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Chapter 49: Anoesis

”Stand aside,” Tsar said.

He hadn't raised his voice at all, but there was a hard edge of command to his words Eni had never heard before. The otter gendarme actually stepped back half a pace before he steadied himself, the tip of his polearm quivering before he forced it still. ”We can't do that,” the deer guard replied, shooting a glare at her companion before speaking, ”Surrender your hostages.”

Eni could almost feel the impatience boiling off Tsar, but before he could say anything more the Archivist spoke. ”Please listen to him,” the old markhor said, his voice mild and soft as he looked first the otter and then the deer in the eyes, ”Or I'm afraid you won't go home to your families tonight.”

”Then that will be on his conscience, if he has one,” the doe said firmly, ”I'll do what I must, sir.”

The deer looked utterly composed as she stared down Tsar, holding her halberd in one dainty hoof with her other arm hidden by her cloak. The same could not be said of the otter; at her words he swallowed hard, clearly considering their odds in a fight. He was at least three feet shorter than Tsar, and although the doe was within a few inches of the wolf's height she was still much slimmer. Eni was sure it wasn't just the differences in build that the gendarme was considering, either. 

Tsar had an air of absolute confidence to him that neither came even close to matching, as though it was no significance that he had two polearms pointed at his face and a sickly markhor grasping at his right arm. Eni racked her mind for anything she could possibly say to loosen Procerus's grip on the guards, but as the otter began to speak her heart sank.

”The…” he began, ”The Lord Warden has authorized a—”

As the guard fumbled over his words, the doe suddenly threw back her cloak and exposed her previously hidden arm. Eni had a brief impression of a compact crossbow, aimed right at Tsar's head, and she had only enough time for a sudden stab of fear before she heard the awful musical twang of an arrow being released. 

Eni turned to Tsar, desperately sure it would be far too late, but she could only gape at what she saw. There couldn't have been more than seven feet between the deer and the wolf, a distance so short that as she turned Tsar should have been collapsing with a metal rod protruding from his skull.

He had caught it.

The wolf's left paw was less than three inches in front of his face, his fingers wrapped around the glittering steel of the slim bolt, and he tossed it aside. His tail was a blur as it came up, drawing his whip-sword as it did. There was a sharp cracking noise as the weapon unfurled from around his waist, lashing out and wrapping around the shaft of the otter's halberd, and Tsar gave a ferocious pull. The short mammal's feet actually briefly left the ground before he lost his grip on his weapon and fell to the floor, his face a mask of surprise as he watched it fly out of reach.

The doe threw her spent crossbow aside, raising her arm to get a better grip on her own polearm, but she was much too slow for Tsar. There was another sharp crack as the tip of the whip-sword split its shaft in half, splinters of wood spiraling outwards. 

The deer's hooves crossed clumsily as she fumbled with her destroyed weapon, and with a flick of Tsar's wrist she was completely disarmed. She tumbled over, her arms windmilling in a fruitless attempt to regain her balance, but Tsar was already on the move. He snagged Eni's paw as he raced for the entrance, pulling her along and half-carrying the Archivist, and then kicked the door open.

Eni's feet skittered on the smooth marble of the floor, but Tsar was completely sure-footed, running so fast she could barely keep up. ”Where?” he demanded, turning to look at her, and it took a moment for her mouth to catch up to her mind.

”Lift,” she said, pointing in the right direction with her free arm, and Tsar turned sharply and kept barreling along.

The restricted stacks in the Terraces of Gorin were only a few floors above the lowest sub-basement, safely protected by the massive foundation. There were stairs, but Eni didn't think the Archivist could have possibly managed them and they would be pinned down if anyone tried following. A casual observer might have said the same about the building's lift system, but it had been designed with so many back ups and fail-safes that shutting it down entirely without access to the lift carriages was impossible.

Or, at least, virtually so.

Eni hoped she was right as they sprinted across the grand lobby, the brilliant green of plants flashing past her vision as she hurried along, and she tried not to imagine the gendarmes getting back up. She could practically hear the sinister sound of a crossbow being fired, or the tramping of encroaching footsteps, but there was nothing. Eni caught glimpses of a few students and professors gaping at them, and a messenger heron squawked with alarm as she flapped out of the way a moment before Tsar would have knocked her over, but no one tried to stop them.

