The Black Archive
Hubert Farbottom was a celebrated librarian. Though of course, in a kingdom like Brightvale, pretty much every librarian was celebrated to some degree. It was a position of honour in Brightvale society, after all. Any lay person could do something as simplistic as learn something, but librarians... They kept the books. They kept the learning safe. The gatekeepers of knowledge, treated with such admiration as the most decorated knights of Meridell.
Hubert had done quite well in the profession, and was currently head of the prestigious Phebiyan Archives within Brightvale Castle itself. Many tomes within the collection were priceless, and it was not uncommon for King Hagan, upon discovering a previously unknown ancient manuscript, to entrust it to Hubert's care.
Like all librarians, the brown Quiggle took his job very seriously. Although the Archives were free for all to visit, as was King Hagan's policy on such things, Hubert had a strict set of rules which he enforced in an almost tyrannical fashion.
Beyond the initial stacks of the reception, there was to be complete silence. No books may leave the Archives. And certainly, under no circumstances, must any book be placed back in a different stack to the one where it was found.
He knew every book in the Archive cover to cover, of course. But he liked to read them again regularly. It felt almost like speaking to an old friend again. It was hardly an unusual day, when it happened. He was busy reading a copy of Narinus's Treatise on Yooyuball, his heavily bearded face buried between the pages.
At once, there was a tap on the desk, clear and brisk. Hubert inhales sharply as he heard the echoes coming back from the deeper stacks. Such a noise was sure to have disturbed the Readers. The Quiggle set his jaw solidly, and then with very deliberate slowness, closed the book and put it to one side before looking up.
"Yes?" he said, looking down his thick glasses.
It was a tone of voice that only teachers and librarians are permitted to use. As if the presence of the other person is an inconvenience to the universe itself. It was a tone of voice that said the other person had better watch themselves, as they were already treading on thin ice.
The other Neopet infuriated Hubert further still by ignoring the unspoken rebuke.
"You are the librarian, yes?" the grey Techo asked.
There was no reverence in the term. This was not someone from Brightvale. He was dressed like a gentleman, though... Perhaps a Meridell Lord?
"I am Archivist Farbottom, yes," Hubert replied. "I am in charge of this collection. How may I be of... Service?"
He tried to put as much acid as possible on the final word. The Techo continued to ignore the offense, making it all the more unpleasant.
"I require a book," the Techo said.
Hubert stifled a laugh.
"Then you have come to the right place."
"I doubt you are paid for your humour, librarian," the Techo said bluntly. "Otherwise you would be dancing in the court of that fat oaf, Skarl."
Not Meridell, then. This Techo was from further afield.
"I require a specific book," the Techo added.
Hubert took the catalog from under the desk, a thick tome listing all the manuscripts in the collection. It was for show - Hubert could freely recall the locations of them all.
"The name?" Hubert asked.
"It... does not have a name," the Techo provided. "But I know you have it."
"There are no books in the Phebiyan Archive that lack names," Hubert replied dismissively. "We have certain fragments, if that is what you mean. Those lack formal identification, but still have named designations."
"What I require is not strictly within the Phebiyan Archive," the Techo said. "I need to access... the Black Archive."
Hubert's face changed in an instant. Gone was the overbearing anger towards the Neopet. This was serious.
"There is no such Archive within the castle," he said quickly. "To be frank, I do not recall talk of a... Black Archive, did you call it? I've not heard of such a thing in all of Brightvale. Perhaps the Arcanium in Moltara holds such a collection?"
"Do not lie to me, librarian," the Techo said. "I know it is here."
"Just who are you?" Hubert demanded.
"My name is not important," the Techo said.
"I disagree," Hubert said. "Who are you?"
"My name is Artemis Vandebant," the Techo answered. "You don't know me, and if either of us have any luck, after today you will never see or hear from me again. But I will have access to the Black Archive, librarian. The combined hordes of Faerieland could not keep me from it."
"With the permission of the King may have access," Artemis cut across the Quiggle. "Yes, I know. Hagan has provided his mark."
Artemis handed over a scroll carrying the royal seal. Everything looked in order.
"If the King knew what he was signing, he would never agree to such a thing," Hubert protested. "What have you done to him? Bribery? Blackmail? Hypnosis?"
"Hagan provided his mark freely when he realised my intent," Artemis said, though Hubert did not believe him in the slightest.
