The first thing she did was investigate the room opposite the balcony’s entrance, but it was merely a closet. Next, she went back into the tunnel with the small lamp she took from the hallway where she witnessed the terrible act and went down the left-hand path. It led to a dead-end of broken rock. Whoever crafted the tunnel apparently abandoned the project at that point.
She went back into the secret entrance and began her search for Dr. Mokts, but he was nowhere to be found.
After all was inconclusive, she stood at the balcony of the third tier and looked over the library. All was serene, the scholars and acolytes busy in their personal projects, oblivious to anyone and everyone else. Drake was sprawled on the stone beside the altar. From here, she could see the two oracles from Cleyra, Sofie and Kildea, conversing in the reading room. The everyday harmony of Daguerreo.
It was time.
She went up to her room where Dr. Francis snored loudly. As quietly as she could, she retrieved her trident and armor and went down to the weaponsmith. Some looked at her for a curious moment, but all nonchalantly shrugged and ignored her. Which was perfectly fine. Crabsy looked over her equipment, shined some rusty spots, made sure the links and hooks were strong, and created a cacophony of clanging metal for a good twenty minutes. None complained. After he deemed her wares as strong and durable as the day they arrived at the library, she returned them to her room and went back down to Missy’s shop. Missy was away but she had left her wares available upon the integrity of the rare visitors that came down to Daguerreo.
Freya gathered a few essentials and dropped some extra coin into the jug under the counter, just in case someone did happen to cheat poor Missy. With this she returned to her room and placed them in a small sack that would hang at her waist inside her coat.
The last stop would be the Synthesizer. And perhaps Drake.
She closed the door. Dinner hour would be soon. She wasn’t sure what time Dr. Francis would awaken, but she would be ready should it be by sunset. She made a slow roundabout trip from the fourth level, down through the third level, then down to the second, but Dr. Mokts was still nowhere to be found.
Could it be that he was on that airship?
As she passed by Missy’s shop toward the Synthesizer (he was probably napping), she spied the entrance to Daguerreo open and a misshapen silhouette entering the library. The figure kicked closed the entrance door and strode proudly to the ramps. She stopped when she saw him come out from the shadowy hearth and wasn’t sure what to make of his appearance.
He stepped up onto the first dais, stopped and stared back at Freya, then raised one of his four arms and pointed at her. Then he pointed to the floor he stood on.
I may as well get used to jumps again, she sighed and lightly launched herself from the balcony’s edge. He didn’t move a muscle as she landed exactly where he pointed at on the floor. His shock of red hair flopped as he looked her up and down from behind his helmet, twin oversized daggers still poking out from his boots. Unlike before though, now he had a second large sword sheathed at his side.
“Gilgamesh,” Freya exclaimed, bowing slightly, “your travels have treated you well, I hope?”
“Indeed, clever ratta,” he bowed in reply.
“What brings you back to this quiet place again, may I ask?”
“Eh,” he folded both pairs of arms. “It’s a strange world out there. Doesn’t feel right. Cards are at an all-time low. I need some entertainment.”
“Here?” Freya put her hand over her mouth and smiled.
“Eggs, fish and gravy,” he bowed low. “I’m on the lamb, need I say more?”
“You have my respect, as always,” Freya replied. “I’m afraid things aren’t well here, either.”
“You don’t say? Drake stirring trouble again, is he?”
“Not exactly. There have been two unnatural deaths here and I believe a certain book is behind it.”
His lower pair of arms went to his hips. “Here too then?” He shook his head. “That’s why I came here. I’ll sit tight till it blows over. I’m not getting involved this time.”
“You weren’t involved the last time..?” Freya frowned.
“That was dirty business. And Enkido never did get me that legendary sword. What a whole lot of good that did me. Now look,” he raised his arms in the air. “I’m a failure.”
“You’ll be fine,” she smiled.
“I’m going to find a new treasure. See this?” He pulled out his new sword, its golden blade shimmering with the water reflections from below. He tapped the floor with it. “Acknowledgements to Dagi, alright?”
