I made it to the soft cap of lvl 20 before the end of the day, at which point I had an instinctive feel for the books and their place within the schema. I would still need the catalog that the librarians were in the middle of constructing, and probably a map (also under construction), but I had a good feel for the Library. I hadn’t read a single book, nor was I really flipping through them anymore, but I supposed that reading would come later on. I was eager to hit lvl 30, where, if historical precedent was anything to go by, another virtue was waiting for me, this one far more powerful than Open Book.
The hole in the dome stopped giving us any light, and it was strangely devoid of stars or moon, so the entirety of the vestibule was lit by the everburning torches and whatever light was coming from the adobe houses at the vestibule’s edge. Entwell took me to the largest of the spheres, which turned out to be a dining hall with long tables crammed inside it. I looked around for a kitchen but could find none, and in fact, there didn’t seem to be any connections to this one large room. That puzzled me for a moment, until I saw the bowls filled with a colorful pudding-like substance being moved around the tables, each of them with a large serving spoon in it. I supposed there wasn’t much need for a kitchen if that was what you were going to eat.
Entwell found us a seat at the table, with people I didn’t know, and spooned some of the goop onto my plate.
“It’s called miraculous,” she said. “The bowls can feed a hundred fifty people three square meals a day, as nutritious as regular food is and suited to any of the varied diets of the mortal species.” She grinned as she served up more to me.
I looked skeptically at the goop on my plate. The consistency seemed, from a poke of my spoon (the only utensil we were given), to be somewhere between pudding and whipped cream. The color was an off-putting bright red, almost neon. I looked around, and saw people staring at me expectantly, some of them with smiles on their face.
I was worried about poison. I had taken the bracelet that gave poison immunity, but I was still worried about poison, because if you were clever, you could probably poison your way around the entad, or set up a ward to shut it down.
Thinking back to my interaction with Xorbus, I realized that maybe I was a deeply damaged individual with no trust in anyone but my core group of companions, and even them not that much. Maybe I was subconsciously thinking of what happened to Fenn, now that I had stuck my neck out to be with these people against the advice of Amaryllis. I took a moment to relax myself and remember that if someone wanted to poison me, it probably wouldn’t be here. I had just seen the Miraculous taken from a communal bowl, after all.
I took a small spoonful of the ‘miraculous’ and put it into my mouth.
“What does it taste like?” asked Entwell with a smile on her face.
“Um,” I said, quickly swallowing down a mouthful. “Nothing much.”
“Oh?” she asked, still smiling. “Unusual, that. I’ll bet you that the next bite tastes like roast chicken.”
People were still watching me. I took another small spoonful and slipped it into my mouth, and then spat it right back out onto the plate. It hadn’t just tasted of roast chicken, it had the texture of it too. On the plate, it just looked like the same bright red stuff, covered with my saliva.
“The hells?” I asked, looking around to the sound of laughter.
“Oh, come now,” said Entwell. “Harmless fun. It’s tradition. We didn’t even get mean with it.”
“Yet,” said a gnome sitting on a booster seat next to her.
“I don’t understand,” I said, looking at the plates around me. “It’s something different every time?”
“That’s not quite the trick,” said Entwell. She still had that same knowing smile.
“You’re supposed to be clever,” said a goblin sitting across from us. “Can you figure it out?”
I looked down at the miraculous. So, it’s a challenge then. First bite had been nothing, second bite had been roast chicken, then what would third bite be? Did the taste and feel of the miraculous change when someone said something out loud?
I leaned in close to my plate. “Chocolate,” I said in a soft but firm voice.
Entwell laughed, as did some of the others, but when I put a spoonful in my mouth, it tasted like chocolate and felt like chocolate chips.
“Close?” I asked.
“Close,” nodded Entwell.
Close, but not correct. “Ah, then it’s based on expectation?” I asked.
“Try it,” said Entwell with a nod.
