The Librarynth of the Lost

Assassinating the crown prince is a complex job...especially when you're also trying to protect him. , Fairy Files Prequel

By Taya Okerlund

4
14 min.
155

Being a crown prince may look good from the outside, but its a deadly job. 

Princess Gloria would be a better ruler of Fairy, and knows it, but she'd never do serious harm to her older brother. 

She wouldn't, but her shadow would. And when she becomes separated from her shadow while exploring the subterranean depths of The Librarynth of the Lost, the shadow is bent on correcting the birth order and rights of succession. 

And Gloria will have to make some very dirty deals to keep Peter alive.

The Library and the Labyrinth
Fairy, The Year of the Shadow

This record is meant to be read by no eye but mine. Let it be known that any other reader shall be cursed upon turning this page. I make a record of my deeds gray and black for my own purposes—among them, to remember who I once was, and to lay a bread crumb trail back to my former self.

My brother Peter was the first born, though I can hardly call him my elder brother now; he’s such a child. Some might blame me for that. In truth, I am to blame, but I think he got what he wanted in the end. I was the second born, and it was the greatest mistake in birth order Nature ever decreed. I had to fix it and did things to ensure a rightful outcome. I say I did things. Dark things, which I judged necessary for the sake of gaining something greater for myself, but I couldn’t have known how matters would spiral out of my control.

*

Often, but particularly on exam mornings, Father ate breakfast with us in the day room of the Great White Hall. My brother’s disinterest in his studies worried our parents, and they hovered. “Peter pay attention. Now tell me, what is the antidote to the Fantasmagoric Itch?”

“Uh,” Peter glanced at the ceiling, as though the answer were printed there plain to be read. “Worm wood and psyllium husks, is it?”

“Peter, it’s Root of—” I started to say, but Father silenced me with a glance.


“I didn’t ask you, Gloria. Now Peter, you need to apply yourself to your studies, or you’ll never be ready for the responsibility coming to you. Can you tell me how to curse a wyvern nest to prevent reproduction?”

Peter frowned. “Father, we don’t have a really serious problem with wyverns, right now.”

“We had a narrow escape from one in my time, and do you remember the year that happened?”

“Uh, was it 1430, something?”

Father’s face turned crimson. “How old do you think I am?”

“It was The Year of the Nymph, Peter, 1635,” I put in. “Father averted a great famine in all Fairy because of that curse. He earned six laurel branches from each of the five kingdoms. Don’t you know anything about the family legacy?”

Peter’s emerald green eyes ignited, but he was helpless to shoot sparks, as he ought to have done, and we both knew it. “You—swords! Noon in the west lawn!”

“Done!” (I was no coward.)

“Absolutely not!” Mother set down her cup and it cracked down the center. “Gloria, I forbid you to assassinate your brother.”

“Mother, why won’t you let him fight? You’re always coming unglued every time Peter gets the least bit dizzy from blood loss. It’s embarrassing.”

Peter shook his fist. “I’ll beat you this time, Gloria! I’m ready for you!”

I sniffed. Peter could never back down from a fight. He was always starting something and then losing.

“Children. To the school room. And Gloria, the west lawn is out of bounds for you. Don’t you even dare!”

“Fine. Long live the heir!”

“Peter, defend your dignity by passing the exam today,” Father said. “That’s all the heroics we’re interested in right now. Gloria, wipe that gleam out of your eye. I know you are proficient in the destructive arts, but just once I'd like to see you do something constructive. Both of you, finished or not with breakfast, away with you.” In an instant, our plates vanished, and our seats had dumped us onto the floor. Peter jumped to his feet, but I didn’t need to. I had wings, another piece of inequality between us.

*

Dr. Hoarfrost presided over our education at The Great White Hall. Besides Peter and myself, her students included the children of my father's court, all six of them. Three tutors assisted in lectures in Manipulation of Magic, and Advanced Immaterial Multiplication.

Hoarfrost stood up at the front of the room, her wiry gray eyebrow hairs standing straight out from a severe furrowed brow. She glared at me and at Peter. And she despised me for learning like a sponge and Peter for learning like a rock. It was her job to hate us both—Mother would have fired her if she’d been too soft. She wore nothing but spiders with cobwebs and ashes and she spoke in a harsh, vine withering voice I suspected she faked only to intimidate us. It worked marvelously. I had nightmares of her. Peter played tough, but I knew better.

