She followed as he led her down the slender stairwell. The passage was deprived of light, and the unfamiliarity of it frightened her. Benjamin stopped suddenly, placing his hand upon an intricate engraving in the stone wall to the right of the narrow corridor. The etching was that of a threefold cord, wrapping around its own design, its pointed circles interlocking in a timeless puzzle of endless knots. There were cords which ran from the tangled image, stretching from it one way upward and the other down into the depths of the library's hidden chambers.
'What is he doing?'
She watched him as he took a breath and slowly exhaled. As he did, there came a faint glow from beneath his palm. He removed his hand from the patterned wall, and she saw the shimmering light like liquid gold as it began to fill the carvings of a careful craftsman. The light flowed from the center of the pattern, making its way through the channels to the outside of the detailed stonework and out through the cords, carried by them in either direction. There was a strange warmth to this beautiful light, and it was as a river of fire which flowed, flooding the channels and running as a current through the stony banks.
The bookshelf closed above them, sliding quietly into place, and she felt a sudden jolt of adrenaline, the fear of being trapped without a known means of escape. For a moment, her heart raced. Still, she descended the stairs behind Benjamin, trying desperately to convince herself of her own safety.
"You're not really trapped, you know," he said with a voice of calm reassurance. "You are free to go as you wish."
"Ah!" she breathed, her eyes widened.
'What? How did he know?'
"Uh... thank you," she muttered courteously.
'That is the appropriate response to someone reading your mind, isn't it?'
She looked to the river of light which illuminated the narrow passage. 'I wonder what sort of strange magic this is.'
She felt his eyes as they shifted back towards her. "It's not magic," he muttered, gently correcting her thought statement. "Please," he added softly, "don't fear for anything."
'Don't fear for...' She considered his words and shook her head lightly. 'No one talks like that.'
They came to the end of the stairwell and turned off through the doorway to their left. They stepped into a long hall which branches into a maze of underground corridors. The walls, floor, and ceiling were all entirely crafted out of a smooth, seamless stone. There were lamps ensconced high on the walls at even intervals, fiery lights which burned behind the opaque walls of their pearly glass coverings. It was the same sort of marvelous light which shone in the library's main hall, and Avera admired the lamps as they passed by them, making their way down the empty hallway.
"Do you live here?" she curiously inquired.
"I, and several others," Benjamin replied courteously.
"Others?" she asked, surprised.
He turned his head, his eyes watching her as if to analyze her reaction. "Yes," he agreed softly.
"Well... where are they?" she asked him with growing curiosity and the remainders of some slight concern.
"Out at the moment," he quietly commented, not readily offering anything further.
"I see..." she muttered softly. "So... you have business elsewhere, then," she carefully concluded.
He smiled, seemingly impressed and, perhaps, amused. "Yes," he said simply, moving his eyes again to the front. "In town, out of town... in fact, we have business just about everywhere. I, myself, have a short meeting out of town two days early."
"You mean early the... day after tomorrow, then?" she clarified, trying to wrap her mind around the peculiar statement.
"That's right," he said, his eyes glancing back at her again.
"Then... why stay here?" she asked, perplexed.
He smiled. "Sometimes, Avera, the best questions are those to which the answer is not readily available."
She frowned. 'Well, that's one of the most original non-answers I've heard, but still...' she sighed. 'I'd like to know.'
"It's not that you can't know," he explained. "I would much prefer that you did, actually. However," he paused, "there are some things which demand more than our passing interests."
He had led her through a maze of corridors in the elaborate halls of the underground when finally he stopped, opening one of the wooden doors which appeared on their left. Inside was a small walk-in closet with shelving stacked with towels, bed spreads, blankets, cloaks, clothing, and linens on every side. As he carefully removed one of the towels from a shelf, he glanced back at her, taking for her, also, a dry change of garments.
"You're tired," he said with a look of caring concern in his warm brown eyes as he placed the towel and garb in her outstretched hands. His tone was soft and gentle. "We do have a spare room here, if you would like to stay and rest." It was a very humble offer, applying little pressure in one direction or the other.
For a moment, she stopped her mind from analyzing all of this wonder of the newfound world around her, and his words echoed in her mind: "You are free to go as you wish."
She smiled, feeling herself begin to relax a little. "Yes," she said, feeling the onset of exhaustion, "I think I'd like that."
He led her around to another hall with more closed doors and adjoining chambers, and after a short while, they came to a door on the right which he opened. The room itself was small and simple, having four plain walls of equal dimensions painted in shades of cream. There was a single bed, carefully dressed in sheets and a pillow, arranged against the far wall with a neatly folded blanket laid across the foot of it. The room contained minimal accommodations and was otherwise empty but for chair and a small bedside table with a lamp sitting on it. Avera saw the bed thankfully, her eyelids growing heavy at the sight of it.
"I hope this will readily accommodate you. Please, if it isn't to your liking..." he began to offer something else to her in his courteous manner which she found greatly overdone, but she cut him short.
"It's wonderful," she told him, longing to lie down and rest. "Thank you, Ben. I don't think I realized how tired I was." She smiled wearily with all consideration.
'But somehow you knew.'
He smiled at her, his eyes like the light of a warm campfire. "I'll leave you here, then," he graciously told her before shutting the door and leaving her inside.
She dried herself, peeling her skysuit from her wet skin and changing her clothes entirely. The shirt and pants which Benjamin gave her were made of a soft cotton and the fashion was outdated, but she was thankful they were warm and comfortable.
She smiled. 'Amazing how well these fit for being borrowed.'
"And that," she told herself quietly, eyeing the bed, "will fit even better."