March 21st, 2023
“And we’re finished for today. Prepare some tea, Catarina, I will have guests visiting shortly. Please try to do it properly this time.” Lord Nassar instructed, dispelling the minor spirit he had conjured.
His lesson had been on protecting oneself from a magical attack, but Catarina had been told that she was hardly ready to defend herself against even his weakest assault. Instead of defending herself against him, Cat had been pitted against one of the local city spirits.
“Yes, Lord Nassar…” Hands on her knees, the young magus was breathing heavily after the work out. It had taken a lot out of her to nullify the spirit. Still, she had done it, with nothing but her defenses. Albion had made her restart twice when she tried to use an offensive power against it.
Stretching up to keep her muscles from tightening, Cat took a few steady breaths and went to fetch the tea set quickly. She didn’t like making tea at all, and she was pretty sure that was exactly why Lord Nassar had her do it after every lesson. He was a powerful magus, but he could be very…petty.
Cat knew better than to voice her displeasure, however, and so she quietly bore with it, using her powers to get the water boiling. Ice was always more her thing, she found fire harder to control.
Still, soon enough she heard the familiar whistling of the kettle. She poured the hot water over the leaves and put it back over a lesser flame. She looked up and saw Lord Nassar already returned to his desk, reading a scroll of some sort.
“Mmm, Lord Nassar?” Cat said. Lord Nassar let out a short sigh, causing Cat to flinch inwardly. She always forgot that he hated when she addressed him first. Since she was in trouble anyway, though, she didn’t look away or apologize.
“Yes? What is it, Catarina?”
“Well, I was talking with Hildegard about her weapon and magic weapons in general. She knew a lot about the powers of her sword but didn’t know much about how magic weapons were made. I was wondering if you knew the process.”
“And WHY do you want to know, Catarina?”
“Well, I was hoping to make one of my own and…”
She fell silent as she saw Lord Nassar’s chair push backwards, meaning that he was about to turn his attention onto her. Nothing could make a lesson worse than interrupting him when he was in the middle of a thought. He was her teacher after all.
“I would suggest you put aside such a foolish notion, Catarina, and focus on your own rate of progress. If you would not waste your energy on these ridiculous endeavors to be a knight or a ranger or whatever they wish to call themselves, you’d probably be much farther along than you are. A magical artifact is not just a toy to be manufactured, they are complicated creations that require time, effort, and most importantly resources.”
It was the whistling of the teakettle that silenced him and gave Catarina room to escape his stern eyes. She hurried to put his cup on its saucer and pour out the hot tea for him. He said there guests coming, so she put the tea back over the flame, using her magic to reduce the heat.
Lord Nassar let out a sigh again, though this one sounded more like he was tired than that he was annoyed. “Making a magical item, of any type, is a complicated process. Aside from the rituals, which often include some sort of spiritually resonant metal or an infused component like the horn of a unicorn or a phoenix egg. In addition, you would need a talented artificer in a nexus of power to turn the materials into a magical item.”
“An artificer?” Cat asked.
“A mage who specializes in the crafting of physical objects with magical effects.” Lord Nassar said, as he took a sip of tea.
“So what sort of materials go into making a weapon specifically?” In spite of his words, Cat seemed undeterred in her quest. She thought perhaps she could get a little more from him, but there was a knock on his door.
“Master, the guests have arrived.” Suty announced.
“Mm, take them to the sitting room, Suty, offer them some refreshments. I’ll meet with them shortly.” Lord Nassar said. He turned to Catarina. “That’s all for our lesson today, Catarina. Be here tomorrow. I’d have Suty show you out but as she is preoccupied, I will simply say good day.”
Catarina had spent enough time with Lord Nassar to know that was it. She let out her own sigh as she packed up her things, slung her bag over her shoulder, and turned to leave. Right as she was leaving the room, she heard Lord Nassar’s voice call after.
“Oh, Catarina. If you are truly interested in this topic, I would suggest you bother one of the multitude of supernatural creatures residing in this city. I expect to hear nothing more of this next time we meet.”
“Yes, of course, Lord Nassar.” Cat said, hurrying out of the room. She didn’t want to ruin his good mood by dallying. Making her way out the back to avoid embarrassing Lord Nassar, Catarina thought about what he told her. What supernatural being did she know that might be able to help teach her more about magical weapons and their crafting? Cat let her mind drift as she walked down the path towards the heart of the sanctuary.
Perhaps Capitolina would know? She was an obvious choice. Besides being older than the city itself, she always struck Cat as being both wise and kind. She seemed to mother all the humans in the city, especially those who had lost their own families in the chaos outside. She’d be more likely to entertain Cat’s questions. “I wonder if wolf’s hair from Capitolina would count as one of those components…”
The sounds of the camp surrounded Cat as she walked through the crowds. There was also Angel. She seemed even older than Capitolina and she was certainly magical. There was also that strange mechanical clunking of her footsteps that made Cat think the black haired wolf might know about magical artifacts. Angel would be less patient with her, even if she knew more though.
“I’ll try them both.” Cat decided finally, putting her hands behind her head as she walked. “What’s the worst that could happen…Mm?”