The lift swiftly came into view, and Relin's familiar face was nearly unrecognizable as the ferret operator gawped at them from inside it. ”M—Master Archivist! Professor Siverets!” he stammered, pressing himself against the back of the carriage as he stared at Tsar.

Terror made his pupils constrict to pinpoints, and he seemed to be trying to make himself as small as possible as Tsar pulled Eni and the Archivist into the lift after him. ”The restricted stacks, Mister Relin,” the Archivist said; he was breathing heavily and leaning on his staff, but he still managed a weak smile for the ferret as he spoke, ”Please do hurry.”

The ferret gulped audibly, his paws hesitating over the controls as he looked from the markhor to the wolf. ”Now,” Tsar added, and Relin jumped as though he had been struck, quickly pulling the doors shut and putting the lift into motion.

As the carriage began descending, Eni took a steadying breath, amazed that they had managed to get so far. Her thoughts were racing even more quickly than her heart, but the Archivist interrupted her musings. ”Mister Relin doesn't comprehend this tongue,” he said, speaking in perfect Classical Word, ”Nor does your companion, it seems.”

The markhor glanced at Tsar, but the wolf gave no reaction or sign that he understood the words. Tsar's nostrils flared as he glanced around the lift, as though he was anticipating an attack coming from any direction, but he paid them no attention.

”He doesn't,” Eni replied, speaking the same language as the markhor.

The lift continued descending, and Relin glanced from Eni to the Archivist, confusion and fear warring across his face. Eni was sure that he had heard the same stories as the gendarmes, and she wondered what they had been told about Tsar. ”He doesn't trust me,” the Archivist observed, still panting for breath as he braced himself against one wall, ”I've noticed. He's careful in my presence, but sometimes… Sometimes I see what's hidden beneath his mask.”

”What's that?” Eni asked.

The markhor was silent for a moment, and Eni wasn't sure if he was gathering his thoughts or mustering the strength to speak again. ”Are you sure he's the Slayer?” the Archivist asked at last, his words quite delicate as he spoke the dead language, ”I have asked before, but that was before I saw what he did to those Archons.”

”He is,” Eni replied firmly, ”And he… did what he had to.”

”Did he?” the Archivist asked mildly, ”Did he have to slay them, or could he have eluded them as easily as he did the gendarmes?”

Eni didn't have an answer to that, and her old mentor placed one hoof gently on her shoulder before he continued. ”The difference, so far as I can tell, is that the gendarmes only threatened him,” the Archivist said, ”While the Archons threatened you.”

Eni glanced at Tsar's impassive face, wishing she could read what was going on behind his pale eyes. He noticed her attention and his gaze briefly locked onto hers before he tilted his head in a questioning manner, wordlessly asking if she was alright.

Eni gave him a slight nod and he turned his head back to face the carriage's doors, patiently waiting as the lift continued its descent. ”Perhaps,” Eni said slowly, still speaking Classical Word, ”But I told you about… I told you about the Veiderungr.”

She had almost said Idrun, but she was sure Tsar would have caught the word even without understanding anything else. She couldn't recall speaking the name historians had given to the mysterious beast responsible for the village's destruction while in Tsar's presence, and the wolf didn't as much as flinch at it. ”You didn't see what I did,” Eni said, ”He was there. I know he's the Slayer.”

Her certainty was absolute, and the Archivist nodded slowly. ”I wish I could have been there with you, my dear,” he said, his voice warm with affection, ”If only so you wouldn't have needed to shoulder so terrible a burden alone.”

”I wasn't,” Eni said, and the Archivist smiled, waiting in silence until the lift stopped.

”Here we are, Master Archivist,” Relin said nervously, his voice utterly devoid of its usual cheer, ”The restricted stacks.”

”Thank you, Mister Relin, you may go,” the Archivist said, switching back to speaking in Circi, ”Give your wife my best, would you?”

”Will do, sir,” the ferret blurted, but he didn’t need to be told to leave twice; the instant that Eni, Tsar, and the Archivist were out of the carriage the doors closed and it began ascending. 

