As an aside before we continue… This is a post for 23 in 2013, a project detailed here. It’s my NaNoWriMo project from 2012, a year I failed to complete the 50,000 words. It’s also the first draft – there will be typos, inconsistencies, mis-named characters and all of the other things that plague a first draft. The comments are there both for you lovely readers to post words of encouragement, point out “but he said… in the last chapter, that contradicts…” and keep me straight, and for me to bash ideas around. File this one under Urban Fantasy | Edinburgh | Parallel Worlds, as they might one day say on Angry Robot.
If you missed anything earlier, they’re here – come back when you’ve read it…
A figure slipped from shadow to shadow, moving as quietly as it could down the cobbled street. Up the hill behind him stood the Fortress, down the hill ahead of him, his goal, the Night Palace of Libraria. Between him and the Night Palace, several hundred yards of deep shadow and the Cathedral of Knowledge. Not a place or a time to loiter.
The figure crossed the narrow street as it approached the Cathedral, all white marble and towering spires. Each alcove contained a statue, most of the statues held a book. He knew the book now, the figure – they were all variations on one man: Roland Blackwood. For every five statues, four held books – the four volumes of Blackwood’s Journal. The fifth statue was empty-handed, the lie everyone believed. Roland Blackwood had never written a fifth journal. A fifth journal did not exist. It certainly wasn’t on the fifth shelf from the left, behind the northernmost window of the east wall of the Night Palace, third floor, just past the balcony. And it certainly was not shelved between a copy of the diaries of Samuel Peypes and the first edition Dungeon Master’s Guide by E. Gary Gygax. Nope. Not at all.
Once past the cathedral – did that statue move? – the figure moved faster. Most of the right-hand side of the street was in shadow at this time of night, the lighting saved for the important buildings, the scribes working away copying the world’s knowledge, transcribing the Internet for the day the servers died.
The Night Palace was not guarded. It didn’t need to be. The entirety of it’s defences relied on one single fact: It was not supposed to exist. Such was the power of the Lie surrounding it, everyone believed it. And if everyone believed it, then it must be true. What was that building down there? Oh, that’s just the… oh, look! A squirrel!
Icarus knew, though, that the Lie was just that. He’d worked it out as soon as he’d been shown proof that the fifth journal existed. Once you knew it was a lie, everything else fell into place.
At his heart, he was a second-story man. Why use the front door when a window would suffice. He was inside the Night Palace, standing in front of the shelves in seconds. Lord Pen and Lady Ink relied so heavily on the Lie to protect their property they hadn’t bothered with the simple, physical defences like locks, window bars, guards. And there it was, right where they had said it was.
He ran a reverential finger down the spine of the scruffy journal, plain brown cowhide, unevenly tanned, a length of string holding the pages together. Pulling it – carefully – from the shelf, he untied the string, opened it at random, began to read. A handful of loose sheets fell to his feet, he picked the up, folded them, stuffed them inside his jacket.
“Bollocks,” he hissed. It was in code. There were elements of Latin in there, elements of shorthand, some symbols that might’ve been Cyrillic if you squinted and he had no idea what that was. Given time, he’d be able to translate it – given time. But how long did he have before they discovered it was missing?
Climbing back out of the window, he closed it behind him, slipped back down into the garden and headed for the nearest Gate.