Roslyn knew she shouldn’t have been in the Library of Atlantis after hours, and yet there she was, strolling down the hallowed halls of Atlantica’s most treasured archive, with nothing but lockpicks and her wits.
Shadows flickered against the walls; their flames had burned low in the midnight hour. Enchanted to illuminated rather than burn, the firelight licked hungrily up the towering shelves as if they were Tantalus himself, yearning to devour. The Hellfire hearth in the centre of the library had been put out for the day as most of the scholars had gone home for the day, but a few still lingered. A form of transportation, most popular amongst Soucouyants and other vampiric genus, its extinguished flames meant that no uninvited guests could come or go.
Slipping into an alcove, she held her breath as a Sage of Knowledge passed by, her nose blissfully stuck in a Verdancy tome. Once her footfalls faded into the night, Roslyn slipped back into the statue-lined walkway. Their imperious eyes followed her as she cracked open the wrought-iron locks and crept to the archives below. She had already bypassed the guards and protection runes, and attracting the attention of a Sage was definably not in her plans.
Climbing the winding staircase, she hoped that her efforts would not be in vain. After all, she had been looking for the Firebird for months and still had no lead as to where it could be or even what it was. Most of the books on the subject were either destroyed or ruined from the last great war. It was almost as if someone tried to erase it from existence―to be lost to time. And if it weren’t for the horrified look on Headmistress’s face when Roslyn asked about it during her study of ancient runes lesson, she would have left it alone; but it was the way the Headmistress had recoiled from her question. Almost as if Roslyn had poured hot oil onto her that intrigued her the most.
The Library of Atlantis was possibly the most stunning library Roslyn had even been in. While the above library was beautiful with its golden bookshelves and floating crystals, the archives below were macabre and lovely, with its black candlelight and polished wood. Ghosts wandered the halls, reading and restacking the shelves, their souls were bound to the library, and as such, they were its willing servants. Bookshelves floated in the cavernous space above, constantly rearranging themselves.
Only Sages of Knowledge and those of special permission were allowed down here as the Gaudian of Knowledge himself thought it prudent to do so. Standing on a terraced balcony, she melted into the shadows, grinning like a fiend. The Sages below hadn’t noticed her forced entry or the broken locks, and she hadn’t set off any alarms. She’d heard rumors of the beasts that patrolled the library at night and had no interest in finding out if they were true.
Running a finger along the spines, Roslyn remembered the last time she had been to the archives. Pinned against a bookshelf, she had kissed a boy godless. Divinity stained his teeth as they worshipped each other in the dark. The memory was enough to make her blush. Surveying the sea of shelves, the floating stacks did little to ease her worry. Each one of them filled to the brim with old tomes and scrolls. Pulling a few books off the shelves, she set down her haul on an empty desk. Mostly scrolls on the early history of Atlantis, tomes of divination, and time, lexicons of dead languages, and a grimoire or two on healing and ruin magic the books held nothing useful.
Book after book, she continued to tear through the section. Hours burned by and still nothing. At this rate, she may never find the Firebird. Groaning, she sat on the floor, and weighed her options, keep looking or go back to her dormitory and her ever-growing pile of assignments? Ready to slam a book on wyverns against the desk, she froze as a nearby bookshelf shook almost imperfectively.
“Burning the midnight oil, are we?” Cicero mused, taking a book from the pile Roslyn had gathered.
Jumping slightly, she set down the book she had been holding. “Just a little late-night reading is all.”
"Why didn't you call me then? You know I would have let you in. You didn't have to go trapesing through the halls."
"But where would then fun in that be?" She smiled as Cicero’s transparent hair floated in a nonextant breeze. She had always loved Cicero, even when he was obnoxious. Although he never told Roslyn his name, her friends had come to call him Cicero after he commented on Roslyn’s extensive book collection; all of which he had read, none he approved of. Nevertheless, she trusted him, knowing that he wouldn't report her to a Sage for breaking into a library.
"Breaking the law isn't fun. It's illegal,” he chided.
"Clearly, you haven't spent enough time with me," she laughed back, leaning against the desk.
“Are you done with these?”
Cicero started to restack the books, mumbling something about a messy girl and her friends, but she ignored it.
"Cicero, have you ever heard of the Firebird?” She knew it was risky to ask, but she couldn’t help herself.
“The children’s story or the beast?”
"Girl the Firebird is a thing of myth. It isn't real."
"Yes, it is," she insisted, trying her best not to yell. "Some legends say it is a mythical bird caught ablaze with heavenly fire, others claimed it was a title given to the most powerful of warriors, or even a god of sorts, but most scholars in the Atlantica agreed that it was just a bedtime story for children."
“That’s because the Firebird is just a story meant to send children off to sleep.”
“But it’s too much of a coincidence that the same Firebird appears in legends from the far East, the Southern Seas, and the Northern Settlements, all cultures that didn't have contact with each other until recently.” No, it was no coincide at all. The Firebird was too well known to be some myth.