We sat down for the exam and Hoarfrost lit two candles that caught fire with a startling crack! to mark the beginning of our time, and we wrote furiously while the wax dripped and the wick burned slowly to nothing. It extinguished with another loud crack! that made our spines straighten and our pencils whither into useless noodles.

Peter failed the exam. It didn't matter how I did. The more I excelled, the worse mother and father liked me, because the more threatening I seemed to Peter.

Oh, to be fair, I did want to get rid of Peter, but I doubted very much I would ever do any serious harm to him. If I were human, I would say my conscience burdened me. Being fairy, it wasn’t conscience, it was darkness. Fairy has a strong dark side, and I was only barely discovering mine.

It began with a fascination with my own family. It shouldn’t have been an unhealthy interest, but in Fairy, anything can happen, even from very ordinary beginnings.


*.

Ethnically, father was four parts dragon to three parts fairy. He lived in the Great White Hall below ground, which was, to the rest of the family, forbidden territory, and brilliant, because forbidden things always fascinated me, and nothing more than father’s netherworld dominion. I often went below to discover all of his subterranean secrets.

I had a good head for secrets, and trained my ears to filter muffled voices. My fingers to pick any lock. My mind to solve any puzzle. Almost any puzzle. In my wandering below ground, I hadn’t yet found The Librarynth of the Lost, much less solved it. Still, I knew it existed somewhere beneath the castle.

The Librarynth of the Lost
was an actual labyrinth made up book shelves stretching for many, many miles underground. It was dangerous, because anyone entering inside might easily become prey to all manner of powerful beasts who lived within. But to a fairy, the power that could be gotten by one who journeyed through the labyrinth was captivating, and the knowledge available in those books, irresistible. Father would have eventually given me a guide to The Librarynth, but I couldn’t wait for his permission.

Late afternoons were meant to be spent out of doors playing badminton or tennis. Most days, I sent a double of myself outside to get exercise. Then I slipped my shoes from my feet, folded back my wings and ducked into the unguarded panel outside of my mother’s parlor while she entertained guests. If she noticed me, she never said anything, probably hoping my father would be the one to catch me.

I entered the stone corridor, clasped the lit torch out of its hold on the wall, and descended. The corridor went on long, and damp, and smelt of earth and mysticism and the cold stone froze the souls of my feet and the chill traveled up my spine like a sharp, unspoken warning. This sensation was almost certainly sent from my mother. She lacked verbal communication skills, but she could send you a passive aggressive chill that would freeze a fiery furnace. There was no mistaking her. I folded out two of four wings and hovered just an inch above the floor to cut off her channel, and kept going.

After an hour, the dim glow of The Crystal Court of the Masters loomed in the distance, and my heart nearly skipped a beat. I was almost there. Inside the cavern, stalactite columns stood sculpted into fairy figures of the ages. Some heroic. Some inventive. Artists of fairy craft and so forth. The cavern glittered with multicolored gems sparkling under the torchlight. Between the gem stones, massive hardwood doors barred pathways leading in the four cardinal directions. The doors were locked, and I had never succeeded in prying even one of them opened. I had tried over and over again—employing every lock breaking technique I had ever learned, and so far, every lock had confounded me.

I took a new file from my pocket and gently inserted it into the northern door, trying a series of password phrases as I turned the file. “Partium, Barricadium. Passage Awaken! Kaimen Capricium.” Nothing happened.

Not surprised, I sighed and sank back into the shadows to surveil the cavern. It was only a matter of timing and patience. Someone would open a door eventually, and I would slip by. But in two years of stalking this cavern, I had never known one of those doors to open even a crack.

I paced the pathways between the stalactite columns. Scrutinizing faces. A distinctive fairy with delicate wing folds always stood out to me. I didn’t know her history, and I supposed it was a secret contribution to the monarchy. She had done something for our royal line. What might it have been? She held her hand forward as if to clasp another hand, and on an impulse, I grasped it with mine. I started when I felt heat. The stone warmed! An iron hinge groaned and a gentle motion of air currents stirred my hair.

I couldn’t breathe! The south door had cracked, and I lunged to slip inside before it closed heavily behind me with a thump. My lungs heaved as I braced my weight against the hardwood. I knew well enough, to open the door once in no way assured me a second opening. I might die behind this door and never return to the surface, but I couldn’t care about that now. I had been waiting too long to explore these depths to worry too much about becoming stuck.

My reward for opening the door was another dark stone pathway dimly lit by an occasional torch. The path slanted ever so slightly downward, and so I knew I was entering into my father’s domain and not simply winding endlessly in a circular path still inside the castle. My throat tightened and I swallowed a lump when I glanced at the wall. A few books were set into earthen shelves. I had entered The Librarynth without realizing it!