Eni glanced back at it, watching their obvious escape path disappear, but when she looked back to her mentor he offered her a secretive smile. ”We won't need it,” he said, his voice soft but assured, and Eni didn't question him.

The restricted stacks were, by design, off-limits to most students or casual passers-by. Lift operators like Relin were only supposed to stop on the floor with the approval of the Archivist himself, which Eni supposed he had in fact had, and the doors into the stacks accessible by the stairs were always kept locked. 

Considering the wealth of material that was kept in storage, the corridor they were in was remarkably plain. It was wide but quite short, the blandly white walls glowing in the gentle light of regularly placed lamps that kept the lush plants lining either side of the floor alive. There were no windows, so deep underground, but to Eni's nose there wasn't even the slightest hint of a foul dampness that would betray them being well below the level of the water in the canals.

At the opposite end of the hallway was a set of double doors, which under normal circumstances would have been kept open, a deputy archivist stationed at a nearby desk to assist in retrieving requests. Although it gave her a pang of regret to see the restricted stacks shuttered, Eni took in the rare opportunity to see the doors in all their grandeur, which more than made up for the lack of it elsewhere in the hallway.

They were made of polished bronze, gleaming dully in the lamp light, and the motto ”EX IGNORANTIA AD SAPIENTIA” was carved in large letters that crossed both at their tops. Below the words, there was a finely etched rendering of Ulmior, the first Archivist smiling beatifically while beckoning the viewer onward. 

He was ringed by a spiral of medallions set into the door, depicting the Archivists who had followed him, and despite all the centuries that had passed the door was still quite large enough to have dozens of blank spots left. The newest medallion, depicting Archivist Arctus's somber features in miniature relief like a somewhat oversized coin, was still patinaed with age, and the markhor staring back at her looked far younger than the one Tsar was helping along.

When they had reached the doors, the Archivist looked to Tsar and motioned for him to stop, heaving a sigh. ”I'm afraid the key to the stacks is in the Lord Warden's possession,” he said mournfully, ”I don't suppose you can open the doors without damaging them?”

Tsar gently eased the old markhor off his shoulder. ”I'll try,” he said quietly, and then he placed both paws around one of the ornate door knobs and tried turning it.

At first, nothing happened, but then the wolf threw his weight into it, wrenching the knob until there was an ear-splitting metallic squeal that made Eni and the Archivist wince. Tsar delicately pushed at the doors and they swung open without any resistance, ruined pieces of the lock tumbling to the floor. The Archivist looked sadly at the broken bits of metal before grabbing Tsar's arm again and shuffling inside, and Eni followed.

The restricted stacks spanned three entire sub-floors, the door opening onto a balcony that overlooked the cavernous space. Eni had visited countless times, in the course of her research, and yet she still found it difficult to pull her eyes away from the treasures within. There were thousands of rows of shelves, all of them filled with books, and Eni breathed in deeply to take in the rich papery scent. ”Have to hurry,” Tsar said, interrupting her reverie, and Eni nodded regretfully.

She was sure that someone, whether it was the otter and deer gendarmes or Relin, would be running for assistance, and she doubted it would be long before guards, Archons, or both were on their tails. ”This way,” Eni said; she didn't need the signs posted above the clusters of shelves to know how to get to the intersection of LAM to MAS and SWI to TAS.

She was sure the Archivist was grateful for her taking the lead, too; their entrance into the Terraces and their conversation in the lift seemed to have left him quite winded, and he was wheezing for breath as Tsar led him by the arm. It was only a matter of minutes before they arrived at the right spot, and although Eni strained her ears the entire time for any sign of someone approaching she heard nothing.

However, when she looked around she didn't see anything either. The point that marked the crossing point of the two different blocks of shelves was completely empty; they were standing on polished tile with nothing nearby. Eni's heart sank, sure that someone had already found what the Archivist had hidden, but as she glanced down she spotted something just before the Archivist rapped the floor with the end of his staff.

