“What do you think she would say if she saw me like this?” He sighed and downed another drink. It had been a rough day, so he would be excused for doing so. “I promised her that greatness she so proudly spoke to you about, but in the end, I strayed from the path and betrayed her. My punishment is nothing but deserved.”
Ianari poured him another drink. “Now, now, you should not be too hard on yourself. It is one thing to abuse your powers for the wrong reasons, but history looks much more kindly on those who abuse their powers for the right reasons.” She stood up and walked around the bar to take the seat next to him. “I understand why you did what you did, but you have to understand that I cannot allow anyone to interfere with my domain, even if that anyone happens to be family.”
The old arcanist nodded, a nostalgic look still inhabiting his tired face. “I didn’t mean to interfere, of course. All I wanted was for her to get a chance at life. If paying for this with my own life is the way to go about it, I feel no shame in doing so.”
“And you have no reason to be ashamed. You did the things you did out of love for your family and that is admirable. Not many people would give up everything they’ve worked for their entire life, just to grant happiness to another person. I can see what my daughter saw in you now.”
The man smiled. It was his first sincere smile since he arrived in Maharis. “That means a lot to me, especially coming from you.”
One of her nine tails swung around behind him and patted him on his back. “Enough drinks for now, isn’t there someone else you have to say some things to?”
His smile turned melancholic again as he let out a deep sigh. “You’re right, there’s someone I need to apologize to.”
“Go on, then,” Ianari said, as she lightly pushed him towards the door.
A full week had passed since Charlotte had suddenly appeared at the Foxire Library. Even though time seemed to be a less important metric to the people living at the library, Charlotte had gotten impatient and had been eager to go to the tower.
Liari and Charlotte were both putting on scarves and thick coats. It was early in the afternoon and although the snowstorm outside had mostly subsided, temperatures were still low and some snow was falling here and there. And the walk to the tower was going to take them a little while, especially with the layers of fresh snow hampering their speed.
“Now, be careful not to touch things you shouldn’t touch, Fesquera could be very particular about his belongings.” Miranda had been lecturing them all morning about this and Liari had been lectured this way many times before, so she’d gotten used to it.
“It will all be fine, we’ll just go to see if he’s there. If he’s not, we’ll leave again.”
“Very well then, I expect you to be back soon enough.” With a quick wave goodbye to Miranda, the two young women stepped outside into the cold snow.
“It’s amazing what adrenaline does to a person. The first time around I didn’t notice nearly how cold it really was,” Charlotte said. The fresh snow sounded crisp under their feet and the cold seemed to penetrate all the way to their bones.
“I think it was even colder when you arrived, with the wind being as strong as it was.” Liari took the lead, since she’d walked the path to the tower numerous times throughout the years. It was a challenge getting through the snow that reached to above their knees and it took her almost three times as long as normal, but the two of them managed to reach the tower without issue.
“There is no snow on the tower itself, how strange.” Charlotte remarked.
Liari looked at where Charlotte was pointing and realized she was right. The tower had no snow on it whatsoever and even a small ring of grass surrounding the place seemed to be completely dry.
“Maybe there’s some sort of magic about this place that is keeping the snow away?” Fesquera had mostly been away during the winters, so she never had to come here this time of year before.
Charlotte shook her head. “I’ll never understand arcanists and their strange habits.”
“You get used to it.” Liari hadn’t seen that many crazy things happen, but she took pride in being close with Fesquera, so she pretended like she was more aware of these things. She stepped out of the snow and onto the patch of grass. She tried the handle of the front door and it opened like normal. Charlotte followed her inside. The ground floor was exactly as they’d left it. The door to the storage room was on the left, and the circular stairway started on the right. They both carefully walked up the creaking wooden stairs. The spiderwebs were as present as ever.
“Is this door locked?” Charlotte asked when they came upon the large wooden door with the carvings in it that lead to Fesquera’s study.
Liari nodded. “It’s locked, but I can unlock it.” She reached out to the door and touched the gem in the center. The carvings slowly lit up and the door swung open ever so slightly.
“I thought you didn’t know how to use magic?” Charlotte said with a surprised look on her face.
Liari looked puzzled by this remark. “I don’t. This door is Fesquera’s magic. He just explained to me the trick of unlocking it.”
Charlotte didn’t seem convinced by this explanation. “Perhaps that’s the way he’s explained it to you, but I don’t think anyone without magical capabilities could open a lock like that.” She reached for the door and shut it again. The carvings readjusted to the closed position. “Explain the trick to me and let me try it.”
