Hello amazing readers! It was not my intention to take January off along with December, but in hind’s sight, I should have known it was going to happen due to continuing editing on Quaking Soul.
Regardless, I’m back for a bit with a brand new Adventure for 2020 that I’m super excited to share! Let’s dig in and see how this one starts.
The Librarian, a cane-yielding old woman, shuffles up and down the shelves cackling to herself. Besides her, there’s no one in the library. (Except you, of course, but she doesn’t know you’re there.) There never is anyone anymore, but every day she wanders the stacks, keeping track of every precious title. At one time the town magistrate told her the books belonged to her. She took that to heart.
Some shelves have chains bolted in front of the spines. This wouldn’t be a problem except they’re ship’s anchor chains that are a couple feet long and a foot wide. The titles can be read through the chain links, but good luck slipping a book through the metal.
Other shelves have glass doors. Again, the titles can be read, but there’s no way to open the glass without breaking it. There’s a story of one man who tried. He was fined for destruction of property and thrown into the stocks for a few days.
Most residents have long since given up using the library, but you’re the King’s Word Keeper, and you’re starting to believe the old crone has darker reasons for her hoarding.
Written words have a magic all their own. You’re a walking testament to that as the ink of letters swirls beneath your skin from your hours reading for the King. He’s charged you with preserving the books, and their magic, by reading them and never forgetting them, but he safeguards that power by making your mute. It ebbs and flows within you, growing with each book, but cannot be used without speaking aloud. In fact, anyone who reads too much ends up unable to speak.
There’s a seldom known workaround if someone’s sly, however. Most people visit a library, read a book that gives them a tidbit of magic, and then they leave, never realizing what truly happened. But if someone spends oodles of time near the books without reading them, she absorbs their power without triggering the King’s safeguard. Librarian positions are for a year only to prevent this from happening. Somehow, the old crone in this out-of-the-way village slipped through the cracks and has held her position for several years now.
You slipped into the library today to see if you could spot any telltale signs of the crone absorbing too much word magic. Usually the first indication is ink that pools in the fingertips. Once it sits there long enough, that ink whirls into letters and words that move across the person’s skin.
You spot the crone heading toward the back wall holding a leather-bound book no bigger than her hand. She’s cackling up a storm and there’s an actual swing to her step despite her cane. Ahead, she turns into an isle on the right, but when you reach the spot, she’s not in sight. About to continue on, you pause at the sign over one of the shelves. It’s a simple, “Do Not Touch” hanging from a gold chain. It’s not an anchor chain or glass cage, just a sign. Now why would she post such a sign in a library no one visits?
Beneath the “Do Not Touch” are a dozen odd-sized books.
They’re leather bound with gold inlay. One sits on the shelf sideways because it won’t fit standing up. It’s so tall that in your hand, it’d reach the top of your head if you held it at your waist.
The book placed on top of it must be the one the crone was carrying a moment earlier. It’s standing upright but, despite the loss of the space from the book beneath, it still doesn’t touch the shelf above. If you opened it, it’d be no bigger than your hand.
A third book reaches the depth of the shelf standing up, but is barely an inch tall. It reminds you of the inch by inch cane the librarian uses.
With a glance around to make sure she’s nowhere in sight, you lean closer to read the titles.
The hand sized spine boasts “The Land of Nothings” in tiny letters. Beneath it, the giant book says “Titan Toes“ and the inch by inch book is the “Flat Dimension.”
As you reach out a curious finger to trace this last title, the book grows hazy. It disappears while you’re frowning at it. Even as you stand there, flabbergasted, two more lose definition and disappear. What has the librarian gotten herself into? These books show magic but apparently it’s unstable. You need to take one back to the King so he can determine if the crone is a threat.
Although “Titan Toes” is bigger and harder to carry, its power might last longer so you can show the King.
Then again, it would be a great deal easier to carry “The Land of Nothings.”
Do you pick:
The Land of Nothings?
Word Magic-Titan Toes
Although the book’s size will make it hard to carry, you decide to take Titan Toes because the magic in it might last long enough for you to reach the King before the book disappears. You slide your fingers under the heavy spine and pull it free of the shelf and the books sitting on top of it. As you fully take its weight, a tingling travels through your hands, up your arms, and into the rest of your body.
A silent gasp escapes your lips as the library whirls into a blur of colors and the floor shifts beneath your feet. You throw out a hand to brace yourself but the shelves don’t only look transparent, they feel like mist and you pass right through their wooden frames. And then the shelves, hardwood floor, and dusty smell of the library pages vanish.