Under their feet was a square tile just like all the others, about two and a half feet on side and made out of polished marble. Unlike its nearest neighbors, however, there was a chip about four inches around missing from one corner. Eni immediately threw herself to the ground, wiggling her fingers into the gap as she gestured for Tsar and the Archivist to move away.

For a moment she encountered resistance, but then the tile came loose and smoothly shifted up. ”You lifted this before?” Eni asked, glancing over her shoulder at her mentor.

The tile wasn't excessively heavy by her reckoning; Eni doubted it weighed more than about thirty pounds. For the old markhor, it seemed as though that might as well have been three hundred pounds, and he gave her a warm smile. ”I was stronger when I hid it,” he managed to say, and Eni reached into the exposed gap in the floor.

The hiding space wasn't very deep, and there was only one object in it, something small and rectangular, and wrapped in a shroud of fine linen. It was surprisingly dense; although it looked about the same size as The Lamentations of Nergora it easily weighed more than a brick. Eni could feel her fur suddenly standing on end, and a faint buzzing filled her ears as she glanced down at what she held. ”What is it?” Eni asked curiously, carefully peeling the cloth away.

She exposed the corner of a golden cover, and as her fingers brushed against the cold metal—

Eni was utterly alone in a vast expanse of blank whiteness. She glanced around, trying to find her bearings, and her breath came out in a frigid puff. ”No,” Eni whispered, ”No. This… This can't…”

She was standing on a frozen plain, snow crunching beneath her feet as she turned in a small circle, her eyes wide with horror.

The trail is always cold.

”No!” Eni screamed, her voice raw with terror, the word echoing across the emptiness as she rejected the thought.

”This isn't real,” she told herself desperately, ”It's not.”

She had no idea where she was, and even as Eni searched for a point to fix her attention on, her heart was beating so fast it was all she could hear. There were no trees in sight, the ground around her gently sloping into mild hills, and the sky above was a dismal shade of gray without any clouds or Avians in sight. There were no footprints behind her, and Eni grasped at the lack of evidence of her passage. ”I can't have come this way,” Eni said, trying for an even and steady tone, ”I'd be able to see where I came from.”

Perhaps you got lost. Perhaps the snow all fell while you dreamed of success.

Eni's own voice was a sinister whisper in her ears, and she clutched at them, yanking until it hurt. Everything was horribly, vividly real, and when she pulled her trembling paws away her blunt nails were shiny with droplets of blood. Eni collapsed to her knees and the ground was painfully cold against her legs, her trousers doing nothing to block it. The wind blew past like a low sigh, rippling Eni's fur and chilling her to the bone.

This is where it ends.

It would be so easy, Eni knew. All she had to do was give up and let the snow bury her. Where had she been, before she found herself out in the endless frozen wastes? The university? It felt too dim and distant to be true, the memory of warmth a poor substitute for the real thing. The icy bite of winter was all she could feel, and it hungered for her.

”No,” Eni said, and she pushed herself to her feet, ”No, not today.”

Perhaps tomorrow, then.

Eni laughed madly, squeezing her eyes shut until tears welled up and froze against her cheeks. She forced herself to her feet and began blindly stumbling forward, the wind howling against her. When she did open her eyes nothing changed; the world was still an infinity of white under a brooding sky. 

She couldn't see the sun or the moon or any stars, everything reduced to two simple colors. Eni staggered onwards, forcing herself to keep moving, and she had no idea how long she walked. It might have been hours or days, but every time she stumbled she got up again, desperately willing something to change.

At first, Eni was sure that it was simply a trick of her eyes when she saw a dark smudge in the distance, but as she walked toward it the shape didn't vanish. It gradually grew larger and larger, and as it at last resolved itself into a figure Eni burst into a sprint. ”Tsar!” she cried, ”Tsar!”

She ran as fast as she could, the snow seeming to pull at her feet, but the cloaked figure ignored her. It was walking slowly, but it felt as though Eni wasn't getting any closer as she pushed herself even harder. Sprinting flat out, she reached out one arm. ”Tsar!” she called, scrabbling for him, but then the figure stopped and threw back the hood covering his head.

The distance between them strangely twisted and foreshortened, like a piece of paper being folded together, and Eni froze as she suddenly found herself immediately in front of the figure, looking up into his face.

