She came alone, for the very thought of anyone knowing she had come here of her own will brought great shame and fear down upon her. It wouldn’t matter to others how desperate she felt for the knowledge. It wouldn’t matter what the knowledge did to help or aid the world. She would be seen as a betrayer.
The library dominated the top of a rise. It stretched across the space between two pillars which stood close together — closer together than most Ley had seen. The path up the rise, which had been set with wide steps of pale grey stone, challenged the muscles of Ley’s legs with its steep grade.
In years past, she might have been forced to stop and rest halfway. This journey had brought a strength to her she hadn’t known she possessed, and not just from the months of travel. The knowledge she sought could change the world, if her suspicions were correct, and if the answer could be found anywhere, it would be here.
In the light of day, the Diamond Library took on a glow of its own. The beauty of the field of violet wildflowers growing on the rise paled in comparison to the graceful architecture and the sheer grandeur of its size. Her eyes told her the entire structure had been built from a milky white crystal, just on the edge between opaque and translucent.
Ley wondered if entire place was truly built out of crystal, or whether it was some sort of illusion. Knowing the nature of the Diamond Library’s creator, either could be true.
The pillars surrounding the front entrance made for an austere, imposing façade, but what truly intimidated her was the figure standing between them. Ley swallowed. The muscles of her legs burned, and her back ached from the weight of her pack, but it was his gaze upon her that most made her want to sit, pause, and contemplate turning back.
She pushed herself forward. She had not travelled all this way, and all this time, to let his presence intimidate her. She knew the cost of entry into his library. She had come willing to pay it, stigma be damned. Ley could only hope that the world would accept the knowledge she sought regardless of its source.
He still stood, waiting, when she reached the top of the stairs. If not for the rustling of his hair and robes in the light breeze, she might have mistaken him for a statue, for how still he stood. But no, when she looked closely, she could see the faint motion of his breath.
He did not look human to her, but then, perhaps that was only because she knew his true nature. The line of his jaw was severe, as though carved into his pale flesh. His robes, while primarily white, were stitched with a swirling purple pattern of a gemlike color that matched his eyes precisely. His hair appeared black, at a glance, but in fact Ley could see that it was a violet so dark as to barely be detectable.
He held out his hand toward her, palm upraised. His flesh was smooth and unmarred, as perfect as the skin of a young child. “You have come to the Diamond Library. What is it you desire?”
Ley flinched at the sound of his voice. Though soft, it somehow beat upon her ears like thunder, as though she had been partially deafened but the full force of a loud sound still bore down upon her. Clearly here, in his domain, Essalam made no attempts to hide his identity.
“I desire knowledge,” Ley said cautiously, for she worried she might offend Essalam with the obvious nature of her answer. None came to the Diamond Library desiring something other that knowledge. Offending him could be dangerous. He could kill her, or worse, leave her alive and deny her entry.
“As all who visit here do,” Essalam said, “and as all should. Knowledge is the most powerful force in the world.”
“I agree, ah, sir,” Ley said, unsure of how to address him. Again, she worried about some minor offense causing him to turn on her. She tried to calm herself. He was not Hierosal or Sophonalia, whose temperaments her readings told her could be far more mercurial.
“Do you know the cost for entry?” Essalam asked, folding his hands in front of himself solemnly.
“I do,” Ley said. She swallowed.
“Are you prepared to pay it?”
Ley paused, just for a heartbeat. “Yes,” she said, though her voice failed her and it came out as little more than a whisper. “Yes,” she said again, this time with strength and conviction. “I am ready to pay the cost.”
Essalam nodded. “Come with me.”
With one hand, Essalam pushed open the library’s grand door. The dark wood, which must have been heavy, for it stood at least thrice Ley’s height, opened easily. Ley followed closely behind Essalam. She found herself in a grand entryway, with two rooms off to either side and hallways extending left, right, and straight forward from the door.
Essalam took her into one of the side rooms. Ley blushed. It was a bedchamber, with a grand bed covered in thick, comfortable-looking sheets. The space was not utilitarian, as Ley might have expected, but instead as well-decorated as any nobleman’s chambers. A plush rug covered the cold crystal of the floor. Small tables, of the same dark wood as the door, sat on either side of the bed. Most memorably, a large, exquisite painting dominated the wall over the bed, depicting the library itself as seen from a distance.
