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"The Archivist" chapter six - Archive

"The Archivist"

May 1, 2013
By David Prenatt , Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

Peregrin rose early and stepped outside the door of his little abode. Sunshine rafted through the trees along the southeastern hem of Archiva's horizon, not yet cresting the tops to spill over into the valley. It was a pleasant morning, filled with the hope of planting, building, and the coming summer. But shadows still lay heavy on the valley floor. Oh, yes, he thought, Dextor.

The name pervaded Peregrin's thoughts, as if a far-off voice were speaking it softly at regular intervals. "Dextor." He could destroy all this, everything he once defended and all that these people had striven to build for a century. It seemed inconceivable that one man could bring such ruin. "If it were possible," Peregrin thought, "I would kill you, Dextor."

Yet it was not possible. He had been welcomed into the Circle of Belonging. While it was true that the Guardians had not made him swear to the creed, he felt bound by it. He would honor their trust by following their way. Even if the chance presented itself, he would not kill Dextor.

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'The Archivist' by David Prenatt

Besides, he felt a strange quality of empathy for the man. Dextor may have given himself to violence, but this was because he felt it was the only way Archiva could survive in this world. Peregrin was not sure he disagreed, either. These people had dedicated themselves to a noble dream, but perhaps it was not attainable. Maybe peace and power needed to find their own balance. If this were true, Archiva would need to adapt, or it would be destroyed.

Peregrin looked toward the horizon again where the sun was gaining momentum against the dark. It has almost reached the treetops. "Light and dark," he said aloud. "Partners, not enemies. Partners in an eternal dance."

"Thus speaks the wanderer," said a voice behind him. He turned to find Mikkel sitting on a wooden bench against the wall a few feet from his door.

Fact Box

Editor's Note: This is the sixth chapter of the novel "The Archivist" by our own correspondent, David Prenatt. A new chapter will be printed each week. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did.

"The Archivist" by David Prenatt can be purchased online from Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com, eBay or any major bookseller. It can also be purchased direct from Tate Publishing and Enterprises, Mustang, Okla. Also, watch for book signing opportunities by the author in the area.

Peregrin felt a flare of ire that he should be watched even at this early hour. "Do the eyes of the Archivist never sleep?"

"Not this night, they have not," answered Mikkel calmly.

"Was there no other task to attend to other than sitting outside my door?"

Mikkel caught his tone. "Forgive me if I seem like I am spying. I have not been here all night. When I do not sleep well, however, I come to this spot to see the first light of morning."

"And it is just coincidence that I was lodged at this spot?"

Mikkel smiled wryly. "Not coincidence, no. Please, Peregrin, sit here with me awhile. I'm afraid my demeanor toward you has been less than welcoming since your arrival."

"Oh? I hadn't noticed," Peregrin said and sat down beside Mikkel.

Mikkel gave a small snort. "Please, allow me to apologize. I am deeply grateful for your rescue of my children. And I meant what I said in council. I would stake my life that you are a man of peace."

"So what exactly is your problem with me?"

Mikkel paused a long moment and then looked at Peregrin. His summer-sky eyes flickered in the half light of dawn. "I fear your coming. I have feared it for a long time."

"I don't follow you. You knew I was coming?"

"No, not exactly. I knew someone was coming, maybe in my lifetime or maybe not. Even now, you might not be that someone. But I believe you are."

"You're going to have to explain better than that."

"Yes, I know. But it is difficult. To explain, I have to share with you a great secret. And to share that secret, I have to trust you more than I trust Bliss or Morgan or anyone. I have only known you one day, Peregrin. You see my dilemma."

"Yes, I do. But you are here now, so you must believe you can trust me. Still, why bother? Why tell me anything?"

Mikkel lowered his eyes. "Because I have to. It's part of the prophecy."

"Come again?"

Mikkel sighed. "When one is elected Archivist, he is given the Journal of O'Keefe. Only the Archivist is permitted to read it. This was the way O'Keefe wanted it to be."

"So there is a prophecy in the journal?"

