The Star Prophecy: Part One
Fifteen years ago
I found myself in the middle of the ocean. Not one of my better days.
Floating, freezing, water trickling my ears. The salty water filled my mouth as my arms flailed for something to grab. I was able to keep my head above the waves; the ocean was not turbulent. Rather, I saw a still and silent world, a stretch of blue extending in every direction. Bobbing atop the flat waves was flotsam spread throughout the ocean, forgotten debris that must have fallen off passing ships. Upon a second look, there was an awful lot of it; perhaps there had been a shipwreck here long ago. Now, I, a mere brown Wocky, was part of this trash heap.
Even with droplets stinging my eyes, there was one thing I saw clearly: the teleportation wasn't quite a success. I managed to swim over to a long wooden board and grabbed ahold of one of the ends. Fortunately it kept me afloat. Just like my clothes that were weighing me down, I was soaked with the reality that I was no good at magic. Sure, I had only loosely followed the instructions, but my calculations were foolproof, or so I thought. It serves me right to end up here, I suppose.
As the sun beat down on my face, my arms grew weary as I cling to the wooden board, and to life. My skin was burning, yet the rest of me was shivering under the waves. I had no sustenance of any kind. Only regrets fueled me now. Before I knew it the sun was creeping under the horizon and the sea was orange, then blue, then black. Under a sky of faint stars, I drifted off to sleep in total darkness.
I awoke to a rough sensation between my fingers. Apparently, hot sand was running through my hand. The afternoon sun loomed high above in the clear blue sky. Somehow, I had washed up on a beach. As I staggered along the shoreline, I failed to see any signs of life outside of a Weewoo, which had perched on a nearby palm. Please don't be a deserted island, I thought desperately as I watched the Weewoo call out for a reply which never came.
Surely I was on Mystery Island and I'd meet some natives in no time. There was a line of tropical flora and palm trees just ahead of me, lush in greens and vibrant orange. I ventured beyond the brush into a clearing. Thickets of overgrown, green grass were mixed in with the sand, and I could see the faint blur of a hut on the edge of the shore. It took half of an hour of limping to reach the doorstep.
It was a beach house, nothing special, but it had been there for some time. Paint had been chipped clean off of the wood, as if the ocean washed it away. The window was completely open, and the sweet smell of something baking inside was leaking from inside. I saw no food on the table, but what I did see made me gasp. The most beautiful books I have ever seen were piled on the dinner table, many of them opened with pages flapping in the wind. But I did not recognize some of the symbols on the covers, written in gold text that shone at me. These were not just any books, but relics with clear signs of age: yellowing pages, loose strings, calligraphy. These beauties would fetch a fine price if I could get my hands on them, and who knows what treasures they may hold.
Before my heart could beat, I was leaning in to get a closer look, and then I was inside. It was one of my personal mottos: an open window might as well be an open door. Turns out the books were even more impressive up close. Carefully I ran my hands along a purple book. Fine needlework and pristine stitching, but most of all, ancient. Valuable. If there's more here, I hit the jackpot.
Leaning over to reach one beyond my arm's length, I bumped into a chair, and its legs squealed against the uneven floorboards. Oops. Immediately footsteps were thumping this way, and my first thought was to hide. I backed into the wall and franticly scampered about, when I spotted a trapdoor below my feet. I slid it open and dived inside.
Little did I know that I would fall several feet. I didn't notice the ladder beside me until I was already flat on the floor, nose pressed against a carpet. I had thought to climb up to close the door, but that thought was quickly lost when I saw dozens of bookshelves ahead of me. I could see their outlines lit by candlelight. They were mixed in height, standing like a mountain range.
What was someone doing hoarding all of this knowledge? Surely others could make use of it? One book alone could feed someone like me for a year. I continued forward and still there was another row of shelves. There were more books that could be read here in a lifetime—thousands of them.