I lifted up another spoonful of miraculous. I expect you to taste like … something they don’t have on Aerb. Twizzlers. I put the spoon in my mouth, and as soon as it touched my tongue, the texture and shape had transformed. I chewed away at it, quite pleased with myself, but I saw Entwell looking at me with a raised eyebrow, as though I had missed a trick.
She leaned in close to me.
“Broccoli,” she said.
The Twizzlers immediately changed into broccoli, right while I was in mid-chew, the taste completely different and texture off. For a brief moment, it was like I was eating the two together.
“Ah,” I said once I had swallowed it down. “Then it’s just whatever food you’re thinking about. You primed me with roast chicken.”
“You get half marks for deduction,” said Entwell.
“Wait,” I said. “So what happens if someone thinks about snot?”
Half the people around us began gagging, spitting miraculous back onto their plates. Entwell gave a mad laugh at that, and I heard others join her, mostly tittering.
“If that were a real infohazard, you would be dead,” said Raven from behind us. I hadn’t heard her approach. When I looked back at her, she was standing there in her robe, with it fluttering slightly behind her, arms crossed over her chest. “Everyone here should be able to eat the miraculous without being bothered by what they hear. Words are symbols, and you should be able to dissociate symbols from meaning and prevent them from spurring trains of thought. There are cognitohazards in the library, those which slowly kill you as you think of them. You shouldn’t be spitting out your food when some new recruit talks about snot, you should continue eating while resisting the urge to think about what he said.” Her voice was hard.
The whole dining hall had gone silent.
“For a long time, this Library has been my calling,” said Raven. “It’s been the place in the world that I could do the most good. With that said, my calling has changed in the past few days. When Rakon leaves, I’m going to be leaving with him. I don’t want what we’ve built here to crumble.”
“Leaving?” asked Majom from across the dining hall. He’d stood up from his chair. “Just like that?”
“Yes,” said Raven with a firm nod. It would have had more weight if she hadn’t been so short and so young. I imagined that she had been struggling against that for quite some time. “Sometimes the pendulum of the world shifts, and we must shift with it. Once we’re past the most intensive part of the current reset, I’ll start talking with all of you individually about what roles and responsibilities might look like once I’m gone.”
She turned and walked out of the dining hall when she was finished, which caused the librarians to burst into fervent conversation. I was getting a lot of looks my way, naturally.
“What’s this all about?” asked Entwell, leaning in close to me.
I sighed. “It has to do with the good future,” I said. “I really can’t say more. I probably shouldn’t have even said that.”
“The good future?” asked the goblin across from us. “Won’t work.”
“We don’t know that,” said Entwell.
“Uther tried it,” the goblin replied. “I know he looks impressive, but this runt here has nothing on Uther. Every time Uther got a good-enough future, it turned out that the exclusions were in play, or there was something else that the Library can’t account for. Something out there isn’t going to let us have a good future.”
“So we’re just destined to be a stopgap measure until the end of time?” asked one of the librarians.
“No,” replied the goblin. “We’re a stopgap until we’ve got no support system left, until we lose too much personnel, or until the end is coming too fast for the Library to do any damned good.”
“Xenxares, that’s too grim,” said Entwell.
He shrugged and ate a mouthful of miraculous. “It’s a sensible thing to think.”
Entwell turned to me. “And you’re a part of salvation?” she asked. Her eyes were wide.
“I hope so,” I replied, because I didn’t feel like I could hold my silence in the face of the desperation on her face.
When I went to Raven’s home, she had finally changed out of her adventuring gear, with the black robe and banded mail gone, replaced with something cream-colored that looked more like a bathrobe. When I saw that her hair was wet, I realized that it was a bathrobe.
“Sorry, I dropped the ball,” said Raven. “I was going to have a home cast for you, but with everything that’s been going on, it slipped my mind. You can take my bed, if you’d like. I’ll get a change of sheets.”
“And you’ll sleep — ah, right,” I said.