"No. It tells of another book that no one knows about. It is the Prophecies of Mara. O'Keefe's journal tells where it is and mandates that it be kept a secret from all others."

"Why?"

"Prophecies are dangerous things. O'Keefe wrote his journal so that succeeding generations could follow his dream and not lose the path to peace. It is very concrete and specific. But prophecies are vague and use imagery. They are poetic and can be twisted to the reader's understanding. O'Keefe felt it would be better that only his successors, who had been chosen for their adherence to his vision, would interpret the prophecies."

"So why didn't he just throw the book out? Who was Mara?"

"Mara was his wife. As he was scientific and exacting, she was creative and intuitive. She was gifted, he writes in his journal, with empathy, healing ability, and foresight. It was because of her dreams, which he had reason to take seriously, that he founded Archiva. It was she who guided him to the right people to join him and she who advised him how to prepare for the destruction to come."

"And she wrote a book of prophecies?"

"Well, predictions really. But her dreams and visions were not always concrete. She saw the world through the eyes of image and analogy. And she wrote her predictions in this way. That's why they can be misinterpreted. Usually they cannot be fully understood until they come to pass as some have."

"What are some that have come to pass?"

"The founding of Archiva, the destruction of civilization, the hard winter after the cities burned, and even Dextor."

"She predicted Dextor?"

"Yes, in a way. She wrote:

'The heart of the forest beats wild,

its savage beasts not easily quelled.

The prodigy stands on the brink.

He sees his love destroyed by that which he loves

and turns his back on his home.'"

"You think that was about Dextor?"

"Yes. After I became Archivist, I found this passage. It had no notations from former Archivists about its meaning. But it seemed clear to me. Especially now that you have come."

Peregrin looked at him. The sun's rays had cleared the horizon and rested upon Mikkel's face, softening the creases that years of leading Archiva had etched around his eyes. "Go on."

"The 'Prodigy' appears in only one other passage. Mara writes:

'In that day, the wanderer will return,

the falcon without a nest.

O'Keefe's true son

rising from the earth.

He bears no past.

He sees no future.

His heart does not beat as others' do,

yet he holds Archiva within him.

We must embrace him

and lay our knowledge before him.

Hope is his staff against the Prodigy,

Courage shall he name his blade.

As titans, they shall grapple on the heights.

As brothers, they shall test one another.

His torch shall scour the hills.

Archiva shall fall around him.'"

Peregrin was silent a long moment. "How does this describe me?"

"It may not," Mikkel answered. "But I think it does. You were surprised that I knew your name meant wanderer. It is because of this passage. Your name is also the name of a falcon. You have no home-no 'nest,' if you will. You told us in council that you know nothing of your past or of your destination, that is, your future. You bring the name of Dextor back to us, and you have fought his henchmen already. Finally, what cinches it, you awoke in an underground cave. Literally, you rose from the earth. There are too many connections. It must be you. Mara saw you coming to fight with Dextor."

"So there are lines which have not come to pass yet?"

"Yes."

"Archiva shall fall around him," Peregrin said.

"Yes," said Mikkel. "Now you see why I fear you. I believe you are the 'true son of O'Keefe,' whatever Mara meant by that, which means that your coming may mean the end of Archiva."

Peregrin could not reply to this. They sat as the sunlight grew stronger on their faces and said nothing for a long time.

Finally, Mikkel rose and stretched. "There is much I must do this day," he said, but he did not move. Another long pause ensued before he looked down at Peregrin. "Later I would like to show you something, if it's all right with you."

Peregrin stood up. "All right. I'll be down at the stables."

Mikkel smiled and extended his hand. Peregrin took it. "Good, I'll see you in a few hours." He turned and walked off.

Peregrin watched him go. Mikkel had a steady, even stride, as if each step were carefully measured and executed for the greatest efficiency to reach his destination. Yet, Peregrin realized, he did not have a particular destination. Rather, his path wove through all of Archiva-checking in on the kitchen, stopping to pass a few words with a fellow Archivan, examining a newly made hoe at the blacksmith. At one point, he squatted down beside a small vegetable garden with a low wooden fence around it and just looked at it for a long minute, as if its presence and promise gave him hope. Then he straightened up and went his way, purposeful and determined, only to bend down and speak to some children who were playing near the water pump.

