A Librarian led them up several flights of stairs and through the cold and pale ivory corridors of Wyrmstooth Keep.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “the early wyrming system is on the way to one of the meeting rooms – I’ll set you up there once we’re done and see if I can’t find A Librarian, or work out where he is.”
“No problem,” said A Librarian.
“I’m intrigued by the vague and foreboding descriptions you’ve given of the system so far,” Alice added.
She chuckled at that. “Fair enough. It’s just through here, anyway.”
They rounded a corner, and the corridor opened out into a large round chamber. At the centre sat an enormous urn, at least twelve feet tall and eight feet wide, painted with intricate patterns of scales, feathers, dragons and landscapes. Positioned around the top of the urn and looking down were a set of brass dragon heads, each clutching a metal sphere between their teeth. Positioned on the floor around the bottom of the giant vase were a bunch of metal frogs, their mouths wide open as if they were hungrily waiting for the dragons to drop what they were holding. The whole setup seemed faintly familiar to Alice, but she was having trouble placing it.
“So,” said A Librarian, leading them up to the massive urn. “When there’s draconic activity within several leagues of here, a process within the vessel detects it, one of the dragons opens its mouth, and the ball falls into the frog, which makes a loud ringing noise that serves as an alert. In fact, the ball that falls will be the one that points along the cardinal direction towards where the draconic activity is. Now, when A Librarian was closer, he’d have been able to track you by whatever influence you still bear from… oh, yeah, it was a Bookwyrm, wasn’t it. Anyway, this is the early wyrming system! Does anyone have any questions?”
Alice raised a hand, then realised she was looking fairly silly. “How does it detect dragons?
“I’m not up on the exact details, but the plaque says it tracks them by scent on ætheric winds, which makes it sound dreadfully magical. I think one of the old masters of the Fort built it, wrote the plans down, and then filed them in one of the forgotten storerooms.”
“Huh. So dragons emit some kind of… dragon-specific radiation?”
She frowned. “More like characteristic patterns in the æthersphere. If something could do similar things to what a dragon could, it’d set off the detector.”
“And how did you know it was a Bookwyrm?”
“Ah, the bell – the frog thing – it makes a different tonality of noise for each type and variety of dragon — theoretically, at least, it should be able to make a unique tone for every single species, but some of the sounds are very close to each other in tone. I’m sure A Librarian will be able to explain this to you in greater detail – he loves this kind of technical stuff.”
The Early Wyrming System seen, A Librarian led them through another short corridor to a large meeting room, whose space was dominated by a circular table with a big hole and a pedestal in the middle, possibly for people to give speeches on or something.
“Take a seat, and I’ll fetch A Librarian,” said A Librarian, referring to a different A Librarian and causing a certain degree of confusion to Alice by doing so.
Once A Librarian had left, Alice spoke up. “I’ve said this before,” she said, turning to A Librarian, “but the ‘having one name over the entire species’ thing does my actual head in.”
“I mean, I can’t really relate,” he replied, “because I don’t find it confusing at all, but… there there?”
“Can’t relate,” said Aidra, “my head’s been done in since ‘63.”
“You know what, compared to whatever the hell Aidra says at any time, ever, A Librarians all having the same name isn’t nearly as confusing.”
It took ten minutes or so – punctuated by A Librarian showing up and assuring them that the other A Librarian knew they’d arrived – before he turned up. He was wearing another bizarre outfit, characterised by a large amount of trailing strips of cloth covered in densely-stitched runes. He was still using that long twisted wooden staff as a walking stick, but without the heavy chained book, which was apparently a sometimes accoutrement.
His eyes lit up as he saw the group. “Ah, hello again! Marvellous to be seeing you up and well.”
He shuffled over, pulled up a chair and sat down, swinging his feet up onto the table. “So, how’ve you been?”
“Oh, it’s been fine,” Alice replied, reflexively.
“Right, good good. Well, you’ve come to the Keep! What was it you wished to ask me about? I’ve done some more research on what you asked about at the time; those questions I was unable to answer. I did some more research on this ‘STAR’ organisation from our records, but I didn’t find anything particularly substance-rich, apart from some mention of dragon magic among their number.”
His expression darkened. “Dragons are inherently and incredibly powerful, down to the very bones. If a lower sapient, such as ourselves, were to consume a dragon’s heart, they would gain a significant fraction of said dragon’s aspect, power and magic. Usually following an extreme case of poisoning from eating what usually ends up being an enormous lump of toxic meat.”
“Firstly, ew. Secondly… how would you even eat the heart of, say, a Bookwyrm?”
“It’s somewhat complicated, but it’s technically possible.”
“So eating dragon hearts is bad?”
“I would not argue that it is a universally evil act, although some think it is very distasteful to eat the flesh of sapient creatures, like most dragons. The official position of the Esteemed Order of Dragon Hunters is that the process of becoming a dragon magician is very dangerous and can go very wrong – there are a lot of possibly destructive side-effects, and gaining that much power all at once is rarely good for the psyche. Draconic mages have proved to be very unstable and dangerous in the past, and this organisation has one such mage among their numbers. I am not sure of any more of the specifics, but I find it worrying.”
“Huh. Would I know if I met some kinda dragon magician? I’ve met a couple of the STAR people, but none seemed particularly… dragony. I mean, some of them were magical, I think, so they could be?”
“They tend to strongly resemble the dragon whose power they’ve taken up, so unless one of them seemed very, well, draconic, I’d say no.”
Twelfth spoke up. [Is Your Experience With The Draconic Not Coloured By How Bellicose The Order’s Meetings With Dragons Have Been?]
“Oh, I’ll freely admit that I’m biased,” he said, flashing a smile coated in tiny inscribed letters. “I don’t have any statistics about dracomancers, so I’d assume that most of them are reasonable members of society. The ones that go bad, however… Well, that’s what organisations like us are for!”
“Fair enough, I suppose. Do you know… like, what kind of dragon-magic things? I gather there’s more types than simply firey and lizardy and whatnot?”
“Oh, there most certainly are. According to our records, this ‘wyrm-touched’ character of the STAR organisation is corporeal, so they’re not likely to be a Bookwyrm sorcerer. A little bit outside of my area of expertise, but the list of corporeal dragons that someone from Materia is likely to have come across is, well, there’s not a lot in the literature about it, I’m afraid. Materia, where this organisation comes from, is very much unexplored, compared to the known Realms, and not many of the more idealistic – made of ideas – creatures end up travelling there.” He sighed, leaning his chair back and gazing contemplatively at the ceiling fresco – one that depicted, unsurprisingly, a flight of varied dragons – “I’m sorry, I’m rambling, and I’m not really being very informative, am I?”
“No, it’s fine,” said Alice, quickly. “I mean, I wasn’t expecting some kind of quick fix or incredible breakthrough, and the information about this dracomancer in STAR is… worrying? Worrying, definitely worrying.”
“They’re one of our adversaries,” said Red, “and you know what they say about knowing your enemies.”
“Mmm. Well, either way, the libraries of the Esteemed Order Of Dragon Hunters are open to you, and if you wish, I could see if there are any free dormitories if you need to stay here to do some research. I’ll continue to delve into the behaviour of this particular Bookwyrm, and why it acted the way it did, so if you have any first-hand accounts you’d be willing to share, it’d be helpful for my research.”
A Librarian (the once Alice had known for longer) nodded. “Thank you for sharing your knowledge.”