The Library

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  • Published: 27 Feb 2018
  • Updated: 27 Feb 2018
  • Status: Complete
The Great Library is over a thousand years old and has grown to the size of a city.

Jack is the youngest son of Master Carter, a member of the Council of Scholars.
Emily is an orphan without a penny to her name.
Both are Acolytes in the Great Library.

When a revered Master burns a book – a crime punishable by death – Jack and Emily are thrust into a world below the Library that they never knew existed. But even as they learn life changing secrets and work together to uncover the truth, their friendship is tested in ways they never imagined.

In the Library, knowledge is power and the powerful control it.

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13. The Tunnels

They made it to the Temple without being spotted, though there were a few close escapes. Emily lead them through the grand marble pillars, towards the ornate double doors, then turned off suddenly, catching Jack by surprise.

A small wooden door that Jack had never noticed before lurked in the shadows. Emily pulled the door but it didn’t budge. She pulled again and swore when it remained firmly closed. With a grunt of rage, she began to kick and pound on the old wood driving Gods knew how many splinters into her hands.

Eventually she managed to kick down the door, but just as they were about to disappear into the black, a Guard rounded the corner and cried out. Jack cursed and they ran into the Tunnels.

 

The light soon faded and Jack had to hold on to Emily’s shoulder so he didn’t lose her in the dark. Emily seemed to know the way even without her sight and guided them surely through the passages. Behind them, they could here shouts and boots crunching that let them know the Guards had found their way into the Tunnels. A light flickered up ahead and Jack soon began to recognise the chiselled walls around them. Emily grabbed a torch from a bracket on the wall and Jack followed suit. Safe, for the moment, they stopped to catch their breath.

 “That was close,” Jack panted.

“I know,” Emily replied. “I was there.” The sounds of the Guards grew louder. “We’ll never escape now they know we’re down here,” said Emily in despair.

“Don’t talk like that,” snapped Jack. “No one knows the tunnels like us. We’ll find a way out.”

 “We can’t outrun the Guards forever! There are too many of them,” Emily protested. Jack was quiet for a moment and Emily thought he was about to agree with her when he said something she couldn’t hear.

“What?”

 “The Monster,” Jack repeated, louder.

“What about it?” puffed Emily.

“If we can lead the Guards to where it lives, make them think we’ve gone that way, they’ll have more important thing to deal with than chasing us,” Jack grinned.

“You’re a genius,” Emily grinned back at him.

 

They had been heading down the passages where the Monster had his lair for several minutes when they started seeing the discarded rotting, corpses of cats, mice and other small creatures, along with the occasional human skull.

“I guess we know where all those missing Scholars went,” said Jack grimly, sidestepping a set of ribs lying on the damp sodden ground. By the light of the flaming torches, Jack and Emily began to see gaping holes in the stone walls and tremendous claw marks, scraped around the tunnel roof.

“I think we’ve come too far,” whispered Emily. Jack was afraid that she was right, but he could hear the Guards close on their tail.

“Well, we can’t go back,” he told her. Emily started to look around in panic.

“What do we do?” she asked. Shadows cast by the pursuing Guards began to creep onto the rough stone walls and Jack knew they had only seconds to hide. Suddenly Jack saw it – a small crevice in the wall, just big enough for him and Emily to squeeze through.

“Come on,” he said, pulling her with him.

“What about our torches?” squeaked Emily, afraid of the dark for the first time in her life. 

“We’ll have to put them out,” Jack replied and, before Emily could stop him, he had thrown both torches on the floor and was stamping out the flames. In the dark, they both squeezed into the crack, becoming completely invisible. Seconds later, a group of Guards rounded the corner. The two Acolytes went deathly still and prayed to whatever Gods might be listening that they wouldn’t be found.

“What is this place?” asked one of the Guards, a quiver of fear in his voice.

“I don’t know,” replied another. “But they must have gone down here – there’s nowhere else for them to go.” The sound of cautious footsteps, crunching bones and the occasional cry of disgust echoed through the passage; it was only a matter of time before their noise led the Monster straight to them.

 

But the cry of the strange creature did not sound. The Guards passed the place where the two children were hiding and silence fell once more.

“Where is the mouldering brute?” asked Emily, puzzled as to why the Monster was not giving chase. 

“I don’t know. Gods, tell me we didn’t come all this way for nothing?” Jack answered in a voice of pure dread thinking of what his father would do to him if he got caught by the Guards. Emily pinched him.

“Jack, if we get out of here alive, remind me to kill you,” she snapped at him. Jack ignored her.

“Maybe we should go while the coast is clear?” He asked. He felt her nod her agreement and he began to edge out of the crevice.