There were rumours of an organisation that bewitched rulers into doing their bidding.
"It does not matter if you believe me, librarian," Artemis added. "This is the royal seal of Brightvale. You are compelled to obey, it is your duty. Show me to the Black Archive."
Hubert stared at him for a few moments, trying to find any way around the situation. When none presented itself, he relented.
"Follow me," he sighed.
Hubert led Artemis away from the reception, into the stacks. Normally, he wouldn't dare to talk in such a place, but this was an extraordinary situation.
"You will not discuss the Black Archive with any other soul, regardless of what the King does or does not say," Hubert instructed.
"The knowledge shall not leave my lips," Artemis agreed. "Frankly, it took years of research to even discover the place existed, let alone its contents."
"Both of which should be things you shouldn't have been able to discover," Hubert said. "I should very much like to know who your source was."
"Not something I can discuss," Artemis replied bluntly. "You wouldn't be able to arrest them, regardless... It involved dabbling in the occult."
"Most things in the Black Archive do," Hubert replied darkly.
They had reached a seemingly innocuous stack, and Hubert carefully traced his hand across the wooden finish of the shelves. There, he found a knot in the wood which had been removed. He took a key from around his neck and inserted it into the missing knot.
There was a mechanical clicking sound, and the book stack swung inwards, revealing a passage leading down.
"Close it after us," Hubert instructed.
The staircase only went on for one story, but the room they emerged into was a world away from the one they had just left. This room had no windows, for a start, the only light coming from magical glowing orbs on the wall.
The books down here were piled in tight, with ancient and dark writing on their spines.
"The Black Archive," Hubert said. "To get this far, of course you already know. This is King Hagan's collection of forbidden knowledge."
"Things deemed too dangerous for public consumption," Artemis said with a nod. "There is a rumour that there are records of things even Queen Fyora does not know about within these books."
"Perhaps," Hubert agreed. "But that would be because there are some things Queen Fyora does not want to know. This knowledge is forbidden for a reason."
"But sometimes, it must be used, for a greater good," Artemis said. "As I mentioned, the book I require does not have a name."
"Not unusual for tomes in the Black Archive," Hubert said. "Subject? Date?"
"It will have been written in pre-history," Artemis explained. "Probably in a language we understand is known as Kayannin."
"You can't read it?" Hubert asked. "You want a book you cannot read?"
"I will locate someone versed in the language," Artemis said. "The first step is in obtaining the book."
"The subject," Hubert said. "You didn't tell me the subject."
"Necromancy," Artemis said.
"I thought you were going to say that," Hubert said with a sigh. "I know the book you mean. Follow me."
Hubert led him through the eerie bookshelves.
"You said 'we'," Hubert said. "Who is we?"
"You do not need to know," Artemis said.
"You are planning on taking a book out of my collection," Hubert said. "Normally I would call the army for such a brazen lack of respect. The least I can ask for is the identity of the thief."
"I am no thief," Artemis said.
"This is my collection," Hubert replied. "You are a thief."
"I represent a collection of individuals working towards a specific goal," Artemis explained. "The League, as we call ourselves, was formed four years ago upon the death of Hubrid Nox."
"Hubrid Nox?" Hubert gasped. "But he was a renowned necromancer. Surely he would know the contents of the book?"
"He would," Artemis agreed. "But Nox is dead, and his knowledge with him. We are working in the dark, floundering in our ignorance. But this book, it may contain the knowledge we need - the first step in returning our glorious leader to life."
Hubert stopped dead, reaching for a book off the stack. It was plain, no arcane symbols or ancient curses on the cover. Nothing to make it look remarkable. Hubert held it in his hands heavily.
"This book..." he said, its contents coming to the front of his mind. "It contains such things of unspeakable evil. Things that should never see the light of day. I am a man of knowledge, a steward of books. But this... when the King placed this in the Black Archive, this unsettled me."
He held out the book.
"Take it," Hubert said. "Take it to the deepest darkest hole and throw it in. It will not give you what you desire. Only a cruel mockery."
"We must try," Artemis said, taking the book.
"Then good luck to you," Hubert told him.
Artemis turned, walking away and back to the staircase that would lead back to the light. As he walked, he drummed his fingers on the book's cover.
One step closer.
In the near darkness of the Black Archive, he whispered to the waiting tomes.