"He holds Archiva within him," Peregrin thought. "Mikkel is the real wanderer, striding through the lives of his people each day." It suddenly occurred to him the enormous chance Mikkel took when he revealed the prophecies of Mara to him. If he were wrong about Peregrin, then he would be endangering the lives of everyone here. Yet he was willing to take the risk. "How much anguish does a decision like that lay on a man's shoulders?" he wondered. "I certainly hope he's not wrong about me." He shrugged and headed off toward the stables.

Peregrin had always liked horses. There had been a few in the village where he had spent the winter, and he had enjoyed caring for them, grooming them with a brush made of bristles gathered from a spiky bush that grew in the area.

The stables were a long, low building along the southwest bank, close to the tunnel where Peregrin had first entered Archiva. At least a dozen horses were there, each in its own small cubicle. A sturdy-looking woman with short blond hair was occupied feeding and watering them. She looked up as he approached, and her smile turned to a wary look as she realized she did not know him.

"I'm sorry to disturb you," Peregrin said quickly. "My name is Peregrin. I just came to Archiva yesterday. I, uh, just wanted to see the horses."

The woman straightened up from her bucket. She was about five feet four and appeared to be in her mid-thirties. "Oh," she said, "you are the one. I heard about you. My name is Lisel. I tend the horses in the morning."

"I am happy to meet you, Lisel," Peregrin said with a slight bow. "Do you enjoy your work?"

"I would enjoy no other," she said, bending again to scoop oats into the bucket. "These horses are my brothers and sisters. To me, it is a privilege to see to their needs." She took the bucket to a stall with a chestnut mare who nickered at her approach. "Here now, Willow. Here is your breakfast." She poured the oats into the feedbox. Willow nickered again and rubbed her neck against Lisel. Lisel patted it and whispered into the horse's ear.

"Could I help you this morning?" Peregrin asked. "I have had some experience with horses and-"

"Don't ask me," Lisel said as she took the bucket for more oats. "Ask Carbon."

"Carbon?"

Lisel pointed to a black Arabian in the last stall. "We refer all important questions about the stable to Carbon."

Feeling a little silly, Peregrin walked to Carbon's stall. "He is a magnificent horse," he thought. Carbon eyed him suspiciously. Peregrin said aloud, "Pardon me, Carbon. Would you mind if I helped with the morning's feeding?"

"Well, go on," Lisel said. "Step close to him and see what he says."

Peregrin was beginning to wonder if that was a good idea. Carbon gazed upon him with the look of an ancient king considering a peasant whom he might grant mercy to or he might strike dead on the spot. "In fact," Peregrin thought, "he has a very regal look to him. I suppose he does run the place." He gazed at the horse's strong withers and back.

"What is the matter?" Lisel said. "There is much work to do, and I can't wait all morning."

Peregin grinned. "I was just wondering if I should address him as 'Sire' or 'Your Majesty.'" He stepped toward the horse and held up his hand. "I mean no disrespect to you, Sir Carbon. I would only like to help serve."

The horse lowered its head, and Peregrin reached up and patted its neck. Carbon whinnied and pushed his neck against him. "That would be a 'yes,'" said Lisel. "You have been approved."

Peregrin patted the horse's neck again. "I can't think of anyone I would rather be approved by."

"That is good," said Lisel. "Now take this bucket and start giving them water."

Peregrin grinned and got to work. After the feeding, there were stalls to be cleaned. It felt good to use his muscles in hard labor. They worked steadily with little talk for nearly three hours. After his fourth stall, Lisel brought Peregrin a brush.

"You've worked hard, Peregrin. Gianna says she will give you the honor of brushing her today." She pointed to an Appaloosa in the second stall.

"An honor indeed," Peregrin said. Working around the horses had put him in a pleasant frame of mind. He had forgotten all about Mikkel, Dextor, and Archiva's problems. All that existed in the world was this stable. There was nothing he would rather do than brush Gianna.