“The bed is mostly for meditation,” said Raven. “I can count the number of times I’ve slept in the last five hundred years on one hand.”
“How?” I asked. “If you don’t mind me asking.”
“I don’t actually know how,” said Raven. “It was a side effect of us being expelled from the Land of Dreams. I think that the Lord of Dreams was trying his best to make sure that we wouldn’t ever return.”
“That one’s not in the history books,” I said. “I mean, I know that the plane of dreams is excluded, but I’ve read all the most popular biographies, and there’s no mention of who or what caused the exclusion.”
“It’s not actually excluded,” said Raven. “The Lord of Dreams simply shut the usual pathways. It has nothing to do with the exclusionary principle.”
“Oh,” I said. “Well. At least you got a perk out of it?”
Raven nodded. “It was far more of a boon for me than for the others. Before that, I had used a magical blanket of Uther’s that cut the amount of sleep I needed down, but I would still be out for days at a time. Sometimes entire adventures would happen while I slept, which as you can understand, is troublesome for an archivist.” She waved a hand. “All ancient history, of course.”
“Maybe,” I said. “We sometimes take our tours through history.”
Raven frowned, then turned away from me and began stripping the sheets from her bed. “Water closet is through the kitchen, if you need it. There’s a shower with warm water too. I assume you made it through dinner without further problems?”
“Mostly,” I said. “People talked. I asked about someone who seemed to have a disability, which I apparently shouldn’t have done.”
“Some of the librarians get hit with memetic hazards,” said Raven. “We have a few counter-memes, but they’re like firing a shotgun at someone wrestling with a mountain lion, almost as likely to kill the person you’re trying to save as to rescue them, and it leaves wounds in the psyche. Was it Reus?”
“Maybe,” I said. “It was awkward. Other than that, I tried my best not to tell them anything when they inevitably asked. I think they have their suspicions, but … I don’t know. This is your domain, not mine, and I’m trying not to step on your toes.”
Raven finished pulling the sheets off the bed, folded them up, and put them in a small basket that she pulled from a storage place under the bedframe. From a different basket, she pulled clean sheets, and began putting them on.
“I thought you would be more similar to him,” she finally said, as she was smoothing the sheets down.
“Oh?” I asked.
She turned around to look at me. “You yield,” she said. “You defer.”
“And he didn’t,” I said with a nod. “He would just barrel ahead and fuck what anyone else thinks.”
Raven frowned at the f-word. “It worked out well for him.”
“I guess,” I said. “I could point to his failures, but you knew him better than most.”
“There were plenty of failures,” said Raven, nodding. “That’s one of the things that gets papered over. People will say, with a straight face, that Uther never once lost.”
“Your father said that,” I replied.
“I keep forgetting that you met him,” said Raven. She hesitated, then sat down on the bed, settling in. “How was he?”
“Fine,” I said. “Obsessive, tried to trap me using excluded magic, kidnapped Val … maybe fine is overselling it. Amaryllis thought that he was probably obsessive because of you, and I’m inclined to agree.”
“He didn’t like me running off,” said Raven, sighing. “When I met Uther … I was twenty years into being twelve years old. It’s hard, for our species, harder than for almost any other. I was a baby for a hundred years, if you can wrap your head around that.”
“I can’t, really,” I said.
“There’s a weight that comes with time, certainly, so it’s not the same, but it’s close. To say that my father, in his forties, was watching his twelve year old daughter run off with a strange man in his twenties … well, it’s not accurate, but it’s not wholly inaccurate either.” She sighed. “It took me a long time to have any misgivings about leaving. It wasn’t until after Uther was gone, actually. My father and I reconnected a bit, but it was still strained.”
“Can I ask why you went with Uther?” I asked.
“I was a kid,” said Raven with a weak smile. “I wanted adventures, and he was at the point in his career where it was clear that was what was on offer. I didn’t track him down, like some of the others did, but we had a chance encounter in a library, and … I suppose what you’ve said puts a rather different light on things. I never did get a straight answer from him about why he took me along. I suppose he was told to.”
