Books [RP Fiction]

Part One: The Boy in the Library

Mariah, herself, was driven mad by the knowledge she possessed....What makes you think you can manage what Mariah couldn't?”

Duncan regarded the boy he speaking to him. The boy, Duncan already couldn't remember his name, a clerk at the Britain Library whom Duncan had never seen before, was helping him find some books. The boy had done something he probably shouldn't have, and had pried into why Duncan was seeking such ancient, lost, dark knowledge.

The boy couldn't have known that Duncan already had read things far, far darker than anything that could be found at the Britain Library.

But at any rate Duncan had been honest – it was simply easier than lying. He was seeking knowledge to try and understand the threats Britannia faced. He hadn't disclosed that he was part of the effort to fight it, but he hadn't been asked. Good thing too, because if he had been asked he would've had to have lied, and lies, Duncan always said, can get messy.

Mariah had help going mad, as I recall,” Duncan answered. “And I don't. For me it's just me and the books.”

So the rumor goes....”

Makes sense, don't it? Experienced mage like Mariah, a legend, really...Mere knowledge wouldn't've gotten to 'er like that.”

For your sake, Sir, I hope not.” Then the boy walked away.

Duncan sighed and regarded the pile of books the boy had brought him. Nothing obviously special, but one cannot always obviously judge books by their covers. Duncan began to leaf through them and, after far too many hours, discovered that, unfortunately, in this instance, these particular books could indeed be judged by their covers. There was nothing in these books he had not encountered already. In much more detailed form.

By the time he had confirmed his initial impressions, it was late. Nothing ever really closed in Britain but there were no remaining patrons there, save Duncan.


  • Part Two: The Past Few Months

    For the past few months, ever since he’d realized that the Fellowship’s voice was likely some kind of other-worldly entity, Duncan had spent every available day and week wandering from one corner of Sosaira to the other, searching for libraries, books, secrets. Any scrap of knowledge or evidence that might shed light on what this enemy, the strange Voice behind the Fellowship, was like.

    Duncan wasn’t terribly concerned with the secrets of the universe in and of themselves. He never had been. What concerned him was how to find and kill whatever it was.

    There were many libraries in Sosaria, and many books within them. Some printed using mechanical means, some inscribed physically, some inscribed magically…Many books.

    A surprising number of these libraries were in dungeons, forcing Duncan to fight his way through evil creatures to get to them and, often, to defend his reading space from those same creatures once he’d established it. Sometimes John was there to help and they could share the burdens of both reading and fighting. But, more often than not, it was Duncan alone.

    John was a learned man to be sure but Duncan could feel that this kind of learning needed to mostly be his burden. The more he thought about it, usually in the moments before going to sleep and after waking up, the less certain he was of why. Maybe it was because knowledge itself rarely if ever bothered Duncan. He knew what he was, he knew his place in the world. He always had reduced almost every ancient secret he had ever learned to a treasure map or a set of instructions on how to kill something. Knowledge for its own sake was nice, but it wasn’t his primary purpose and the content of the knowledge never bothered him much.

    That mentality, he felt, gave him an edge in this quest. One of the books he read suggested that the entire universe he lived in, including himself, was a dream of a dark god, and that when that dark god arose the entire universe would blink out of existence. John, it turned out, had learned this story as a schoolboy and the thought had caused sleepless nights for a week. The thought of being a dark god's imaginary friend merely amused Duncan, probably would've even when he was a schoolboy too, and he moved on. That book had told him nothing of use and nothing of more interest than a story he read as a child about two wizards who fought by animating swords and watching as the swords fought by themselves. Even if the book was correct, an unrealistically big if to Duncan, it mattered not – the Voice was part of the dream, and it needed to be blinked out before the universe did. It was as simple as that.

    Of course, if Duncan didn’t happen to stumble across the right book, none of this really mattered.

    It disappointed Duncan that most of what he’d found he already knew. The entity was almost certainly not Cthulhu, the most-famous elder god, though not the most-powerful. (This was despite the fact that the Fellowship's medallion bore a symbol that looked an awful lot like Cthulhu.) It was almost certainly not Azatoth, the Demon Sultan, who could either be a demon lord of an elder god depending upon which book one read. It was almost certainly not Exodus reborn – whatever was going on far predated Exodus who was, as near as anyone could tell, a mechanical creation of Mondain and Minax. It didn’t feel like Khal Ankur either, who, though he had been very powerful before his power dwindled and he became a mere lich, began existence as a flesh and blood man. Whatever the Voice was, it would surprise Duncan greatly if it turned out it had begun existence as a flesh and blood anything. The Voice almost certainly was the same entity referred to in Mythran's “Updated History of Pagan,” against which the Elemental Titans had fought. But, curiously, knowing that seemed to help very little in understanding what it was. It was equivalent to finding a half-eaten corpse in the woods and concluding that “some monster” had done this.

    Maybe Duncan was just better-read than he gave himself credit for, and any potentially helpful secrets were simply beyond any knowledge normal men had access to. But then why did nothing he already knew seem to fit? If he was that well-read why did all of this seem so.....alien?