“Is that why you’re here? To look for something that doesn’t exist.”
Grounding her teeth, she sighed, “It exists. I know it does.” She’d find it. Proof that the Firebird was real. Even if it would take all night, she’d find it, even if she didn’t know was what it was.
Huffing a sigh, she pulled another tome off the shelf, chucking it at him, but Cicero caught it before it could hit the floor. Storming off into another section, she delved deeper into the archives, but when she thought she’d left her friend behind, Roslyn found him trailing behind her. Together the two roamed the library, letting the hours bleed by.
Sleep tugged at Roslyn's eyes and made her bones heavy. Bumping into a shelf, she winced when a book fell on her foot. Stumbling back, she opened the leather-bound tome. Crimson and gold, it contained illustrations of flames and a great bird with a crown. A grin split her face in two. She found it, but just as she was about to call out to Cicero, an eerie creaking whistled through the air. A fresh spring breeze blew past her, catching wisps of her hair. It was blissfully cold against her warm skin. Where in the world―whipping her head around, she searched for the source. An ornately carved ironwood door stood in the middle of the passageway. Ajar, the door was suspended in the air, without any walls.
Glancing around, Roslyn saw no one but heard the hushed voice of none other than Cedric Wynn, Sage of Knowledge, Head Thaumaturge of the Library of Atlantis, and the one and only person that would throw Roslyn out of the Atlantic faster than she could blink. Not to mention the last time they'd met, she might have stolen his favourite pen. There’d been a bounty for whoever had stolen the pen for a month, and she doubted he had forgotten the time she had accidentally insulted his flaming red hair. Hiding in another aisle, she peered from behind a bookshelf, listening closely.
“Are you sure?” Cedric’s voice was tight.
“Yes. Master Eldridge has ordered that every book on the Firebird be taken to Golgotha for safekeeping." Another man answered, and by the guttural accent, Roslyn guessed that he was from Mu, a kingdom of the Southern Seas.
“Does Guardian Rong know?”
“Yes. He and Master Elderidge are personally overseeing it.”
“Good. That will be all Nilam. Your dismissed.”
“Thank you, my Lord.”
Clutching the book to her chest, Roslyn stole a glimpse at the door but couldn’t make out what was on the other side, it was too dark, but it was probably just another section of the archives, the basement most likely. Straighten behind the bookshelf, she took in one steady breath before she looked back. Cedric was stalling, waiting for someone. Minutes passed, and still, he stood, unwavering by the door.
Whipping her head around, Cicero now sat beside her, "what are we hiding from?" he whispered.
“Lord Wynn to you young miss.”
The seconds ticked by, and Roslyn started to panic. She had to get out before Cedric could catch her. With the book in hand she silently stalked to the exit, leaving Cicero behind. Not daring to breathe, her grip around the book was iron clad as she made her way to the door. With the carved stone staircase insight, she hastened her steps, but something invisible slammed into her. Knocked backwards, she fell on her back, the book thankfully still in her hand. Sitting up, slack-jawed her spine shook. A Taotie loomed over her. Scurrying backwards, she ran.
Chucking different books at the jade green creature, she raced towards Cicero.
“Hey Cicero, you ever played hide and seek?” She yelled.
Wide-eyed, Cicero shook his head. Roslyn chucked a book at the Taotie, but instead of connecting with its head, the beast snapped it up in its unhinged jaw. Cringing at its many rows of teeth, she ignored the ringing in her ears. Rolling her eyes, Roslyn threw another random book, thick and heavy, at the beast. A few aisles away from Cedric, she earned an alarmed look from her companion, throwing tome after tome to slow the Taotie’s pace. Their footfalls and the slapping of leather against stone echoed through the room, and sure enough, she heard Cedric’s yelling. Great.
Reaching out a hand, Roslyn slapped Cicero’s shoulder as she ran past. “Your it,” she yelled, “now run.”
Sprinting to the door, Roslyn didn’t bother to look back, slamming the door closed behind her. The beast was Cedric's problem now. Skidding on her heels, the room spun, and not a moment later, the door shook and then dissolved into shadows. Well, that was… something. Turning on her heal, Roslyn took in her surroundings; but she wasn’t in another section of the archives, the basement or even Atlantica. No. The floors were polished black marble rather than smooth alabaster, and the wood more black than bronze. Standing on some sort of balcony, she stumbled backwards. Below she was a cavernous space filled to the brim with a maze of bookshelves. Around her were even more books, but these were chained to the shelf. Their iron links sparkled in the candlelight, and above her―oh gods―on a balcony above her was Death’s right hand, the Commander of the Shadows, and she was staring right at her. Roslyn wasn't in Atlantica anymore; she was in the House of Bone.
