InThe Destruction of the Books, the Vault of All Known Knowledge was destroyed and its learned caretaker abducted, leaving the forces against darkness without resource and leadership.The world as they know it and all that is good are now threatened by the same shadows that have oppressed the continent beyond the sea.The only hope for enlightenment and salvation lies in a lowly librarian adventurer named Juhg who unknowingly brought about the cataclysm, and now must save the day by seeking out his master and another store of knowledge that has been held in secret, and in doing so unlock the mysteries of the past so as to allow the emergence of a new guardian... At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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June 30, 2005
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Excerpt from Lord of the Libraries by Mel Odom
Lord of the Libraries
"They're Our Monsters!"
One-Eyed Peggie lurched hard over to starboard and a horrendous scraping noise drawn out like a banshee's wail filled the ship's waist from prow to stern.
Only quick reflexes, a determination not to mar pages, and years of experience aboard a sailing vessel allowed Juhg to keep the freshly dipped quill from the paper before he could render a mistaken stroke. His other hand slapped at the papers, pinning them in place and managing to hang on to the inkwell.
Then the fear set in as he, like all the dwarves gathered in the galley, waited expectantly for the sound to be repeated. Or for someone to scream that the ship's hull had been ruptured and she was sinking.
He sat alone at a table in the pirate ship's galley working on the journal. Lanterns filled the area with golden light. He was the only dweller among the group seated at the tables. Brown breeches and a maroon shirt, his clothing marked him as different from the others as much as his smaller stature. His fair hair and light-complexioned skin spoke of a life spent mostly indoors with some time outside. He was also, despite a month of travel aboard the vessel, cleaner than most of the crew.
One-Eyed Peggie was a pirate ship, one of those given the duty of patrolling the Blood-Soaked Sea so that no ships from the mainland sailed out to discover Greydawn Moors and the Vault of All Known Knowledge hidden there. Juhg had sailed aboard her before, but never with such grim purpose as he did now.
"That weren't just me, were it?" a dwarven pirate asked in the tense silence that followed the noise. One-Eyed Peggie still rocked as she leveled out again. "I mean, I've had a little grog to drink, but I didn't think I just imagined that kind of cauterwaulin'--"
"We've run aground," another dwarven pirate cried out in a trembling voice. "We've been skirtin' too near the coast. I knew this was gonna happen. There's too much broken rock and reefs there. The cap'n knew that, too. He knew he orter be more careful."
"I didn't think that were just me," the first one replied. He finished his cup of grog and glanced anxiously around.
"Stow that bilge," another pirate growled. His name was Starrit and he'd been with One-Eyed Peggie under the old captain as well. Most of his life had been spent tending the pirate ship. "Cap'n Hallekk knows whereat he's a doin'. I'll not suffer ye to be a-talkin' behind his back."
The accuser glared at the other pirate, but said nothing more.
Captain Hallekk, Juhg knew, had the respect of his crew.
The other pirates got up from their meals, automatically picking up their plates and cups so they wouldn't slide around unattended if the ship should hit again. Gradually, the ship righted herself, pulled back into position by the ballast she carried.
Juhg allowed himself a deep breath as he waited, as every pirate in the galley did, for the fear-filled cry that One-Eyed Peggie had been holed. He'd spent enough time aboard ships while journeying with Grandmagister Lamplighter on errands for the Vault of All Known Knowledge that he felt certain he'd know if the vessel had been damaged and was now taking on water. In years past, he'd gone down in both ships and boats while adventuring with the Grandmagister.
I know this ship, Juhg told himself nervously. I've sailed on her many times. If she weren't all right, I'd know.
In fact, the Grandmagister had gotten shanghaied aboard One-Eyed Peggie all those years ago and set upon the path that had led him to his destiny.Edgewick Lamplighter had learned to wash dishes and peel potatoes in this very galley, something only cooks did at the Vault of All Known Knowledge.
Juhg had seen dozens of drawings and sketches of the galley in the books that the Grandmagister had written that detailed his adventures with the pirates then and later. A lot of time at sea the galley had been a place where councils of war met, where wounds were tended, and where the pirates came for safe harbor during fierce storms or lulls in hot seas.
"Wasn't a sandbar or a reef," another pirate said. "Woulda hit again if'n it was."
"Unless we just got lucky," said a third.
Without warning, One-Eyed Peggie lurched again, turning even harder to port than she had to starboard. All of the dwarves who had been standing ended up on the floor, squalling and hollering.
"Topside!" a raucous voice screeched from the companionway leading to the deck. "Topside! Topside, ye scurvy dogs! Cap'n's orders! Squawk!"
In the next instant, one of the ugliest and most malignant birds Juhg had ever seen flapped into the kitchen. The bird was a crimson horned rhowdor, intelligent as any being, some said. Of course, Critter, the bird, maintained that he was more intelligent than most.
The bird's harsh hatchet face, bearing its cruelly curved beak, looked merciless. The features matched their owner's disposition perfectly. Bright pink horns, one of them broken off midway, thrust up four inches, each of them curled. He only had one bright emerald eye. The other was covered with a fierce black leather eyepatch that featured a skull made up of shiny brass studs. A gold earring dangled from one feathered eartuft.