I reached the last bookshelf in a remote corner of the room. The candlelight barely reached here—a good place to hide. A book had been sticking out of the shelf. I wiggled it free and inspected this lovely thing. The book was old, and it smelled old, but there was no dust anywhere. Oddly enough, this library was well kept. A little red bookmark protruded out of the side. I flipped to a page with a bookmark and noticed it was a chapter about Faerieland. I checked another book and opened it to a bookmarked page, which held a beautifully illustrated map of Faerieland, intricately detailed down to the plants in the gardens.
Suddenly, something flew in my direction and I blocked it with the book just in time. It was so familiar. In fact, it smelled just like... coffee?
"Who are you and what do you want?" screamed a Spotted Aisha. She was holding a now empty coffee mug around her fingers.
I was speechless. "Umm... I..."
"What have you done there?" Her tone dropped from severity to concern, and her face showed expressions of fear. Her mouth fell open at the sight of my hand. "That book! It's... it's..."
"Excuse me, lady? What have I done? I recall you threw the coffee at me!"
She paid no attention to me. "It's ruined! You... You destroyer!"
Destroyer? Hah. Try again, I thought. Sure enough, the book was damaged. Half of the book was now stained in coffee. Black coffee, to be accurate—the worst kind.
"You almost did that to my face!"
"Well it can't get any uglier, stupid Wocky. Or maybe it can. How'd you get in here? How long have you been here?"
She shattered the mug against the bookshelf and snagged a shard, wielding it.
"Well... you see, I was stranded, starving, and ended on washing up here on Mystery Island. There was no one around, but a window, and a trapdoor, and, yeah." I said off the tip of my tongue as fast as it could.
She was encircling me like I was about to be her prey. "I don't like liars. Hold on a sec—did you just say Mystery Island?"
"Well there are only two of us here, so yes, I did. You mean this isn't Mystery Island?"
She looked up at me, dumbfounded.
I continued. "I needed help—food—but then I saw your lovely collection here, on the table. I've never seen so many books that old where I'm from. For one, the craftsmanship is remarkable, and I've never heard of these publishers—"
She calmed down for a bit, contemplating something. I thought that would get off the hook, but then I wanted to take back what I said. "So you're not from around here, it seems. Yet you happen to know an awful lot about books. Then tell me, who do you work for?"
"I don't work," I admitted while scratching my head.
"Who sent you, you spy!" I could feel the Aisha's gaze burning into my sweaty skin. "Or should I say, pirate?"
"Okay, okay, I'll spill it," I began, raising my arms in surrender. "I'm a collector. I go around the world looking for new additions for my collection. But I got lost at sea along the way, until I ended up here. When I saw your books in the window, I knew it was fate that brought me here. I just had to see for myself."
Of course, that wasn't entirely true, as in, not at all, really. Still, she wasn't pleased. She stood there, gazing at me with her arms crossed.
"Alright, I wanted them for the black market. There, happy? Just please, let me have a bite to eat and I'll be on my way!"
Her face lit up at that moment.
"So, you're part of the underground too, huh?" she said, suddenly smiling.
Perplexed, I could feel my eyebrows bending in ways I didn't think possible. "Uh... so you're not mad, right?"
She eased her shoulders back and tossed the shard behind her. "Do I look mad? No, that's great. C'mon up, I was just finishing up making lunch."
I didn't know if this was all a trick to get the Chia Police on my tail, but I could only think with my stomach, so I followed her up the ladder.
Inside the kitchen, smoke was billowing from a pot on the stove.
"Hope you like bread and stew. It's all I've got."
"I'll eat anything right now, really," I said honestly.
A small table with a single chair was at the center of the checkerboard floor. She went and dragged in another chair, the same one I bumped into, from the dining room and stuck it under the table. I sat comfortably as she served me a bowl of stew and took the seat across from me. I slurped from the spoon. I didn't know where to start.
"Needs more salt," I said.
"I ran out," she replied with annoyance.
"That's too bad, uh..."
"Cool name," I said, unsure of how I should reply. "The name's Rorren, or Ren, if you prefer. But never Rory."
"So tell me, Rorren, how many books have you saved?"
I wasn't sure what she meant, so I was going to wing it. "Plenty. From what now?"