“Not necessarily,” I said. I cleared my throat. “It’s possible that Uther’s Knack was something different from what I have. And, ah, there’s something I haven’t said yet, which is that you bear a very close resemblance to a girl we used to play with.”
“I do?” asked Raven.
I nodded. “I wish that I could show you somehow, but I’m not terribly good at art, and it would just look like you anyway,” I said. Two years younger though. “Her name was Maddie. One of the characters she played was named Raven.”
Raven stared at me. “Oh,” she said.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“So Uther knew who I was, when he saw me?” asked Raven. “That — I’m going to have to think about that.” She shook her head. “Sorry, I’m keeping you up, I’m going to go find a quiet place to read and do some work.”
“Do you want to change first?” I asked.
“Oh,” she replied, looking down at her bath robe, then up at me. “Right. Could you … ?”
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll just step outside.” I felt myself unexpectedly flustered, and slipped out of her home before I could do or say anything to embarrass myself.
It was hard to untangle my thoughts. Raven reminded me of Maddie, in more ways than one, but there were a few places that they were completely different from one another. It was hard to picture Maddie as ever being a leader, even one that wasn’t suited to the task. Maybe the difference was the point.
One of the interesting things about comparing how Arthur and I had found Aerb was thinking about whether things were meant for him or me. Perhaps Arthur’s life had been ruled by the narrative, and perhaps he’d only thought that it was, but there were kingdoms, people, and scenarios that looked like they had been constructed in order to be part of his story. But my experience of Aerb wasn’t just that of someone journeying through the remnants of someone else’s old save file, because there were elements of Aerb I was pretty sure had been crafted to say something to me, challenges that I was supposed to meet.
Had the Dungeon Master setup everything with Arthur in preparation for me to come along five hundred years later? It was possible, but I didn’t think it was likely, mostly because there was so much random bullshit through the entirety of Uther’s life that I didn’t think even a fraction of it was ever going to be relevant to me. But that meant that some parts of Aerb were made with Arthur in mind, and some parts were made with me in mind, and how could anyone tell which was which? More to the point, what about those parts of Aerb where Arthur’s experience and my own overlapped, as with Raven?
I didn’t have any idea. It seemed like it made the most sense to simply treat Raven as her own person, rather than a pawn in the Dungeon Master’s plans. That was how I tried (and sometimes failed) to treat everyone else.
“Done,” said Raven, coming out the door and startling me from my reverie. She was dressed in her cloak once again, allowing it to ripple behind her. “I think everything should be in order. Come find me if you need more.”
“Okay,” I said. “Thank you.”
“It’s nothing,” said Raven. “I use my home for meetings and little else. The room with the table has heavy wards on it.”
“Ah,” I said. I wanted to say more to her, but I still hadn’t switched over the SOC points, and that was my excuse for feeling like everything was weird and awkward. “Can I ask, did you ever have cat ears?”
Raven looked at me with a raised eyebrow. “Yes,” she said. “When Uther first met me.” She swallowed. “I’m not sure how you know that.” I didn’t know what to say to that, which she took as an invitation to continue. “I didn’t like being Ell, didn’t like feeling like I was going to be little forever when big things were happening, and so I got it into my head that I wanted to be an Animalia instead. A cat, specifically. It’s mortifying, of course, but it was just one of a string of those incidents, as it often is with my kind. We’re slow to outgrow our mistakes.”
“But you do?” I asked.
Raven smiled at me. “Oh yes. I haven’t worn cat ears in at least twenty years,” she said.
When I woke up in the morning, there were books waiting for me, and along with them, an old man with eels for a beard.
