Alexandria Never Burned

Writing Prompt: You’re an Archaeologist who recently discovered that the library of Alexandria was not burned, but its contents were carted away and hidden. After finding them, it’s obvious why. The library was the worlds largest collection of dark magic.

He was the last of the good guys, or so they thought.

Richard Damascus, or Rick to his friends (of which there were very few these days), had spent the last eighteen years chasing a phantom menace. Only some phantoms are more authentic than others.

“Are you sure it’s here Rick? Are you certain?” Harold drew tight the hood of his parka jacket, fighting against the heavy flurries of snow in hopes he might see. Something. Anything.

“It’s here.” Rick muttered, “Not much further.” he was absorbed by the faded text of a leather-bound journal, struggling himself to read as the pages flapped endlessly in the storm’s winds. There was a title, etched in bold, gilt lettering, upon the front;

The Great Library of Alexandria.

“Rick.” Harold waited, but there came no answer. “Rick!” he grabbed Rick’s arm, “Look at me would you. Christ.” Harold drew his friend in closer, shouting above the howling gales to be heard, “We’re lost. I’m sorry, but we are. There’s nothing more to be seen out here. Just the mountains, the dunes and the snow. There’s no lost library. No hidden hatch or derelict door. Not even a cave for miles we’ve seen. There’s nothing here, Rick. Nothing.”

“Oh, but you’re wrong.” Rick pulled away from Harold, “I know it’s here.”
What was Harold to do? He could have left Rick, tried to retrace their steps to their cabin some hours trek behind them. But in this storm it would be hopeless. Their own tracks had likely long been dusted over. And soon night would fall, and with it the creatures of the South would waken. Better to face death as two than face death alone.

“What if we rest, just for now, just for the night.” Harold pulled in front of Rick, guarding the way forward, “We can manage the tents in the storm, find flatland, maybe a hill to shield against the wind.”

“Get out of the way Harold.”

“Please, see sense Rick! Please. There’s no use searching now, what more can you hope to see.”

Rick closed the journal in his hands with a dull thud. He stood staring at Harold through throws of wild blonde hair, “I asked you to move.”

“I care about you Rick, I trust you, but this is insane. We have to stop.”

“I won’t ask again.”

“Gods above man, look around yourself!” Harold grabbed Rick by the shoulders, “Why won’t you open your eyes?”

The wind whipped in circles round the men, white flakes blinding their eyes to all but each other. There was a distant groan, perhaps the mountains, or perhaps something else. Rick took Harold by the throat and with an ease of force threw him to the ground, sending him into the soft of the snow. Harold’s only sense of pain came from the cold against his skin. Rick’s eyes took on a mad haze, clouded over with a white as pale as the winter world.

Rick growled at his floor bound friend, “It’s here.” mindlessly toying with a pickaxe that hung at his hip, “I’ll show you Harold. I’ll show all of you, you’ll see! Then they’ll stop, stop taunting me, no more hiding out there in the shadows.” his voice rose to a yell, only to be battered back down by the storm, “I know you’re watching!”

“Who’s watching Rick? It’s just us. Us and those Gods forsaken…”
Rick drew the pickaxe from his hip and stepped over Harold’s shaking body, a single pointed tip of metal missing Harold’s face by barely inches. He seemed to be dragging himself along, Rick, with the axe floating just above the ground. He was searching the far horizon (or at least as far as could be seen) with a slender, sickening smile on his face.

“Are you coming?” he turned his face to the side, a lone eye peering back from within its harrowed socket.

Harold shivered, from the cold, from the deathly gaze of that staring eye. He scrambled to his feet and dutifully followed… what else could he do?

As the night drew on the storm grew in strength, devilish cyclones rising to rip around the hollow dunes of snow. But those devils at least would soon leave these men alone, for they’d found it. Not a hatch, not a door, but a window. Glass that in the light of day would have mirrored the land, hiding it in plain sight. Glass set inside the roots of a mountain that climbed high above an aged lake of ice. There were shadows, beneath that ice, strange aquatic creatures that writhed between barricades of frozen water. Eyes too, hollow and glowing a faint golden red, seemed to watch the heavy feet that passed above them.

“This is impossible.” Harold adjusted the spectacles propped upon his pointed nose.

“And yet here it is.” Rick laughed, taking Harold by the hands, “We’ve found it my friend, don’t you see now!” at once Rick livened from the hunched posture he’d taken, no longer dragging himself, but lifting himself up. Up. Up. And down the pickaxe came, its sharpened tip colliding with the glassy window, chiming out upon the lulling storm. “Sweet music to my ears! Come Harold. Come help.”

Harold turned to search around them, that sense of being watched he’d soon dismissed from Rick now imposed itself upon him. There is something watching. All around the white was painted grey, figures dancing in the distance. Waving. Below them the watery silhouettes were coming up, with each strike of Rick’s pickaxe they threw themselves against the icy ceiling, small cracks running out across the lake. What in the name of all that’s holy…

“Quickly!” Harold pressed himself against Rick’s shoulder.

“Quickly makes good company with more hands.” Rick laughed, “And the more the merrier. Let them come I say!”

Harold snatched up his own pickaxe and beat down upon the glass window, all to aware that for every dent they made within the glass, four more snaked out beneath their feet.

Its was to be a race. The shadows drawing closer, the underwater demons rising up, the two men in the South groping for purchase on an unseen window. Break glass in case of emergency. And did this here and now not warrant a state of emergency?