It wasn't Tsar.

Eni wasn't sure how she could have ever mistaken the two for each other; although Tsar was tall, the stranger was even taller and far broader across the shoulders. Eni guessed he stood nearly eight feet high, and he was unquestionably an Aberrant. 

His proud leonine face was marked with two strange black stripes that descended like lightning bolts from the top of his head, breaking at his brows and then continuing from the corners of his eyes down either side of his blunt muzzle. His fur otherwise had a rich metallic sheen like a newly minted copper piece, shining in the dull light just as the Woemaker did. A magnificent mane framed his head, braided in places with glittering pieces of carved jade that matched his eyes.

Under his cloak he wore a simple and curiously old-fashioned tunic of rough cloth, belted with metal-studded leather. Battered gladii in matching sheaths hung at both his hips, and as Eni watched the Aberrant spread his two massive paws in a beseeching gesture. ”Ego adsum!” he called, his voice rich and booming, ”Exaudi me!”

He sounded strangely familiar, and as Eni stared at him she realized where she had seen and heard him before. The lion before her looked far younger than the one she had seen, and in living flesh he barely resembled the apparition in his tomb. But Emperor Wordermund's voice was unmistakable, his antiquated speech perfectly comprehensible to Eni.

I am here! Answer me!

Eni stared at the long-dead emperor in wonder; she knew she had to be seeing him as he had been before he had been emperor, when he had been nothing more than a mammal with a vision. And, as Eni watched, she felt suddenly sure she was about to see where that vision had come from.

There was a sound like thunder from behind Eni, and she fell just as Wordermund himself did. She turned around, trying to catch a glimpse of what had appeared to the lion, but she couldn't. Her mind couldn't make sense of the Visitor; she couldn't even think of anything else to call it. 

The Visitor shimmered and rippled like a rapidly flowing river, brighter than the sun, and Eni had to shield her eyes against its luminosity. Sometimes she thought she was catching glimpses of its true form, but none of them made any sense; burning eyes and outstretched limbs appeared and vanished too quickly for Eni to do more than make out as an impression. 

The Visitor could have been any mammal or every mammal, but vast and endless, hanging serenely over the ground. It was like looking at a paper cutout placed over a painted background but in three dimensions, somehow above the world and not a part of it.

The closer Eni examined the Visitor the less sense it made, and she could hear it. The expansive figure made a sound like the murmur of the ocean against the shore mixed with the crash of a waterfall, but Eni's ears somehow gave her the sense of spectacular and impossible colors. Eni's head throbbed the harder she tried understanding it, and she at last tore her eyes away, looking at Wordermund instead.

”Nunc scio quid sit amor,” he said, kneeling in the snow and staring up at the Visitor, his handsome face rapt with adoration, ”Cedere nescio.”

Now I know what love is, yet I know not how to yield.

Eni chanced a glance at the Visitor, but it made no more sense than it had when she first beheld it. Although it had no defined boundaries, as far as she could tell, she somehow got the overall impression of femininity, and when it responded that impression was confirmed. 

The Visitor spoke in a voice that was like every female voice Eni had ever heard speaking in perfect harmony, overlapping and rippling into something mellifluous and pleasant. 

”Credo quia absurdum est,” she said, a charmingly teasing tone coming across along with the words, and echoing underneath what was spoken in Classical Word Eni could make out the same phrase in every language she spoke and many more besides.

”I believe it, because it is absurd,” the Visitor had said, nearly purring as she spoke, and she continued, ”How very like you, kitten. My ardor is beyond your mortal ken; my ecstasy would destroy you as surely as my grief. But listen, if you would, and you shall hear my lamentations.”

The strangely empty sky split with a deafening peal of the same thunderous sound that had announced the Visitor's arrival. There was no accompanying flash of lightning; quite the opposite. All the color and light seemed to drain out of the world for an instant, and even the Visitor's glow was blotted out by the encroaching darkness. 

Eni could feel it for a moment, a storm of rapacious fury trying to swallow all the world and the Visitor with it, and then it passed as suddenly as it arrived. The Visitor was once more resplendent, pulsing with impossible hues, and Wordermund bowed to the ever changing form. 

