The Cabinet of Curiosity

Pfeil goes where he is bade without much thought: straight through the plaza, down the stairs, onward and onward. He is almost of a mind to veer off course when he slips into the darkness of the passage, blocked from the insistent Light above by a stone ceiling, and catches a glimpse of the sprawling flora-laden pathways of the Exarch's Hortorium — yet more plants than he could think to imagine, familiar and foreign alike, whose luscious foliage and bright blooms beckon insistently for his examination. It is a place that reminds him enough of the Black Shroud's boughs that he feels instantly at peace, and just as instantly coaxed. He reminds himself, with a certain reluctance, that there will be ample time for such distractions when he has done what he has set out to do. He turns his face abruptly toward the great doors at the end of the stone hall lest he be further tempted and presses yet still onward, through a towering set of thick, heavy doors, and into the Cabinet.

Never before has Pfeil encountered such a library as the Cabinet of Curiosity — certainly Gubal outdid it in size and ostentation, but the Cabinet seizes his attention with its shape. It is a near-perfect circle, every inch of the walls lined with books from floor to distant skylit ceiling — a space more inclined, he realizes, toward the vertical than all else. Arches line the walls, supporting walkways every ten or twenty fulms up, though these seem accessible only by ladder, which seems hardly convenient or sensible to Pfeil; the reading spaces on the ground floor at least seem pleasant, with cushioned chairs and sturdy round tables. In the center of the library is a great spiral staircase, connecting small circular floors with yet more bookshelves at their centers, twisting higher than he can take the measure of. Intuition tells him Moren must be at the apex of the staircase, and he begins the climb.

Pfeil is in good shape, by a certain metric, but he nonetheless finds little pleasure in the slow ascent. The vertigo which had earlier abated seems to return in force with the circular motion and gradual encroach into natural light — or, he thinks, light as natural as the First might offer, at any rate. There seems to be no end to the steady curve of the staircase, nor the glint of swimming sunless brightness from the surface of its dark steel banisters. Again Pfeil wonders why the library is built this way; as aesthetically pleasing as it is, the practicalities are decidedly annoying.

When he finally reaches the top floor, he is greeted first and foremost by an enormous globe, seemingly made of bronze, with a face divided into a smooth and featureless grid. He is unsure entirely of what purpose it serves, if any, and harbors little love for the effect its bright surface has on his migraine. Beside it is a standing desk, rather like a large lectern, constructed of warm, well-varnished wood; as it is not painful to look at, he accordingly likes it more. The base of the standing desk is littered with boxes and with scattered piles of tomes, most of which are plainly bound in deep, soothing jewel tones; more of these are piled on an adjoining low table, along with a slew of paperwork. Beneath it all is an ornate rug, with sunburst designs in white and gold on a backing of periwinkle. All in all, the space is comfortable and attractive, but certainly not the most arresting, and thus Pfeil is rather surprised at having almost missed Moren altogether.

Upon noticing that he is not alone, Moren straightens and brushes greenish-grey hair from his puppy-round face with a quick, imprecise motion; when his wide eyes, dark and mossy, meet Pfeil's, they widen even further. Pfeil thinks he is all nerves, with the way his sparse brows try and fail to meet in the middle of his forehead and the way he chews his thin lip. There is, Pfeil decides, a flimsy sort of attractiveness to him, all considered; he seems mild and sweet and harmless, and Pfeil likes the pliable curve of his cheek.

"Er, excu — excuse me, sir, are — are you recently come to the city, perchance? I'm quite familiar with our civic roles, you see, and…" Moren pauses and clears his throat, apparently hoping Pfeil will continue the conversation for him, and worries a lichen-colored sleeve between his fingers.

"The Exarch sent me to speak to you," Pfeil says. "We're countrymen."

"Oh! Oh," says Moren, and seems to flounder suddenly, as if Pfeil has dashed his already rather cracked internal script to pieces. "I, ah — I'm — I expect you haven't brought any books with you, then? Even a scrap of parchment would — that is to — well, have you brought anything?"

Pfeil shakes his head. "I'm sorry."

"No, you're — oh, I'm sorry, is what I mean," Moren replies. "Literature is — a passion as well as a profession, I would — I would be inclined to say."

Hoping that he isn't projecting too imposing an air, Pfeil tries on a smile. "It isn't a problem. You're a librarian, so it's natural, right?"

"Yes, I suppose that's right." Moren returns Pfeil's smile. "Librarian Moren, at your service. And this humble collection is known as the Cabinet of Curiosity."

"It's the only round library I've seen."


"I said it's the only round library I've seen before," Pfeil repeats. "It's interesting."

"I, ah, am glad you find that interesting?" Moren watches him carefully for a moment before continuing. "It's been a great undertaking preserving what knowledge has remained after the Flood in our, ahem, round library; admittedly I'm not — I'm not, ah, privy to the designer's thought process."

Pfeil nods. "That's fine. I'm just making an observation."

"It is, I suppose, a…unique observation." Moren smooths out his robes, which are noticeably in no need of smoothing. "I suppose the Exarch has sent you to me for a review of modern history, then? Such has been the case with his other friends."

