The Line Between
By Alaena Hope
They say that the Tower of Knowledge stands at the far western edge of the world. Inside its shining walls lie all the books that have ever been written and all those that have yet to be conceived. It is, they say, the treasury where all the secrets of the universe are kept and the place where new ideas are born and old ones return to die. The person who watches over the tower is known as the Keeper of Knowledge. Each Keeper presides over the tower for five hundred years, after which the title is passed on to the man or woman whom the Keeper of the time deems the most worthy of being entrusted with all the knowledge of the world.
The first Keeper of Knowledge was appointed by the One herself. So when it came time for him to pass on his title, he went back to the One to ask her to choose his successor. However, he was told that he should use the knowledge with which he had been gifted to choose the successor that he, as an authority in the realms of men, could trust with the next leg of mankind's journey.
The Keeper took her words to heart and set off to find his successor.
His search took him from one end of the world to the other before it eventually yielded not one but two candidates. Both were intelligent, well-read scholars who had done a considerable amount of traveling of their own. This was a bit of a conundrum for the Keeper for the Tower could have only one master at a time.
So he took both candidates to the Tower of Knowledge and showed them all the way from the bottom to the top, both inside and out. Then, standing there at the very top of the tower, he asked the two a question.
"What is the greatest feature of this tower?"
"It's the archives, of course," the first candidate said. "There is and can never be a greater collection—or a greater treasure—than the one housed inside these tower walls."
"It's its height," the other said. "This tower is just so wondrously tall! You can see the whole world from its peak. Such a vast and complex tapestry… To be given the chance to see such beauty—I have never seen anything so inspiring!"
The Keeper contemplated their answers. Both were heartfelt and valid answers to his question, he thought, but though the first had been solid, the second had surprised him. And so he decided that it would be to the candidate who looked beyond that he would entrust the next guardianship of the Tower of Knowledge.
The storm struck Tsugara like a rampaging bull. It crashed through the streets, heavy raindrops pounding the windows and streets. It raked across the faces of the buildings, tearing off the handful of lanterns that the citizens had forgotten to take inside. The few pedestrians caught by the storm's sudden and violent arrival had to half swim the rest of their ways home.
Surrounded on all sides by torrents of rain-drenched wind, the inn had become an island. There was a fire in every hearth, and lanterns glowed on every table and in every corner of each room. Their warm, golden radiance was a sharp contrast to the cold, wet darkness that loomed outside the windows.
The atmosphere in the common room was muted. The inn's patrons this evening consisted largely of men and women who had been too far from home when the rain started and so taken refuge here. The innkeeper had passed out boxes of playing cards shortly after dinner, and there were now several games in progress. Those not playing watched those who were. No one seemed to want to go to bed.
Kavin couldn't blame them. He didn't want to sleep either, though it wasn't for a lack of weariness. It was something in the atmosphere—a subtle tension like a held breath.
The old grandmother who had come into the inn with her grandson had just won the fifth game in a row at the main table when the inn's doors opened again. There was an instant drop in temperature as a rush of wind and rain blasted into the room before the newcomer slammed the door shut. Though their fire lit sanctuary had been breached for only a moment, all activity in the room stuttered. Heads turned, and hands stilled. For that instant, every thought was of the storm. Then the moment of reverence passed, and the murmur of quiet conversations once again filled the air.
"Would you like a cup of tea, good Sir?" the innkeeper asked.
"Tea would be great," Shayle replied. "And something hot to eat, if it wouldn't be too much trouble."
"Not at all. I'll inform the kitchen staff right away."
"Thanks. I'll be right back once I change into something dry." The Reilin mage squelched across the common room and up the stairs, leaving a trail of puddles in his wake. A few minutes later, he returned with only his hair still damp. Accepting the steaming cup of tea from the innkeeper with a nod, he glanced around the room then made his way to Kavin and Emilu's table.
"So where're the others?" he asked, inviting himself to an empty chair.
