How long has it been now? How long has it been since I’ve thought about it? That seems to be the better question. Time seems to have no meaning here, it waxes and wanes like the moon or it rages with the force of a hundred storms. It’s so easy for me to lose track. I used to think about it all the time, though. It used to consume my every thought.
The darkness is getting closer, I hear it’s whispers in the wind. I don’t know how much longer I can fight it, my light is growing dim…I need you. But do you need me anymore? I wonder. This place used to be a paradise…our paradise. But now it’s tainted with shadows and abominations. You would be sad to see it in this sorry state. In a way I’m glad you can’t see it, it only would remind you that you destroyed the future we would have had.
I know why you did it and I don’t blame you. I never did. You made an impossible choice. One that I could never make. That’s why you’re the best of us. You always have been. You wouldn’t be like me, locked away in this tower of glass, my last refuge, cradling this ever-fading fire that serves as my only link to you. You would fight. Even if you knew you couldn’t win. But I can’t fight, I can barely resist. It’s the only thing I have strength for anymore.
But the thought of you gives me strength. Thinking of you gives me the will to resist the shadows. I don’t know if you can hear me…sometimes the fire shimmers when I talk to it…I like to think that in some way you can. Even if you can’t, it still feels like I’m talking to you and that gives me some comfort. It makes me forget how scared I am, even if just for a moment.
So, what should we talk about?
Do you remember when we met? It was so long ago, eons ago… but what’s a few eons to us? My memories haven’t faded, and I can always remember that with crystal clarity. If there is something I can rely on it’s my memory. You probably don’t remember…and why would you? I was nobody. You were a warrior. A protector. A leader. Our people looked to you when in doubt and you never disappointed us.
I was…who was I again? Sometimes I can’t tell. Sometimes the memories, most of them not mine, blend together and I can never tell which experiences mine were. Was I… a Keeper? Yes, I believe that’s right. A Keeper… I was meant to be unseen and unheard. But you saw me, remember? It was before the Fire, before you left. The lights were low, the night was only just beginning. The Library was mostly empty, only a few scattered scholars poring over some forgotten memories, their low discussions were barely a hum in the silence.
That place was so peaceful… and I think that’s why you came there. You wanted an escape from all the noise and politics that came with your position. I didn’t recognize you at first, it was a little jarring to see you without your armor or your ring of honor guards. Your simple clothes were a clever attempt at a disguise, but your regal bearing is hard to hide. The few patrons I had were occupied, so I had no other choice but come to your table. You didn’t even look at me at first…so I waited, head bowed and eyes downcast.
I didn’t dare say anything, I wasn’t allowed. I was always told what was needed and so I did it. There was never a need for words. I couldn’t even remember what my voice sounded like. But when you spoke, you spoke to me, not at me. You asked what my name was. I shook my head, indicating that I didn’t have one. Keepers weren’t allowed one. We only lived to serve. You then asked me if I knew who you were…I can still hear your voice…
Of course, I knew who you were. But I only nodded. I didn’t dare look at you. Keepers weren’t allowed to make eye contact, especially with somebody important like you. You remember how shocked I was when you lifted my chin? I froze, my mind went completely blank. Nobody had ever touched me like that before…indeed, I couldn’t remember the last time someone touched me at all.
I couldn’t have said anything, even if you had commanded me to. You just… ensnared me. I was saved by the arrival of your guard, which you had gotten away from. You only said that next time we meet, we will have a conversation. As I was pushed aside by your guards, I was barely able to nod…I don’t think you even saw it.
So, I waited for you. I tried to temper myself, but I couldn’t keep from feeling the anticipation. It was a long time before I saw you in the Library again. Every time I passed by that table and you weren’t there, I wasn’t able to block out the disappointment. I didn’t understand why I felt this way…I didn’t even know what it was that I was feeling. But your continued absence began to weigh on me, until I was able to convince myself that you had forgotten about me. Not that I blamed you…I was nobody.