She’d been there before, by accident, and she doubted that they’d forgotten her so easily. Not after she stole enchanted apples from the garden of Hesperides, Death’s orchard.
Taking a few slow steps back, Roslyn didn’t drop the Commander’s glare. This was bad. Scratch that; this was worse than that bad. Of all the places the door could have taken her, a House of Death was not one she would have guessed. With the railing at her back, Roslyn eyed the distance below her. It was a couple dozen feet below her, and the drop could very well kill her, but she’d be damned if she stayed there.
Leaping off the balcony, she flailed through the air, waiting for an impact that never came. Opening her eyes, she was inches from the black marble floor, and a heartbeat later, she dropped to the ground. The place must have been charmed as to not destroy the books. Scrambling to her feet, she ducked behind a pillar and listened. Nothing. Looking above, she saw the Commander hovering overhead. Her glowing eyes search the maze, but she stayed where she was before moving on to the balcony where Roslyn had landed.
Pulling out her lockpicks, she looked for a door; surely there must be one. With her book still in hands, she wondered the stacks in search of an exit. Occasionally pulling out a tome or two, curious as to what information could be so sacred it would have to be hidden in here. Some of the texts had illustrations of necromancy, others of resurrection. After a few hours, she eventually stumbled across a hallway that forked into two directions.
Peering down the left, she saw nothing but darkness but heard distance sounds of the ocean, and from the right. Considering that the latter would probably take her to some gods forgotten labyrinth, she veered left, bristling against the cold breeze, but then she heard voices. Pivoting, she ran back the way she had come and to the other door. Standing in front of an ornately carved door, she tested the handle. The heavy wood swung open, silent and inviting.
Pressing the door shut, she listened as footsteps pounded down the corridor. With her back to the door, she sank to the floor. How was she going to get out of here? Absent of windows and other doors or bookshelves, a massive desk took up most of the space, while an alabaster hearth sat in the middle of the room—the Hellfire crackling softly in the silence. Wait―Hellfire. Holding back a laugh, she set the book down on the desk. Hellfire would be her way out of this place.
Ready to jump into the fire and go back to her dormitory, she paused. An opalescent book sparkled in the firelight, casting odd rainbows on the oily black stone walls caught her eye. Reaching out, she hefted the tome in her hand. It was lighter than it looked, and not only was the cover blank, but the pages were as well. Holding it up to the light, the pages smelt of smoke; its ivory pages were ageless against her fingertips. Flipping through the book again, she hissed, looking down at her papercut. Drops of blood had already beaded up on the page, but the scarlet blood didn't stain the page rust; no, instead, it faded into the parchment without a trace.
Stunned, she dropped the book onto the desk. What kind of book was this? But before she could pick it back up, a shot rang out, and a ball of shadows lodged itself in the chair to her side. Snapping her head to the door, she ducked behind the desk for cover as splintered rained down from above. The Commander of Shadows stood in the doorway, shadows roiling around her.
Reaching out a hand, she felt for the crimson tome, and without hesitation, Roslyn hurled herself into the maelstrom of chartreuses and vermillion flames. Yep…It was defiantly time to go. The Commander’s glowing eyes were enough to snuff out the bravado in Roslyn, but she’d never been good at goodbyes, and this was no exception. With the old manuscript against her chest, she waved the warrior woman goodbye, flashing her a grin before she disappeared into the flames.
Tumbling out her fireplace seemed a lot more glamorous in books than it felt. Landing in a heap of tangled hair and charred clothing, she held the book tight against her. Blinking her eyes open, she was met with a stream of bright sunlight. Sitting up, she looked for her clock. It couldn't have been later than midmorning, but during the summer, she could never be sure. Hastily tossing a mound of sand from a nearby pot into the fireplace, she smothered the green flames for good measure.
Setting the leather-bound manuscript on her lap, she paused. The ivory book sparkled. Now in the sunlight, she could see that there was something ancient scrawled on it. Half worn to time, the sharp stokes and hard edges of the language looked reminiscent of the far East. Opening it, she almost dropped it again because the pages weren’t blank.
It was filled with illustrations of flames and crowns and filled with text that read top to bottom. The twelve pillars of the universe were illustrated in the tome as well, but what caught Roslyn's eye was not the magnificent drawings of the ancient powers but the golden illustration of a bird consumed by fires, a woman towering behind her, a crown over both their heads two birds circling them. Tracing the raven and dove with her fingertips, she noticed that the text and drawings vanished in the shadows. How strange, she thought. Not the book she had been looking for, but still, there must have been a reason it was locked up in the House of Bone of all places.
A knock sounded from her bedroom door. Tossing a heap of sand onto the fire, Roslyn snapped her head up to find her roommate Calliope, shrugging off her jacket and boots. The worn leather landed with a thud.
“Where have you been?” Calliope asked, draping herself on a chair by the fire.
“Nowhere special,” she smiled, “just the library.”