They weren’t technically eels. Male zildin kept their tadpole-like young on their face, each one of them attached to a small, nipple-like growth. Unlike a tadpole though, these weren’t actually young zildin, because they were unfertilized, and wouldn’t grow until they had been swallowed by the female of the species and incubated in her womb sac. I still felt comfortable calling them eels, because that’s what they looked like, each no bigger than a pinky, packed in tight and moving like kelp beneath the sea. The number and health of eels on a zildin male’s face said a lot about him to female zildin; too many on a young man was a signal that there was something wrong with him, while too few were a sign that he was either careless or had so many young that he wouldn’t be able to do his fair share in caring for them.
He introduced himself as Pinno, and came into Raven’s home, bobbing his head slightly as he walked, which made the eels on his face writhe around. I wasn’t an expert in zildin, despite being their initial designer, but the eels looked healthy to me, and there were a lot of them (though I didn’t know if there were too many). Eel-beard aside, he was bald, with dark blue skin and bumpy ridges where eyebrows were on a human. He was hunched slightly, with spindly arms, and had a stack of books bound together with a leather strap, carried over his shoulder, with a small cane in the other hand. He sat down at the table like he wasn’t going to be moving for awhile. I sat down across from him.
“So,” he said. “How much do you know about Fel Seed?” he asked.
I thought about that. “I’ve read his entry in The Exclusionary Principle,” I said. “That’s about it.” (This was not even remotely true.)
“Edition?” asked Pinno.
“Seventh,” I replied. “I wasn’t aware that it had changed much between editions.”
“Bits and pieces,” said Pinno. “I actually contributed to the first edition, long ago, the one written by the Lost King.”
I could believe that; zildin were one of the longer-lived species. “You knew him then?” I asked.
“Some,” replied Pinno. “More through his works than in person. I believe myself to have read everything the man ever wrote, even those works that never made it to the masses. Word is that you might have some connection to him.”
“I might,” I said evenly. “Right now, I’m more concerned with Fel Seed and how to beat him.”
“Yes, yes,” said Pinno, patting his pile of books. “So, seventh edition? Let’s start there then.” He slid a book across to me. “This is the twentieth edition.”
“Twentieth?” I asked as I picked it up. “Oh, from the future?”
“From a future that didn’t happen,” said Pinno, nodding. “Reset five-six-two-four. It’s written in the inside cover, along with a few details. We can be the beneficiaries of their trials and tribulations. To wit, they had the most successful attempt against Fel Seed we’ve ever seen, and that’s across hundreds of resets.”
“How?” I asked as I went to the section on Fel Seed. Not the twentieth edition, a twentieth edition, twentieth edition R5624.
“They used a combination of entads and magics,” said Pinno. “The biggest problem with killing him is that you need to kill almost everything in the zone, all at once. The entity we call ‘Fel Seed’ is in fact just an avatar of the phenomenon, capable of being ‘regrown’ or ‘expressed’ from any of the biological lacework that covers and is buried beneath the zone, from spores in the air, from his flesh beasts, or from any of his brides.”
“You have to kill the brides too,” I said.
“Yes,” nodded Pinno. “Obviously they are, so far as anyone can tell, innocents in all this, and it’s regrettable, but on average, death would send them to a gentler hell than Fel Seed’s domain, assuming you couldn’t retrieve their souls. So yes, the brides need to die, if you want to kill Fel Seed, but … you know that he breeds them?”
I swallowed and nodded.
“It wasn’t mentioned in the seventh edition, I didn’t think,” said Pinno. “It’s not a secret, per se, but around the time it became clear that nothing was ever going to be done about Fel Seed, the language started to be toned down a bit in the interests of keeping morale high.”
“Toned down by whom?” I asked.
“The editors,” replied Pinno with a shrug. “A reaction to the abject despair that some people felt over the exclusion zones, I suppose, especially that one. A sugared truth isn’t uncommon in the books of the Library, that’s one of the things that makes our job difficult.” He pointed to the book in front of me. “Would you like some time to read, or would you rather trust me to distill it down?”
“Go ahead,” I replied.
