“This world and every world, this Real, is built on the corpses of the first Daemons. And within these putrefying cadavers of antithetical Dominions, there are wyrms. Wyrms, or dragons – technically a term of art that means something slightly distinct, but it’s entered common usage – are such things, grown and hatched from the decay of the fundament, the Law, the bones of forgotten creatures from beyond the earliest Dawn. Dragons are neither demonic nor angelic, they are instead primordial creatures that can be of any form, although they are often reflections of long-forgotten things and extinct creatures.
“They are not evil, not as we understand it – they are celestial detritovores, not carnivores. They are usually intelligent enough to avoid damaging civilisation, through either good will or the dissuading presence of civilisation’s protections, but on occasion something will go awry. We are, after all, part of the Real, part of the celestial detritus they subsist on.
“This is where we come in,” the A Librarian explained, “As hunters of dragons, we track down dangerous and feral Wyrms, and hopefully prevent them causing too much damage, either by destroying them or by binding them.”
“… Huh,” said Alice. “Interesting stuff. I’ve always imagined dragons as, like, big lizardy things? Well, there are a bunch of dragon myths around on my world, actually, but they tend to be reptilian? Is that a theme here, too?”
A Librarian scratched at his beard. “They are old things, so they would, to some extent, reflect a primordial state, an ancient past of your own world in some extent.”
“Oh. Oh. Dinosaurs?”
“I don’t know what that means, but maybe!”
“I’d also point out,” said Red, “that some of the earliest forms of life on worlds such as yours were worms, which also fits.”
She glared up at him. “Was this your doing?”
“My legal team advises me not to answer that.”
“Also,” said Nik, “I’d point out that much of the evolutionary symbology of things like wyrms is back-fitting theories to the observed evidence, none of which can actually be tested in any rigorous way.”
The dragon-hunting A Librarian chuckled. “Correct you are, young man! These are mostly theories, some of which hold more ink than others, and we should look past the shelves to the leaves. Bookwyrms are natives of the Library, and live entirely within the strata of information, of words and language. Hunting entirely with their sense of spell, they usually devour other linguistic fauna such as thesauri and narraptors, out in the Whildernesses of the world. While their symbiotic connection with A Librarians means they can usually freely move through civilised areas, they rarely do so – they are primarily solitary creatures that find our civilised areas confusing and cluttered. The one that attacked you, however…”
A Librarian and Alan had produced some patio chairs and a small table for them, and the dragon hunter A Librarian was poring over a thick volume of roughly-bound vellum pages and tremendously cramped writing.
“Now,” he continued, “according the Annal of Wyrms, where the abjads and alphabets of known lines of Bookwyrms are recorded, this creature you encountered is most likely of the Dingbat-Swash line, although the diacritics don’t match up like they should. Interesting. I’ve seen similar features on Wyrms kept in captivity – recently escaped? Hmm, no wonder it didn’t understand the niceties of civilised dragons.”
The Seventh leaned over and tapped something rapidly on the hilt of their enormous sword, the staccato beat sounding like metallic Morse.
“Yes, yes, there ought to be a law.”
“So, it just escaped from a thing?” Alice asked.
“Well, maybe? It could have been released, I suppose?”
She frowned, mulling it over. “Wait, doesn’t that mean it could have been released on purpose?”
He shrugged, the metal in his robe chiming. “That’s a bit hypothetical.”
She looked to Red, who was also frowning. “Could this be to do with Grey and White?”
“It’s not like them – they weren’t there immediately, as soon as, hmm, the darkness was partly woken. That’s pretty much their only goal in these matters. That they didn’t turn up is a strong sign that this wasn’t part of their schemes. Probably. I mean, they’re pretty sneaky. The use of this creature as a hunting monster is a bit lateral, but effective-”
“Absolutely!” said the old A Librarian. “They’re capable of spelling a living being’s name across vast distances – it’s because of a similar ancient predator that A Librarians are a mononomic species.”
He grinned at her question. “We’re all called the same thing.”
“As I was baselessly speculating,” Red said, “Syrk is too clever to do this, so I think it might be STAR, if it was one of our currently-identified enemies. Hard to say, but if I was to guess, it’d be them. Using a dangerous monster clumsily like that – everyone’s going to notice a Bookwyrm wandering around looking for you, and this fits with their lack of knowledge about the Realms at large.”
“Good-ish to know, I guess?” she replied.
The Seventh and the dragon-hunting A Librarian had been having a quiet conversation, in murmurs and Morse, and finished up with the sound of the book – the Annal of Wyrms – closing.
“So, I suppose we’ve done all of what we can do here, in terms of researching this particular quarry, and-” he looked around briefly – “none of my compatriots have turned up. I think we’ll be off, back to the Keep. It’s out on the edge of the Foyan Polity, to Libonotus.”
He fished around in his pockets for a while, before giving up and turning to the Seventh, who produced a business card-sized thing, comically small in their enormous hand, and passed it to her, and she took it. It bore a logo – a serpent’s skull pierced by a sword, and some sort of weird address-glyph, similar to some others she’d seen on the 3D-holomagical map things she occasionally saw around.
“Thanks,” she said. “Keep us posted on what you find out about this, I guess?”
This prompted a complicated and rapid series of clicks on the hilt of the Seventh’s sword. They angled their blank faceplate in her direction, giving her the Bookbinder version of a piercing glare.
“What my colleague means to say,” said A Librarian, “is that we have reason to believe that these- these ‘STAR’ people are those mentioned in our records as bearers of a terrible and forbidden magic within our purview, and also they probably need to be given firmly-worded pamphlets about how to keep and care for Bookwyrms. So we will definitely lend you our assistance in such matters, should you wish to borrow the strength or wisdom of the Order of Esteemed Dragon Hunters, our Keep is open to you.”
Alice nodded in a manner that was hopefully not too awkward. “Thank you, much appreciated.”
I honestly love that A Librarians all being called the same thing, a concept introduced early on that both served as a source of comedic confusion and as yet another facet of this bizarre world Alice found herself in, ultimately has an in world explanation that makes sense, and it’s that it’s an evolutionary adaptation to avoid being preyed on by word eating dragons. I love this story.
Glad you like it! It’s a detail I had wanted to go over since it first came up, back at the beginning of the story.