"They're upstairs," Kavin replied. "Hanari had some books she wanted Amayo to go over with her. She says she's not going to use all this traveling as an excuse not to continue her studies anymore."
"That's diligent of her," the Reilin mage said with a wry smile. "Children certainly do change quickly."
"You're not that much older yourself," Emilu replied, looking amused.
"Nor are you, if I'm not mistaken. But childhood isn't about age."
The guardswoman quirked an eyebrow at him. "It's not?"
"Nah. It's a privilege you have that you cast away when you realize it's time to be an adult."
Kavin let out a short laugh. "That is certainly a unique way to look at it."
Shayle shrugged. "So you two have any luck?"
Emilu let out a breath that made her sound thrice her age. "Depends on what you call luck. It seems the number of people willing to sail all the way from here to Chimadine has diminished since I was last here. Those who do undertake the journey do not do so lightly. Apparently the last ship to attempt the journey was attacked by a sea dragon."
Kavin nearly choked on his tea. Shayle's reaction was less pronounced, but even his eyes widened. It was common knowledge that sea dragons were not only the largest but among the most powerful of all the magic-touched. They were also well-known for their calm temperament. They lived deep beneath the ocean waves, surfacing only rarely.
In Kwair, Kavin knew, it was generally believed that seeing a sea dragon was a sign of good fortune. He had certainly never heard of a sea dragon attacking anyone. Though he had heard several stories to the contrary. One autumn night in particular stood out in his memory. He had been seven. There had been a particularly bad storm earlier that week, and three fishing boats had disappeared. That afternoon, however, one of those boats had glided back into the bay with tattered sails and no visible means of propulsion. On that boat had been not only its original crew but the crews of the other two missing boats. No one had known what to think about the whole thing. When questioned, most of the fishermen had had no memory of how they had made it back to shore. The few who did had told garbled stories about being pulled from the water by some force they hadn't seen. One had mentioned shining scales and lightning under water. Kavin wasn't sure who had first suggested that the fishermen had been saved by dragons, but, by the time winter had rolled around, that explanation had been accepted by most as the truth. Kavin, however, hadn't bought into the story until one of the fishermen's sons had shown him and several of the other city children the large, dark blue scale he had found stuck at the bottom of the ruined fishing boat.
"That certainly explains the general reluctance to sail," Kavin said finally. "I had assumed it was just the weather."
"I take it your luck wasn't any better than mine."
"Well, one man did offer to sell us a ship," Kavin replied. "But that did not strike me as a practical solution."
Shayle snorted. "Maybe not, but we can keep it in consideration. As last resorts go, it's not entirely without merit. We do have three mages onboard."
"What about you? Did you find anything?"
Emilu bit back a sigh. "If you didn't find anything then just say so."
"Now, now. A Royal Guard shouldn't jump to conclusions. Anyway, what I meant was that I did meet a guy who said he'd be willing to give us passage on his ship once the storm passes."
"I assume there's a catch?"
"We haven't talked about payment yet."
"Ah." Emilu sighed. "Of course."
"At least it's a start," said Kavin.
They fell into a pensive silence. The rain continued to pound against the walls.
"There's something else." Shayle started then stopped, gaze shifting restlessly to scan the common room. Quiet as that short sentence had been, it was enough to draw both Kavin and Emilu's attention back to the Reilin mage. The fact that his usual grin was nowhere to be found made them set their own cups down in a silent sign that they were listening. He almost laughed at the intensity with which they were watching him. Were they expecting him to divulge some great secret? Maybe. Emilu at least was still suspicious of his motives.
Well, who was he to disappoint them?
He opened his mouth then closed it again, suppressing a grimace. This was harder than he'd expected. But he had already made up his mind.
"I need your help."
A.N: Sorry this took so long and is so short. The next part will likely take a while to finish too. I ended up throwing out almost everything I had again. But at least I think it's improving. I will post a progress note on my profile. Have a great summer!