I’ve decided to share part of a chapter of my current work in progress, the fantasy novel A Goddess Awakens (working title). [I’ve not had a chance to work on it much lately, but I hope to get back to it soon.]
In the middle of a wide forest clearing, a large marble building gleamed in the late afternoon light. The single-story structure stood rectangular in shape and had a gold-plated dome in the center of the roof which sunlight glinted brightly off of. Small gold-plated cupolas had been placed atop the four corners of the building, and a silver dragon statue sat atop each, as well as atop the dome. A stone wall a few hundred yards out surrounded the building.
Men of varying ages and wearing robes of varying colors were out in the courtyard. Some sat on benches scattered about, reading books. Others tended to a large vegetable garden off to one side. A few others were practicing swordsmanship with wooden swords. Occasionally, someone inside the building would walk by a window and pause to watch the people outside before continuing on.
This was the temple of the dragon god, Samaryu.
High above the temple, a falcon glided in lazy circles in the cloudless blue sky. Slowly, it made its way down, eventually landing on a branch of a tree on the edge of the clearing. There, it watched the temple and the people outside it with its beady black eyes.
After a while, the sky began to grow darker, and a gong sounded from the temple. The men in the courtyard stopped what they were doing and began returning inside the temple by way of a large set of oaken double doors in the front of the building.
The falcon’s head gave a slight nod as it whispered to itself in the voice of a young woman, “Now.” There was a brief flash of light which went unnoticed by the priests. When the light faded, a small brown bird had replaced the falcon.
The wren took off, flying towards the temple and the open doors. It flew slow enough and high enough not to draw the attention of the priests. It also made itself appear to be heading towards the roof, in case anyone was watching. At the last moment, just as the doors were closing, it slipped inside near the top of the doorway.
None of the priests noticed that the small bird had followed them in and roosted on the bust of a silver dragon over the door frame. As the priests made their way down the hallway, some going left, some right, and a few down the intersecting corridor straight ahead, Wren watched them and thought back to what Tarn had said about where the library was located.
When Raven had contacted her, Wren had been surprised. She had not expected to hear from her teacher for a while yet. She had been even more surprised by what Raven had asked her to do and why she wanted it done. She could understand Raven wanting to help Tarn, given their history together and the fact that Raven’s home was not far from the temple – only a few hours when flying as a bird – but the story about the swordswoman and elf was astonishing, as was High Priest Usiah’s actions. Yet as surprised by everything as she was, Wren was more excited to be part of the adventure her teacher was on – and to finally be using her thieving skills again. She had not used them much since becoming Raven’s student five years earlier and she was eager to make sure they had not become dull.
Once the priests were gone, Wren left her perch on the dragon bust and flew off down the torch-lit hallway to the left. When the hallway stopped going straight and branched to the right, she followed it. After a few hundred feet, she found a set of closed double doors, just as Tarn had said she would. She landed on the floor in front of the doors and looked around, making sure no one was nearby and that all the doors she had passed and all those further down the hallway were closed. Seeing that they were and that there was no one around, Wren changed back into human form. Following a brief flash of light, the small brown bird was gone and in its place stood a young woman of about eighteen years of age. Her shoulder-length mousy brown hair was pulled back into a small tail by a leather thong. She wore a brown cloth tunic over a loose white shirt and brown leggings. Across her waist was a leather belt to which she had attached a sheathed dagger on her left hip and a small leather bag on her right. Completing the ensemble were brown, soft leather boots.
Wren leaned an ear against the crack in the doors but could hear nothing from inside the library. Kneeling down, she peered through the keyhole with a jade-green eye. All she could see was darkness, though. She made a quick check that she was still alone then stood up, grasped one of the brass doorknobs, and turned it, only to find it locked. With a small sigh, she reached into the small bag on her belt and brought out a small purple cloth pouch. She made another check of the hallway then knelt down in front of the keyhole and opened the pouch, revealing an assortment of small metal sticks and hooks of varying shapes and thickness.
Wren studied the keyhole for a moment then selected a stick and hook from her pouch and stuck them in the keyhole. Giving them a few deft lifts and twists, she was rewarded after a few seconds with a slight click from the lock. With a small smile, she removed the lock picks and returned them to the pouch, then placed the pouch back in her bag. Wren then stood back up, checked the hallway once more, grasped the doorknob, and turned it.
The library door swung open with a slight creak that made Wren wince. She hurried inside the library and closed the door behind her.
Wren found herself engulfed in blackness. She reached into the little bag at her waist again and brought out a small glass sphere. She softly spoke a couple of words to the bauble and it started to glow with a soft white light. Wren tossed the sphere up into the air. The globe stopped and hovered just over her head. The light from the floating bauble only lit an area of about ten feet around Wren, but it was enough for the young mage to get her bearings and see what was around her.
Wren stood in the center aisle. On both sides of her were rows and rows of shelves full of books and scrolls. As she slowly made her way down the aisle, the floating globe moving with her, Wren could make out an occasional table and chair between some rows of shelves. She could also barely see, in the distance, unlit oil lamps on sconces hung intermittently on the walls.
When Wren reached the back of the library, she found herself faced with sets of shelves full of books and scrolls covering the back wall, just as Tarn had described. Recalling what the red priest had told her, Wren went over to the next to last set of shelves on her right. “Tarn said Usiah had reached out to this shelf,” she muttered to herself, thinking aloud. “He had to have touched something to get it to open. But what?”
She studied the shelves with a practiced eye. She saw scrolls and books about history and theology, theories on a variety of topics, collections of spells and poetry, and an assortment of other things. But nothing that seemed to stand out to Wren as out of the ordinary. Wren tried pulling on some of the books, thinking one might be a disguised trigger. But nothing happened, so she studied the shelves themselves. She carefully looked over the casing and the shelves the books and scrolls rested on and ran her fingers lightly over the edges, giving an occasional push or tap on the wood when a spot seemed a little suspicious.
About halfway down the set of shelves Wren found a place where a small spot felt slightly raised. A closer look revealed a barely visible small button in the center of a section of tree ring. If she had not been looking for it, she doubted she would have noticed it. Fairly certain this was what she was looking for, she pressed the button. A barely-heard click sounded, then the whole set of shelves quietly swung back into the wall like a door, leaving Wren staring in mild surprise at the black opening. Though she had been expecting it, it was still a little startling to see it.
The light from the globe floating over her head illuminated a little of the opening, showing the young mage that what the shelves hid was not a room but a narrow passageway. Not sure what may lay ahead, Wren placed her hand on the dagger at her hip, ready to draw it at a moment’s notice. Then she stepped into the darkness.
She had barely gone a few feet when she sensed the set of shelves close quietly behind her. As they did, she turned to look at the back of the shelves. She studied the wooden panel by the light of the globe, looking for the trigger to open the doorway when she was ready to leave. It didn’t take her long to find it, since it didn’t have to be hidden on this side of the passageway. The small lever was prominently displayed on the wall to the right of the panel, next to a lantern which Wren passed on using as she did not want to leave any trace of her presence. A simple pull on the lever when it was time to leave would open the door. Wren would just need to remember to step back out of the way after pulling it.
Having found out how to leave, Wren turned from the door and headed down the dark passageway, going slowly so she would not miss anything or run into something, since the globe’s light did not reach very far. But there was nothing to see.
The empty passageway ended after about fifty yards, bringing Wren to a stop at a closed wooden door. She grasped the handle to open the door, but found it locked. “Of course,” she muttered. Wren pulled out her pouch of lock picks from the small bag at her waist, studied the keyhole, and selected two picks. Within seconds, she heard the satisfying sound of the lock clicking. She put the lock picks away and opened the door.