A man was beset by a fever. So long ago now that we have lost the words and numbers to give the year a name, the man named Banausic was seized by an unrelenting fervour and drive to built a great wooden hall that would have the ring of the gods. He was not blessed with the why of it, but was simply instilled with the how, and over the years of his life he built a house so magnificent that few would ever enter without fear of spoiling its acoustic magic and specific cadences.
When the hall was finished, he was left at a loss as to its purpose: no one could deny the beauty and the majesty of the thing he had built, but there was no obvious answer as to what was meant to dwell there. A travelling salesman came to Banausic peddling trinkets and jewels: a man who has his own story told some other place, as important to the gods as Banausic was. He had brought with him the intended inhabitant of the Acta: a book.
It looked no more impressive than any other book Banausic had ever laid eyes on- but then, Banausic could not read, and so the astonishment of letters linked together on a page was lost on him even when they spelled out his own name. But he did not need the talent of script to know what he held in his hands, because a man chosen by fate is often imbued with odd instincts and the right urges so as to end up in the right place. In the very centre of the back stalls, he laid out a place for the book that seemed to radiate the sounds and melodies of the hall itself, and he knew he was right. This place was meant to be a library; a repository of words and stories and knowledge and fables. Because Banausic’s part in the shaping of the hall had reached its conclusion, he died then without much ado and with no fanfare at all. The hall, however, was not yet finished.
People came from every corner of the proto-Thulian island to bring written words to feed the Acta. Wise men wrote ideas and sketched plans for marvellous machines; old, lonely women scribbled in broken handwriting accounts of their dead husbands and passed-away sons, just wanting them to be remembered; children drew broad picture stories of talking animals and imaginary friends, and those were as important as the histories of the land itself. Men were commissioned to gather those histories and bind them on parchment, to create analogues for the world in flat sheaves of paper, and all of them were stored in the annals of the great hall for wondrous posterity.
Many gods and sprites take hold on the fabric of the world from the sheer power of belief in their existence: you cannot vest that much collective energy in one force without breathing some life into it. The people of the island believed in a great number of creator gods and hellish devils and lesser imps, and even with so many faces these gods and devils and imps clawed their way into being on the back of the tributes offered them- and they were quite right to do so. The creatures of the Acta, however, did not come to their lives through belief but uniquely among their kind found hold here by necessity.
The power of words written down and kept is so immense and so focused that there was created a deep and abiding need for a personification to be in charge of them. A hall so inlaid with the meaning people bestowed on it- one so directly guided by the hands of already-existing gods and fates- could little exist without its own sprites than a nor’easter wind be talked to sleep. Out of the first book (whose contents are as much a mystery now as the nature of these forces themselves) rose a satyr of a kind, the thing which both inhabited and was made of the Acta and channelled the forces of words and stories stored all in one place. He was the Omphalos of the Acta; the centre point of the little world it created.
He was a benevolent thing and slept in a small nest made around the book, lodged high in the back stalls where he could overlook the wooden hall and simply love all his words without missing a corner. For a hundred years he was happy and content like this, and the library thrived. Words were brought in and taken out when people came to read- they took with them in their heads such varied thoughts and tales that came from places they had never been and concerned places they would never go. In this way, the world became bigger.
But even for the demiurge of words, years become long and oversight becomes less pressing. The Omphalos spent more and more time asleep, and as the nature of the Acta changed its needs changed, giving rise to new sprites of necessity.
It came to be that the Acta carved the first Father Librarian out of need, an old man like a monk who roamed the stacks and stalls, dry and dusty as the pages themselves. He was closer to the new idea forming around the books here, the idea that they were immortal and invulnerable and needed little tending at all. It became somehow imbedded into the minds of people that words and stories kept themselves, and because they were there the job was already done, and the value to be gained from them inherent in their existence. As sacrosanct as the Acta was, it became a white elephant that held a symbolic worth, and if it was not completely forgotten it was certainly demoted to a dead hall where few ever visited.
Of course the Father Librarian was built specifically for his task, and cared a great deal about the sacred nature of words. He did not believe them to be playthings either- the idea that anyone could lay eyes on the scripts in the hall at any time seemed deeply wrong and he was invested in the protection of their inaccessibility over all else. He was joined- out of his own need- by a small thing that had no other purpose but to study the texts and keep them in its head. The Father Librarian would never have dared the outrage of rising above his station and studying them himself, so the little thing that followed him around the maze of the hall became the place where knowledge went, and was the place where it then stayed.
This is how it was for an awful long time. For every year that passed, the Father Librarian would climb the back stall and quietly hang a tributary trinket over the place where the Omphalos lay sleeping, and for the rest of the year he and his little thing would be left in peace to roam and read. Nailed over the small nest which was secreted behind panels and shadows, a collection of small toys collected and grew: bells, rings, whistles, coins and horns. There seemed no point to ever rise and disturb the peace of the hall, so the Omphalos simply left the care of the words to the Father Librarian and his little thing, curling up on his book and simply slumbering deeper every time he felt the urge to move.
