Yes, I know... I'll have a page that links to ALL the chapters, in order, by the end of this weekend.
So far Untitled - Chapter 7: The Library of Stones
Donnabel put on an apron. It was green, and had the Cinnicookie logo on it. She grabbed a large duster from the wall, and started down the stone stairs. It was cleaning duty, and while it was completely boring and humdrum, right now it was the safest place to be.
She couldn't believe the story the soggy Harona relayed to her. It seemed too incredible. The Soot Man. Thousands of Shiante. The leap from the obelisk. The Half Breed's voice speaking to her from her memories and guiding her what to do. But the cuts on her back and calves, along with the smell of burnt Shiante was unmistakable. They had to return right away to Lady Sarcastia! And yet, Harona seemed hesitant.
Harona was pretty shaken up, Donnabel thought. "She wasn't thinking straight. She should have ran. I would have run..." she said to herself, as she entered the library.
The Gate Keeper Library, or at least this one, was a repository of old knowledge and artifacts. It contained things of Gate Keeper value impossible to price, and thus, was guarded by the half-corpse Lillybeth.
Halt dear stranger and pause for a tale,
A story of sorrow and women who wail.
You have come to a guarded keep,
And you may find the treasure you come to seek...
Lillybeth, who in life had been cut clean in two somewhere in the 1700s, was the upper torso of a late opera singer with the lower half of her contained in a steam-powered wheeled apparatus, which also powered a harpsichord-sounding device that played as she sang, along with a small calliope.
You must present your authority
In a quite passable form to me.
If you fail, you will find you end
With some wound you cannot possibly mend...
"It's Donnabel, Lillybeth. Good to see you again."
A long time... it has been since a spell
Since I have listened longingly to thee
Tell a story of a clever young ladyyy....
Awkward. While most of the Gate Keepers avoided the desperateness of Lillybeth's loneliness, Donnabel felt sorry for her, having to sit in the library all alone, singing sad songs of jilted lovers and names of famous socialites only she still remembered from her time. Donnabel knew that Lillybeth had been murdered by her drunken husband, who them framed the man he incorrectly accused of being unfaithful with his wife, resulting in a hanging, which lead to two murders between families, which resulted in more hangings, and then a family feud, which ended up, oddly enough, in the invention of the Cotton Gin.
The song about it was no less than 24 stanzas.
"Lillybeth, I am just here to do some routine cleaning and dusting. You know... duty and all. I'd..." Donnabel paused, because she felt this was an uncomfortable, but necessary lie, "I'd... like you to sing for me... while I... clean."
While this singer does appreciate
The kind words you try to relate
I am not as blind as you think, my friend
So sense you came with a different end...
Donnabel blushed. "I just came to... clean."
The singer, her pale face like an ancient Greek statue, titled to the side and smiled softly. Her chair puffed and clicked as she wheeled to a different part of the library, near a stone block.
She came to me just last week
Her figure is trapped as we speak
Sarcastia brought her entombed in stone
And she has been here all alone...
Donnabel rushed to the stone, and looked at the face carved on it.
"Sad Fairy? Oh, Sad Fairy I am SO sorry this happened! You were right, we should have NEVER left you."
Lillybeth, who still had enough tact in her personality to leave them alone, took the feather duster from Donnabel, who scarcely noticed, and wheeled to another part of the library. Donnabel sat cross-legged in front of the carving, just as she had done for Harona and... someone else a long time ago.
"I have SO much to tell you. Okay, first, we had to guard a package, and it was SO amazing, it was the obelisk down in DC? The huge one? Can't miss it, I know we MUST have been there a few times. Anyway, so Harona gets this craving for coffee, I mean, go figure, right? So after I left, you'll never guess who she saw!" Donnabel paused, even though the expressionless carving did not change. "The SOOT Man! Oh, it was incredible. Well, so I heard. Harona had to fight them off, and there were all these Shiante and she had to climb the obelisk, and jump into the air, then dived into the Potomac and got covered with stinky trash, and then when I got back, she was in a tree. AMAZING!" Donnabel paused again, almost expecting Sad Fairy to tell her to shut up, so she felt it would be nice to give Sad Fairy the chance to do it even in her head.