You smell warm rocks and pine. Blinking several times, you sit up to adjust to new surroundings. The book is nowhere in sight but, if that wasn’t disturbing enough, you find yourself sitting amidst a jumble of rocks on the dry scree slope of a mountain. In the valley below, a forest swaths the ground in a frosting of green. The world feels…off, but you can’t quite put a word to why.
You stand and head down the slope toward the forest, hoping to figure out where the crazy crone has landed you with her unstable magic. It’s surprisingly easy going but as you draw nearer the pines, a sick feeling churns in your stomach. The forest, now that you’re close enough to see individual trunks, only comes up to your stomach in the same way a field of wheat would tickle your wrists. As you’re staring at this disturbing sight, the tree tops sway and crack against each other and then two dark brown heads appear from the foliage.
“Dang it, Ben,” one giant boy says as he crawls free of the forest, “we’ve been caught.”
“Caught? Who caught us?” Ben looks up from his hands and knees and frowns. “I’ve never seen you before.”
Sitting, the tops of the boy’s heads are below the crown of the trees. As they wait for your answer, you take in their dirt crusted knees and cracked finger nails. They seem rough, but there’s a directness about their expressions. You can’t speak, so you step forward and sit down with them. You shrug with your hands out in front of you to show you’ve got nothing threatening. They eye you with open curiosity but then Ben glances at the sky.
“It’ll be dark soon, Miles,” he says. “Let’s get to the cave and we’ll talk there.”
They lead you back up the scree slope to a cave on the far side. Only once you enter the cave do you see the cold fire pit laid out with unburned wood and two packs leaning against the wall.
“We’re escaping.” Ben motions to the packs. “Our matriarch has gone bonkers. It’s time to live elsewhere.”
“Ben,” Miles calls, “did you pack the flint kit?”
“It’s in the top of my pack,” Ben answers.
“It’s not here. Did you put it under your clothing?” Miles starts to empty one of the packs with socks and shirts hitting the floor, but as they’re talking, you approach the cold fire. For a moment, one of the logs looked like it had words written across it. You flip the log over, thinking you saw the word fire, and a spark flares from your fingers into the wood.
With a startled grunt, you fall back on your rump and watch the flames take hold.
“Wow!” Miles says. “How’d you do that?”
Curious yourself, you touch one of the yet unlit logs and think ‘fire.’ This time, you see the ink beneath your skin twirl around into the word ‘fire.’ It flows out of your fingertip into the log as a spark of flame and the dry wood whooshes alight.
“Super cool,” Ben says.
A part of you agrees, but there’s another part that knows this is a terrible sign. As far as you can figure, there’s only one way you can actually do magic without speaking, and that’s if you’re in a world created by word magic, which means you’re inside something molded by the crone’s unstable power.
What happens if the book disappears with you inside it? How do you escape it? You’ve only ever heard stories about this that are told to scare people out of attempting to create their own word worlds.
“Hey,” Ben taps your arm and you blink out of your worried stare. “You want to escape with us? We’re headed out of the Titan lands by way of the pass tomorrow.”
Would that get you out of the book? Maybe. If you pass beyond the borders of what the crone created, it might land you back in the library.
Then again, some of the stories talk about a key required to escape a word world, and the most likely location for such a key would be with the giant’s matriarch.
Go to see the Matriarch?
Escape with the Boys?
Word Magic-Escape with the Boys
Miles and Ben stare at you, waiting for your answer like twin owls with wide eyes. You nod your agreement to go with them over the mountain pass and they whoop in excitement.
“We’ll leave first light,” Ben says as he hands you a piece of jerky from his pack.
You spend the night listening to them tell stories, and find yourself being shaken awake the next morning.
“Time to go,” Ben says. “Sorry there’s no breakfast. Miles ate your share.”
“Hey now,” Miles protests, “you didn’t tell me there were only three apples. We planned for the two of us. Why would there only be three?”
As they bicker, you follow them from the cave into the gray of predawn. In the valley below, the forest lays dark in the low light. You turn away from that sight and scramble up the scree slope, trying to be quiet in the early morning hush, but no matter how you try, the rocks scrape and rattle against each other with each step.
Miles and Ben cringe and grumble, good naturedly ribbing each other for the noise, but their voices cut off suddenly when the scree slope evens out into a small mountain saddle that must be the pass they mentioned.
The first of the sun’s rays highlights a disheartening sight. Between you and the far side of the pass stand three people. Unlike the boys, these are full grown giants with their shadows casting long figures across the ground.
The two men carry thick spears and off their backs hang shields the size of wagons. In sharp contrast, the middle-aged woman between them only reaches their shoulders. But she carries a long staff of her own with a large knob on the top.
“The matriarch,” Ben whispers. A shiver shakes him.
“Lost boys,” says the matriarch in a soprano that carries on the morning air. “I see no sheep here for you to tend.”