”As it pleases you, Anima,” Wordermund said, his noble voice solemn as he lowered his head to the snow, ”Speak of what is unjust, and I shall break it. Aim me at that which is cruel, and I shall slay it. Reveal where it is dark, and I shall light it. I am the steward for all things birthed anew.” 

Eni turned away from the lion, and the twisting shape of the Visitor suddenly coalesced into something utterly familiar. Eni found her own face staring down at her; the Visitor was as tall as a tower and completely nude, every inch of her enormous body a perfect copy of Eni's. Or rather, almost perfect. 

The Visitor's belly and breasts were swollen with pregnancy, and she seemed almost to radiate her own light. Eni gaped at the giant, who knelt and reached down with one massive paw until her huge forefinger was directly in front of Eni. ”And so I shall. But my words are only for the ears of he who would be emperor,” the figure said in her vast and impossible voice, and she carelessly flicked her.

It was like being struck by a boulder flung by a trebuchet; Eni saw stars as she was thrown back, flying across the landscape so rapidly that the hills blurred and Wordermund began to recede. The Visitor did not, neither moving nor getting any smaller as the distance between them increased. She still wore Eni's form, her lips tweaked up in a smile. ”Your time shall come soon enough, leveret,” she said, her cold fiery eyes locking onto Eni’s, ”It is promised, after all.”

Eni reached desperately toward the Visitor, crying out in alarm, and—

Her eyes opened. She sat up suddenly, pulling in a gasping breath. ”Eni?” Tsar's voice spoke as his face swam into view, looking down at her with obvious concern.

Eni grabbed his arm, folding her own around it and pulling it tight to her chest as she relished in how warm and solid he felt. Tsar didn't resist, and for a moment neither one of them spoke until Eni at last let go and slumped over. She felt incredibly tired, and as she looked around she realized she had no idea where they were. 

It was a small and beautiful room, dominated by a large bed that she was lying in, and the circular walls were made of the same kind of stone as the Terraces of Gorin. There were no windows, but an elegant chandelier hung overhead, cut pieces of crystal refracting the light and making it fill the room with a warm glow. There was a modest desk on the wall opposite the bed, the Archivist sleeping in a chair pushed against it and snoring gently. The room was otherwise unfurnished, and strangely it didn't have a door, either; as Eni glanced around she saw that the walls were completely unbroken.

It wasn't until she looked down at the floor, which was made of sturdy wooden planks, that she saw how they must have entered it; there was a wide circular trapdoor with a thick iron handle in the center of the room. ”How do you feel?” Tsar asked quietly, eyeing Eni carefully.

She settled her head against the pillow, struggling for an answer, but the simple truth was that her entire body ached. The spot where the Visitor had touched her tingled with pins and needles, and the lump above her eye was throbbing with every beat of her heart. As she considered what to say, the wolf's nose drifted closer until it was right over her brow, his nostrils flaring, and then he gently licked the wound.

His tongue was hot and surprisingly gentle; it was as though he had rubbed a balm on her head that was slowly drawing out the pain. ”You're healing well,” he said at last, pulling his head away, and he locked eyes with her.

”Thanks,” Eni said; she had been too dumbfounded to protest when he had started his ministrations, but with them finished she almost wished he would have kept going.

She felt as though he had given her a fraction of his endless strength, and she sat up, wincing at the tingling in the muscles of her stomach as she did so. ”I'll be fine,” Eni said gently, and then she glanced around the unfamiliar room, ”Where are we? What happened?”

”Excellent questions,” the Archivist's voice replied, and Eni nearly jumped; she hadn't noticed when he had stopped snoring.

The old markhor had gotten unsteadily to his feet, swaying as he supported himself with his staff, and he looked even worse than he had when Eni had first seen him in his sickbed. His arms and legs were trembling and his face was puffy and pallid beneath his fur, his eyes yellowed and bloodshot. His voice had been a raspy wheeze, and his breathing was shallow and sounded pained. ”Sir, you should sit down,” Eni protested, and he grudgingly sank back into the chair, groaning with effort.

”You should have let him have the bed,” Eni said to Tsar, but he didn't reply.