“Well,” said Pinno. “It started with a ward against Fel Seed’s magic around the entirety of the exclusion zone.” I stared at him with my mouth agape, and I could see a smile beneath his eel-beard. “Yes, impressive, isn’t it?”
“I was under the impression that five warders working at once was as much as anyone had done,” I said. “And even that takes a huge toll and can only cover, at most, a small town.” Or a mile-wide extradimensional space within a bottle. “Fel Seed’s zone is enormous.”
“Yes,” replied Pinno with a nod. “Eighty-two thousand square miles, the largest of them. They used a trick, as you might expect. The normal limitations of collective warding were surpassed by having them all submit to an entity known as Thargox, who marshalled four thousand warders together and drained them all of their concordance. Even then, the organizing authority — the Fifth Empire, though it didn’t go by that name — knew that it was a temporary ward, something that would stop Fel Seed from using his particular brand of magic, but which wouldn’t kill him outright. In that, they failed, and it’s instructive as to Fel Seed’s capabilities without his magic, but getting to that stage without four thousand warders and whatever Thargox happens to be is a tall order.”
“You don’t know Thargox?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
“No,” replied Pinno. “The name appears in that text as though it’s a common enough entity or concept that it needs only a brief explanation, but we never found a full explanation in that reset, and I don’t believe we’ve ever seen another mention of it, which means that it might be something specific to that future.”
“I only ask because I met Thargox a few days ago,” I said, not sure whether or not I should share that.
“You did?” asked Pinno. His eyebrow bumps raised slightly. More disconcertingly, his eel-beard started moving around a lot more, with the eels making a fleshy sound as they slapped against each other. “Are you serious?”
“Yes,” I said. “I didn’t get much information on what it was, but I spoke with an entity by that name. It was communicating through an entad.”
“I see,” said Pinno. “Then … we could actually make that plan work.”
“Except that it didn’t work,” I replied.
“No,” replied Pinno. “It didn’t. The relevant section in that book is a chronicle of their failure. To me, it reads as a civilization saying, ‘we tried, dammit’, but perhaps it’s just the author asserting as much, to assuage his own conscience.”
“And how did it not work?” I asked.
“Fel Seed is, ultimately, biological,” said Pinno. “The thought was that with the magic suppressed, all that would need to be done was to kill everything in the zone. They brought weapons to bear on the surface of the zone, weapons that would probably have been excluded in the real world, scouring the surface down to bedrock. That might have been all well and good for cleansing the countryside, but the City of a Thousand Brides was a tougher nut to crack. I have some books here on it, classified ones from the Second Empire, but apparently Fel Seed has or had warders of his own, either captured from assaulting forces, taken in one of his ‘expansions’, or less likely, captured by cultists or cultists themselves. The Fifth Empire knew all that, so it sent in thousands of trained magi equipped with the most powerful entads they had. Fel Seed — the avatar of Fel Seed — came to meet them on the field of battle, moving fast, but still well within the limits of what’s possible with flesh and bone, cutting people down, but still only with the power of keratinous claws. And of course his flesh beasts joined him, but they were lesser too, only physically perfect killing machines, with none of his magic on top of that.”
I frowned, trying to picture it. A massed battle of magic users and tens of thousands of entads, all with their unique effects? In my mind, it was like someone threw all the special effects on screen at once. “And then … let me guess, Fel Seed pulled out another trick?”
“He pulled out a great many of them,” said Pinno. “There are caverns beneath Thousand Brides, visible only with the most extreme examples of clairvoyant ability. Those caverns disgorged massive armies of flesh beasts more fearsome than any seen before. Novel poisons were released from flesh-flowers, clouding the air. A large flesh-mast became erect and sprayed hundreds of gallons of acid into the sky, which came down like rain on the invading army. The army had prepared, and sealed themselves off from the outside world as much as possible, not so much as letting unfiltered air touch their skin.” He sighed. “Again, they had better magic and technology than we will likely ever have, things which would likely be excluded, but which they’d somehow managed to rein in temporarily. But no, it didn’t end up mattering that much, because they still failed. When the losses began to grow, when too many warders were dying trying to remove the wards throughout Thousand Brides, the Fifth Empire called in their ultimate weapon of last resort. They tore a hole through space and time, destroying Thousand Brides utterly and killing thousands of their own. Someone, somehow, convinced Aarde to get off his butt and confirm that there was no living thing left in the entire zone. I don’t know who got the god to owe them a favor, but that was what they spent it on.”
