Nekel walked around the library, examining the titles. “I see very few history books here. Is there somewhere that can provide them? I need general history, specifically Astaldi, Kedonese, and Temaltan history. Most of my books were lost in the ocean when the storm hit; I may have to send to Temalta for those, but I’d like to get as many here as possible.”
The book dealer’s clerk looked up at the bookshelves, making notes on a lined pad. “I think we have a few titles that would interest you. We have the largest selection in this region, though I think the Southern Island might have one book dealer that handles more volume. We may even be able to work through them; it wouldn’t be cheap, but it would be far cheaper than shipping form Temalta, especially now, during the stormy season. The ships from the south sail close to the shore, and there is very little loss of property. Let me take these notes back to our store, and see what we can put together.”
Nekel nodded, and beckoned to one of the novices to show the man to the door. “Well, I thank you for your time. I look forward to dealing with your firm in the matter of these books.” The young man bowed, and left the room. The pale ambassador scanned the shelves again.
“It’s a shame that no-one thought to keep the house stocked with books. These focus too much on science, the arts, biographies of famous Kedonese men. None of these would interest anyone from Temalta,” muttered one of the novices, who stood on a ladder in the corner, cataloging the titles.
Gelek’s voice echoed off the stone floors. “Well, you can hardly blame them. Most Kedonese have never seen a Temaltan monk, and all of those have met them in travels overseas. We have not had a presence on Kedon in nearly ten thousand years, and that was when we were here as conquerors and judges. They know practically nothing of us. These books were a gesture of friendship, trying to tell us something of themselves.” The assistant to the ambassador walked into the large library, and looked around at the bookshelves. “It’s a good thing that they left plenty of space for your own books, Ambassador. I take it that you will need it.”
Nekel thumbed through a worn volume, and replaced it on the shelf. “Yes, I certainly will. How much do we have left in the treasury? I fear that I will need a great deal of it to purchase the volumes I need. “
“That’s what I came to speak with you about.” Gelek held out a small black book. “I did the inventories you wanted, and made note of all your accounts, both personal, and those that have been set up by Temalta for your official use. There is a good bit of money left, but you’ll need to be careful. I would recommend making careful investments here; perhaps in Amalgamated Kedonti, or one of the airship companies. I hear that soon the airships will be able to take ten or more passengers at a time, and that they will be a major form of transportation, and I do not think it is too far-fetched.” Gelek held out the account book for his employer to peruse, and turned to the bookshelf himself. “I have never seen a personal library this large. When I was training, the only library was the one at the temple, and it had perhaps half as many books. Most of what I learned was on the field, or from the mouths of the teachers themselves.” He seemed lost in reverie, but soon noticed Nekel’s eyes upon him, and smirked slightly. “I apologize, sir. I tend to drift off into tangents at times. Please, look over the account books and let me know how to invest the funds, and I will be happy to arrange it for you.”
He gave a slight bow, then turned on his heel, and left the room; several of the novices stared after him for a moment, then quietly returned to their work. Nekel pondered Gelek’s words. Rather unorthodox thoughts, for an adept of the monks of this time, unless his own records had been seriously inaccurate. Perhaps Gelek’s love of books could be put to good use once the books arrived. Or, even better…Nekel smiled. If he was capable of a love of books, instead of the blood-lust and religious fervor of the other young monks, he might be convinced of the reality of mind-travel and the importance of Nekel’s real mission.
“Sir!” He heard a shout at the door, and whirled around to see one of the young monks running toward him.
“Slow down! Where is your calm, your composure? You must not let yourself get excited like this.” He held up a hand to stop the monk’s mad rush, and the younger man skidded to a halt on the stone floor. “Now, catch your breath, and tell me calmly what is going on.”
The boy gasped for breath for a few moments before calming himself, then turned back to Nekel, and said quietly, though with great intensity, “A ship has just landed.”
Nekel scoffed. “You come to tell me that a boat has landed? My dear boy, we live in a major port city; boats land and cast off ten times an hour. What boat is it that has you so worked up?
“I did not see the name of the ship, but I saw the group that got off when it docked. There was a group of young men and women, dressed all in white robes; but at the head of the group was a woman, so pale and beautiful that I almost thought she was a statue. Her skin was almost as white as ours, and her hair was like the color of the sun at sunset. When she came ashore, she stood and spoke to the people for a moment. She said that the isolation of her people was at an end, and that they were making themselves known to the world again.” The monk glanced around at the others in the library, and lowered his voice. “Master Nekel, she said they were from the Selides.”
Nekel started, almost dropping the book in his hands. “Are you sure,” he hissed. “The Selidians have not made themselves known to the world since the fall of Suktis. Why, after twenty thousand years of secrecy, would they make themselves known? Why here? Are you sure?”
The young monk swallowed hard, and nodded. “Yes, that is what she said. Their ship was not any design that I have seen before, and several of the members of her group had the white hair and purple eyes of the Suktisian survivors. She herself, and her acolyte both had the pale skin and ginger hair of the native Selidian line. I think she is telling the truth.”
