’ names. I just keep my eye on them, I don’t trust them. You say he’s not acting right?”
“Well I didn’t exactly say that, I just wanted to know more about him. Who he associates with.”
“His associates are new, I never seen him talking with the real scholars here. Another reason why I keep my eye on them.”
“But who are these new scholars?”
“Ah.” He spooned another mouthful of eggs, chewed for a while, then swallowed and clicked his tongue again. “Folks come here nowadays and think they’re smarter than the rest of us. I suppose we were the same when we first arrived, so we don’t bother with them. Let them find out on their own. In fifty years time, they’ll be what we are now. Then there’s you, Miss Freya. Now is this Dr. Mokts bothering you in any way?”
Should I tell him? … No, the less everyone knows, the better. “Not exactly, but his behavior is rather suspicious to me. His hushed conversations with his friends is… peculiar to me.”
“Secrets, eh?” He chuckled. “Now you know we all carry secrets here. Just because he’s new don’t mean he can’t have no secrets.”
This was getting harder. And pointless. “Do you know of a …Lizer?”
Dr. Sloma’s brows furrowed for a moment. “No, I can’t say I have.”
There weren’t too many scholars in the mess hall yet. Time to be a little more direct then. “Do you know anything about the book Dr. Bani was writing, the one about Terra?”
His eyebrows lifted for a moment and he put his incoming spoon back down. “Just his opinions. What I’ve gathered from it,” he leaned in closer and said in a hushed tone, “and I tell you I don’t care to know about the evil folk who tried to infiltrate Gaia, but,” he sat back, smiling to himself, “just a collections of heresay. I don’t know where he got the information, but,” he leaned back in again, “I’m afraid he’s fallen victim to some ideology on it. He was, ah, one of those folk who thought the takeover phenomenon would have been a good thing for Gaia.”
She leaned in. The idea shocked her. “But how could an alien race whose plan to replace our world with theirs possibly hold any support?”
He shook his head. “I’m not one of them, Miss Freya. It’s like them crazy scientists who find the experiment more intriguing than the results. And,” he rheumatic eyes hardened. “I wouldn’t go around asking just anyone about this Terra. Thank Daguerreo it’s burned up. We’re split down the middle about the progressive nature of Terra. How one can hate this world and prefer a new one is beyond me. Defeats the whole purpose of being a scholar, in my mind. But the other half, they want something different. What’s wrong with this here Gaia, that’s what I’d like to know.”
“I share your sentiments,” Freya replied.
“So you think this Dr. Mokts is one of them?”
Freya looked around the others in the cafeteria. They were familiar faces, and she turned back to Dr. Sloma. “I believe it’s a possibility. I believe that Dr. Bani has completed his manuscript, and they now have possession of it. I’m afraid there’s some sort of… conspiracy about it.”
“Conspiracy indeed!” He chomped down on the last of his eggs. “What’s one man’s words against the millions more? Miss Freya, you are aware that many of these books here would be considered conspiracies.”
“Then why would Dr. Bani kill himself?”
He chewed for a while, gazing off into space, then swallowed and shrugged. “Who can say what oppressions he had in his mind? I, for one, would not care to know.” He began placing his utensils and napkin on his plate.
This conversation isn’t going anywhere. “Dr. Sloma, I appreciate your help.”
He nodded to her and made motions to stand up. Freya stood up, nodded in return, and slowly walked back outside to the vestibule. The library was tranquil like it was every morning. She decided to repair the railing below. In keeping herself in the main thoroughfare, she could keep an eye on the coming and goings of its inhabitants.