The library was a maze of giant bookshelves; all carved out of thick grey. The ceiling was a massive slab of the same grey stone; and was held stories above Khell’s head by massive pillars. The shelves seemed to go on forever in every direction, and each was full with thick leather-bound books.
Khell wandered cautiously amongst the bookshelves. She considered calling out for help, but couldn’t find her voice. The silence of the library was infectious, and Khell felt weird about breaking it. Besides, Khell hadn’t seen anyone in the library yet, and she wasn’t sure who would come looking for her if she yelled.
Though Khell hadn’t found any people in the library, she had passed several odd metal statues. All of them had round cauldron bodies of thick black metal, with a wide oven grate door on the chest. Their arms were a spindly mix of cogs and rods, ending in oversized black bracers and equally oversized hands. Their legs were a similarly thin, with giant cogs for knees and big black iron boots. The statues all had stovetop heads, with round steam gauges for eyes. There was one at the end of every shelf; all identical save for a different symbol on each of their shoulders. Khell wondered if the symbol was a type of number.
The statues were odd, but Khell found the shelves of the library to be even stranger. They were made of the same grey rock as the rest of the library, and had been carved to look like they’d grown from the floor. Khell had tried a few times to touch the books, but her fingers had always stopped a few inches short. It wasn’t that there was anything solid stopping her, just a strong urge to keep her hands to herself, and a mental conviction that whatever book she was reaching for wasn’t the book she needed.
Khell walked the aisles of the library, keeping her hands to herself. Khell had begun to think the shelves went on forever when she finally found the edge of the library in the form of a wall made of windows. Like the shelves, the window seemed to spread out forever in both directions.
Khell looked out the giant window to blue skies and lazy clouds. The library was high enough that Khell couldn’t make out the ground below. In the distance, Khell could make out a few islands of floating rock; topped with towers, and hooked by great chains to the unseen ground below. Khell imagined that the library was the same; a building on an impossible floating rock island.
Khell put her hand against the window. The rings from the book were still on her fingers, and the bracelets on her wrists. Khell tried pull them loose, but had no luck. She only noticed now how badly her hands were shaking. The shock of being transported to a strange library was fading, and being replaced bit by bit with panic. Khell breathed deep, and tried to ignore the shiver running through the whole of her body. She had somehow been taken from her home, and dropped in a giant silent library. She stared out the window again. “Where am I?” she asked out loud.
Despite being no more than a whisper, Khell’s voice shattered the silence of the library. Somewhere nearby, Khell could hear the sudden sound of books dropping, followed by light cursing. She didn’t think twice as she rushed towards the sound. At this moment, Khell just needed to see another person; any sign that she wasn’t alone.
Khell was not prepared for what she found as she turned the corner. Hovering around the dropped books was a pug; held aloft by a frantically beating pair of small wings. It was wearing a fine silk shirt and soft leather pants under captain’s coat that draped long past its feet. The dog chewed on a stubby cigar, and stared bug eyed at Khell.
The pug seemed as surprised to see Khell as she was to see it. “Look,” the pug offered in a thick gravel voice. “It’s going to be hard to believe, but I swear there is a good explanation as to why I’m here.”
Khell stuttered without producing words. She doubted there was any good explanation for a flying, coat wearing, talking dog. “Where is here?” she managed. “Where am I?”
“You don’t know?” The flying dog raised a sceptical eyebrow. “You’re in The Library, Kid.”
“A library,” Khell repeated. “I kind of guessed at that.”
The dog scoffed; thick cigar smoke escaping from its jowls. “Not a library,” it corrected. “The Library. The Great Library of the Cog-work Kingdom.” It looked Khell over carefully. “I guess you’re not with them then?”
“I don’t even know who they are,” Khell admitted. She stood there, staring awkwardly at the flying pug. “I’m Khell,” she introduced finally.
“Fenway,” the dog returned. He slid some of the books back onto the shelf before offering a paw to shake.
Khell shook Fenway’s paw politely. “How are you doing that?” Khell asked. She meant the flying and the talking, and even the smoking a bit. Fenway assumed that Khell was talking about the books.
“Bit of a trick I figured out,” he admitted proudly. “You see, the repulsion field keeps you from picking up a book you’re not supposed to have, right?”
“Right,” Khell agreed. She had no idea what a repulsion field was.
“Well, The Library knows what book you want because you know what book you want.” Fenway tapped his temple with the butt of his cigar. “So all you have to do is really believe that you need all the books. Convince yourself; and The Library will let you take whatever book you want.”
“Oh.” Khell looked around them. “Why would you need all the books?”
“I don’t,” Fenway admitted. “I’m not even sure I need one of them.”
“I don’t think I understand,” Khell said. “If you don’t even need one book, why bother thinking about having all the books?”
“Because that’s the job, Kid.” Fenway huffed, shuffling a few books around. “We were told that something would be amiss in The Library; and we’d know it when we see it.” He chuckled. “So here I am, thinking real hard about wanting all the books until something pops out.”
Fenway stopped messing with the books suddenly. He chewed his cigar, and muttered to himself. “Something out of the ordinary,” he mused. “Something out of place.” He looked Khell over with a scrutinizing eye. “How did you say you got in here kid?”
Khell began to tell Fenway that she didn’t know how she’d appeared in The Library, but she was interrupted by a sudden rumbling, and the sound of rock rubbing against rock. She watched with fascination as the stone floor bled upwards along the front of the shelves, forming a thick lattice. “What is that?” she asked in awe.
“That’s bad,” Fenway replied. He gripped Khell’s shoulder, and gently pushed her down the aisle. “We need to get moving,” he explained.
The air of the once silent library was now a cacophony of grinding stone, as the shelves protected themselves from intruders. Over the din, Khell could hear a sharp noise of creaking metal, and the thud of iron boots on the stone floor. The metal statues were shifting and coming to life.
Khell followed Fenway’s prompt, and walked quickly away from the moving statues. “What’s going on?” she asked. “What are they?”
“Cogstables,” Fenway answered briskly. “They think we’re stealing from The Library.”
“But, can’t we just tell them that we’re not stealing anything?” Khell suggested.
“The Library would know we’re lying,” Fenway replied.
“I can explain it all later,” Fenway interrupted. “But right now, we are in big trouble.” Fenway’s gentle push on Khell’s shoulder became a frantic shove. “Run,” he insisted.
Khell ran, Fenway flying close behind. They dodged through the shelves, avoiding the statues as they shuffled to life. Khell could hear them gathering behind her and Fenway; a steady rhythm of metal beating on stone. Khell ran until she nearly dashed against the giant window.
Fenway cursed in his gravel growl. “Ok,” he accepted, “this could work. We just follow the window till we reach…” He looked both ways, finding their path blocked by Cogstables in all directions.
The Cogstables surrounded Fenway and Khell. Their glass eyes glowed red, and fire flickered in their bellies. White steam poured from their stove pipe heads. They reached forward in unison, giant grasping hands flicking open and closed as they moved towards Khell and Fenway.
“We’ve got a situation over here!” Fenway at the top of his lungs. Somewhere far off in the library, a deep voice yelled a response, but Khell couldn’t hear what it was.
Fenway nodded at the sound of the other voice, and reached into his coat. He pulled out a handful of matte black balls with long wicks. “Alright,” Fenway said, moving between the Cogstables and Khell. “We just need to hold out a minute.” Fenway lit the bombs with his cigar, and threw them liberally at the approaching metal men.