((79 — The Days Become a Traveler of a Hundred Generations))
July 2nd, 802 AT.
Owl turned the page slowly, taking care not to damage the ancient book. She eagerly scanned the new page, taking in word after word, locking them away in her mind to store forever. Each page, each book, brought with it incredible ideas, strange worlds, new people—the memory of an entire civilization.
She had been sitting in the basement of Tanique Hall reading for… she didn’t know how long. She had no motive or means to keep track of time here. The archives were unlike anything she had seen before. A massive underground warren, a labyrinth, with every wall lined with bookshelf upon bookshelf. It was as if someone had taken the Archives from the Corkscrew and let them multiply seemingly infinitely, burrowing out into the crystal.
Periodically Delissa had come down to bring her food and water. Owl quite liked the librarian, she found. The woman was a scant few years younger than Owl, but apparently only qualified as a Junior Librarian. It boggled Owl’s mind to think that in this world, thirty-four was considered young, with a whole lifespan ahead of one. The idea of so much more to learn, to discover, to read… for the first time in months, Owl found herself honestly happy.
“Owl!” This time the voice penetrated Owl’s thoughts, and brought her attention snapping upright. There before her hovered a familiar face, one she hadn’t seen in almost a month.
Blinking calmly, Owl carefully set the book in her lap on the table, then turned to face the girl. “SPIDER!” she yelled, wrapping her arms around the girl in a sudden blur of motion, grinning widely.
Spider laughed, and embraced the older woman in return. “Hey! I thought I’d never see you again!” They broke their embrace, and Spider settled to the wall. “What’s been up?”
“Oh goodness! So much has happened.” Owl opened her mouth, about to lay out every detail of her life over the last month, but stopped and reconsidered. “Skunk and I were captured by a scientist, escaped, and flew here,” she summarized.
“Huh,” Spider said. “Sounds like fun, I guess. I, uh, got a pet demon, and met up with the Talons, and maybe made friends, I think.”
Owl quirked her head to the side. “Talons?”
“They’re…” Spider thought back to the events of the morning. “They’re just people, I guess. From Sector Four.” She looked away for a moment, her eyes coming to rest on the books. “How long have you been down here? Just been reading?”
Owl’s eyes lit up. “Oh, Spider! You won’t believe the things I’ve read!”
“Yeah? Like what?”
“There are so many things in the universe! It’s all so vast… there are these demons that don’t hurt people or have magic, called animals—”
“Anemals? That’s what that lady said about our names!”
Owl nodded. “My predecessor once told me that all of the names in Face came from an ancient record of naming. I think that it was actually a zoology book from the old ship!”
Spider looked at her blankly. “Sure.”
The older woman laughed. “I haven’t looked up what a spider is, but an owl was apparently a big thing with wings and big eyes, that people used to think was very smart!”
“A perfect name for you, then. What other kinds of anemals were there?”
“Well, there were these things that wriggled like this—” Owl made a motion with her hands together. “Called fish! They lived in big water places called, uh, ponds! And people ate them all the time.”
“Weird.” Spider stopped, thinking. “Where was all this water? I thought this place just had fog.”
Owl shook her head. “This wasn’t in the Void.”
Spider looked at her quizzically. “Not… in the Void? Where else is there?”
The rememorist smiled. “This was on a place called Earth.”
“What’s an earth?”
“It was… is… a…” Owl frowned, struggling to describe it. “Imagine a giant crystal, only round. Kind of like Sector One, only a million times bigger. Instead of being made of crystal, though, it’s all made of solid dust and liquid metal, and covered with plants and water and friendly demons that don’t kill you!”
“That… sounds nice,” Spider said, smiling. “Where is it?”
Owl’s face fell. “Too far away. The Templar, the ship that crashed and became Face, was full of people leaving it, to find a new home… as far as we’ve come from Face to get here? That would be like… a millimeter, compared to how far it is to Earth.”
They sat in silence for a moment, thinking, before the calm was broken by footsteps coming around the corner. Delissa walked up, carrying a basket. “I, um, thought you might be hungry, so I brought some food!”
