With a last heave and a groan Alexa scrambled over the edge. Seeing that her climb was finally over she unceremoniously sat down on the ground, dropping her bulging backpack beside her. The breeze moving the trees was cool and ruffled her already messy hair. From the ledge at the top of the mountain she had a perfect view over the dense forest spreading out all the way to the horizon, covering countless of mountains in a green and brown blanket.
’You must be the new apprentice,’ someone said behind her, and caused her to jump in surprise.
An older woman dressed in a green robe and with dirt blonde hair stood some paces away from where Alexa sat. ’Who are you?’
’I am Selma, the librarian of the Forest Library. You?’
’Alexa Alderbaran of the Academic Academy,’ she said with a smile as she stood up, brushing dirt from her clothes as she did.
’That is a lot of A’s,’ Selma commented.
’Too bad there are none in my report card,’ she mumbled to herself as she followed Selma towards the cave entrance some way off. ’Where are we going?’
’The entrance to the library,’ Selma said plainly. ’Is something wrong?’
Alexa hesitated for moment. ’I was expecting more.’
Selma snorted. ’It is not the outside that matters, as you should know.’
’I do, but I still expected a grander design for the Forest Library of the legends.’
’You did not think it has remained a secret by being easy to find, did you? The entrance is just as ordinary as its surroundings in order to keep it safe and keep out unwelcome twats.’
Alexa barely kept from laughing as they walked through the entrance. When they reached the deepest part of the cave Selma murmured some words she could not hear. The wall in front of them moved out of the way with surprisingly little sound and Selma motioned for her to step onto the wooden platform that had been revealed. The first few minutes they descended through a dark tunnel, and the only light was the strangely coloured lamp hanging on one of the corner posts. When the tunnel ended Alexa instinctively took a steady hold of the closest metal bar surrounding them.
There was a massive hollowness inside the mountain, hundreds of meters deep and wide. Level upon level stretching from the top to the bottom, each of them with an open overview of the inside of the mountain. The floor of the ground floor they were heading towards had the shape of a gigantic star upon it but the closer they got the less they could see of it.
’It’s not as cold as I thought it’d be,’ Alexa commented.
’It changes,’ Selma shrugged. ’This is the lobby. You will find the elevators at the four cardinal points. If you want to go to another part of the library you will have to turn to one of the other elevators, not the one we came with. That area with drawers and such over there, that is where you can find where everything is located.’
’Like an archive of the library?’
’Yes. Come with me and I will show you to your room.’
She led the way towards one of the many doors lining the edge of the circular lobby. She motioned to the triangle on the door, making sure that Alexa remembered it, before she stepped through. On the other side was a hallway that ended in a staircase. Selma stopped in front of a door on the left and opened it for Alexa. Inside was a small apartment and Alexa dropped her backpack on the bed.
’This will be your room, mine is two floors up. The kitchen is on the next floor, all meals will take place there–no food in the library. I will let you get comfortable. Dinner is in three hours. And don’t go into the library,’ she added before she closed the door behind her.
Alexa sat on her bed for a while, just looking at the things around her. The desk was old, probably made long before she had been born, and looked naked in its emptiness. Back at the Academy her desk had always been cluttered with things she needed for her studies. So bad had it been that she didn’t even remember what the furniture itself looked like. Opening her bag she pulled out a notebook and a bunch of pens and put them on the scratched surface. Then she did the same with the rest of her things, until her bag was empty.
She stared at the pile for a while before heaving a sigh. ’Of course I forgot the rubber. Why is it always the rubber?’
Muttering to herself she stowed away her clothes in the closet and her books in the bookshelf. When she was done with organizing her things she headed back to the lobby.
‘Lonely work,’ she mumbled as she looked around. ‘From social to hermit in less than two weeks. Fantastic.’
She stood staring up at the levels she could see and contemplating whether to follow her desire or her new master’s words. Like always, her curiosity won.
Choosing a direction at random she ended up at the western elevator. Alexa made sure to keep a hold of the railing before she pulled the lever downwards, setting it into motion. It was quiet compared to the rattling of the southern elevator. As she rose, numbers started to flash on the dial above the lever, getting higher for each time. She stopped the elevator on sixty-seven and the door behind her clicked open. As soon as she stepped out, a bluish light lit up the area where she was standing. Looking to her right she saw that it came from a stone resting in a cup-like indention in the wall just next to where the elevator stopped. She picked it up carefully and marvelled at its smoothness, not a single scratch on it. The light intensified the higher up she held it, and when it was above her head it shone bright enough for her to see the end of the closest bookcase.
