Petals of the Rose
Shade's Dreams - 1
One night, sleeping in the big house on the hill, Shade dreams.
He dreams he’s back in the Library, perched on an impossibly high bookshelf. He looks down, and sees shadows without people, shadows with horrible flaming eyes.
He dreams of himself hiding, watching them from above, but he slips and knocks a book off the shelf. He watches in horror as it falls through the air, landing with an echoing boom in the middle of the shadows’ circle.
As one, they look upward.
They see him with their burning eyes.
He feels afraid.
He tries to run.
For hours he sees the flame-eyed shadows,
right behind him with those horrid, flaming eyes.
He needs to get somewhere safe, somewhere inside…
A door opens and he moves forward into a different dream…
- * * * *
He’s still in the Library. As Shade looks around, trying to figure out where he is, he spots… himself. Somehow, he knows he’s seeing an echo of the past, something that’s already happened.
It’s apparent that Shade’s seeing himself not long after he was “hired.” The figure he sees is still human: skin pale from lack of sun, circles under the eyes from lack of sleep, but still with that vital spark that Shade’s come to associate with true humans. Shade watches his old self working, sorting books and putting them in their proper places.
“Was that me? Was that Jason Grey?” he thinks to himself. “I wish I remembered…”
As he watches, his old self reaches for a book on the shelf, glances at the content with interest, puts it in the cart of books he’s pushing, then carries on with his work.
Eventually his old self finishes his shelving. He puts the cart away, then quietly takes his books to a spot near one of the lamps scattered around the Library. He sits down, opens one of the books, and starts reading. He’s maybe half-way through the book when he hears someone clear their throat. He starts, then looks up guiltily. It’s the assistant head librarian, the second in command of the whole library and his immediate supervisor. She’s an elegant lady, conservatively dressed in a cliche librarian outfit (knee-length tweed skirt, white blouse, business jacket), but somehow she makes it look provocative. She smiles down at Shade.
“Find something interesting?”
“Um… yes, ma’am. I finished the shelving you’d assigned me, and this book caught my eye, and I, um, just thought, maybe I could take a little break…”
Something glints in her eye. “Hmm…”
“The stories in this book are astonishing. There are myths here that I’ve never heard of, and I thought I’d studied every culture on Earth!”
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
He smiles at that. “Well, I’m certainly not claiming to be any sort of expert, but some of the stories in this book are, well, I’ve never come across anything like them before…”
“Which book are you reading?”
He hands it to her, and she glances at the cover briefly.
“Oh, this old thing. Children’s bedtime stories, really. We’ve got far better books elsewhere, stories that put these to shame.”
His eyes go wide. “Really? Those are just bedtime stories? Where did they come from? I mean it when I’ve never found anything like those in my studies before.”
She smiles at him. “Oh, my, yes. This great Library has, well, everything, if you know how to look.”
“You mean, know where to look?”
“No, I mean how. The Library has secrets, and some books don’t want to be read.”
His expression turns skeptical.
“Yes, yes, I know how that sounds, but it’s true. This Library isn’t really like any other you’ve ever seen. There are books here that are unique throughout the whole of existence. Many of them are kept hidden, kept safe from prying eyes. Some secrets aren’t meant to be known.” She looks thoughtful for a moment. “However, I think you’re more discerning than most people, and certainly more intelligent. I believe you can handle the books I’m thinking of.”
Eagerly, he replies, “Unique books? Can I at least see them?”
She nods. “Certainly. But, there is a price…”
He looks crestfallen. “I’m just a college student. I don’t really have any money…”
She laughs. “That’s not the type of price I’m speaking of. You’d have to sign another contract, that’s all. You’d probably enjoy it, in any case. You’d be assigned more responsibility, as well as being allowed to peruse the… Restricted Section.”
“A sort of confidentiality agreement?”
“I suppose so.”
“Where do I sign?”
She leads him to a little office, tucked away in a corner. She ruffles through some filing cabinets, finally finding what she was looking for. She sets a stack of papers in front of him.
“Read these, initial each page to indicate you understand, then sign at the bottom of the last page. Then, you can start your new duties.”
He starts out strong, carefully reading each page and initialing. After a while, though, he gets tired, and stops paying very much attention, just glancing at each page before scribbling his initials in the corner. Eventually, he stops even skimming the legal-ese, and just initials as quickly as he can, before getting to the last page. He stops, hesitates for a moment, before signing.
“There are no terms of service here. How long do I have to work under this contract?”
“Only as long as your original contract. This just adds duties and privileges.”
He nods, then signs the contract. “There we go.” As the real Shade watches, it seems like a glimmer or spark of some sort travels from his old self’s hand, through the pen, and into the paper.
A sad look briefly crosses her face. “It is done.” She takes the papers, and puts them into a file.
He looks around. “So, what now?”
“Well, Jason, I’ll take you to meet the Head Librarian now, and she’ll assign your new duties.”
He looks confused. “Jason?”
The sad look crosses her face again. “That was your name. No longer.”
“Was my name? Wait, I can’t remember my name? Who am I?” He looks panicked.
“Your name is Shade now. Don’t forget that.”
“Shade, right. How could I forget my name?”
“It’s part of the price you agreed to. You signed away your name, and the memories of your past life, in exchange for access to the entire Library. Of course, you also agreed to new duties. Come, let’s go to the Head Librarian, and she’ll tell you what you’ll be doing from now on.”
They get up, and leave the room. Dreaming Shade is left in the room.
How could I have forgotten this? This is when my true Durance began.
He looks around the room, then starts to follow his old self when he glances at the desk and freezes. The file with his Contract is laying on the desk.
He stares at the file for seemingly an eternity. He’s afraid of what he might be able to find, terrified that this is just some sort of Fae trap. He starts to reach for it, stops, then makes his decision and grabs the file. He freezes again, waiting for… something… to happen.
Heart pounding, hands shaking, Shade opens the file. Inside, instead of the ream of paper he remembers signing, there’s just a single piece of parchment. The Contract is written in ornate calligraphy, and his signature is at the bottom. As he reads, the whole page suddenly bursts into flames. He drops the Contract in surprise and pain. As the page flutters to the floor, the flames turn to ice, the whole page taking on the appearance of glass.
The Contract hits the floor, and shatters.
Shade cries out, and drops to his knees to grab the pieces. He gathers as many of the shards as he can find, and he tries to fit them back together again. He puts a couple pieces next to each other, and they suddenly merge. He keeps frantically fitting pieces together, afraid of them melting or vanishing before he can find anything out.
He gets most of the shattered Contract back together, when he suddenly freezes again. Why is he fixing the Contract that took his humanity, his memories? Shouldn’t it stay destroyed? Maybe, just maybe, if he puts this together, he’ll be bound to the Emperor’s Library again?
He’s torn by indecision. He looks down at the mostly-recreated Contract, and sees words. They rush toward him, fill his vision completely. He’s hit by a torrent of images and smells and sensations and emotions, all jumbled together.
At the heart of it all is a sentence.
My name is Jason Grey.
Shade wakes up.