She came a few steps closer, then stopped short, staring at Spider. After a moment, she took a deep breath, and finished her approach, setting the basket on the table.
Owl smiled warmly at her. “Thank you, Delissa.”
“You’re… welcome, Owl.” The librarian bit her lip. “Could I… ask you a question?”
“I, um. Why are your skin and shadow covered with words? And, um.” She looked to Spider. “How is she sitting on the wall?”
Spider laughed. “Oh, man, that’s a really long story.”
“…which I happen to have written down!” Owl grinned. “Would you like to read it?”
Delissa nodded eagerly. “I would love to! If you… wouldn’t mind.” She looked down, her face turning a shade of red.
Owl looked at her in surprise. “What? Would that be odd?”
“I… well, it’s your journal, isn’t it?”
“And what’s odd about that?”
Delissa looked at her in confusion. “Well, you’re alive, and we’re not…” She trailed off, looking at the strange expressions on Spider and Owl. “Are things different in the outer sectors?”
“We’re not—” Owl started.
“Yes. Yes they are,” Spider cut her off.
“Oh.” Delissa nodded. “Well, around here, it would be considered an invasion of privacy to read someone’s journal while they were still alive, or if you weren’t… particularly close to them.” She turned a darker shade of red. “I’ve never read someone else’s journal before.”
“While they were still alive? Why do you keep emphasizing that?” Owl asked.
“Well, of course once they’re dead, you’ll want to read their journal for all the important information they took down,” Delissa said very matter-of-factly.
The rememorist nodded. “I suppose that makes sense.” She smiled. “The books are up in my room. I’ll bring them to you later, alright?”
“That would be wonderful. Thank you.”
Owl sat back in her chair, thinking. “Wow. It’s… so much has happened, these last months.”
Spider nodded, stopping with her hand halfway to the basket of food. She’d just remembered quite how hungry she was. Three weeks of harshly rationed supplies hadn’t been good. “Yeah, uh. Yeah.”
With a start, Owl sat up. “Center.”
Spider looked at her. “Huh?”
“The Center. That’s… that’s where the shadows told us to go. Back when this all started.”
“I missed that part. I was with Kasby.”
“Well, the point is, we’re… we’re here. We’re at the Center.” Owl frowned. “But nothing makes any more sense than it did at the Corkscrew.”
Spider shrugged. “Well, we’re at Sector One, but maybe there’s a way to further into the center of it…?”
Slowly, she and Owl both turned to face Delissa. The librarian blinked at them. “Sorry, I… lost you…”
“We… need to go inside.” Owl said slowly. “Is there a way into the heart of the crystal? Into Sector One itself?”
Delissa shook her head. “Not a way that anyone can access.”
Spider raised an eyebrow. “Is... there a way people can’t access?”
“Yes. The Deepana Caverns. No one has ever come back from there, though.”
“What are they?” Owl asked.
“They appeared two or three hundred years ago… cracks in the crystal.”
Owl and Spider exchanged glances, eyes wide. Spider turned back to Delissa. “Can you take us there? We need to go in there. I need to… I’m an architect. I can check the integrity from inside. See if…”
“… if there’s something trying to escape,” Owl finished. “Whatever’s trapped inside this crystal… right here in the center…”
Delissa frowned. “I can take you to the entrance, but no one’s allowed inside any more. Too many expeditions have vanished inside, never to return. Kids started trying to brave it, on dares to each other, so now the entrances are guarded.”
Spider laughed. “We can get in. Don’t worry about that.”
“If you insist. We can go there first thing in the morning.”
Owl smiled. “Thank you, Delissa.”
The librarian blushed again. “It’s… it’s nothing, really.”
“Now then!” Spider said. “Can it be time to eat?”
Delissa laughed. “Absolutely!”
“Great! I’m starving. What’s for dinner?” She opened the basket.
“I made you sandwiches.”
Spider stopped, looking inside, and then looked up and caught Owl’s eye. They laughed together, smiling with tears in their eyes. Delissa watched, smiling along with them despite her confusion.