I frowned. “Okay … so what happened? You already said it was a failure.”
“Fel Seed came back,” replied Pinno with a humorless laugh. His eel-beard wriggled. “They had reason to think that Fel Seed would be completely dead if he couldn’t regenerate his avatar, or move himself into a new one, because the explicit magic that’s excluded doesn’t appear to come with any governing intelligence to it. Fel Seed the entity is just … well, someone or something using that magic for effective immortality and to take sadistic pleasure from the world. Even if another person came into the zone later on, once the magic was back, and began to practice it, they might turn into a monster, but they wouldn’t be Fel Seed. Only when he returned, that’s who he was, the same entity he’d always been, ready to retake the battle zone and rebuild his City.”
“But they had theories as to what happened, right?” I asked.
“Of course,” replied Pinno. “It’s hard to say whether those theories are correct though. The one put forward in that book is that Fel Seed imprinted his mind onto one of the magi, or possibly many of them, through unknown means, perhaps one of the entads that had been used in an earlier assassination attempt and claimed by him, or some other novel method. Then later, once the ward had inevitably fallen and the magic had returned to the zone, the imprinted person had simply walked back in and started up again.”
“But if he could do that, he could send out agents,” I said. “Right? If he could do that, then he could have done it before they made a giant costly attack on him.”
“Yes,” nodded Pinno. “We do know that he sends out survivors, on rare occasions, to tell the world about him. Anything he’s touched with his magic can’t escape the exclusion zone, which is one of the reasons that any attempt on his life is a suicide mission, but it’s entirely possible that the survivors are sleeper agents who are technically untouched by his magic but perverted by other means. The anolia would likely be able to detect it on screening, but perhaps not.” (Anolia was the proper name for the lizardfolk that could see into someone’s soul without actually being soul mages themselves. I had run into one of their kind back in Parsmont.)
I rubbed my face some as I tried to take all that in. “And that’s the most successful attempt anyone has ever made?” I asked. “Jesus.”
“Jesus?” asked Pinno.
“Just something I say when I’m irritated,” I replied. “Fel Seed really can’t be beat.”
“I don’t believe I ever said that,” replied Pinno. “Are you going to give up so easily? Raven had told me that you were determined.”
“I am,” I said. “I mean, I just don’t think … for my purposes, I don’t need to actually kill him, just incapacitate him for a bit, and I don’t think that I can just stick a bag over his head.”
“A bag?” asked Pinno.
“Long story,” I said. “Sorry, I’m just getting unfocused here, the scope of the problem is bigger than I thought it would be, and I had already thought it would be really, really big.”
“Those are precisely the sorts of problems we librarians like to deal with,” said Pinno with a little nod that excited his eels.
“So how would you do it?” I asked. “If you had to deal with Fel Seed, or at least incapacitate him … how? He doesn’t have any weaknesses.”
“His weaknesses are unclear,” replied Pinno. “That doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. Every attempt at killing him has failed, whether it be poison, radiation, kinetics, acid, memetics, anti-memetics, attacks against his soul, if he even has one — nothing has worked. So then, if I were putting my full effort into killing him, I would try something that hasn’t been tried in the past, or scale up efforts that seemed to hold promise.”
“Okay,” I said. I looked at the book in front of me, thinking of the failure it recorded, then over at the pile of books that Pinno had brought. “Okay,” I said again. “I guess I’ll get to reading. Show me what else you have.”