And then you were there, sitting there as if you were there the entire time. You stood when you saw me approaching, a gesture that surprised me. My patrons never acknowledged me with such respect. You shocked me further by pulling out a chair and gesturing to it. I slowly sunk into it, not wanting to offend you, but terrified all the same. You sat down, still holding my eyes, and our conversation began.
“I am sorry for my continued absence. The Council has been moving the Legions to engage the separatists along the northern borders. I had only just returned from the front lines.” The Lord Commander sighed heavily as he pushed the dark hair from his brow, his icy gaze disappearing as he closed his eyes wearily. He was still in his armor, the silver plates somehow still gleaming in the dim light. He had hung his sheathed blade from the back of his chair while his plated gauntlets lay on the table. His snowy wings were folded against his back and the Keeper couldn’t help but stare at them, a little flutter of jealousy twisting within her.
“Did you think that I forgot?” She looked to his face to find him watching her. The Keeper only nodded, her hands twisting in her lap. He only nodded, “I understand. You must think it odd to find me here.”
She nodded again. He tilted his head, confused, “You may speak freely with me.”
The Keeper shook her head. The Lord Commander sighed again as he leaned back, “I have done too much talking today only to have it all fall on deaf ears or end in an argument. I would like for once to listen to someone who speaking to me, not at me… Do you understand?”
She did. She knew exactly how he felt…but how could she say it? He was not meant to hear her voice. He was too important to listen to one as insignificant as her. But she wanted to, and he was making it so easy to forget who she was. He was treating her like an equal…no one had done that in a very long time.
Disappointment clouded his eyes and he reached for his gauntlets, “I have made a mistake coming here…”
“No, my lord.” Her voice seemed a hoarse shout in the silence, surprising even her. She clapped a hand to her mouth, her eyes wide in shock. He turned back to her, lowering his hand to rest on the table. A smile crept onto his face as he looked at expectantly. She cleared her throat while lowering her hand slowly, “You have made no mistake…please don’t leave.”
She twisted a fold of her robe tightly with nervous fingers as she continued, “I beg your forgiveness, but it has been a very long time since anyone has wanted me to speak, Lord Commander.”
“Why is that?”
Her eyes dropped to her hands, “I am a Keeper. It isn’t proper that we speak to patrons of the Library.”
The Keeper didn’t answer. She didn’t know. No one did. The infancy of the Seraph race was tangled up in a host of potent memories that no one had been able to unravel. Several had tried but no one had yet succeeded, but all that had failed were driven to madness by the experience without exception. The reasons for several of the traditions and expectations were hidden away in those memories.
“It’s just how it has always been… Keepers hardly ever speak to each other, we’ve grown to learn each other’s behavior to the point where words are not necessary, and patrons do not require our voice.” The Keeper answered. The Lord Commander frowned, seemingly unsatisfied with her answer.
“I suppose there isn’t always a need for words…I’ve grown so accustomed to a constant stream of noise around me that silence feels foreign to me.” He replied quietly, his finger tracing the plated edge of his greaves. “But for what I need…Your voice is necessary.”
“Of course, my lord. How may I serve you today?” The Keeper stood then, her head bowed, the years of service taking hold. He looked up at her, his expression unfathomable. He was quiet for a long moment before he leaned back into his chair, his wings fluttering slightly.
“We’re coming to that…but first, will you permit me to ask you a question?” The muted drone of conversation around them was scarcely louder than his voice. Indeed, until she had stood up, she had quite forgotten that there were others around them. Her section of the Library was always busy, but as of now no one needed her assistance. Then she saw why. Another grey robed figure was gliding among the tables, periodically pausing a moment to collect the shining orbs of discarded memories. No one was speaking to him.
She turned from the grey robe, her eyes hesitantly meeting his. Did she dare? The Lord Commander saw that she wanted to speak and closed his mouth, indicating that she should go first. He smiled slightly, as if her continued hesitations amused him. Finally, she was able to push past her reservations, “If you would permit me to put a question to you first, my lord.”