Liari shrugged and then pointed out the trick she used to open the door.
Charlotte put three fingers on the orb and closed her eyes. A few seconds passed. Another few seconds passed. Eventually she opened her eyes again. “See, nothing’s happening.”
Liari was confused by this. She did the same thing and the door opened. “Huh.”
Unsure what to think of this, Liari pushed the thoughts away for now and went into Fesquera’s study, Charlotte following close behind her.
Drab black curtains were hung on the windows. Liari opened one of them to let in a bit of light, before getting a fire started in the fireplace.
“It’s not nearly as cold in here as it is outside,” Charlotte remarked.
Liari had noticed the same thing. “I think that has something to do with magic as well.”
“Magic tower, magic temperatures, magic door; I’m beginning to think there’s a magic solution to all of our problems,” Charlotte said, laughing slightly.
“There’s a reason why people write so many books about it.” Liari said. She’d gotten a fire started and was looking around the room for any signs of life.
“I suppose you’re right,” Charlotte replied. She had never been here before, so she was distracted by looking around the room.
On quick inspection, it seemed like the room was empty. Compared to all the other times Liari had been here, the room was quite tidy and everything was neatly put away. All the books were taken from the ground and desk and either put on the many bookshelves or moved elsewhere.
The pillows next to the fire were stacked on the side and there were no signs of any plates or cups anywhere. Liari quickly peeked into the kitchen. As she had suspected, it was completely clean as well.
Liari then turned her attention to the desk, which was the only thing left. On the desk stood what looked to be a small box, about the size of a book. There was a small note lying on top of it. The note read: ‘To my daughter, Liari’ in very neat handwriting.
Liari was the first to spot the box with the note on it. She ended up staring for a while, unsure if she should look at it. Charlotte walked up beside her and read the words out loud. A look of shock came across her face. She looked at Liari. “Did you know?”
Liari shook her head.
“Oh.” Charlotte took a step back. She waited for a few moments before speaking up again. “Do you want to read it?”
Liari nodded. She carefully picked up the note from the little box and opened it. She read it in silence.
My dearest Liari,
After watching over you for all these years, it feels strange to write you a letter like this. I have seen you grow from a young girl to an impressive scholar. Yet you still have a very long way to go.
I hope that growing up in a remote location like this library wasn’t too hard on you, although you’re not the type to complain quickly, are you now?
A long time ago I committed a sin that I will have to atone for. I was in a unique position where I was given some time to tie up loose ends before my retribution came. If you are reading this, that means I have passed away. Don’t worry, I will say hi to your mother who left long before me, and tell her that you’re doing just fine.
As for why I’m writing this letter, I hope to impart some wisdom to you before I go. Throughout my many years of travelling, and later as an archmage, I have learned more about magic than most will ever do, and I hope you follow in my footsteps. Of course, that decision is up to you. If you do choose to follow after me, there is a key to my basement laboratory in the box next to this letter. Go there to learn more. If that is not a path you wish to seek out, you can leave the box where it is. My former assistant will come and pick it up eventually.
As for now, it saddens me that we will no longer get to talk, but my time is up. I wish you the best of luck in this dangerous world, and please say hi to Miranda for me. I owe her that much.
It has been a pleasure knowing my daughter has grown up into such a fine young lady and I hope to hear tales of your exploits even in the afterlife.
Archmage Fesquera Foxire.
“What did it say?” Charlotte asked, curious about the contents.
Liari realized she’d been staring at the letter without saying anything for a few minutes. She shook her head to snap out of it. “It says that Fesquera passed away.”
“Oh.” Charlotte wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that. “Is that not just an excuse for him to disappear for a while? Does it say anything else?”
Liari shook her head. “I don’t think that’s it, that’s not the tone I’m getting.”
“Well, does it say anything else then?”
“He says I’m his daughter.”
Charlotte thought for a minute. “I didn’t know he had children.”
“Neither did I.” Liari folded the letter and grabbed the little box.
“What do you think is in there?” Charlotte asked.
“The key to the basement, according to this letter.” Liari was getting a bit frustrated with all the questions. This was a lot to process all of a sudden. She understood that the princess was impatient, but still, she could wait.
“Let’s go back for now,” she said.
Charlotte took the hint and nodded. They closed the large wooden door and trudged back through the layers of snow to the library. There they sat in the kitchen and waited for the water to boil. Miranda came to join them as well.