Suddenly, a bellowing roar echoed down the Tunnels, swiftly followed by screams of fear and pain. Emily hauled Jack back into the rock as the Guards stumbled back up the passage, tripping over the corpses in their haste to get away from the thing that was pounding after them. There were fewer Guards this time.

 

They were dead silent in the darkness of the damp tunnel, praying that the beast would not come back. They were terrified of what awaited them if they mess up by the slightest movement. When some time had passed (they didn’t know how long) and all was still quiet, they decided to slide out from their hiding place.

“That was way too close for comfort,” Jack whispered. Emily replied with a nervous laugh that was far too loud. She clamped a hand over her mouth and tensely let Jack lead her away from the Monster’s lair.

 

Back in familiar Tunnels, Jack turned to Emily.

“Which way should we go?” he asked. She gulped and looked up and down the passage. Finally she pointed to her right.

“The city walls are that way, I think. If this Tunnel keeps going straight, we should find a way out.” The two crept quietly along. Jack picked up another torch from the wall to light their way. Cobwebs and dust began to line the walls and the torches slowly vanished. There were very few bookshelves down here as well. Gods knew how long it had been since these stones last felt human footsteps.

 

Then, out of nowhere, the crashes of Guards footsteps echoed behind them once more.

“Run!” Jack shouted and they took off as fast as they could. Emily veered around a corner and there was a colossal mammoth of a Guard right in her way. How they had gotten down here, she had no idea but here they were. She swiftly side stepped right and curled round on the floor, knocking the Guards legs out from under him.

The two fugitives were rapidly becoming exhausted, and the Guards kept drawing nearer. Jack’s heart was pounding hard in his chest, and his throat began to dry up. His legs were completely worn just like his brown, sodden tunic, dripping and wreaking with sweat and dirt.

Emily was beginning to lose hope. Even if they did make it out, the Guards would be hot on their tail. The armed men were getting closer and closer, and eventually there was only one option.

“Jack! Run, I’ll hold them off, just run,” Emily had no breath left and she was aghast by the number of Guards in pursuit of them.

“What? I’m not, leaving you!”

“Just do as I say, or the next time I see you, I swear I’m going to murder you.” Jack didn’t have to be told twice and he was soon flashing down the tunnel out of view of the Guards.

Emily stopped and turned to face the small army pounding towards her. She closed her eyes summoned up all the anger and hate she felt towards the Library and what it had done to the people she loved. She remembered the pain that she felt when Jack had told her Master Crick was dead, the fear when Scholar Young disappeared under a swarm of enemies, how it would feel if Jack were caught by those despicable men. She thrust out her arms and pictured in her mind what she wanted to happen, willing it to come into being.

 

Jack turned and saw flames shooting from round the bend where he had left Emily, quickly followed by a gust of smoke and a colossal crash. Throwing caution to the wind, Jack ran back to Emily in time to see the roof of the Tunnels falling in. Boulders flew everywhere and a huge inferno rose from the dusty aftermath.

 

***

 

Jack groaned then immediately started coughing as dust entered his lungs. His head was pounding like a drum and the side of his cheek stung badly. Gingerly, he pushed himself up from the floor where he had fallen after the blast knocked him out. His mind was whirling with panic as he scanned the rubble for Emily, but his body wasn’t responding properly so it was slowly and clumsily that he began his search for his best friend.

Horsley, he called out her name, wafting away the dust and shifting rocks, avoiding the few flames that still flickered in the pile of earth that blocked off the tunnel. He was beginning to think the worst when he heard a pathetic cough by the wall. Forcing his legs to move swiftly, he approached the wall and soon found Emily, half buried under earth. There was an alarming gash on the side of her head and blood had matted in with her dark hair. Gently, he took hold of her arms and pulled her from the cave in. When they were at a safe distance he knelt beside her and tried to wake her up.

“Emily,” he said, shaking her shoulders. “Emily!” She coughed but didn’t open her eyes. Jack pulled open the satchel that was somehow still entwined around Emily’s torso, pulled out her water skein and dowsed her head with the cool liquid. Emily spluttered and shot upright, whacking Jack as she did so.

“What – what-” she gasped looking around her in confusion then grasped her head in pain. “Oh it hurts,” she moaned.

“I’m not surprised,” Jack laughed. “You’ve got a hideous cut of your forehead.” He was so relieved that she was okay that he couldn’t stop giggling. Emily glared at him.

“Is this really the time to be making fun of me?” she asked reproachfully.

“Hey, don’t be such a misery guts,” Jack chortled. “We’re alive, aren’t we?” Their laughter faded. They were alive – but they so easily could have not been. “Hey, Em,” said Jack tentatively. “What happened back there?” Emily stared at her hands and Jack began to wonder if she had heard him. Finally she spoke.