The collection of gifts over the Omphalos’ sleeping place had grown immense by the time The Girl came to the Acta. She was as much a part of its story and its personified powers as the Omphalos and the little thing and the Father Librarian were, although she came from a separate need and so was not recognised by them. Like an alien, she was found wandering the aisles, taking down volumes and scrolls and perusing them before returning them to their resting places. Likely she was walking there a far longer time than even the sprites of the Acta knew, for when the Father Librarian spotted her she seemed to know the place well and felt comfortable breaking the hierarchy of knowledge. She had no regard for the rights of the books not to be looked on by common eyes, and consumed them lightly, almost trivially, as though for entertainment. The Father Librarian seized upon her and- as politely as he could, being so out of practice in speaking with an outside person and a woman to boot- demanded to know her purpose there. Admittedly, the words “seized” and “demanded” may be a little strong for the manner in which he confronted her, but he had surely meant those sentiments when he had neared her even if his nerved had failed and delivered softly spoken words instead.
With large eyes that looked at him so earnestly he was at a loss for himself, she told him she was there to read. She disarmed him so that he simply led her through the stacks when she asked for a tale of bravery or a book that could teach her of birds and even found himself blustering on about certain texts in long-winded accounts as he did so. The little thing watched sceptically and jealously, following behind at a pace. It was less charmed by her dark hair and tall frame, and so was not quite as quick to allow for innocent intent.
The Father Librarian was so indeeped in a recounting of the census book from the second stack on the third floor that he did not notice when she leaped off and soared into the rafters, gleefully climbing into the ceiling beams and jumping from the top of one stack to another. When he turned around to find her gone, he looked up and was revolted by the noise of joy and disruption she was emitting all through the hall. For the first time since a hundred years after its inception, the wooden walls and paper aisles rang with a beautiful diapason- the song of the Acta that had lead Banausic to give his life to the building of it in the first place.
She scrambled into the buttresses and scampered their length along the walls, the Father Librarian and the little thing chasing after her as best they could. They had not been outfitted with agility or flight by their necessity, and found it terribly hard to keep up. They found the ladders and climbed up the stacks to catch her, huffing and heaving all the while. She slowed down for a moment to allow them to catch up, and then stopped. The Father Librarian howled at her, for all his words at a loss to express to her exactly the damage she was inflicting here. He could not jump the space between where he stood and she was perched, so tried to reason in desperate sobs with her to come down and allow them to restore some balance. She smiled a slow smile that had no malice but was wicked beyond belief, and in one quick motion her hand shot up through the rotten wood of the ceiling. When she pulled it back it was smeared with a dark brown blood, and she held the liver of a bird that had been sat on the roof. Its life had instantly as her hand had expertly plunged into its belly and plucked out the liver as though she was picking a lazy fly from the air.
Perhaps the Father Librarian and the little thing felt a wave of acknowledgment at this. They could not know it, but this was the first Cantrip in an unspoken, unwritten prophecy to usher in the next part of the life of the Acta. It was the first of three defilements of this house, and whether they knew it or not, this outrage was a part of the mythology that lived there. If they did not feel the weight of its importance, it certainly held them in place. They found they could not follow her as she swung and catapulted ever deeper into the attics of the Acta, and could only stand impotently as she disappeared from their view.
It’s hard to say exactly what The Girl was. If the Omphalos was a creator demi-god, spawned from the first words of that book, then the Father Librarian was surely a keeper spirit flanked by a sprite. She was something wholly unexpected and- by needs- broke the form entirely. She is now known sometimes as the Dancer or the Terpsichorean, dancing through the branches of the World Tree, but there’s no one alive to remember her nature precisely. She moved this way from beam to beam until she came upon the heart of the hall: the Omphalos’ nest. He awoke and was taken aback to see any creature at all here where he slept, but to see one so lovely and piercing was the most unlikely thing. She smiled again, and he could not help but be seduced.
In taking him, she had enacted the second defilement of the hall, and everywhere the music rang.
Afterwards, she took him by the hand and led him through the place that was his own. She showed him the tributary wall and he was delighted for a moment before its more dilapidated nature brought him back down. Going back to the beginning of the line of silver toys was like looking into a tapestry of history- the first gift was beautiful and untarnished, and had been placed there with much care. But as far as he travelled along the line, the further down history he could see, the gifts became more mottled and cheap and hastily chosen, and it was clear that the need for him was diminishing.
She asked him if he read.
He could not understand why he should have to do so. If he persists here solely as a token of that first book, is he not already made of words himself?
She fetched him volumes from high and far shelves and brought them to his nest. She watched him read for the first time all the anchors of lives and ideas he had presided over in sleeping and waking times, and it was clear that he had only understood them now. By taking in the notions and knowledge of others, he began to understand the need for the Acta, for himself, and- with a growing feeling of heavy sorrow- the need that had created the Father Librarian.
He knew that the world understood that words were safe here, and that they could not possibly need anything more from them if they were. If the work had been done to gather the words at all, there was no longer a need to spread it and make the world any bigger. They had made a Librarian who stood in for them in their contentment with the hoarding of stories and the safekeeping of them, and then promptly let them sleep there unhindered.
As all the people of Thule know, water is the fear of the dreaming, and fire is the fear of the waking.
The Girl took the Omphalos by the hand and they saw everything that the hall held. Long forgotten tributes to dead husbands and passed-away sons; minutes, hours, days; the histories and wisdom of so many tribes there were no numbers to count them. She took him high into the rafters and smiled. From her pocket, with a hand covered in dry brown blood, she took a match and lit it, and handed it to him.
The hall rang happily with deep wooden tones and dry words took light.
Perhaps we need to lose the words again so we can care for them once more.