“There is much to be learned from this place,” she agreed.
He sheathed the golden sword. “I looked for Amarant, but I haven’t heard high or low about him. Nor Lani. You hear from him?”
“Not once since I saw him last in Alexandria.”
“If you run into him, you tell me. I have some words for that crook.”
She nodded, smiling to herself. What tricks has he been up to now, I wonder?
“And,” he crossed both pairs of arms again. “I say again something’s not right. Spooky out there.”
“I will be going out there soon,” she said quietly.
He tilted his head. “Don’t make trouble like the last time. But if you want some advice, clever ratta, watch the fauna. They talk much more than folks like you and I. That’s how I know what I know.”
“I will take your advice, thank you.”
Just after he bowed, the dinner bell jangled. “Impeccable!” He declared. “Will you be joining me?”
She shook her head. “I have more pressing matters at the moment, but I appreciate your offer. I would like to hear of your travels.”
“You shall, fare well and may you succeed.” He took her hand and placed a quick peck on it, then with his hands on his hips, he strode away toward the cafeteria.
She watched him go for a moment, then glanced back up at the fourth tier.
“What’d I tell ye?” He sniffed and gave her a triumphant grin.
“Dr. Francis, I don’t see how a man’s passing is so… trivial to you,” her lips formed a thin grimace from the images that played in her mind.
“You’re right in calling him a fool. But see, now that heresy’s going to spread all over, ye watch my words!”
“I’m going to find it and stop it,” she said flatly, tugging at the straps of her satchel.
“And where to, exactly?”
“I’m going to find my friends first. This is a wonderful place, but events like this will take more notice out there than they do in here.”
“Absolutely right about that, Freya, since ye know damn well we don’t care.”
She looked hard at him as he sat atop her bed swinging his feet. “You seem to care.”
“Yes, normally I couldn’t care about other people’s theories. But I know a spell when ah see one.”
“A spell?” She patted the satchel and pulled her coat over it. “Do you think the book contains a spell?”
“His book can burn with its useless posturing. I say there’s a spell over these fandangled idiots martyring themselves in the name of a tall tale! Tales of hope and treachery indeed. Those words have some kind of spell, and someone’s behind it!”
“What makes you think so?”
He scowled at her. “Because I know so.” He tapped his hoary head. “I’m smarter than ye. Ah been around a lot longer than ye, and I smell a spell. Brainwashing! Mind control! That’s what it is!”
“…That sounds rather far-fetched.”
“I ain’t the only one who knows so, Freya. Where ye think you’re going?”
“Lindblum.” She picked up her trident.
“Ah!” He hopped off the bed. “Excellent choice! We shall leave at once!”
“There is a small problem,” she started, watching the old man pick up his scattered belongings that had somehow appeared in her room.
“Eh? Eh? What’d ye say?” He gathered up some small books and stuffed them into his jacket pockets.
“You’re coming with me?”
“No,” he scooped up some writing utensils from the nightstand and stuffed those into his pocket too. “Ah said you’re coming with me.”
“The travel will be tough, Dr. Francis, I don’t know if…”
“Jes’ because I’m wiser than ye don’t make me weaker than ye! Follow me!”
And he marched past her, opened the door and began down the hall. She sighed and started after him. Many of his piers were well into their dinners so the library was empty. Clinking utensils and trickling water echoed throughout the chamber as she followed him across the fourth tier’s balcony to the opposite side. There’s only study rooms on this end, she wondered as he banged open the door and marched into the room. Freya looked down at the atrium, Drake now curled up on the floor beside the altar. Goodbye’s would have to wait for now.
He was already across the room and she hurried to catch up. He turned around as she approached him. “Now this here’s a secret. I don’t want no one botherin’ me about it, ye hear?”
She nodded, confused, then watched him go to the last cubicle and push on the wall beside the desk. He pushed again, and nothing happened. He turned around and looked at Freya. “Now come here,” he waved his hand. “I need your brute strength.”
