Nobody sees him when he enters the library. Nobody ever sees him unless he wants them to.
Around him, faded specters of people go about their business. Some read, some browse, some check things out at the automatic tellers. Occasionally, someone will walk through him. Save for the small tingling feeling, it doesn't bother him. He's in the slipstream, walking the layer just beneath the surface of the world
He wanders the library, searching. After a cursory run around, he frowns.
He hasn't been to this library in years. For the longest time it had been closed for renovations. Things have changed. Everything is tidy and clean and so minimalistically modern. The tables are shaped like blobs, the carpet is pattered in geometric shapes that fit together like puzzle pieces. It is obtrusively bright, composed almost entirely of primary colors and the occasional glint of metal.
And there aren't any doors.
Everything is open, blocked off only by the shelves themselves. Even the backroom is relatively open, separated by an empty spot in the shelving rather than an actual doorway.
His stomach sinks. He needs a door.
There comes a flushing sound off to the side. Nestled half-hidden between shelves of movies are two doors, each bearing familiar pseudo-stick figure symbols. He sticks a hand into the pocket of his coat and feels the small card within.
Well, it's a good a door as any.
Each step he takes brings him a little deeper into the slipstream. He can feel the skin of the world sliding around him, focusing on one single point. Colors are gone. Nothing but shades of gray leaning towards the darker side of the scale. He's in the center of it, now. Smack dab in the middle between two worlds.
He opens the door - the knob here is solid. Possibly more so than he is. He steps through the threshold and sheds the last remnants of the real world.
It doesn’t lead to the restroom anymore.
The room is large- much larger than it could possibly have been from the outside. It is almost cavern-like, with darkness eating away at the edges. The only light comes from bowls of fire that hang from the ceiling. He doesn't question what fuels them. Bookshelves a good ten feet tall stand in orderly rows. They are the room's only furnishings. He can see it all from his position atop a half-moon dais.
The door closes behind him.
He runs his hand along the wall as he goes down the stairs. Upon closer inspection, both the walls and the floor appear to be composed of large, carefully engraved stone blocks. Intricate designs seem to shift under his gaze. Patterns swirl, shifting into ships crashing against cliff sides, into people running through mountain forests. Animals appear out of once plain lines and run about the stone before they too melt. Flowers bud and bloom in a matter of seconds while birds-
He tears his eyes away and barely manages to stop himself from falling down the steps. His hands are shaking.
Okay, he thinks, reaching the bottom. Don't do that again.
He walks along the aisles, fervently repeating the directions in his head.
Four hundred shelves forward from the stairs, two hundred to the right- unless it's night time in which case that's to the left. . .
The hanging torches do little to lessen the darkness: it seems to ooze along the edges of the world, permeating the very air. He finds himself humming a tune under his breath.
God of concrete, God of steel. . .
He is certain he's never heard the song before.
The shelves loom. The old tomes lining their insides become stranger the farther from the door they are. Some are thicker than his head, others slimmer than a child's picture book.
He reads a few of the titles, though he daren't touch any of them. Some are written in languages he's never seen before; their strange script melts and twists in the firelight. He is careful not to look at these for too long. Others have gems encrusted in the spines that light up when he passes. And a few- very few- are made of a thin, yellowy material that gives of the smell of stale death. He doesn't have to touch them to know what they were made of.
God of piston, God of wheel . . .
They begin to whisper.
The voices start off soft, flitting just on the edge of audibility. Slowly, they rise.
Pick us, they say, Take us.
The deeper into the library he goes, the louder they become.
Take us, they demanded. Let us out!
I'll give you power, said one.
Love, said another.
He stops. The book that had shouted sat on the shelf beside him. Its green leather was mottled and stained. Even through the libraries ambient musk, he catches the distinct odor of blood.
Answers, it says again. A low and sultry voice. A woman’s voice. And questions.
It was tempting. So very tempting.
“That’s not what I came here for,” he says. He doesn't sound convincing, even to himself.
It might be his imagination, but for a moment he has the impression the book is laughing at him. Take me, it says. I can help you.
Questions, he barely felt the tendril of glamour.
Answers. His hand reaches out without his noticing.
Power. The voice oozes its way into his mind. He stares unseeingly ahead. And all it will cost- he touches the spine. An electric jolt courses down his arm, snapping him out of his stupor.
-Is a little blood.
There is a sharp pain in his palm. He snatches his hand away just as the book begins to shiver. Pages ruffle, and a darkness too utterly complete to be called mere shadow pours out. The other books around him scream- in fear, rage, or jealousy, he couldn't say.