He set to work. Gianna was a tall horse with fine features. After some pleasantries, he began brushing her, starting at the mane. He had reached her hindquarters when someone called his name sharply.

He looked up. Jorge stood outside of the stall scowling.

"Hello, Jorge. Are you having a good morning?" He returned to his brushing.

"Peregrin," Jorge said again. "All five of your Companions have been looking for you for hours. You do remember your promise to remain with us? Or is your promise only good for one day?"

Peregrin straightened up, trying not to respond to the bile in Jorge's tone. "Mikkel knew where I was going. Why did you not ask him?"

"Mikkel is the Archivist!" Jorge snapped back. "He cannot be bothered with keeping track of wanderers. You should have let one of us know where you were going."

"As I recall, it is the Companion's duty to keep track of his charge, not the other way around. Maybe you should get up earlier, Jorge." Once again he continued brushing.

Jorge stiffened and seemed ready to retort. After a moment of hard silence, he said, "Mikkel sent me to find you here. He wants to meet you by the council building."

Without looking up Peregrin said, "Then you already knew that Mikkel was aware of my location. Are you always this discourteous, Jorge, or do I just rub you the wrong way?"

Through gritted teeth Jorge said, "I am supposed to escort you to the council building now!"

Peregrin responded calmly, "I am not finished brushing Gianna. I know the way, Jorge. You can go about your important business."

"Who do you think you are, Traveler?" Jorge snapped. "You come to Archiva for one day, and they bring you into the Circle of Belonging. But it doesn't mean you know what's going on here. You have no idea what you are dealing with!" He stomped out.

Peregrin looked up at Lisel and grinned. "He's a bit touchy."

She nodded. "So I noticed. I do not know Jorge well, but be careful. His eyes have the look of one teetering on the edge of the creed."

"Hmm. I'll remember that." He gave her the brush. "Here, Gianna is finished. I should go meet Mikkel." He went to the spigot and began to fill a bucket of water to wash his hands and face.

"Thank you, Peregrin. Come back tomorrow if you're not too sore. Maybe I'll let you brush Carbon."

"I'll think I'll get to know him better first," he said. Lisel went back to her work. Peregrin splashed water on his face. It was quite refreshing after the morning's work and his encounter with Jorge, which had made his temperature rise despite his outward calmness. As he was drying off, something occurred to him and he looked up.

"Traveler," he said aloud. "He said 'Traveler.'" He got up and went to find Mikkel.

Mikkel was waiting at the council building as Jorge had said, but he was not idle. He and Carlin were heavily engaged in an animated conversation, both looking agitated. They broke off as he arrived.

"Ah, Peregrin," said Mikkel. "Carlin and I were just discussing the council."

Carlin nodded toward Peregrin. "I still cannot believe Mikkel's contention that one of the Guardians is in league with Dextor. I have trouble even believing that Dextor has truly returned. All we have so far is the name, which you heard."

"Six Rangers were sent this morning to seek further information," Mikkel said. "They will bring us what we need to know."

"How many people saw them leave?" Peregrin asked.

"Just myself, Bliss, and Morgan," Mikkel answered.

"Mikkel, listen. What if the traitor was not a Guardian? Would there be any way for someone else to get the information Dextor wants?"

Mikkel shook his head. "I don't think so. Did you have someone in mind?"

"How well do you know Jorge?"

"Jorge!" said Carlin so sharply that Peregrin jumped. "Why would you suspect him?"

"I don't know him at all," Mikkel said. "But Carlin was his mentor. He's a Forester."

"And he is a good man, if a little short tempered," Carlin said. "But again, why would you suspect him?"

"Well, for one, he has shown animosity toward me since I came here, as if he has reason to dislike me."

"That is just his way," Carlin said. "Everyone knows Jorge is irascible and struggles with the creed. That's why he was delayed coming into the Circle of Belonging. And he has been passed over twice to become a Ranger. We all agree that he does not yet have the temperament."