She nodded and went to him.
“At the count of three, ye push too, now one, two–” he heaved noisily and she hurriedly pushed on the wall as well. The rock face moved a few inches inwards, and she heard another scraping from the opposite end of the room. She turned around and there, another door-shaped section of the wall had indented.
“There it is!” Dr. Francis did a small jump and ran over to the new entrance and Freya hurried to catch up. She found herself in a crudely built hallway, but one that even she could stand straight up in, and heard a click as Dr. Francis pressed a button on the wall adjacent to the doorway. From nowhere, he snapped a match and lit a lamp before the secret door slid back in place.
“Don’t want no intruders, eh?” Dr. Francis’ eyes glittered behind the firelight, and not waiting for a response, he scurried down the hallway with Freya right behind him.
She spied daylight after a sharp right turn. How many secret exits and crevices are there here? How have I not known of these? She slowed down as the hallway ended at a large cavern. It smelled of hay and earth. A winding twisted stairwell at the back of the cavern led upwards some fifteen feet where a large opening let in the waxing daylight. Smaller wooden frames and crates were scattered throughout, and she watched Dr. Francis scurry towards the back of the large open room.
Freya’s heart jumped, the familiar call echoing throughout the cavern. It was a lovely melody to her ears, so lovely did she find those birds. And there, behind a short wall, a chocobo strutted out to meet Dr. Francis. It lowered its head and the small man hugged its beak. Not just any chocobo.
“Where did you find such a creature!” Freya breathed, taking a few tentative steps after him.
“Kweh!” The chocobo lifted its golden head and swiveled its head to eye the rose-colored figure.
“Miss Freya, I’ve had dear old Shoofie since the beginning of time! We’ve taken care of each other, and well bother, he never left me, so I made this,” he waved his arms around, “for this old man here. He’d rather lay around and sleep than romp all day with all them other birds.”
“Kweh!” The bird bobbed his head and lightly butted Dr. Francis.
“Now now,” Dr. Francis scratched the bird’s chest. “We got a long trip, I hope you’re ready! Frey, go git’ that saddle over there by the steps, it’s good for the both of us.”
She nodded and as she approached the bird with the saddle in hand, he fluttered his wings and squawked.
“Ah!” Dr. Francis scolded. “Ye want the bit or what!”
“Long trip, old man!” Dr. Francis shouted as he grabbed the saddle from Freya and threw it on the bird’s sloped back.
“He’s a marvelous bird,” Freya began, “but do you think…?”
“Of course!” Dr. Francis hunched down to tie the straps. “I believe he’s older’n me, he knows his way everywhere. Won’t stop, either.”
“But the both of us…” Shoofie kept looking at her, blinking.
“Ye callin’ me fat?” Dr. Francis jerked back up and eyed her. “Now ye get to sit in the back. If ye fall off, ye fall off, nothin’ to it. Now let’s get out of this cursed place, eh?”
For an old man, he easily placed his foot in the stirrup and sat himself in the saddle.
“But where…” Freya looked at the one-passenger saddle.
“Come on now, before he flies off without ye!”
Shoofie certainly was getting anxious. “Here goes,” Freya said to herself and she jumped and landed as gently as she could behind the doctor.
“Well hey,” he turned his head. “Like a cat ye are, eh? Hmph!” He rubbed Shoofie’s neck. “Let’s go!”
“Kweh!” And suddenly the bird was flapping and kicking. At first he struggled to gain height and Freya held onto the saddle, praying that the old man had strapped it on correctly. After some vertical lifts and drops, the bird bypassed the stairs, landed atop the opening and pushed off.
She held her breath, awed as she always had been whenever she found herself in the skies. Once in the open air, Shoofie balanced himself and began coasting and gliding, catching the winds that rushed beside the mountain. The setting sun was just beginning to change color, the blue moon barely peeking from the southern horizon, almost invisible in the fading light.
She took in a deep breath, the air crisp and cold.