“What did you find out?”
“He left a letter, saying that he has died.”
Miranda sighed. “I knew this day was coming.”
“You did?” Both women said in unison and looked at Miranda.
Miranda nodded. “Fesquera has alluded to it before and when he gave you that necklace, I was convinced it was time.”
Liari threw up her hands in frustration. “Next thing you’re going to tell me is that you knew I was his daughter, too.”
Miranda didn’t say anything, but Liari could see it in her eyes. “Why have you never told me?” There was a hint of sadness to her voice that pained Miranda.
She put down her cup and let out a deep sigh. “I’ll tell you everything I know, but I doubt it’s much more than he’s already told you.” She sat down and crossed her legs. “I’ll start with telling you a bit about myself.” She looked from Liari to Charlotte. “Liari knows a lot of this, but for you it might be of interest to hear the entire story.”
They both nodded and waited for her to begin.
“When I first came to this library, I was only a young girl, a couple years younger than the two of you are now. I know, that sounds like it was a very long time ago, and it was. Things were very different back then.” She looked at Charlotte. “Your father wasn’t even born yet, and the Fyrston Empire was still a lot smaller than it is now. The Zanian Kingdom to the north was so small and brittle that it wasn’t even considered a threat. And beyond that, most of the kingdoms and empires that are big today weren’t as big back then.” She took a sip from her tea that had cooled down just enough. “I lived in a small village several hours west of Larania. The village was called Mira, and I’m willing to bet a lot of money that neither of you have heard of it.”
They both shook their head and Miranda smiled. “Back then, people were quickly moving away from it to larger nearby towns. Eventually everyone left and the village disappeared. I’m sure some of the buildings are still there. I used to travel from Mira to Larania, back and forth with my small cart full of vegetables and dried meats. Trading was a good way to make some money, and my parents weren’t particularly well off. As time went on, I started heading into the forest as well. Back then, the Cel’Narvil tribe was located closer to the edge of the forest than they are now, and I often ran into them. Eventually, I made friends with a young man from the tribe. He told me about a strange new building he found hidden deep away in the forest. According to him, there was a brick tower with strange lights coming from it, as well as a large tree that was growing faster than any of the other trees around it.” She paused, as if to take a moment to remember her friend, before continuing. “Needless to say, a curious young girl like myself had to see this for herself, so we both went to the strange tower, where we found a young man sitting outside, reading a book. The journey there had tired us out, so even though we were wary when the man motioned us to come over, we accepted and joined him in the spring meadow. After Jarica’s story I’d expected some creepy tower with a demon inside, as he’d exaggerated a fair bit, but to our surprise the man was kind and friendly, and invited us to join him for some food. He told us he was building a sort of library with the books, scrolls and artifacts he’d come across throughout the years. Apparently, he’d travelled to many places already, but the Celeran Canopy felt like a great place for something like that. Jarica quickly lost interest as he wasn’t much of a studious person, but I was immediately sold on the idea. I had to be a part of this. I could listen to him talk about his travels for hours and hours.” She laughed. “And talking about his travels he did. If there’s one thing Fesquera liked more than reading books, it was travelling. He had seen places I hadn’t even heard of, and written most of it down as well. Before I knew it, the Foxire Library was my home. Back then, it wasn’t named that yet, that came way later.” A somewhat melancholic look washed over her face, as if a bad memory just slipped in between the good ones. “Eventually, I went back to my parents, gave them some of the money I’d made when trading, and packed my back to take permanent residence in the library. Fesquera always managed to provide enough food, until we set up the garden so that he wouldn’t have to bring food from other places anymore. This place quickly grew with the help of some of the Cel’Narvil tribesmen who had been informed by Jarica that there was a new neighbor in the area. Although they were very hesitant of the arcanist at first, he quickly won them over and soon the tradition of sending tribespeople to the library had begun. Without it ever being said out loud, I had become the head librarian. This was mainly because Fesquera often had to leave. First, he only left once every so often, and for a couple of days at a time. Before too long, he started taking longer trips, and sometimes he would be gone for weeks or months at a time.” She got up to pour a new cup of tea. “Talking makes me thirsty,” she said as she sat back down. “A few decades had passed before we started getting visitors from outside of the forest. Some were people who stumbled upon the library by accident, but a majority of them were invited by Fesquera. I remember a long time ago when your grandmother visited as well.” She looked at Charlotte again.
Charlotte looked surprised. “You’ve met my grandmother?”