"Which explains why it irks him that I was accepted into the Circle after only one day. And it could explain why he might be willing to betray Archiva. But there is another thing. He was angry at me, and he called me 'Traveler.'"

Carlin shrugged. "So?"

"I said in the ruins that few people know my name means 'wanderer.' Fewer still know that I prefer 'traveler.' Only you two, Bliss, Waterman, Cornel, Janel, and," he paused, "and those three Terists I chased away. It seems very odd that he would choose that word in a moment of anger unless he had heard it from someone to whom it was not a pleasant name."

Mikkel and Carlin were silent a moment. Then Carlin shook his head. "No, this is going too far. We can't go around suspecting every resident of Archiva for stray words. Besides, I know Jorge. Despite his bitterness and ambition, he loves Archiva. No, I won't believe it. Mikkel, we cannot allow ourselves to give in to suspicion and hysteria. Now, having spoke my peace, I have work to do. Peace to your heart, Mikkel, Peregrin." He bowed.

They bowed in return and watched him walk off. Mikkel sighed. "Carlin is afraid, I think."

"Of what?"

"Of Dextor. They lived, fought, ate, and laughed together for years. No one was closer to Dextor than him, not even Franceen."

"Then why is he afraid?"

Mikkel looked at him. "I thought the Waterman told you. It was Carlin's testimony that convicted Dextor. And it was Carlin who proposed that he be banished. He said there was no way Dextor could continue to live among us. I think the shock of seeing Dextor kill those Terists destroyed their friendship. He told me that after they brought Dextor back, he tried to talk to him, and it was as if he were someone else entirely. I think, in a way, Carlin felt Dextor had turned his back on him as well as the creed. So he turned his back on Dextor."

"Hmm. I guess that would make me afraid of his return too. You sent for me?"

"Yes. I have something to show you, though I fear to do so. But as I said earlier, I feel that I must. Will you come with me?"

"Lead the way."

Mikkel turned toward the council building. He stopped and looked up at the massive building for a long moment.

"This was here before O'Keefe."

"I gathered that," Peregrin said.

"You've seen its twin in the ruins. But there's a lot more to these buildings than meets the eye."

Mikkel fell silent and entered the building. They walked across the lobby to the big double doors that led into the council room. Passing through that room, they came to a small door at the far end, which Peregrin had not noticed. Mikkel opened the door to reveal a walk-in closet with bare walls. A couple of old, broken chairs and a small wooden box were the only things inside. Mikkel stepped inside and turned to see Peregrin's puzzled look. He smiled.

"We have another proverb: 'To see Archiva only with one's eyes is not to see it at all.' Come on."

Peregrin stepped inside, and Mikkel shut the door. He could not see what Mikkel did in the darkness, but he heard a kachunk; and suddenly light poured into the closet from the opposite side as a panel slid aside to reveal a corridor behind it. This corridor was lit by a series of mirrors arranged to catch light from small vents, which presumably led to the outside world. "Incredible," he whispered.

Mikkel grinned. "It was once powered by another type of light called 'electric.' O'Keefe meant for us to keep that power in this area, but we lost the tech knowledge to do so."

"So you invented this? Amazing!"

"Well, we did not really invent it. We borrowed it from the ancient Egyptians." He took two oil lanterns from a shelf, lit them, and passed one to Peregrin. "Come. Very few inhabitants of Archiva have been here or know of its existence. Only a select group of Guardians."

"Dextor?"

"Yes. He has been here. And he probably suspects there is more beyond it. He has seen the twin building in the ruins as well and would guess, as you did, that they are related."

"What is there?"

Mikkel paused "All in good time. Let's begin with this building."

The corridor continued for nearly one hundred feet, ending in a blank wall. There were four doors on either side. "What's in those?" Peregrin said.

"See for yourself," Mikkel said. He drew forth a key from his jacket and unlocked one. The door swung inward.

Peregrin stepped inside. The walls were lined with shelves from top to bottom. Three free-standing shelving units that reached the ceiling ran parallel to one another down the length of the room. They were stuffed with books.