After taking some steps she heard the door to the elevator close, and she had just enough time to see it head back down. With a shrug she continued down the row of floor-to-ceiling bookcases, all stacked to the brim with leather-bound volumes. Every now and then another stone lit up as she neared. They had been carved into the sides of bookcases and, unlike the one Alexa found by the entrance, could not be removed from their place. There was no way of telling how long time she had spent walking around, taking turns at random and browsing the spines as she went. By the time she decided to head back she had made so many turns she couldn’t remember them all.
’There was the section about the olden gods,’ she mumbled as she retraced her steps. ’And the Schiffer civilization. Then the old lore of the Highlands,’ she trailed off when the wrong bookcase stood before her. ’That’s not right. It was definitely olden gods, Schiffer, Highlands, Greylands, Redstone, half-gods, medicine islands, Metal Era, and elevator.’
On the label in front of her the words Dragon Lore was written. The next one said Taloon History. Then came Amur Origin. None of which she had passed before. She turned back once more. There were new labels on the bookcases again.
She growled with frustration. ’What is going on here?’
The more she walked the more labels did she come upon. She tried calling out, in the vain hope that Selma might be looking for her, but quickly gave up when she couldn’t even hear her own echo. Some time later, how long she couldn’t be sure of, she came upon a break in the rows of bookcases. It formed a circle and in its centre stood a large table made out of a stone slab. It was bare, short of a light stone carved into its centre, which lit up when she closed in. She sat down carefully in one of the decaying chairs around the table and stared into the darkness beyond the bluish light.
Her stomach growled loudly. She hadn’t brought anything with her to eat, and didn’t know how long it would take to get back. If she made it back at all. It wasn’t the first time she had been in this kind of situation. During the first week of attending the Academy, famed throughout all nations for its size, she’d taken a left turn instead of right and spent five hours trying to find her way back to the main gate. At that time she’d been able to ask other students for help, but now she was entirely alone. When her stomach growled once again she stood up. She grabbed the stone and hurled it into the darkness with a barely suppressed scream.
There was a sound of the stone hitting wood, followed by something sounding like a squeak. ’Hello?’ she called hesitantly but got no answer. She glanced over her shoulder at the light in the table before following the direction she had thrown the other one. It took some time before her eyes got used to the dark and she was able to make out the shelves again. They weren’t filled only with books anymore. There were scrolls of various sizes and the occasional artefact.
Just as she was becoming impressed with her own strength–just how far had she thrown it? –the stone began to shine. It had landed on a pile of books and scrolls in the middle of the path, that had, by the looks of it, been tipped over fairly recently. As she walked closer she heard the squeak again, followed by some rustling. It was coming from below the pile. She picked up the stone and placed it on one of the now empty shelves to get a better view. Lifting the books at the top carefully she heard the rustling increase, and as she neared the bottom a weak reddish light peeked through the holes.
When she put aside the last scroll she saw that the light came from a tiny little girl with red clothes and hair, no bigger than Alexa’s index finger. The girl stood up and shook her almost transparent wings before flying to where the stone shone, at face-level with Alexa.
’Thank you, for saving me,’ she said. Her voice was hesitant but still had the characteristic brightness of fairies. ’I’ve been stuck under that for several days; if Taigeria hadn’t led you here I might have died.’
’Taigeria?’ Alexa echoed.
’The library. If you don’t know that you must be new.’
’Yes, I arrived today. I’m Alexa.’ She almost stuck out her hand but managed to stop the impulse just in time.
’Nice to meet you. I am Spy,’ she said and bowed politely.
’You said the library led me here?’
’Yes, Taigeria is alive, just like us. The hallways change sometimes: the elders say it’s because Taigeria is moving, and unless someone from my tribe accompanies you you’ll never find your way back. We can see the paths naturally, so even if they change we can still find the way back.’
’So Selma has to keep a fairy prisoner in order to work here?’
’Prisoner?’ Spy exclaimed. ’Most definitely not, we help the librarians by free will. The Forest Tribe has always been supporting Taigeria, and each librarian that is chosen will get our aid. I will help you in your future work.’
’If you can just show me the way back, that’ll be fine too.’
’I have been trained to become a librarian’s fairy,’ she said curtly.
Alexa laughed slightly before nodding. Perhaps the work wouldn’t be so lonely after all. ’Fine, how about friends?’
The red colour shining from Spy intensified for a moment as she smiled. ’Friends sounds good,’ she nodded and took to the air. ’Follow me.’