”No, no, we were both far more worried about you,” the Archivist said, waving one hoof dismissively, ”After you collapsed… Well, perhaps I should start with the simplest question to answer. We're in the private study of Archivist Tylinora the Shy.”

Eni took a closer look at her surroundings, suddenly finding the details utterly fascinating. Tylinora the Shy had been the university's fourth Archivist, her brilliance matched only by her intense agoraphobia and dislike of talking to other mammals. 

The peculiar ewe had insisted that all communication with her be through writing only, and once taking up office as Archivist she had never left the Terraces of Gorin; when she died her body had even been cremated onsite and her ashes interred in the foundation so she wouldn't have to leave.

”She had certain additions to the tower made, so as to ensure her privacy,” the Archivist continued, ”Her modifications don't show up on any official plans, of course; the secret has been passed down from Archivist to Archivist.”

”So this is why you said we wouldn't need the lift to get out of the restricted stacks,” Eni said, and her mentor nodded.

”There's a hidden staircase,” he said, and then looked almost abashed as he added, ”Mister Tsar had to carry both of us.”

Eni hoped there hadn't been too many stairs, but from the expression on Tsar's face she got the feeling it had been quite a climb. ”So no one will be able to find us?” Eni asked.

The Archivist inclined his head. ”I believe we are well hidden, yes,” he said, ”We should be quite safe. The only problem, as I can see it, is that while Archivist Tylinora wanted to be able to make her way throughout the university without encountering anyone else, she had no interest in exiting it. When it comes time for us to leave, avoiding notice may prove difficult.”

Tsar shrugged his shoulders in a wordless gesture of confidence, and as he did Eni saw there were new holes in his cloak that hadn't been there before. Her eyes widened as she reached out, snagging the ragged fabric with her paw. ”What happened?” Eni demanded, repeating her question, and the Archivist looked to Tsar.

”Perhaps you could explain,” the old markhor said, his voice weak and tired as he leaned back in his chair.

”You collapsed after you touched the book,” Tsar said, his voice low.

”You didn't pass out,” he said, making it a statement rather than a question, and Eni raised one paw.

”I'll explain after you do,” she said, and although the wolf's eyes flicked up and down the length of her body he continued.

”Guards came. About two dozen,” Tsar said, rather blandly and as though it was of no interest, ”He wrapped the book again.”

He jerked his head in the Archivist's direction and then picked up the thread of his story. ”Picked up both of you and ran.”

”They had crossbows,” Eni said, ”I can tell from the tears in your cloak. Did they hit you? Are you hurt?”

She ran her paws along his chest, anxiously feeling for injuries, and Tsar didn't stop her. Instead, he reached up to his shoulder and unclasped his cloak, letting it fall to the floor, and then spun in a slow circle. His clothes underneath were as tattered and frayed as ever, but the wolf didn't have as much as a scratch. ”Didn't bother blocking the ones that wouldn't hit,” he said simply, and Eni sighed with relief.

”A modest retelling of a spectacular tale,” the Archivist interjected, and Eni could hear the smile in his voice, ”But one that captures the essence of what happened, with the exclusion of my own small contribution.”

The old markhor paused for a moment, catching his breath, and then continued. ”As Mister Tsar was running for the hidden door, I made sure to say, as loudly as I could, that I would die before permitting him access to Ulmior's Vault.”

Eni frowned as she looked at her mentor, trying to work out the logic of what he had done. The Archivist had mentioned that Procerus had already locked down access to Ulmior's Vault, so it wasn't as though he could have really done much more. The vault wasn't inside the Terraces of Gorin, either; it was sunk deep into the roots of the mountains that bordered Lake Linra, where Terregor's edges ended.

”You lied,” Eni said slowly, ”The second part that the Archons need… It's not in Ulmior's Vault.”

The Archivist smiled triumphantly. ”Indeed it is not,” he said, ”But perhaps they shall think so with more certainty than before.”

”We can certainly use every advantage we can get,” Eni said, and she pushed herself to her feet to pace the room.

