It was near high noon when she spotted the nameless younger scholar walking as fast as possible without attracting unnecessary attention, a package about the size of a tome tucked under his arm. He was alone, and as soon as he disappeared into the dormitory hallway, she leapt across the open water to the doorway and peered inside. There, just around the bend, a door closed quickly. In a flash, her ears were against the closed door, but she couldn’t hear a sound.
Another minute went by in silence. Ignoring the flutter in her heart, her hand slid around the cold knob and turned it. There were no locks on the doors here. It was dim inside, and as she suspected, the room was empty.
The room was sparse, hardly used but occupied nonetheless. But where could he have disappeared to? Her eyes swept the room. She frowned. Scholars spent little time contemplating ways of concealing their tracks, unless it concerned concealing their sources. Or hiding a book. There, beside the bed was a small loop of metal. The trapdoor was clearly outlined in the wall despite the poor lighting.
She crouched beside it, and hearing nothing from the other side, she pulled on the ring. The door didn’t budge. She shook her head, hooked her finger inside and turned the ring, and the door came loose. A draft of cool earthy air wafted into her face, and she could see a small light coming from around a turn in the tunnel.
It won’t do to wait for them to come back. They have the book. I’ve heard of Daguerreo’s catacombs, but this will be a first. She went on her hands and knees and crawled through the rocky dirt tunnel.
After a few turns, she found the light source: a small torch placed in the floor of the tunnel, marking a split in the path. The left was dark but the right was dimly lit from another light. Following simple logic, she took the right path.
The passageway continued for a few more turns and she found herself approaching the floor of a room. Though she heard nothing, she paused and observed the silence. Certain that she was still alone, Freya crept to the tunnel’s exit and looked around the room. It was small and empty, and a low doorway led into a hall.
Feeling a sense of urgency, she stood up in the room. Shaking her head and ignoring the itch in her hand for her trident, she went to the hallway. It too was short, with one door on each side at the end. They were both closed.
The air smelled cleaner. Was there an outdoor exit somewhere?
And before she could react, the door on the right burst open and the unnamed scholar scrambled into the hallway. Freya froze.
He fell onto his face when he saw her.
“Who are you?” She asked, remaining in the doorway.
He remained on the floor and slowly raised his head to look at her.
“Question, who are you?”
She shook her head. “I am Freya. What is this place?”
His eyes glittered under his forelock. “You’re too late.”
“What do you mean?”
His chest began to shudder in a quiet chuckle. “You cannot stop fate, Freya. You, who tried to stop it once before. This time, you will fail.”
“Terra?” She took a step toward him. “What are you saying?”
“Our mother planet. She will rise again, and all you ignorant fools are powerless to stop it!”
She scowled. “Where is Dr. Bani’s book?”
“Far away from here! Ha ha ha! You are too late!”
“And what power does that book have? What does that book have to do with fate?”
“Oh! But it has everything to do with fate.” He lifted himself up and sat on his haunches. “This book will give us the knowledge to be one with our creators and grant us the power of immortality. We will reach our true height and be gifted with the power of gods.”
“Then why did you refuse to read it?”
He gave her an angry glare. “Only the holiest of us may digest its treasures. I am only a mere apprentice.”
She curled her hands into fists. “Why would Dr. Bani throw himself from the cliff then.”
He bowed his head for a moment, then looked back up at her with a hard stare. “He has transcended us, and even now he basks in the power of Terra, reborn wiser than anyone could ever dream of. He will sit at the right hand of our god as the father of Gaia.”
Father of Gaia? What nonsense is this, a new religion? She took a step toward him.
“Stop!” The man put his hand up. “Your kind is not welcome.”
“Tell me where the book is.”
“As I said, you are too late.”
“Where is it?” A surge of anger coursed through her. She cringed at the unwelcome resurrection of an emotion she hadn’t felt in years.
“Ah ah ah,” he wagged his finger at her.
She clenched her teeth. She would not let him get the better of her.
“You will let me through.”
“Or else what? You’ll tell the head librarian?” He laughed. “My work here is done. You cannot harm me. Fear those who can and will harm you.”
“I fear no one.”
He laughed again. “Such proud words! You, helpless rat, are doomed!”
She growled. “Such foul words for a fool,” she breathed. “I will find that book and stop this madness!”
“You will stop nothing…!” He suddenly threw his hand forward.
Freya tensed but was hardly prepared for the ice crystals that materialized around her. They sparkled then exploded in a crash, leaving her bones shivering from the inside out. She snarled, ignoring the chills that shook her spine, and lunged toward him. He scrambled up to his feet and ran to the end of the hallway, spinning around to face her. She landed where he was sitting a moment before and she paused in a crouch, glaring at him.
“You cannot stop fate!” He shouted at her. “Why would you fight a higher calling to existence!”
“You are fooled!”
“You are the only fool here,” he said in a sudden low voice.
He raised his hand again and she leapt backwards, hoping to avoid another elemental attack. The image of her trident flashed through her mind again. But instead of seeing an offense where she once crouched, she saw a ball of flame consume the man himself.
“No!” She cringed and her stomach wrenched itself as she heard the man cry out. He jumped and hopped and then ran to the door he had come out of. She ran after him, a draft of fresh air hitting her with a choking dark smoke. The room was a ledge built into the mountainside, and she watched in horror as he jumped over the balcony and disappeared. A gust of wind blew the trail of smoke away.
She gripped the frame of the door and squeezed her eyes shut again.
Have I caused this? I should have never followed him. She gagged, falling to her knees with her head bowed. Gods, have mercy on me, I never meant for this to happen. Gods, what have I done!
She heaved and forced herself to slow her breathing. She took a deep breath and looked up to the sky, the brim of her hat sheltering her eyes from the sun above. And there, despite the glimmering rays that made her eyes squint, she spied a small dark object in the distant sky. She held her breath. Yes, it was moving away from here.
May the gods have mercy on his soul, she prayed and stood up.