"I'd guess at it."

"Well, if you'd like a visual accompaniment, I think I have an illustrated history book for children somewhere around here…" Moren suggests. He kneels to shuffle through the tomes scattered around the base of his lectern, and the soft fabric of his robes pools around his knees.

"You should probably have a shelf up here for those," Pfeil says.

"Of course," Moren replies, with a bit of distraction clinging to his voice.

"Do you need some help?"

Rather than wait for a response, Pfeil kneels at Moren's side and begins rifling with him. They go through some few volumes with little trouble; Pfeil makes a neat pile of them beside himself. One book stands out from the rest, he soon finds — slimmer, and with bindings more elaborate than the rest; he reaches for it and finds his hand meets soft, warm skin rather than jewel-toned cloth. Pfeil doesn't jump, but Moren looks like to slip from his own skin, and his face turns a shade of pink Pfeil has only heretofore seen in the desperately ill. Slow as he can, Pfeil removes his hand, not wanting to startle poor frightened-deer Moren any further.

"Thank you," Moren wheezes, "but I — I have things well in hand."

Thinking it's something of a joke, Pfeil gives an obligate chuckle and gestures to the volume well in Moren's hand. Moren's subsequent confusion tells him he was dead wrong, but it is hardly a moment before Moren realizes the misunderstanding and laughs himself, a little too hard. "Yes, oh — yes, of course! Let's, ah — let's begin, shall we?"

Moren rises, and Pfeil rises with him, thinking he has never heard someone laugh with such an obvious sort of frantic distress before. Although it hardly seems necessary, Moren sets the book on his little lectern, and opens it to the first page for Pfeil; just as he is beginning to read, Moren clears his throat, apparently with the aim of reading aloud.

"A hundred years ago," Moren begins, "or near enough not to matter, villains known as the Warriors of Light slew the Shadowkeeper, the steward of Darkness." The illustration here, though quite beautifully detailed, is ultimately vague; the figures of the Warriors of Light are too refulgent to make out, and the Shadowkeeper too inky a roiling mass to discern the shape of, although it seems wolflike to Pfeil's eye.

Moren, when he has decided Pfeil must have had his fill of this image, turns the page. "In the wake of this tainted deed, Light began to pour into the world as if from unseen cracks. It pooled and swelled without cease, until the day an enormous, blinding wave rose up and swept across our star." Appropriately, the illustration here is a map of the star, although swallowed mostly by a formless yellowish brightness like the glimmer of gold. Pfeil remembers the searing wave in his vision of Minfilia, and grows uneasy, though if he shows it Moren does not react.

"We called this calamity the Flood of Light. Everything it touched was leeched of life and vigor, leaving naught behind but a luminous wasteland." An illustration that once again is all too familiar — a landscape resembling the Burn, which Pfeil mislikes as much as the map. Moren turns the page quickly this time, for a mercy.

Upon the next page is, to Pfeil's considerable shock, Minfilia — she is suspended in air, holding back the Flood with the power granted her by Hydaelyn in her capacity as Word of the Mother, just as in his vision. This time, he cannot restrain himself from calling out her name — "Minfilia!" — as if she will hear him.

"So you know this part already, I suppose," says Moren. "Shall I stop?"

"I just —" Pfeil begins, and stops himself abruptly upon remembering the difficulty with Bragi. He cannot hope to explicate anything even remotely resembling the truth. "It's fine. Keep going. I'm sorry to interrupt."

For all the pain he takes to hide it, even Pfeil can see Moren is curious, but he does not press. "Yet just when it seemed that all would be lost, a savior appeared before us: the Oracle of Light. She stood 'twixt us and approaching doom, and by her power did she stay the flood. Thus was Norvrandt, and Norvrandt alone, spared the fate of erasure." Carelessly does he turn the page, and Minfilia is gone from Pfeil.

"Tragedy would, however, arrive in another form. From the blasted emptiness descended horrors of strange and terrible aspect to bedevil the few folk who survived. These sin eaters were Light incarnate, and their fulgent presence stole the night from Norvrandt's sky." An arc of massive sin eaters rushes over the illustrated flood, crowding the sky, and descends upon a band of travelers too small to make out clearly. "Even now, they circle the remaining bastions of civilization, ever on the hunt for us, ever hungry for our flesh…"

Moren shuts the book with a somber finality. The ending of the tale leaves Pfeil with a morose sort of emptiness in the pit of his stomach. But he is not left with much time to reflect — "Thus did the world become what it is," says Moren, with a wholly inappropriate air of cheer. "Should you ever wish to hear the tale again, I would be glad to retell it for you."

There are, of course, a thousand things that Pfeil could say in response, but what comes out is "I can read, you know," and all he can hope to do for damage control is to force a laugh afterward.

"Of course," Moren laughs in reply. "I'll be expecting to see more of you in the Cabinet, then!"

It is Pfeil's turn to flush, now. He mumbles something even he does not quite catch and hurries downstairs and out of the Cabinet, ears pressed flat to his head, until he has returned to the plaza.

previous - next

morningstar index