She gestured to the other Keeper, “Why is there another Keeper in my section?”
“Because you are otherwise occupied. It would not do to deprive the other patrons of their access to memories, would it?” He tilted his head, his smile growing.
She only stared at him, an unfamiliar feeling rising within her. He didn’t understand. This was her section, her responsibility. No one else knew the touch these memories the way she did. This section was devoted to the ancient memories of races long since past and were some of the most potent found within the Library. Who was to care for them if she could not?
“We are not interchangeable, Lord Commander.” An involuntary edge crept into her tone. He raised an eyebrow. “That other Keeper does not know my ways, he may mishandle the memories or store them incorrectly. Several of these memories are very fragile, my lord…if one of them were to fade…that could be eons of valuable knowledge lost forever. My duties are of the upmost importance to me… and I cannot risk them just for the sake of a simple conversation.”
“The Librarian assured me that your replacement would be up to the task. I do understand your concerns and allow me to lay them to rest. As pleasant as your company is, I do not have the luxury of making idle conversation. I am here for a purpose and you are vital to it.” The authority graced his tongue and at once, that rising feeling was quelled. Though he didn’t seem to mean to, she felt chastised all the same. She had overstepped her bounds, that much was certain.
“Forgive me, my lord. I have assumed too much. If you say it is necessary, then I will trust your judgement.” She bowed her head, waiting for his instruction. He was quiet again, the drone once again surrounding them. Twilight was settling in, the shadows from the glowing lanterns growing long and deep. The dark, austere stone the Library was built from only amplified the night that was falling.
Their little alcove seemed the only light in the encroaching darkness as he leaned forward onto his knees. After what seemed an eternity, the Lord Commander raised his head, “There is nothing to forgive…but you are right; no one else knows these memories like you do. That’s why I chose you. I need your help.”
“Of course, my lord. How can I serve you?” The Keepers voice was subdued, the habits of servitude regaining their hold on her.
“No, no,” The Lord Commander shook his head, “you will not be serving me. In this you will act as my guide, perhaps even my teacher, but never a servant. We will be equals in this endeavor.”
“Equals. I don’t believe any Keeper has been regarded as equal in a very long time, my lord.” Though she meant it as a light jest, a small wisp of sadness stole through her. His mouth twitched, and she knew he could see through her in an instant.
“Hm. And that brings me to the question I had earlier. Why is it that none of the Keepers have wings?” The Keeper averted her eyes. Her back twitched beneath her robe, as if the ragged scars were itching.
“We are Keepers, my lord. Servants. Regardless of what you would say, we are not equals and we never will be.” Her voice was so low, her own breathing was scarcely louder. The Lord Commander’s eyes seemed to bore into her. Though she couldn’t see it, she could feel it and it sent a thrill down her spine.
“What happened to your wings.” It wasn’t a question and though it was toneless, she could feel the anger roiling beneath his words. Somehow, she was able to pry away her eyes from the hem of her robe to look at him.
“They were ripped from my back after I took the oath.” Try as she might, the tears begin to blur her vision. She had to look away, but not before she saw his fist clench. “The idea, I assume, is to take away any distractions that would keep us from our duties.”
“Have you ever flown?”
“No, my lord. I was young when I took the oath, my wings had not yet matured.” Her voice trembled as she smoothed the front of her robe, taking care not to let him see her tears.
She looked up, confused. “My lord?”
The Lord Commander sat straighter in his chair, wings flexing slightly. He looked her full in the face, the icy sheen of his gaze growing severe. “What was done to you was monstrous. No Seraph should have to feel that pain…but I will make a promise to you now. I will restore what you’ve lost…and you and I will fly together.”
“How, my lord?” He was so sure, so confident that she couldn’t help but believe him. As she looked up into his face, the Keeper couldn’t contain the bubble of hope welling up inside her. It was stronger than she realized, considering what he said was impossible. No one could restore what she had lost, what all Keepers had lost.
But then he just smiled, “You and I are going to find the Fire of Creation.”