Being trapped in stone was a common punishment for a wayward Gate Keeper. It was quick, neat, and durable. One could be trapped for a day, a week, years, or even centuries. Some of the stones in the library were so old, no one could remember who was trapped in them and why. And the thought of releasing them was out of the question, because even though the person trapped could not move, they could still see, hear, and think. This drove some of them mad. In fact, it was assumed that anyone trapped for over a century was either mad or comatose. But one could not simply destroy the stone, because that would be murder. So it was considered to be unwise to imprison someone like this for more than a few years at most.
Donnabel took it upon herself to be the champion of lost causes, and try and research why some of these people were put in stone, and to get them freed. She was one of the main reasons Harona was let go, as well as Miserina (imprisoned because she turned an entire orphanage of children into zombie-like slaves), Stagnes (imprisoned for killing Lady Damantha and then pretending to be her for 50 years), Scaraha and her twin brother Scarabann (wrongfully accused of burying the Sphinx in Egypt), and the most recent and famous, the Half Breed, who was imprisoned because she ate over 200 people, many of them rescuers of the previous people she had eaten. As a toddler.
This was why Lady Sarcastia labeled Donnabel as "her conscience."
Out of all of those, only the Half-Breed turned out to be a bad idea. Miserina is now Lady Miserina of Las Vegas, Stagnes changed her name back to Lady Damantha of Salem after a discussion of Gate Keepers that she was a lot nicer and ran things better than the REAL Lady Damantha, and Scaraha and Scaraban are working under assignment in the Middle East, collecting rogue artifacts.
But everyone will always connect her with the Half Breed.
"Lady Sarcastia," asked Donnabel many years ago. "Tell me of the onyx stone that faces the fireplace."
Lady Sarcastia sipped an orange soda from a wax paper cup noisily, and looked at a point in space that was close to her, but might as well have been several million years away. "It is a pretty stone," she said. "Very shiny and flat."
"Who is... Misabel? The inscription on the stone is missing."
"It is not missing, curious one. Merely obscured. Misabel is ... different than the rest. She is not a Gate Keeper like we are. She is a... conundrum. A puzzle. A thing that should not be, yet is. A half breed, if you will."
"She is half demon?"
Lady Sarcastia rolled her eyes in slight surprise down at Donnabel, who was kneeled on the floor. "Why would you ask such a question when your tone tells me you already know the answer?"
"Lillybeth told me... not really. It was what she didn't tell me that got me curious."
"Lillybeth is very lonely sometimes, and tends to have a flair for the dramatic, Donnabel."
Donnabel did not back down. "I looked it up. Her inscription. Why is Misabel imprisoned in stone when she is not a Gate Keeper?"
Lady Sarcastia absently sipped her soda, and chose her words as carefully as a surgeon chooses a cut. "She presented a problem that was ... unsolvable at the time. I imprisoned her until I could find and answer."
"And that was over 60 years ago," Donnabel said softly, but ended it with a subtle question mark.
"You IMPUDENT child! How DARE you challenge my decision!?!"
"Don't look back," Donnabel whispered to herself. "No regrets." She swallowed hard and rose to her feet. "I want... I want her to be put on trial."
Lady Sarcastia was shocked, and then laughed. "On TRIAL? Like Miserina and Stagnes? Would you like me to release her like Harona?"
"Harona has proven an excellent example to behavior," Donnabel said defiantly. "What do you have against Harona? Why must you push her aside?"
Lady Sarcastia stood up and paced back and forth in front of her lawn chair. "The mute has her own crimes to answer for. Misabel is not some morphous freak who once had a purpose! She is... is..."
"She represents something you will keep putting off until it is too late. Like the hundred stone. Like the obelisk in London. Like the stone in Mecca?"
Lady Sarcastia laughed and rolled her eyes. "You would have me release the Thing that Once Ate Half of Ur?"
"Bad example, I admit. Not now I wouldn't. Not after 6000 years. But Misabel has been imprisoned for over 60--"
"That abomination should be sealed forever!!! You... you who only recently crossed would know NOTHING of what she represents! I have given into your pleas, my conscience. What more would you ask of me?"
Donnabel did not back down. "Have I ever disappointed you?"
Lady Sarcastia laughed again. "This is not about exchanging favors. You may have been crossed now some 40 years, but let me tell you, Miss Donnabel, that means nothing. You were not even born a human before the war between the demons and the angels was finally called a truce. You were a mere human child when the nudging was ended. You have not seen... you cannot possibly comprehend what you are asking!"