The darkness gathers in the air, coming together and solidifying into a figure of perfect nothingness. Despite its apparent lack of a mouth, it manages to give off the impression of grinning.
He turns tail and runs. The darkness follows.
God of wisdom, God of sage . . .
He doesn’t know how long he’s been running. All he knows is that his lungs are burning, his heart is racing and that thing is still behind him. The books haven't stopped screaming.
He turns down another aisle, only to find the creature there, waiting for him. It’s toying with him now; going through the shelves rather than around.
He turns to flee, but stumbles over his own feet. He doesn’t fall, but it’s cost him enough time for the creature to strike. It reaches out and-
It shrieks. The books around them go silent. He watches with an even mix of fascination and horror as the creature is eaten away by white light. It pierces through spectral flesh and with a final howl, the shade is gone.
Someone taps him on the shoulder.
It is an old man. He’s bald on top, and slightly on the portly side. His beard has gone gray, but it’s the stylish, almost silver sort of gray. He’s wearing a white robe reminiscent to those of European monks. His arms are crossed. He does not look pleased.
“The hell do you think you were doing? Didn’t you see the sign?”
“Sign?” says the young man, dazed. “Sign? I didn't see any-"
“It says ‘No Touching’ in big bold letters.” He frowned. "At least, there should be a sign out there. Unless . . . " He squints at the young man suspiciously. "You in with that boy Zeus's lot?"
"They're always comin' around here. Stealing my signs, knocking over shelves. Thena's a nice enough girl- her and that little Woden boy always running around in here. Clever scamps, and I can't fault her for her family, but that Zeus kid's a rotten one."
The younger man coughs politely.
The elder seems to notice him again for the first time. “I'd like to inform you that you will be paying for any damage done to our collection." He leans in a little closer. "And these are very. Expensive. Books."
Before the young man can get a word out, the old man turns and walks away.
The old man keeps going, taking long, easy strides. His hands are clasped behind his back. "If you've any questions, come see me in my office during office hours."
"Just follow me, if you must."
"Full of questions, aren't you? About one minute and thirty-four seconds after we'll arrive."
He continues on and turns a corner behind one of the shelves. The young man realizes that this may be his only chance, and trots after.
God of parchment, God of page
The old man hadn't been kidding about the minute-thirty-second rule. When they arrived at the office, the old man had sat down at his desk, pulled a book from one of the many piles surrounding him, took a ballpoint and began to write, leaving the young man to stand awkwardly.
Exactly one minute and thirty four seconds pass.
The old man looks up, small smile playing on his lips. “Hello,” he said. “Can I help you?"
With a strange and childish guilt, he holds out a library card. The name of the patron has long since worn off, as have the barcode on the back. On the front, one can just barely make out:
Ed va e Bra h
“I would like to check out my book.”
The old man reaches across the desk and takes the card with a smile. After a moment of examination, he gives off a low whistle.
“You’ve put it through the cycle, haven’t you?”
“A few times, yes.”
“When was the last time you got a replacement for it? We don’t make these kinds anymore.”
The young man shuffles. “About. . . ten years, maybe?”
The old man rises to his feet and goes to one of the piles at the other end of the room. “You really ought to get a new one. A replacement’s only four dollars-“ He pulls out a leather book about as thick as a dictionary.
The old man nods. "You’ve done a few interesting things, even if you don’t think of them that way.”
The younger man takes the book and greedily flips through the pages.
"But they’re all blank!”
The small god chuckles. “Did you think it wouldn’t be? Nobody can read their own life’s story. You were there the first time around, weren't you? That’s enough.”
He wants to argue. He wants to shout- to demand that the god give him his life back-
But he doesn’t. Reason is a harsh mistress who doesn't allow for temper tantrums. He nods once, curtly. Without a word, he tucks the book under his arm and heads for the exit.
The old man is surprised.
“You’re taking it with you anyways?”
He stops a few feet away from the door. “Yes. I can do that, can’t I?”
"There's no point in it. You won't be able to read it."
The young man doesn't tell him the obvious: that just because he couldn't didn't mean that someone else couldn't. There were a few people who still owed him favors who could probably puzzle it out.
"Consider a testament to my curiosity."
For a second, the god can do nothing but stare. It passes, though, and with a smile and small shake of his head, he says:
"It's due back in two weeks. If you want to renew it, you'll have to call the front desk, and don't you dare dog ear the pages."
He could feel the world slide around him. Once again, a door was becoming the slipstream's focal point. "Noted."
The god picks up his pen and turns his attention back to the book he'd been working on. "Have a nice day. Do come again."
The young man leaves him to read in peace.
Roughly inspired by a dream within a dream