The ancient library had become a myth amongst scholars, most were skeptical of its existence but many history professors and literary students had searched for the forgotten halls. Stories had been told of a mysterious labyrinth of tunnels under the city, playing host to the rarest of books; long lost tales of heroism, books detailing the most powerful magic, poetry from some of the greatest minds in all the land, maps of the world holding the keys to unlocking the finest treasures the world had ever seen. Those who had searched were left disappointed, and those that didn’t believe gained more evidence against the legends.
The dim glow of an oil lamp bobbed gently up and down, its eerie orange glow causing shadows to dance across the dusty tomes that lined the shelves in the archive. The air was cool and dry, particles of timeworn parchment fluttered in the lamplight, disturbed for the first time in an age. Benedict breathed deeply in an effort to contain his excitement, scanning the rows of archaic books. He could almost hear them rustling, begging to reveal their secrets.
“We’ve found it, Lupus” he whispered, glancing downwards to the bedraggled mutt at his side. The dog stared back at him with a glazed expression, tongue lolling from the side of its mouth. An altercation with an unknown assailant as a pup had cost Lupus an ear, and most of his tail but in spite of this, Benedict had found him to be a fine hunter’s companion.
“Can you believe it? The Lost Library! No-one’s been here in...in...in no-one know’s how long! But we’ve found it, the first to do so, the one’s who can prove the myth.”
“Come on, let’s see what this labyrinth has in store. What kind of hunters would we be if we didn’t hunt things?”
Benedict turned his attention away from the dog, holding his oil lamp above his head he peered into the gloom, took another deep breath and stepped forward. His footsteps echoed through the silence as he walked steadily through the tunnels. Benedict took time to cast his eyes over the shelves, quickly skimming across the spines in the low light. Occasionally his fingers would hover over ancient gilded text, the temptation urging him to pull one of the books off a shelf and delve in was only held at bay by the knowledge that the slightest touch could destroy these precious artifacts.
Benedict continued along his path through the cool, dark corridors, marvelling at the countless wonders that they held, Lupus dutifully in tow, making left and right turns based on curiosity alone. He knew that he could easily get lost in this place, the shelves that lined the cold stone walls were almost indistinguishable from each other and he may well have been through the same tunnels multiple times. This didn’t worry Benedict, he’d explored dungeons, caves, towering castles and many other treacherous mazes before, his exit strategy was always the same: Follow Lupus’ nose. The canine had proven exceptional as a guide.
As the pair made their way through the chilled walkways Benedict began to notice that the deeper in they went, the older the literature seemed to get. The books he had first laid his eyes on were large, leather bound volumes with elegant lettering on the spines. These had become fewer and farther between as their adventure progressed. The hard-backed tomes had become less elaborate, some bound simply with wooden boards for protection, they had passed through large rooms full of wax tablets, etched with complex symbols and glyphs, and a closer inspection of some single, blank documents revealed a type of parchment that looked remarkably like papyrus.
Lupus growled. A long, low rumble from his throat. The sound pulled Benedict away from the shelf he was currently investigating. Turning around, the weak light from the lamp showed the dog, belly to the floor, single ear pinned back, in a state of high awareness, staring intently down a narrow tunnel that Benedict could have sworn wasn’t there before.
“Hey boy, what’s up?”
“What’s down there?”
Benedict held his lamp towards the offending tunnel and peered as far as the light would let him see. Nothing. The walls of this passage were bare stone, no shelves, no books, nothing.
“There’s nothing there Lupus, what’s got into you?”
“Come on, let’s have a look and I’ll prove to you that everything’s fine.”
Ruffling his hand through Lupus’ matted fur he coaxed the reluctant dog down the corridor. As they walked, the ceiling became lower and the walls narrowed. Benedict was having to duck his head when they found it. A large, unmarked, black book lay on the floor. Benedict crouched for a better look. The cover had a very slight sheen to it, almost as if it was wet. Benedict reached out with his hand, he knew he shouldn’t but for some reason he couldn’t resist. The cover was soft, and warm. As his fingertips brushed over the surface, Benedict could feel a rhythmic pulse, tingling through his hand. He knew this wasn’t normal, but somehow it felt natural.
Benedict picked up the book, taking the weight in his arms he could feel the pulse amplify through his torso. Benedict opened the book, or rather the book made Benedict open the book, the book’s binding became lightweight and Benedict found his hand rifling through the pages, something inside his head told him exactly which page to turn to.
The walls of The Lost Library rumbled and shook. Dust and crumbled stone fell from the ceiling and a chill breeze flowed through the tunnels, turning pages and dislodging pieces of parchment from their resting places.
Benedict paid the dog no attention. Stood with the great volume resting on his arms, a distant look in his eyes, mouth slightly open, motionless as the hallways quaked around him.
The book snapped shut and fell to the floor, the breeze dropped, the walls calmed. The only sound remaining was the echoing thud of leather bound parchment hitting cold stone.
“What… what happened?”
“I...I think we should leave.”
Lupus led the way, nose to the ground, diligently sniffing his way towards the exit, Benedict following behind, oil lamp in hand.
After what felt like hours Lupus came to a halt. Benedict could see the shaft of light that marked their original entry point, a small hole in a broken wall that would open out into the cave they had been exploring. Benedict took a few steps toward the hole, relieved to see the natural light shining into the tunnel. He tripped on something heavy. Stumbling to keep his balance he turned to investigate what had interrupted his footing.
An axe lay on the floor. Benedict was certain that it hadn’t been there when they came in, he would have seen it, maybe even tripped over it. He stooped to pick it up. Thick red liquid dripped off the blade. Lupus sniffed at the droplets as they pooled on the floor. Benedict could feel markings etched into the handle underneath his hands. Holding his waning oil lamp to the wood he read the splintered text.
BEYOND THESE WALLS, THE DEAD RISE AGAIN.