  • Part Three: The Cultist

    Duncan left the library, stepped out into the chilly Britain air. It was darker than normal, for some reason, the street lamps cast more shadows than light, but Duncan thought nothing of it. He began to walk towards Lord British's old castle, for no particular reason, really. He'd already exhausted most of the accessible bookshelves in there and the dust was starting to get to him. The only sounds Duncan could hear were the light, late night bustle at the West Britain Bank, the light swash of his buckler against the hilt of his sword, and the quiet footsteps behind and a little to the right of him. A figure, trying to stealth alongside the buildings.

    Duncan stopped.

    I suppose I should've known,” he said to the figure, though not facing toward it. “You probably had a tattoo or a ring or bracelet or something I didn't see. Would've tipped me right off. But now that I think about it it's pretty funny that I never saw you before today despite my spendin' more time at this blasted library than I did at my mother's bosom. And that you questioned my readin' choices despite everyone else who works here knowin' for months what I was lookin' for.”

    The boy from the library stepped from the shadows, and Duncan turned towards him. Duncan had to give him credit – that armor he was wearing now was quite impressive, Tokuno style, and he was stealthing it pretty well despite it being mostly made out of metal. Equally impressive was the Tokuno-style two-sword getup, known as a “daisho,” he had in his hands. Duncan could swear the blades pulsed with an unnatural energy, one Duncan thought he recognized.

    Soul drinkers?” Duncan asked. The boy nodded. “No such thing, lad. 'Least not here. This ain't the Dreaming Isle and this ain't Tamriel. This is Sosaria. That pulse? It's a hit chance enchantment and a trick of the light. Nothin' more. Whoever gave you or sold you those swords tricked you.”

    That will do you no good, interloper. The Urotsukidoji will have your soul, one way or another, before you read another word about him. Let alone before you can find him.”

    Duncan stared at the boy. The street lamps didn't illuminate his face well but if they had, any onlooker would have, correctly, interpreted his expression as disbelief. “The God-Damned Overfiend of Tokuno? That's what you think I'm after?”

    Do NOT speak of my Lord the Chojin that way!” The boy was foaming at the mouth – literally, not figuratively.

    Duncan sneered – by this point he was extremely annoyed. “Why not? Don't want me speakin' ill of the dead, do you?” The Overfiend of Tokuno, a powerful but surprisingly ordinary demon lord, had been dead for decades – its remaining followers, however, held it as an article of faith that it was still alive, in waiting. Duncan guessed that the boy would react poorly to this, and he was right.

    The boy screamed something in Tokunoese that Duncan did not understand and lunged forward, dark, pulsing swords flashing in the light lamplight. Duncan, in one smooth motion, spun out of the way and drew his sword and equipped his buckler, just in time to block another wild swing of the boy's primary-hand sword.

    Duncan had to once again give the lad credit. He was well-practiced at this style of fighting despite the fact that he likely never had set foot in Tokuno. After those first two wild swings, he showed remarkable skill and discipline. He alternated his angles of attack very well and Duncan, his age and fatigue showing through tonight more than normal, had a difficult time keeping up and was obliged to fight defensively. The boy's arms simply moved too quickly to provide Duncan an opening to launch an offense of his own. It was to Duncan's credit that he was not backed into a wall, but managed to 'retreat' in a wide circle, not getting boxed in. Duncan knew that his life literally depended on not getting trapped or tripped.

    Duncan knew that the guards, at this time of night, were very far away, and this lad was too fast for them anyway.

    After several rounds of attack, Duncan saw his chance. The boy was literally all offense. He made no attempt to hold anything back and made no attempt to use one of his swords to cover the gaps in his armor. He also didn't seem to care about the fact that his helmet was very slightly too big for him, and wasn't strapped in. Duncan kept fighting defensively and bided his time.

    Eventually one swing, a vicious downward chop with his primary hand that would've done significant damage to Duncan's hidden helmet and head had it connected, came in slightly slower than the others. Duncan stepped forward, into the swing, caught his opponent's sword between his own sword and buckler, and gave a shove, pushing the boy off balance and ruining the lad's attempt at a follow-up thrust with his off-hand sword.

    It was time for Duncan to go on the offense and, after that, the fight didn't last long. Duncan delivered a wicked punch with his buckler to the lad's helmet, knocking it clean off, and followed up with a sword thrust at his opponent's now-exposed head. Duncan's sword passed through his opponent's skull, literally from ear to ear. The boy's dying gasps caught in his throat as Duncan slid his sword out and casually wiped it off as the boy's now-lifeless body crumpled to the ground.

    Wasted life,” Duncan muttered to himself. “You were all of, what, sixteen? Then you read some Tokuno madman's storybook, thought you understood power, and just like that went from a boy to a cultist. I'll pray for you, lad, I'll pray your afterlife ain't spent with the oversized, dead demon you thought was a god.”

    Because the Overfiend, Duncan knew, despite its other-worldly and fearsome appearance, ultimately was just a demon.

    What Duncan was after was something else.

    There were no witnesses about. Normally Duncan would report the incident to the local guards, but not tonight, or at least not right now. Life went on. He hastened to join it.

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