Peregrin gave a low whistle. "A library," he said.

"One of many," Mikkel said. "This is the Forestry Room. All of these books deal with different aspects of the forest. The rooms on this corridor are filled."

"This corridor?"

"Literally, we've barely scratched the surface." He stepped out, and Peregrin followed. He relocked the door, and they continued down the corridor to the blank wall at the end. It was paneled with a design of interlocking segments. Mikkel reached out both hands and pushed on a two segments about five feet from the floor and four feet apart. The segments pushed into the wall, and something clicked. He then pushed directly on the center of the wall and a door-sized section slid easily inward and then to the side.

Peregrin followed him through. They were on a metal-grid landing. A staircase made of the same metal descended into darkness. Mikkel pushed the section of wall back into its place, and it clicked. Peregrin peered over the railing but could see little past the first few steps.

Mikkel sighed. "The secrets of Archiva run deep."

"Indeed they do."

"You must realize, Peregrin, that you are only the fourth living person to stand on this landing. The others are Bliss and Morgan. You have been with us for one day, and you are penetrating our deepest secrets."

"I am not asking for this, Mikkel," Peregrin said. "Why are you showing me this so freely?"

"I told you, I am convinced you are the wanderer that Mara spoke of," Mikkel answered. "I have pondered this through many nights, as have Archivists before me. 'We must embrace him and lay our knowledge before him.' We have agreed throughout the decades that when the wanderer returned, no secret must be kept from him."

"You're taking a big chance with me then. How can you be so sure?"

Mikkel was silent a long moment. "What do you know of me, Peregrin? What do you know of my past?"

"Waterman told me how you were elected Archivist and how your wife died."

Mikkel's eyes were intent upon his. "Joy was everything to me. My life, my breath, my spirit, my joy. When she died, I died as well. I thought that was it. I couldn't go on. I could no longer serve the creed. I thought about leaving Archiva altogether. No creed, no mission to the world was worth her life. My nights were haunted by the image of her death. My days were a sleeping walk through a hollow world. I knew I was going mad. I resolved to go away."

"What stopped you?"

"Two things. One was named Cornel and the other Janel. They were not yet four years old. I sat in my chair one night, lost in my numbness, when I felt a tug on the leg of my pants. They were standing there looking at me. Without a word, they climbed into my lap and put their little arms around my neck, one on each side. Janel looked at me and said, 'We miss Mommy too, Daddy. But we'll stay here for you.' And as I sat there, stunned by the weight of that statement, Cornel said, 'Yes, Daddy, we'll be your joy.'

"With those words I truly looked at them, and I saw Joy in them. I realized that she was not dead. She was living and breathing before me. What was more, I suddenly knew I could find her anywhere in Archiva, because this was her whole life. She believed in Archiva with every fiber of her being. She was Archiva, and so Archiva was her. That's why she told me not to kill the man who killed her, because she believed in the creed more than anything. The pent-up grief poured out of me. I wept, I hugged them, and I laughed. I said, 'Yes, you are my joy,' over and over again. And they hugged me and cried too."

"So what does this have to do with trusting me?"

"I realized then that I had to trust my sight. I am not only a descendent of O'Keefe but of Mara. I share some of her abilities to see the true character of a person. I could see Joy living in our children. I could see Dextor as he drifted from the path of peace. I tried to stop him. We had many moonlit talks. But in the end, I could see he had gone too far. I have been looking at you since you came. I can see you for what you are."

"And what am I?"

"A fire."

"A what?"

"You are a fire that has begun to burn in our midst. When the time comes, you will either destroy Archiva or save it. I don't know. I do know that you will forever change us. I believe this is your purpose. You are O'Keefe's true son, and you have come to Archiva to set it ablaze. Therefore, I must help you."

"Help me? If you really believe what you say, you should throw me out!"

Mikkel shook his head. "No. Dextor will destroy us, and the knowledge of this place will fall into his hands. He has the power to do so. I think only you can stop him. I must help you by showing you where our true power lies."

"You are mad."