She felt as if she were being watched. Out of the corner of her eye she saw someone staring at her from across the road. She turned more fully to face her just as the figure turned away, but it was enough for Catarina to see something uncanny about her, a familiarity as if seeing a ghost from her past. A second more and it struck her as she watched the back of the mysterious female figure walking away. She didn’t remember them from her past at all, but from her dream. In that brief glimpse of bright eyes and dark hair had been that black haired elegant woman in the halls of gold. She stood out from the people that had started to crowd the street but already Cat was beginning to lose her in the midday throng.
Without any hesitation, Catarina started to chase after the woman. “Excuse me, sorry, coming through!” She said multiple times as she made her way through the people. Whenever she thought she was going to lose the woman, Cat would see a flash of her dress ahead. Every now and again, the woman would look over her shoulder, as if to make sure Cat was still behind her, before seeming to disappear with the crowds. Each time, Cat eventually caught her trail again.
“Is she leading me somewhere…?” She asked herself quietly between half-said apologies and brusque passes.
She was taking Cat away from the center of the sanctuary. There were fewer people now but the woman still managed to disappear in the sparser crowds, only to reappear farther ahead around a corner or behind a lamp post and make Cat chase after her again. Wherever she was leading her it was clear she was doing it on purpose.
Eventually, however, the woman disappeared completely. She had walked all the way from the market to the edge of the wall surrounding the Sanctuary. Cat looked up as she came to a stop. Most of this neighborhood was still ruined and rundown from the early nights of chaos. She could hardly tell what this one used to be, though the upstairs were clearly apartments. On the door there was painted a picture of a golden sparrow. Just like in her dream.
Her curiosity demanded its satisfaction. With a deep breath, Catarina opened the door and stepped inside.
Compared to the unkempt and almost ruined appearance of the building’s façade, the interior almost took her breath away. The small door opened to reveal a vast space filled with warm golden light. Candles glowed softly everywhere casting their warmth across the plush furniture which, while obviously quite old, was clearly well cared for. What was most astonishing of all, however, were the books. Bookshelves lined the walls and filled the interior, leaving no space for windows to let in the harsh reality of the outside. Books were piled high on tables and stacked in chairs. They were left on the steps of stairs. Stairs! This place had stairs of polished wood and iron banisters leading up and down, undoubtedly to more books. The smell of old paper and bound leather and cloth permeated every molecule of the air and Cat breathed it in deep, letting it fill her lungs as the serene silence filled her lungs.
Her family had its own library, any self-respecting magus did (though Cat was not allowed in Lord Nassar’s without his supervision). Every now and then as a child she had been taken to a bookstore. But this? This was something else entirely. As a magus Cat felt herself to be something of an authority on magic, and this place was magical.
The strange woman lost to her thoughts, Cat ventured further inside, reading the spines and titles of the innumerable tomes lining the walls. They seemed to reject logic or reason in their arrangement, accounts and biographies mixed freely with adventures and fairytales. Moby Dick sat idly beside Symposium. The Canterbury Tales was crushed indignantly beneath Anabasis on the corner of a table. Inferno rested on its shelf beside a book written in…was that ancient Persian?
Language was no border on these shelves, where her native Italian leapt to French, then Old Norse, off to Mandarin, then to some pictorial language Cat was half-sure was Aztec in origin. Who on Earth had devised this system? Who on Earth owned this place? With a start her mind snapped back to the woman and the reason she had come here. Whoever she was, whatever connection she had to Cat, Cat knew that above all else she wanted to stay here.
She began searching through the shelves, looking for the signs of another person passing through but all was quiet. Cat paused, her footfalls silent, ears perked for a noise above the steady beating of her heart.
There it was, the gentlest sound, the turning of a page coming from a space to her right. Hurrying in that direction, Cat passed through two rows of shelves before coming to a door left ajar. The door was made of dark wood, its upper half filled with a window of stained glass, once more depicting golden sparrows in flight and on branches. A reading room? Almost certainly. With some trepidation, Cat glanced inside.
“A hurried rush through the entrancing library and she finds herself at my door.”
There was the woman, seated in a cozy armchair with a book opened in her lap. She appeared more orderly than she had in the dream, and certainly more real. Her long wavy black hair was mostly bound behind her head save for a few stray strands over her shoulders. Her eyes did indeed appear gold, though it was more a trick of the candle light against bright hazel eyes or so Cat told herself. She appeared Persian or from somewhere thereabouts, with olive skin and a pointed nose. While her voice had lost the resonant power it held in her dreams, it was still soft and gentle.
“I’m…sorry for bursting in.” Cat said quietly, the hushed tone usually reserved for libraries and bookstores.
“Oh I all but insisted you enter.” The woman smiled, gesturing to a chair. “Please take a seat.”
Cat sat, finding the chair incredibly comfortable. “Thank you…your library is marvelous…it is a library, isn’t it?”
“It is my life’s work.” The woman nodded, closing the book on her lap with a thud. “Collecting stories is what I do. Harder now than it used to be, but when I cannot find old stories I find new ones instead.”
“Ah…” Cat held her hands nervously in her lap. “This…is going to sound crazy but…I think we’ve met before. I saw you in a dream and recognized you.”
“I do not think you’re crazy at all.” The librarian shook her head. “I think fate has brought you to my library, it is why I welcomed you here.”
“Fate?” Cat asked “Why would fate bring me here.”
The librarian smiled, and Cat swore she saw a shine in her golden eyes. “This is a library.” She said “Let us look to the books and find out.”
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
((JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9042?chapter=22&sl=504 ))