“We were looking for a stray,” Miles says.
Both warriors snort.
“Hush!” the matriarch demands. “I see a stranger leaving muddy prints in my land. Prints on the ground, prints in the sky. Prints everywhere!”
You look at your feet but the mountain pass probably hasn’t seen rain in days. There’s snow on the peaks above, but the meltwater trickles down the mountains to the forest and doesn’t touch the pass. You look up to meet her eyes, and the mountain pass behind her hazes like it’s covered with fog. You glance at it and then back to her but in that glimpse, you see the lines of shelves through the haze of rocks and sky.
“What’s the stranger doing?” the matriarch asks. “What’s the stranger doing here leaving a mark where it doesn’t belong?”
Colors blur in your peripheral vision. Titan Toes is starting to disappear. You’re so close to that edge and it’s promising that you can see the library beyond. You want to rush for it, but with the warriors and the matriarch in the way, you might not survive long enough to pass through the border.
There’s a chance that if you simply stall until the book disappears, you’ll be deposited back into the library since you weren’t made with word magic.
You shift from one foot to the other and the warriors follow you with their body movements. They even step forward a few steps like you’re making them nervous.
“We could run for it,” Miles whispers. “Surely they can’t stop us all.”
“But they’ll stop someone,” Ben argues. “Unless you can do something like you did with the fire last night?”
They look at you. Even if you use word magic, you still have to run or stall. So do you…
You shake your head to tell the boys to stay put. Then, turning back toward the matriarch, you hold out your hands with a questioning raise of your brows as though to ask her, “Print?”
You lift a foot to check beneath your shoe but there’s barely an impression on the dusting of dirt coating the rocky ground. Being theatrical, you glance back the way you came like you’re checking the trail behind. Then you shrug.
“Those prints!” She points her knobby staff at what might be your knees. The end of the staff twirls in the air like she’s following a wisp of smoke. Everyone glances at your knees but as you stare, you realize why she’s whirling the staff around. She’s not pointing at your knees but at your hands where inky words swirl beneath the skin.
The boys, having seen the oddity the night before, don’t react when you hold up your hands with your fingers splayed, but the two warriors jump back as though you might shoot fire.
“No!” The matriarch shakes her staff, admonishing, but her voice warbles at the end. “No prints here!”
The way her voice breaks seems familiar. As you eye her, trying to place why she sounds memorable, the pass hazes and her appearance shifts. For a moment, it’s like you’re looking at a child hiding inside the giant’s body. But then the matriarch is standing there again with her staff pointed at you in warning.
Acting on impulse, you splay your fingers out and imagine the pass carpeted in snow. You grin as ink swirls out of your hands to hang as a gray mist across the ground. It stills and then flushes white and everyone finds themselves ankle deep in snow.
“AYEEE!” the matriarch screeches. The middle of her cry turns into a croak as the world hazes again and the child image reappears. Her staff shortens into a cane and the small person inside the giant solidifies into the crone from the library.
Ink pools out of the end of her staff, melting your snow where it touches it, but this is too much for the crone’s word magic and the pass behind her turns into the library. She glances over her shoulder and then turns her own grin your way.
Cackling, she turns and jumps into the library. Her small body hazes and the library turns misty as well.
You get three steps before the Titan Toes world disappears completely. Shelves and books and that old library smell surrounds you but there’s no relief. Everything looks insubstantial. Your fingers pass through the shelf to the right with faint resistance that reminds you of trailing your fingers through water.
“No! You stay in other world!”
You spin around just as a book the crone threw passes through your body.
She screeches and runs.
Giving chase, you experiment by going through the shelves. It’s disorienting but moments later you catch up and throw your arms around her. She goes still, shudders like you dumped a pitcher of cold water on her, and then keeps going.
As you run after, your brain’s racing as well. You come to the conclusion you’re stuck halfway between Titan Toes and the real world. If your guess is right, you’re basically a ghost, but you also probably still have use of your word magic.
Just as the crone reaches the door, you image the door opens into the library instead of out of it.
She runs out the door, and cringes with her arms around her face as she passes through your insubstantial body and back into the library.
She screeches to a halt, banging her cane on the floor before she looks back at where you stand.
You grin again and wiggle your fingers at her.
“What do you want?” she asks.
You come to an understanding with the crone that keeps her from hoarding the books in the library and keeps her from creating word worlds that any unsuspecting reader might stumble into. So long as she doesn’t harm anyone, you agree to leave her alone.
In the meantime, you try to figure out how to make yourself substantial again but so far haven’t had much luck.
Congratulations! You survived this adventure…kind of. Thank you for joining the fun.
(If you liked this story and are interested in more adventures, you can find my book, The Adventure, on Amazon.)