Fingers traced the wall’s carving. Howl’s eyes squinted as he read the glyphs, then unfocused as if he were trying to remember something, then squinted again while he consulted the crinkled note in his left hand. The boy shook his head, annoyed, and left the wall behind.
He retrieved his torch out of its chink in the wall and hurried down the hall, lost in thought. The flame illuminated the rough stone floor for a couple paces in front of him; all was dark otherwise. The ceiling was high, high above his head. The hall itself was massive; it would have taken a hundred more torches to light it entirely. The crackling flame, the boy’s footsteps, and his own churning thoughts were all he heard.
The patterns carved in the floor changed, and Howl knew he’d entered another room, where two halls intersected. He jogged toward the room’s center, where his torch revealed a stone pillar: waist-high, inverted like a bowl at its top, and filled with some liquid, black as tar. The boy bent his head, his nose nearly touching the dark water, and whispered, “The Lumanians, Third Epoch, first through third centuries.”
The substance trembled, and the room could be felt shifting. Howl stood tapping his foot while the floor rotated; while the air filled with the rumbling of massive stones shifting themselves in response to the boy’s request.
A sonorous thud announced that the shifting was complete, and the dark halls were silent once more, and Howl resumed walking forward. For another hour he walked, mumbling to himself, taking turns occasionally, until you or I would have felt completely lost down there.
The boy started suddenly to jog again, eyes straining to see the expected doorway, and was brought up short by two giant, stone feet. The feet led to stone ankles, level with Howl’s head. He stumbled backward, and looked up into the eyes of a great, ancient monster, whose head was bent over to examine the small figure at its feet.
A dull green glow could be glimpsed within the giant’s dark eyes. They blinked once, slowly, and then it said, “All access to the Lumanian histories has been restricted. Persons found to be forcing entry will be extinguished.”
Howl stepped back, considering. As far as he knew, he was the only person who even knew the term “Lumanian”… Had someone else been down here before him? “Who put you here to guard this door, if I may ask?”
Another slow blink of its eyes, then, “I was placed here 334 years ago by this library’s curator, Master Howl.”
The boy’s face twisted up, trying to remember. Now, why on Earth had he locked himself out of this room?
To be concluded in Synthesis on September 1st.
Art by justinchan (Tumblr)