Mikkel smiled slightly. "Maybe so. Do you dare to come and see?" He started down the metal staircase.

Peregrin sighed and followed. After twelve steps the staircase turned back on itself and went another twelve steps to a landing with the outline of a door on the wall. Mikkel passed this by and continued down the staircase, which doubled back again. "What lies beyond that door?" Peregrin asked as they passed it.

"Another corridor and more libraries. Nothing too dangerous."

They continued downward past a total of four landings until they came to the very bottom. As they descended, a soft glow appeared from below and grew stronger as they approached the bottom. The staircase ended in the center of a simple round area about thirty feet in diameter. The walls were a polished, white metal. Turning, Peregrin saw two massive metal doors behind the staircase. The illumination, he noted, did not come from oil lamps but from sconces set in the wall.

"We are far beneath Archiva now, at least seventy feet from the surface," Mikkel said. "Put your lamp on the floor. You will not need it here, nor can you take it inside. Here, you see, we have not lost the tech knowledge." He walked to the doors and touched the wall beside them with his palm. A metal panel about one-foot square slid aside, and a small platform slid out. On it was a device with ten buttons numbered zero to nine.

Mikkel turned to Peregrin. "This place was built by the leaders as a secret laboratory. O'Keefe converted it to be his storehouse of knowledge. But he knew something of power, and he equipped this place with a perpetual power source. I do not know how it works. The journal only tells how to activate it so it will recognize my touch and how to open the doors.

"There is no one besides myself who has been through these doors and no one who even knows of its existence. This is as deep as the secrets of Archiva go, Peregrin. This is the heart of Archiva." He turned and quickly pushed a number of the buttons in succession. After a pause, there was a click, and Mikkel pushed another sequence of buttons.

There was a hiss and a whoosh. The massive metal doors slid apart and disappeared into their respective walls. Peregrin stepped with Mikkel through them. For a moment, all was dark. Then the light began to rise from the walls around them. Sconces similar to the ones in the stairwell slowly gave off an increasing glow, until the entire room was illuminated. Peregrin gasped.

He was standing in the doorway of a great circular room. Directly in front of him was the beginning of a bookcase spanning from the ground to the high ceiling, full of books and spiraling away toward some unseen center.

A pain tore through his skull, and he covered his eyes with both hands. Then the pain subsided. He blinked and then looked. The immense room was still there, just as he had envisioned it the night before. The ceiling was at least forty feet high, and its wall curved away at such a slight angle that he knew the room must be gigantic. The bookcase in front of him was metal and flowed away, following the arc of the room.

"Behold the Archive," Mikkel said in a low voice. Here lies all the knowledge O'Keefe could save before the Great Destruction. Here lies the knowledge of past ages. Here lies the future. This is the true wealth and secret of Archiva."

He turned to Peregrin. "As you go deeper in, the knowledge becomes more advanced. We have only progressed less than one circuit of the bookshelf in a century. We only proceed as we feel our spirit has developed along the path of peace.

"Dextor knows there is more knowledge in Archiva than we have employed. He knows there were mighty weapons of war and powerful machines. The knowledge to build them is here, but we are not ready for it. This is what he seeks. There is power here beyond imagining and death beyond telling. Are you all right, Peregrin?"

Peregrin did not answer. His mind was racing, spiraling as if it were the bookshelf, toward the center of his being. Information was flowing through him as it had many times before. Only now, the amount of information was immense, and the speed at which it flowed was dizzying. The power of it made him reel, and he reached out a hand to the wall to steady himself. Then all went black.

He opened his eyes to see Mikkel looking down at him, concerned. There was a cool pressure along the back of his head that he suddenly realized was the floor. He sat up slowly and blinked, trying to process the fragments of information that still echoed around his mind.

"Peregrin," Mikkel said, "what happened? You teetered suddenly and fell. I almost did not catch you."

Mikkel took his hand and helped him to rise. Peregrin shook his head, blinked again, and looked around the room with new eyes.

"Peregrin, what is it? What is the matter?"

He looked at Mikkel. "I know this place," he said. "I have been here before."

 
 

 

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