"The pirates, the guard, oh the usual!"
"Uhm... it was back on Roo Island, if my memory serves me correctly. They were in need of rehoming, and I gladly volunteered. It would've been a shame for such history to have been lost, forever."
"So you're really not from around here?"
"Where is here, exactly?"
I was speechless. "Whaaaaaat?"
She let out an oh dear under her breath, sprung from her chair, and slammed the window shut in the other room.
When she returned, I began, "I've never heard of such a place. It—it simply doesn't exist."
"And yet here you are." She waved at me. "It seems the rumors are true, then. They say those from the Other World have never heard of our land, not even in the works of fantasy. Nor have they set foot on our shores."
"I've never heard of any Aru-whatever people running around. It's not even on the map."
"Arugahians," she corrected. "Uh—roo—ga—he—ens."
I started to think I might still be floating out in the ocean somewhere. Wake up, already!
"We've been taught to believe there's no land outside of our own. But people like me know better. We may not be able to discuss such things amongst each other, but the ancient texts reveal all."
"Does that mean you've never been off of the island before?"
"I've never left. Whether it's the pirates, the local authority, we can't leave. Besides, I've already got a good feel of the lands out there from all these books, more than I should."
"But if I got a ship or something?" That was always easier said than done, however.
"I can't," she said, looking down. "I have responsibilities."
She changed the subject. "Back to what you just said, you mean to say there are other threats to the ancient texts in the Other World?"
"Oh indeed. All sorts of criminal vermin want to get their hands on them, for shady purposes."
That one wasn't quite a lie, either.
"It is such a shame. These books are relics of our history, and the King wants them wiped from existence. Well I won't stand for it! I don't care what his reason is, the fool! The very thought of it makes me sick! You have no idea how invaluable their information is to our future."
I gasped. Things were finally making a shred of sense. "You're protecting them."
She nodded. "That's why I can't leave."
I paused. "Alone?"
"Someone has to." Determination was brimming in her voice.
"I don't like what I'm hearing, either." I said. "How can a king do that? What does he have to hide?"
"Long story short: magic," she said plainly.
My ears perked up at the lovely sound of the word. Magic!
"Magic, huh? I know a little about that, myself. For self-defense reasons. Any chance there's some tomes in here with some tips?"
"Plenty of them. Except the one you destroyed."
"Yeah, about that... so you'll forgive me for that one, right?"
She shook her head. "I might just have to make you work for me as playback."
I swallowed. "What?"
"I know your type. You could find yourself a vessel and sail back where you came from, assuming the pirates don't find you first—but I would be being optimistic. Once you leave, you can never return. This island is unfindable for every one of your kind. You want to see how this story ends."
"You can't read people like books, you know! But yeah... I suppose you're right."
"I'm warning you—you're living proof that the so-called truths we've grown up with are lies. Do you honestly believe the King's army or the pirates won't do everything within their power to maintain the status quo?"
"Psh," I said. "I'm not afraid of a bunch of pirates."
She sighed. "If you stay here, you won't fit in."
"Sure I will." I crossed my arms.
"They will find you."
"I'm not leaving this island, that's final!"
"Then you have two choices: work for me, or good luck out there."
"Why not door number three? Let's make a deal. I'll help you with your library duties—dusting, cataloging, what have you—and you can help me master the art of magic. With my magic, I'll restore that damaged book back to its old self."
"If your Other Worldly magic can actually do that, that'd be perfect."
"It's a promise."
She leaned over the table and we shook hands.
"But before I forget, there's been something I've been meaning to ask. All of the pages that were bookmarked mentioned Faerieland. Why do you find that hunk of clouds so interesting?"
"Soon you will find out, and you'll probably wish you hadn't. Are you sure you don't want to pick the first choice?"
My eyes moved to the window above the kitchen sink. White clouds had moved in and shadowed the sun, but a beam of sunlight had leaked through. I had nothing to go back to, nothing to lose.
"Welcome to the League of Librarians, Rorren."
To be continued...