She brushed aside Tsar's offer of help, and although her legs initially felt as though they were made of jelly she grew more confident in her ability to move without falling over as she walked back and forth. The wolf's eyes never left her, and Eni smoothed her ears back thoughtfully as she considered what to say. ”We know they're trying to translate Derkomai,” she said slowly.

”It is my belief that the Archons have been attempting to do so for many years,” the Archivist said, ”Centuries, perhaps. But with nothing to work on but copies of the Lamentations, their efforts will have been in vain.”

The words looked to have cost him a great deal of effort, and the old markhor fell silent again, his sides heaving as he rasped for air. ”Wordermund was careful,” Eni said, speaking before she knew what she was going to say, ”He didn't want someone unworthy to possess his hard-earned knowledge. That's why he split his lexicon into two parts; we have the first one here.”

She gestured at the golden book they had recovered from the restricted stacks, which was on top of the desk and still wrapped in its shroud. The Archivist's eyes widened behind his spectacles, and even Tsar looked almost impressed. ”How did you know what it was?” the Archivist asked, ”Did you have a vision when you touched the lexicon?”

”Yes,” Eni said, but then immediately added, ”No.”

”It's… It's hard to explain,” she continued, struggling to find the right words, ”I… I saw…”

She sighed. ”I don't know,” she said, ”I don't think it was just a memory or an echo. Not entirely, at least. At first I was…”

Eni licked at her lips, trying to summon the courage to recount her experience. ”At first I was alone. In the snow and the… The cold,” Eni said, barely managing much more than a whisper.

It almost felt as though saying what she had seen would make it come true, and she looked to Tsar, reassuring herself of his presence. ”I don't know where,” Eni continued, her voice gathering strength, ”But I walked for so long, and then I saw Wordermund, all by himself. I don't think he was emperor yet; he looked too young.”

The Archivist's face was alight with keen interest, the markhor seeming to soak in every detail. ”He called out, asking to be heard, and then…” Eni said, and when she had no other idea for how to finish her sentence she simply added, ”And then a… Visitor appeared.”

”Visitor?” Tsar asked, his head cocked to the side.

”I don't know what else to call her,” Eni said, ”She was enormous. Formless, but somehow…”

Eni grimaced in frustration. ”Wordermund told the Visitor he loved her, but he didn't know how to submit to her,” Eni said, moving on when she realized she couldn't do any better.

”Did she answer?” the Archivist asked, and Eni nodded.

”She told him her love was beyond anything he could understand, and that she'd pass on her lamentations,” Eni said.

The Archivist was tightly gripping the armrests of his chair, excitement practically pouring off him. ”Did you hear any of it?” he demanded, and Eni shook her head sadly.

”That's why I don't think all I was seeing was one of Wordermund's memories,” Eni said, ”The Visitor… Well, she turned into… me?”

Her voice rose, inadvertently turning her statement into a question, but it didn’t feel entirely accurate.

”Like Lieren has?” Tsar asked, and Eni didn't have to think before answering.

”No, not like that at all,” Eni said, ”She was so big one of her fingers was as tall as I am, but she was me, down to her markings.”

Eni gestured at her belly to indicate what she meant, vaguely tracing the familiar shapes hidden by her clothes, and a sudden vivid flash of the Visitor’s pregnancy passed through her mind. ”The Visitor said that she was only going to speak to Wordermund, and then she knocked me away. I went flying, and then… I woke up.”

”I see,” the Archivist said, sinking back into his chair, ”Was there anything else you can remember?”

The details were somehow both hazily dreamlike and so sharp that they could be events that had just happened, and Eni searched her memory for a moment before her ears suddenly shot up. ”Wordermund called the Visitor something,” she said, ”He had a name for her: Anima.”

The Archivist sucked in a breath, his fingers closing into fists. ”Anima?” the Archivist repeated, ”Are you positive that's what he said?”

”I am,” Eni replied, and as she exchanged a glance with her mentor; she knew he understood exactly as she did what the significance of the word was.

”What's that?” Tsar asked.

The wolf hadn't reacted at all, and he glanced from Eni to the Archivist with an utterly nonplussed expression on his face. Eni considered how best to explain, and then she spoke. ”It's Classical Word,” she said, ”It means the Mother.”

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