With a graceful flap of wings, Critter landed on the table where Juhg worked. That was impressive considering that One-Eyed Peggie still lurched back and forth. The effort was doubly impressive because the rhowdor had only one leg. The other was a wooden fork carefully whittled to size and fitted to his leg stump.
Whatever we hit, Juhg thought as he held on to the table, or Whatever hit us, was huge. The pirate vessel was large and wide-bodied to handle a lot of cargo and men.
"Avast there, ye miserable flea-biters!" Critter screamed, flapping his wings menacingly and limping on the fork as he walked across the table."Get yer fannies to movin', ye goldbrickers! Cap'n's orders! Peggie's takin' on water, she is, an' I'll have everyone of ye topside fer orders or I'll keelhauls ye meself!"
The dwarven pirates scrambled up and made for the door immediately. Despite the fact that he was a bird, Critter enjoyed all the rank and privileges of a member of the crew. Currently he served as Third Mate under Captain Hallekk.
Critter turned his one-eyed attention to Juhg. "Squawk! Ye get movin', too, ye mangy cur!" The rhowdor had few true friends on this ship, but he was a fine Third Mate, proving himself both irascible and unyielding. "Cap'n needs ever' hand. Ever' able body he can get. We're even takin' dwellers."
Juhg capped his inkwell, placed his quill into the box of writing instruments he had, closed his book and tied it shut, then shoved everything into the waterproof rucksack hanging from the back of his chair with his traveling cloak. He pulled on the cloak, then hoisted the rucksack over his shoulder.
"Ye think ye remember how to handle yerself?" the rhowdor challenged.
"Yes," Juhg answered, loath to get into an argument with the meanspirited bird. "It hasn't been overlong since I was aboard this ship."
"Then why are ye here a-jabberin' to me when ye should be topside?"
Exasperated, tense, and fatigued from not sleeping well and worrying about the Grandmagister's whereabouts for the last month, Juhg stared at the short-tempered and unkind bird. He was tired of getting pushed around. For the last month, Craugh the wizard had kept Juhg with his nose buried in work, penning one book and making copies of it. The wizard had also ducked every question regarding how the Grandmagister had ended up in the hands of their enemies at the battle for Greydawn Moors.
More to the point, Juhg was tired of carrying around the guilt that he was more to blame for the Grandmagister's predicament than any of the others. Perhaps Edgewick Lamplighter and Craugh had schemed together to put the Grandmagister in a position of vulnerability, but Juhg had cost the Grandmagister his way out by getting captured and needing rescue himself. The Grandmagister hadn't hesitated and had immediately given Juhgthe potion that had gotten him free of the goblinkin ship. One-Eyed Peggie had swooped in and picked him up from the sea almost immediately.
But the Grandmagister had been left trapped with his foes. The three ships had made straightaway for the mainland, toward the South where the goblinkin forces were strongest. Alone and in dangerous waters, One-Eyed Peggie and her crew of dwarven pirates hadn't been able to effect the Grandmagister's rescue.
Then again, with Craugh not talking to him much over the past month, Juhg wasn't even sure that was the plan.
"What are ye a-starin' at?" the rhowdor demanded.
Juhg didn't know what to say. The bird didn't deserve all the rancor he felt compelled to unleash on him.
"Keep it up," Critter threatened, "just keep it up an' I'll peck yer eyes out for ye, I will."
Ignoring the bird, knowing that he could never win an argument with Critter--or, if he did, that the bird would never admit it--Juhg headed for the door.
One-Eyed Peggie lurched again, and this time the sound of a timber cracking shot through the waist. The report was enough to cause a sailing man's stomach to knot.
Caught off-balance, Juhg flailed for the table. The table, like the benches around it, was secured to the floor by trunnels. The wooden nails made certain the furniture would not move. He fell across the table hard enough to knock the wind from his lungs.
Critter narrowly avoided being flattened. He ran awkwardly across the table on his mismatched legs, flapping his wings and cursing the whole way. His fork pegleg slipped out from under him suddenly and he fell in a rolling tangle of feathers. Crimson and yellow down puffed out around him. He flared his wings at the last second and took to the air.
The ship lurched back the other way as she was hammered once more. Critter banged into the wall and went down with an undignified plop. He cursed terribly and got himself up once more. He rubbed a wing on his head and his good eye squinted in pain.
"What's going on?" Juhg demanded as he righted himself. The ship wasn't striking something. He knew that now. Something was striking the pirate ship.
"Ye'll find out, dweller." The rhowdor flapped for the doorway. "Just ye hurry topside. There's things to be done, an' scribblin' in them books ain't gonna much help keep ol' Peggie afloat."
The ship lurched again, twisting violently as she fought the water, the wind, and whatever was hitting her. Critter sailed into a wall, struck his head on a lantern, and cursed in a manner that would have made even the most callous dwarven pirate aboard the ship blush.
With the rucksack hanging over his shoulder, Juhg made his way through the hallway to the ladder leading up to the deck. Dwarven pirates ran through the waist, already carrying out Captain Hallekk's orders.