"Then... please explain." Donnabel sat down, crossed legged, and looked up at Lady Sarcastia.
"You... oh my goodness, you simply..." Lady Sarcastia sat down noisily in her lawn chair, and inhaled deeply from her long cigarette holder until the ember turned a bright blue. She calmed down, looked Donnabel in the eyes and said... "No."
"No. Never. Not here. Not anywhere. This discussion is over, and I have a package for you!"
Donnabel stood up slowly. "What is the package, m'lday?"
"It's... go wait somewhere and... go and... you must retrieve ... just go, and I'll send Harona with the message. Now go. GO!"
Donnabel defiantly bowed, and then excused herself from Lady Sarcastia's chambers, up a series of stairs, and into an arcade in a shopping mall. She then crossed almost a decade into the present as she realized the dark red stone in front of her was not the face of the Half Breed, but her friend Sad Fairy. The sound of Lillybeth's steam carriage grew closer, absently tuning and re-tuning the air pressure in the calliope softly.
"I am sorry... I drifted for a moment there. Sad Fairy, if I can get M... the Half Breed out, I can certainly get you out! Don't you worry. I heard this was only for a few weeks anyway. You didn't do that much damage. I mean... the human police only got a little involved, and we had someone in their social services waiting for you when you arrived. I was surprised Lady Sarcastia was as mad as she was. I suspect that the predictions our p... I mean, Marideath, are not pleasant." Donnabel thought for a moment. "It seems the less we are allowed to talk about the Half Breed... the more she influences our thoughts. And I suppose that's my fault, too."
"Lady Sarcastia," said Lady Vapora back in Donnabel's memory, "who DO you keep Misabel imprisoned? It seems like you are avoiding her."
"We avoid who we have to," she replied. "Embarrassments from our past."
Lady Vapora did not change her expression, but the air around her grew dark. "I know of whom you speak, and you imprisoned her, not I."
"And now what am I to do with her?" Lady Sarcastia asked as she looked over a large book with uneven pages sticking out at odd angles. "She's already killed several people... that I am aware of. How long before she escapes again?"
"Harona is not a beast to be tamed, Sarcastia. She is a plant, a... flower, that should be nurtured."
"I always was a poor botanist."
"When I gave you this territory, I didn't intend for it to be an orphanage of lost young girls. Yet you seem to raise them well. But don't keep your soil too dry, Sarcastia."
Lady Sarcastia flipped the book to a page that caused a slight breeze to waft across her face.
"When I found Misabel, she was in a burned out house. You know she ate the occupants and set fire to it? And why did she set fire to it? To eat the firemen. I knew she could not be destroyed. Our fragile pact with demons and angels at the time forbid it. So I did what I could."
"You're worried the Devil will find out, aren't you?"
"He is... " Lady Sarcastia placed her hand over her mouth. "He is of concern."
"You handle Harona, and yet you're afraid of a half breed? Personally, I would have considered her a great ally."
"Yes, well that war is OVER isn't it?"
Lady Vapora laughed. "Look at you. Do you think this truce will last? Do you really think the demons and angels will just go back to harvesting souls who died naturally? Do you really think this will last until our bones crumble to dust?"
Lady Sarcastia pulled out a bowl, and waved her cigarette holder over it. "I try and keep my ears open at all times."
Lady Vapora laughed. "Your ears. Your ears, and your conscience, I might add, have been listening to us gabber like the old ladies were are for the last 10 minutes."
Donnabel snapped back to the present. "Oh dear, Sad Fairy. I do seem to be drifting a lot, don't I? I came here to talk to you, and I just start going into these flashbacks like --"
"DONNABEL???" screamed Lady Sarcastia's voice from somewhere outside the library.
"Hey... that was for real!" She stood up, and quickly headed to the stairs, but then stopped, backed up, and kissed her hand which she placed on Sad Fairy's stone. "I'll be back! I'll read to you. So's you don't get bored."
"DONNABEL???" screamed Lady Sarcastia's voice with a LOT more impatience.
And Donnabel escaped back to her present, leaving Sad Fairy's stone alone in a room with a semi-mechanical singing guardian softly singing to herself an old song about orphans.
All text copyright 2005 Grig Larson, all rights reserved. No reprinting without permission