Why now, Nekel wondered again, and why here? Was it simply because Kedon was the nearest land mass to the Selidian isles? He noticed the young monk shifting nervously, and turned back to him. “Quick, gather up several of the other monks. I want only the most reliable. We must find out what the Selidians are doing here, and why. I want you to find out where they are staying, and if they intend to establish a permanent presence here. Stay only as long as it takes to find out that information, then report back here immediately. But do not come back without that information, do you understand?”
The young monk nodded, and walked swiftly out of the library. The Temaltan ambassador looked around the room; all work had stopped, and most of the monks were staring at the door that their comrade had just exited. “Well? Are you lacking for work? Don’t just stand there idly! No, no more books for today. I want you all to go out to the courtyard; practice your martial arts for a full hour. I want to make sure that you are all in prime condition.” Several of the young men glanced at each other as he added, “Your battle skills may be needed before long. Let us make sure that they are up to the task.”
Mide stood in the antechamber of the lord mayor’s office, and looked around at the building. She was glad to see that the Kedonese had begun to shake off the influences of the Temaltans; their discovery of science had helped greatly. She smiled slightly, and the young acolyte Natael spoke up. “Why are you smiling, my lady?”
“Oh, I’m sorry Natael, I was just distracted. I was remembering the last life I spent here, and thinking how unlikely it is that this one will end as bloodily as that one did. The Kedonese have come quite far in that time, and I do not think that they believe in witches or water spirits anymore. Whether they still believe in anything is yet to be seen.” She stood calmly, not moving but yet projection a sense of readiness and action.
Natael's brow wrinkled slightly as he thought. "I'm not sure I like this place. It feels...orange. I never liked orange, it always seems to go with things that are unreal."
"It's a legitimate response to Kedon. I am not sure that they have ever been quite themselves. First they were ruled by the Temaltan monks, who repressed their natural joy and strength. Now that they are free, they spend too much time building things that simply distract them. I hope that someday they will rise up and discover who they truly are."
Footsteps echoed on the floor for a moment before the doors at the end of the hall opened, and a well-dressed gentleman came out to meet them. "I beg your pardon, madame, sir, but your arrival has thrown us into a bit of a tizzy! The Lord Mayor is ready to meet with you now, and he has cleared his schedule for the rest of the day, so he is at your disposal. Please, if you will come with me!" He bowed deeply, and the two white-robed Selidians walked behind him into the corridor.
He escorted them to a large wooden door in the side of the wall; the door looked heavy enough to stand up to an invasion, and it was highly decorated with metal scrollwork. The steward opened the door, and bowed the Selidians through. He watched their white robes whisper across the floor, and marveled again at their presence. They looked eldritch, as pale and distant as they had been depicted in the stories his mother read to him in the nursery. Who would have imagined that these fair folk from the pages of distant legend would have entered the modern world again?
The Lord Mayor tried not to appear unnerved by the appearnace of the Selidians. He stood calmly behind his desk when Mide and Natael entered the room, and moved forward to greet them only after the doors were closed. "Welcome to Kedon, madame and sir! I am afraid I don't know quite how to address you; we have so little knowledge of your people, and what knowledge does exist is mostly in the realms of myth and legend. Please, please, have a seat." He waved to the thick leather seats before his desk, and sank into his own chair again.
Mide studied the man behind the desk with keen brown eyes. He was a tall, thin man, with the bronze skin and dark hair of his people. He was dressed in a somber black suit, but his dark green waistcoat added a touch of levity to his appearance. He appeared very flustered, and she wished she could do something to calm him. Any move she made, however, would likely only make him more nervous, so she sat quietly in her chair. Natael did the same.
"We realize the impact our sudden appearance must have. Your airships have appeared several times over our islands, and we knew that we could not remain secret much longer. Soon you would be sending exploratory ships to the Selides; we would prefer for that not to happen, so it was decided that we should come to warn you. Do not send ships to the Selides, or to the sunken ruins of Suktis. Your machines are marvelous, and quite powerful, but there is a power in the Suktisian lands that must not be awoken. We have done all we can for twenty thousand years, and the secrets of Suktis have, fortunately, remained a secret."
The mayor rubbed his face wearily, and leaned forward. "You are asking me to tell my people that you have showed up, straight from our books of fairytales, but that none of them can ever see your lands? My people are curious and they will not appreciate being instructed like children."
Natael leaned forward, and shook his head. "And we would not ask that of you. We have made ourselves known to the world, and we do not expect to be left to ourselves anymore. We will be happy to show your people our lands, but they must come with us, and not on their own. On a simply practical level, we know the ruins of Suktis better than anyone, and are the only ones who can safely navigate ships through those waters."
Mide looked at the deep lines on the Lord Mayor's face as he sat in his chair, thinking. Her heart ached for him and his people; none of them could know how short a time their way of life would last. Only another year, perhaps two, and everything would be gone.