Has it come to this, then? Juhg wondered. Have we come all this way only to be sunk in unfriendly waters by the mainland?
He tried to put the bitter and depressing thoughts out of his mind. But he couldn't. He knew that back in Greydawn Moors people died every day while defending their island home and the remnant of the Great Library from the goblinkin ships that remained lurking in the Blood-Soaked Sea.
And all he'd done was make three copies of a book no one might see. If he hadn't been trapped aboard One-Eyed Peggie and hadn't felt so responsible for the Grandmagister's current situation, he wouldn't have stayed. The feeling of futility filling him was one of the reasons he'd tried to leave the Vault of All Known Knowledge and his life as a First Level Librarian. Only the book he'd found with Ertonomous Dron had pulled him back to the island.
All those lives wasted, Juhg thought bitterly, thinking of the sailors aboard Windchaser who had died to acquire that book, only to deliver a trap into the Library.
It was too much to live with during the time he worked on the books. All while they helplessly pursued the goblinkin ship that had taken the Grandmagister captive during the battle for Greydawn Moors. So far, the three goblinkin ships had remained together, too strong for the dwarven pirates to take, but neither did the goblin captains know that they were followed by the mystic eyeball that gave One-Eyed Peggie her name. The monster's eyeball, taken by Peggie herself (who had been one-legged), had the power of watching over every sailor who crewed aboardship.
"Are we holed?" Juhg asked one of the passing pirates who hurried toward the hold that led to the cargo area with an armful of tools.
"She's cracked," the pirate admitted. He was scarred and thick, a sailingman who'd seen more than his share of rough seas and ill luck. "We're takin' on water, but we'll get her shipshape again soon enough. Long as that beastie don't find a way to smash us to pieces first."
"What beast?" Juhg asked. The Blood-Soaked Sea was filled with all manner of creatures.
The pirate waved him off, then dropped down the hold.
Feeling the impulse to go see for himself how bad the damage was, then reconsidering because he didn't know enough to help and because he really didn't want to know how bad things were if they were bad, Juhg pulled himself up the simple wooden ladder.
Rain splashed his face before he reached the deck. The world was dark gray overhead and dull gray all around him. Dwarven pirates ran along One-Eyed Peggie's deck wearing hooded rain slickers and carrying harpoons.
When had it started raining? Juhg didn't know. He'd been committed to writing down everything he could remember about Imarish, the city where the Grandmagister had left something, he'd said, for Juhg to find.
Craugh the wizard had insisted that be done so others could perhaps find the something the Grandmagister had left there for him in case he got killed along the way. The statement, especially while on a sea full of monsters frenzied by blood, hadn't offered Juhg any comfort. But Craugh, as always, was a rocky shoal of pragmatism.
"All hands keep a sharp lookout!" Critter crowed from the mid 'yards. "Stick 'im in the eye if ye gets the chance! That thrice-blasted beast won't like that none, I'll warrant!"
Juhg gazed toward the stern bridge, thinking he would see Hallekk or Craugh there. Instead, only the helmsman stood at the great wheel. A dozen dwarven pirates flanked him, all of them peering down into the swirling gray-green water that surrounded them.
Thick fog pressed upon them, flitting in layers across One-Eyed Peggie's rain-slick deck. Juhg could scarcely see either end of the ship. Lanterns were lit fore and aft so that she might be seen by other ships. However, getting seen was one of the last things anyone aboard the pirate ship wished for. They were in dangerous waters. Goblinkin in their stolen vessels and true human pirates sailed these seas, always searching for the valuable trade shipments the south mainland made with the north.
"Dreezil," a familiar voice barked, "do ye see anythin'? Anythin' at all?"
"No, Cap'n Hallekk. I see water boilin', but no hide nor hair of no creature." Dreezil stood watch in the crow's nest high above the deck. He was lost in the thick fog, and Juhg didn't think the young dwarf could even see the deck from where he was.
Another blow struck One-Eyed Peggie, rolling her over to starboard. Again, the impact came from below the waterline. Juhg thought about the crew down in the hold working to repair the cracked timber. How fast were they taking on water? He remembered the three times he'd tramped through rising water to help seal a puncture in the cargo hold of a ship. None of those experiences had been pleasant. Twice the ship had gone down despite their best efforts, and Juhg had never gone down once himself.
"Well," Cap'n Hallekk bawled in frustration, "it ain't gone away, now has it? It's still knockin' us about like we was a child's toy. There's a monster down there, an' I want it found."
Holding on to the railing, getting more soaked by the minute, Juhg made his way forward. The ship rolled slowly from side to side as she recovered her balance.
On the forward deck, Hallekk stood braced and ready with a harpoon in one massive hand. The dwarven captain was nearly as broad as he was tall, carrying massive shoulders and standing a few inches taller than most dwarves, though still shorter than most humans or elves. His fierce beard trailed down to his belly, woven with bits of yellowed ivory carved into the shapes of fish and other sea creatures. Gold hoops hung from his ears. Scars marked his face and arms, testifying to the long and violent years he had put in as a Blood-Soaked Sea pirate. The pirates' reputations were often earned with a weapon and bravery.