I would get no sleep tonight.

The hours wasted slowly away as I wove inside and outside the labyrinth pattern. I wiped my brow with the back of my hand. When had it gotten so hot? Did the heat mean dragons? My breath tightened in my chest to realize it might. It could also mean my father. He wouldn’t like to find me here, but he probably wouldn’t kill me as easily as another dragon.

Around the next bend, the pathway below turned to molten, and a fairy with a shock of burning red hair hovered above the molten floor, engraving it with a large wand that he wielded like a pen. I crouched behind the bend in the wall, and realized, I could go no further. I might fly above the molten, but I could not pass the fairy with the burning hair, nor did I dare. I recognized him as one of the gatekeepers. He had his own image in The Crystal Court of the Masters. I would never dare challenge him while he held that wand, but it wasn’t too late, I could still creep back the way I had come.

“Read the text on the pathway below! Read it an find your own way to go!” The voice thundered off of the walls in the tight passageway. I startled to realize he had spoken to me having only sensed my presence.

I opened my mouth, but I couldn’t speak.

“In other words, either read the text or die where you stand.”

I gasped as I as I felt my feet singe. The ground beneath me had turned to molten. “What are you doing? I wasn’t ready! Stop it!”

“Not ready? You must have passed the exam and received the key or you would not get here.”

“I—I,” stammered. “I tricked my way inside.”

“There is no trick. Now READ!”

The fire on his head leapt, his eyes ignited and he could send sparks and I knew he was aiming them at me. I begged, “I’ll pay you anything. What’s your price? I’ll give you money! But I can’t read it. I never saw that writing in my life!”

Lights crashed inside my head heat burned through me like a hot iron. I writhed and coiled and felt my body flake away like a dry ember.

Now I was inside the molten, staring at the text written upon my own surface. The words were foreign, or encrypted, or both things at once. The text was locked up tight to me. I could not unpuzzle it, but while I stared, the code came roaring through my head like a flaming arrow and I interpreted the text aloud:

Fire and coal,
Lightning and thunder,
Shine and shadow,
Whole matter sunder.


When I spoke these words, I fell, exhausted to the ground. Burnt up as I was, I lost all sensation of heat nor cold, light or darkness, burning or growth, sweetness or bitter, I was all at one with the floor and the walls and words etched upon them, but at last I became aware of something different.

Something had come out of me. Something immaterial, but real. Something spiritual, and fairies don’t speak of spiritual matters casually. The spiritual world is very far indeed from all things fairy—if it exists at all. But even so, I could not deny that something was gone out of me, something significant, and I felt a certain weight gone, though I couldn’t find anything missing in all my parts and pieces. Every limb, every wing, fingers, toes remained in place.

I was whole. Except I wasn’t. Some of my life had burned off.

My shadow moved along the wall and even my burned blood chilled. I had not moved with it.

The shadow paused, glanced back at me, and I sensed something. Mockery…and malice.

The shadow leaped off the wall and began racing up the corridor. I stared dumbfounded. I had made myself double before. That spell had a simple solution, but I had never divided myself—my person from my shadow. I hadn’t known it was possible, nor could I tell what it meant, but I sensed it meant no good. Without knowing how I knew, I realized the shadow exulted to be free from me—that it had plans, perhaps terrible plans no longer under my control.

I was exhausted, and yet I chased it. It stayed ahead of me, and yet I sensed its pleasure in eluding me. Hiding and deceiving. Teasing and lying. I had to get it back under control, but it ignored every command. I hadn’t a spell for it. And a shadow can slip past anything. It could go between the cracks in the wall. There could be no trapping it inside the labyrinth. It was going up to mother and father, and probably, my heart nearly stopped…to Peter.

Whatever it was inside of me that prevented me from doing serious harm to Peter, did not exist in my shadow. It was going to kill my brother, and expect only thanks from me for doing so. And though I knew how Peter annoyed and irritated me—how much I wished I and not he had been the heir to the kingdom—I did not want my brother to die.

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Books by Taya Okerlund

About Taya Okerlund

“Faust complained about having two souls in his breast, but I harbor a whole crowd of them and they quarrel. It is like being in a republic.” Otto von Bismarck.

This is me. The voices! What else can I do but write books? I write historical fantasy under T. Cook. YA contemporary realism, fantasy, and MG fantasy under my married name Taya Okerlund. My husband Nathan co wrote my latest MG fantasy with me. We're very excited about it.

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