Miranda nodded. “She had your red hair and everything, and even your temper.”
Miranda continued. “Maybe fifty or so years ago, Fesquera stopped coming to the library as often as before. He said he had something important to take care of, and that was all I knew.
Then twenty-five years ago, he suddenly showed up holding a baby girl in his hands.” Miranda looked at Liari, who immediately understood. “The girl was underfed and looked very sickly, and he was cradling her like she was the most important thing in the world. He told me to take care of this young girl, who had fur-covered ears and a fox tail that I had never seen before. When I asked for an explanation, he promised me he would tell me in due time. At this point I’d known Fesquera for quite a while and I knew better than to pry. I remember later that one time I’d seen Fesquera out in the forest, talking to a woman with similar ears, and I made the connection.
A couple of years passed and you were about seven years old when Fesquera came back and told me a little bit more. He had gotten married to your mother and needed to keep you safe. Your mother had unfortunately passed away at that point and he had an important reason to keep his distance. When I asked what could possibly be so important to keep him from raising his own daughter, he wouldn’t explain himself.” The look on Miranda’s face had shifted to a combination of sadness and anger. “It’s one of the more selfish things he’d done, but at least he showed up from time to time. I ended up raising you as best I could. As you know, in the past few years he’d been visiting a bit more and I thought that was his way to connect with you. Until last year, when he showed up with a serious look on his face. He told me that he had only a year left to live. He asked me to take care of you after he passed and send you on the right path. What that path was, I don’t know. I reckon he wanted you to choose your own path, but who knows. The only thing he was willing to divulge about the situation was that he had sins to pay for and that was unavoidable.” The anger had vanished from her face and turned into sadness altogether. “When he said his goodbyes the final time, I knew it would be the last time I would ever see him.” Tears started streaming down her face and even Liari had started to tear up. “That necklace he gave you was very precious to him. He had it on the first time I met him and had worn it on many occasions. I couldn’t tell you what it does, but I think it has to do with magic.” She chuckled. “All these years of studying at a library that belonged to an archmage, and not once did I have the urge to learn about magic.” She let out a deep sigh. “I know that he wants you to follow your own path. And I know that no matter what that path is, he will be watching with pride.”
Liari sat in silence for a while, processing all this information. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier? I could have said goodbye, I could have asked questions. Even this morning you were pretending like you had no idea.” She started putting the pieces together in her head. Miranda had known, and knew when she sent them to go to the library. She felt betrayed and lied to.
Miranda had a sorrowful look on her face. “It was the last thing I promised to him. He said he didn’t want to complicate things.”
Liari looked at her, tears welling up in her eyes. “And what I want isn’t important then?”
“That’s not what we meant, dear,” Miranda said.
Liari wasn’t having it and she stood up and rushed out of the room.
Charlotte stood up shortly after. “I’ll go talk to her.”
Charlotte followed Liari up the stairs and knocked on her door. There was no response, but the door was still slightly ajar. She pushed it open and found Liari sitting on her bed, back turned to the door.
Liari responded but didn’t turn around. “I’m fine.”
Charlotte took the chair from next to the desk and sat down. She waited a few minutes until Liari eventually turned around. Her eyes were slightly red. “Thank you,” she said.
Charlotte smiled. “I didn’t do anything though.”
“You came after me to check on me, I appreciate that.”
“So, what is next for you?” Charlotte asked. She stood up from the chair and walked around the room.
“I think I’ll go and look at the basement that the letter mentioned.” She had put the box with the key on her desk and hadn’t touched it since then.
“Are you sure?” The eagerness and impatience that Charlotte had shown earlier had been replaced by genuine compassion for Liari.
Liari nodded. “The letter said to choose my own path, but I know he would be proud if I followed in his footsteps.” She laughed. “Besides, I’ve thought about leaving this place eventually.”
“I’ll go with you then.”
This surprised Liari. “I thought you came here for help. Don’t you have things to do?”
“I’ve been thinking about that since long before I came here. What would I do if Fesquera didn’t want to help, or couldn’t help for some reason. I never really found an answer to that question. My house is destroyed, my family dead, I have nowhere to return to.”
She sat back down, tears streaming down her face. “I suppose we have something in common and I want to help you out. Maybe along the way we’ll think of a solution to my problems as well.”
Liari looked at Charlotte and started crying as well. “And I will do what I can to support you as well.” She stood up and grabbed Charlotte, hugging her tight.
Charlotte smiled through the tears. “We’ll figure this out together.”