Without ceremony, Essalam shed his robes. His skin was so pale that, in places, Ley could see his blue veins through it. His body was lean and well-muscled, made to the exacting standards of a sculptor attempting to bring the beauty of a handsome man out of a block of marble.
Ley turned her eyes away. She set her pack on the ground. Hands shaking, she undid the buttons of her coat, and then her tunic, and then, with more care than she had ever taken in undressing herself, the rest of her clothes. When she spared a glance, as she lowered her pants, Essalam already watched her from the bed, reclined, his back propped up by pillows. Ready.
She had known, coming here, what the price would be. She would pay it. She wasn’t ready to pay it, and she didn’t want to, but she desperately wanted what the cost would buy her.
To make use of Essalam’s library, she would have to bear him a child. With her arms wrapped around her body, she made her way to his bed, and she joined with him.
Ley dressed in a much quicker fashion than she had undressed. She felt sick to her stomach. The images and sensations of what she had just done had yet to leave her. She could still feel and see every instant of her time in that bed. She feared she would never forget. After all, Essalam never forgot anything. What if he somehow bestowed that capacity on his partners as some additional cost?
Essalam, still lying naked in the bed, regarded her. She refused to look at him, but she could feel his eyes as surely as she had felt his hands on her shoulders, his breath upon her neck…
“How do I go about finding what I seek?” she asked, in an attempt to bring her focus back to why she had come here. She thought she might vomit as she opened her mouth to speak, but somehow, she held it back.
“You look,” Essalam said. “Your payment grants you two day’s free reign of the library. Two days, by the hour, not by the cycle of light and dark.”
“Two days?” she asked. The library was immense. “What if I can’t find it?”
“Then there are two possibilities,” Essalam replied. “The answer you’re looking for doesn’t exist, or you’ve failed to find it. Given the latter, you would have to pay the price once more in order to gain another two days.”
“Can I ask for help, if I can’t find it?” Ley asked. She still didn’t wish to look at him, so though her clothes were on, she continued to straighten them.
“Hmm,” Essalam said. “At the end of the two days, if you haven’t found what you sought, you may ask me if I have the information here.”
“Will you answer?” Ley asked.
“Yes, and I will tell you where to locate it,” Essalam said.
“But that won’t do me any good unless I pay the cost of entry once more,” Ley said.
Ley paused. “But I won’t be able to pay the cost again until I give birth,” Ley said.
“That is not entirely correct,” Essalam said. “You could provide me with another person with whom I could make a child.”
Ley shuddered at the thought. She couldn’t physically force someone to come here, and even if she could, it would do no good unless they would willingly lay with Essalam. The Dragon Laws prevented him from forcing himself upon an unwilling humans. She would have to find someone who shared her fears and suspicions with equal conviction, which was, to say the least, unlikely.
“I will find it myself,” Ley said.
She allowed herself to look at Essalam once more before she left the room. He had been firm and businesslike during sex, but now, for the first time, he had a smile on her face. That disturbed her more than anything he had yet said or done.
The library had to have some sort of organization to it, she knew that much. Essalam loved and treasured knowledge — it was said he coveted all knowledge, no matter how irrelevant others might find it to be. It was said that he visited important people on their deathbeds, with no malice in his heart, just to bear witness to their final words, so that he could preserve them for eternity.
He allowed access to his library, and scholars suspected he would do so for free, if not for his father’s directive. Ley tried to have some sort of compassion for him, if only so that, in so doing, she could alleviate some of the disgust she felt at herself for sharing his bed. He was, by most accounts, one of the more benevolent of the Dragons. He relied on the cost of admission to his library to continue fulfilling Vanaprimax’s directive, and he rarely resorted to deception to seduce humans, as most of his siblings did.
The very existence of the library meant, to Ley, that he intended for it to be used. It was, after all, built to a scale for ease of human access. She stood at the intersection of the three hallways, where she could see down to the ends of each of them. To her left and right, staircases swept upward toward the second floor. Ley decided to start on the first floor, because she had no sense of where else to begin looking.
The scholars at the College at Tyneros feared that Vanaprimax had born a tenth child, but they didn’t want it to be true, so they had stopped researching it. If their suspicions were accurate — and Ley thought they might be — Essalam would know. His library would hold the answer, and Ley would find it, so that humanity could be prepared.