“I’m not sure. I remembered the flash of light Scholar Young made in the Atrium to fight off the Guards and I thought I could do the same. I just focused really hard on how much I wanted them to stop and… I don’t remember much after that.” They sat in silence, not meeting each other’s eyes.

“Well it’s a good thing you did,” smiled Jack eventually. “You saved us, Emily.” She grinned at him.

“But how do we get out?” she asked. “These Tunnels could go on for miles.”

“Then we’d better start walking,” replied Jack.

 

 

By some miracle, neither of them had broken any bones and Emily’s cut had stopped bleeding. Jack had escaped only with a small graze on his left cheek.

They walked for what felt like miles. Neither of them had a clue of where they were going, but they just kept on stumbling in the pitch black, hoping to find some sort of exit. Gradually, Jack began to realise that he could see Emily’s silhouette, plodding along in front of him.

“Em…” he murmured.

“I know,” she said softly, as though she didn’t want to jinx it. “There must be an exit up ahead.” The grey light began to grow stronger and soon they found themselves in a small, round room.

 

“Where are we?” Emily asked.

“I don’t know,” responded Jack. He cautiously approached the walls and ran his hand over the ancient stone. There were strange carvings in the rock - words he couldn’t make out and images of people who lived long ago. He seemed to recognise them from somewhere…

“Jack! There are steps over here – and I can see the sky!” Emily’s voice echoed jubilantly around the spherical room but Jack wasn’t listening.

“Emily,” he called. “I think these carvings tell the story of the Library… These must be the original foundations of the Library! Em?” He turned just in time to see Emily’s feet disappearing up the steps and into the source of the light. He reluctantly turned away from the carvings and followed her.

                                                                                  

Finally out in the open air, Emily stopped to take a breath, allowing herself to calm down and savour freedom. They were in a forest, the dense trees blocking all sight of the city walls. The moss felt strange but soft against her feet. It was dawn and the air was cold. When Emily exhaled billowing clouds of smoke came from her frosty mouth. A babbling brook flowed nearby and the two children rushed to it, eager to clean the dust of the Library from their bodies and quench their thirst. When they were done, they sat leaning against tree trunks and gazing at the leaves above. They had never seen such a sight before – there was so much green. They had spent their entire lives within the Library and had never known the natural world.

Even though they seemed to be safe, Emily felt something nagging at the back of her mind.  She put her hand to her side and suddenly remembered that she was carrying two bags, hers and Scholar Young’s.

Emily carefully opened the bag and peered into the darkness. She couldn’t see anything so she felt around.  Her hand touched something hard and she pulled it out to see a book. The book was old and dusty and very heavy.  In small letters on the spine was written ‘The Secrets’. She blew to see if there were any more words hiding behind the dust. But there was nothing. Why had Scholar Young given them this book?

Scholar Young…

 

Who knew what had happened to him? He could be dead, or captured or worse. Emily’s mind began to spin out of control. Her thoughts flashed through her vision and she wanted to give up. What did magic matter anymore? They were out here on their own and their only friend was probably dead. She just wanted to go home, to her dormitory with pink painted walls. Emily reached into her own bag and clutched at the blanket she had brought with her. She just wanted everything to go back to normal, the way it used to be. Jack, by comparison, seemed positively serene. Emily glared at him.

“How can you be so calm?” she snapped. Don’t you realise what we have just done? We have ruined our lives, we can never go home.” Her voice cracked and her breath began to come in pants. “If we don’t die of starvation out here, then we’ll be caught and killed just like Master Crick and Scholar -” she couldn’t go on. Great sobs shook her shoulders as she realised for the first time the situation they were in.

Jack looked at her sternly. “Scholar Young is not dead,” he told her. “And if we are to have any chance of rescuing him then we need to work together.”

“But it all seems so hopeless,” Emily cried.  Jack could feel his own heart bobbing in his throat. The Library had been the only home he had ever known.

“I know,” gulped Jack. “But we will find a way to get through this. We know my father’s plans and we know he has magic. We can’t let him win. Scholar Young must have had a plan, somewhere to go when we left. All we have to do is figure out what that plan is.” Emily sniffed, drying her eyes. “And the first thing we do,” Jack continued, “is get as far away from the Library as possible. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like doing any more running so we’d better get a head start on those Guards.”

 “I hate you so much,” Emily snuffled, punching Jack softly in the arm. ‘’You’re the most boring, the most annoying person I’ve ever met, but you’re my best friend Jack. You always will be.”

 

And with that, they strode into the forest and disappeared from sight.

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