Finally the glass gave, and not a second too soon for the lake shattered beneath them. Rick was gone, he threw himself in and over, his voice echoing in a tunnel that fell down into the Earth. Harold slipped, his footing lost as the lake fell, he managed to grab at the window’s ledge. He cried for Rick’s aid, but all that came in response was a sickly sort of laughter.

Harold closed his eyes. It’s better that way. But the imagination far exceeds the horrors of reality. Something cold, damp and scaly reached up at his ankles. Not quite a hand, but something vaguely similar. Then more rose from the deep of the waters, a lively splashing sound rang out with each creature that surfaced. One, two, seven and twelve. Each laying a limb upon Harold, pulling at the man, pleading for him to join them.

A welcome thought contained itself in Harold’s mind – I should drown, before they’ll have me – as at last the creatures took him under. Some solace may be found in that last thought, his death was quick, but none too painless.

Rick clambered through his backpack. All around the darkness spoke to him, no light to be seen but the faintest trickle that sauntered down the icy slide from which he’d fallen. Ah ha! Matches, a pack down to its last fair few. There were four in all. Enough is enough.

Striking the first match he set eyes upon his new reside for the first time. A chasm of winter blue, dressed in sodden cloves of coral. The walls were mirror like, more so even than the window. He saw himself in each one, the flame casting shadow over his face. He was pale, gaunt to the bone, a man obsessed now buried with that lone obsession.

The match struck out. He lit another, and wandered on.

A winding tunnel carried through the underground, there were many dead ends, too many snaking turns, but Rick avoided each and every one. He followed his nose, or the nose of his ears, a soft voice beckoning him, saying nothing in particular but come.

The walls grew thinner the deeper the tunnel wound, closing together until at last Rick found himself walking side-ward with no match in his hand. He could just turn his head to look before and behind him, much to his distress. Something followed in the dark, and what sanity remained in Rick’s own mind told him the shadows were no longer to be trusted.

“Harold?” Rick called back, without hope of an answer.

Silence echoed loud throughout the tunnel.

“Harold, my friend, is that you?”

Rick’s feet splashed in puddles underfoot, a water gathering around his ankles. And now he heard them, they who stalked the icy night, clip-clopping through the tunnels, the only whispering their breath…

Rick slid himself between the closing walls, grasping for purchase on the ground, pleading at his legs to hold. If I slip, if I fall…

Closer in the dark they came, hounding Rick down, heavy sighs of effort foretelling of some hulking beast that forced its way through tiny spaces. All in hope. In hope of having me.

Rick already knew now what had become of Harold, he didn’t care much in his mind, but his heart still gave a pang within his chest. From sorrow? Or from fear?

Then came the door! Relief! Release!

At the end of the hollow hall, when the walls near shut around him and the ceiling threatened to fall. There stood a door, on the far side of a hole. Enough is enough. He told himself again, certain the hole was just as wide and tall as he. Still the creatures came behind him, pursuing even upon sight of their failure.

Rick dove, throwing his head first through the hole, he came to his waist before sticking, stopping, sh*t. He writhed for freedom from the hole, reaching up at the door’s own handle. And what a handle it was! An eye inset within the knob, vines twisting round the rusted bronze, and the markings on the gilt-gold door. Hieroglyphics. Rick grinned, licking his lips. It’s true, it’s here!

He felt a sodden limb close round his lower leg, but he wouldn’t let them have him, not with his prize so close at hand. He kicked savagely behind him, his boot connecting with the oddly soft and slimy skin of his pursuers. What are they? His heart was racing, the blood pushing up against his skin. Down came teeth, so razor sharp and cold as ice. Rick screamed, he dragged himself free, falling through the hole. Shrieks of agonised defeat hung upon the stagnant air. Rick’s left leg bled, his foot loose around the ankle. But the tears that came were not of pain…

It’s really here. He lay against the door, stroking at the golden face, then slowly he reached for the handle. Click. The door swung open.

Perhaps it was convenience that forgot to lock the door, perhaps it was fate. Whatever the case, Rick was exactly where the World had meant him to be.

The Great Library of Alexandria.

Bookcases carved from perfectly persevered stone walls gave home to thousands upon thousands of tightly bound scrolls and leather backed books. There were ladders cast about the library, all but redundant before the shifting stairs that roamed the vast and endless halls. Candles lit the room, hung low upon chained chandeliers. Podiums held books alone in places, books bound beneath glass cases, or cages, or chains. There was a soft humming that called throughout the library, an endless restlessness from books that longed to be read.

Rick dragged himself forward, eyes cast upon each and every tome. Riches. But no. This is more than wealth alone. Call it knowledge. Call it power. Behind him the door closed, for the final time, and yet it would be days before Rick came to notice. Already he was mad at the thought of it… power.

He settled himself against the podium of a bear’s paw that in its grip held a single book, encased by a claw formed cage. At once the claws parted, the paw opened and the book dropped into Rick’s lap. It read; On Necromancy, a Call to Death. He turned the pages frantically, amazed by his own ability to read, to understand these strange markings, these foreign hieroglyphics. He felt that power surge within him, and a thousand thoughts paraded through his mind.

Dark Magic. Demon hordes at my command! To raise the dead, to silence the living. The World would bend the knee to me… to me! So much good that could be done… but what for, to what end? Yes, to what end. The World is full of darkness, and mankind seems to fix itself upon it… in hope! To find an end. Slowly dies the planet, slowly dies the light of life. So let it be. So much good? What good. No good. There’s no need of a hero. Death descends. The World wants a leader. The World wants an end. We shall let them have it.

Copyright © K R Perry 2019

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