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Dust rose in a burgeoning plume from Mount Bibliotheca as the solitary mountain’s foundations trembled, but those caravans which approached or receded from wisdom’s pilgrimage’s conclusion could know not that the detritus they witnessed wafting into the sky was comprised of a thousand civilizations’ last remnants. At the heart of the greatest library in the world, in the remains of a dragon’s hoard of knowledge, Rivi could not feel the mountain’s trembling, nor her own spasms of fear, for she was held suspended by a dragon’s fury.
“DESTROYER!” Cognōscere thundered. Her humanoid avatar was dispelled, so she stalked inside her mountain in her true form, with wings rustling and tail lashing. “Can your pathetic, mortal mind begin to comprehend the enormity of what is lost by your reckless selfishness? Apt is your name, She-Who-Tears-Down.”
Bound by magic, Rivi could neither squirm nor struggle, but she could speak. “I didn’t know!” she protested. “It was just to be one scroll, I swear! To prove it was real! I never meant for this to happen!”
Cognōscere reared up and thrust her snout towards Rivi, and there was none of the conscientious librarian in her; this was an enraged dragon, as powerful and wrathful as any of her kin. “How could you know not that the geas would break? Fifty thousand years of history is by your ignorance erased! Time upon a scale which your pusillanimous mind cannot comprehend is what by your reckless action is lost.” The dragon paused. “No copy of the Horchu-Bima is yet extant. A deception was this story you told unto me, that you could steal from my hoard?”
“Yes.” Rivi saw no purpose in denying it; there was nothing she could do to alleviate the dragon’s wrath. A glowering, green eye regarded Rivi, and she was of a height with the slit pupil. Cognōscere whirled away, unable even to look upon the precipitator of the disaster. “Can’t…can’t you rebuild? Find new copies or something?” Rivi stuttered. “I could help…”
In a blur, Cognōscere again confronted the thief, sparks flickering across her serrated teeth as lightning burgeoned in her chest. “Rebuild? Replace?” Agonized laughter escaped the horrific maw, and a bolt of lightning discharged against the distant ceiling; all of Rivi’s hair sought to flee its follicles. “You speak of works lost to time, from civilizations whose names and existences are long forgotten by their descendants, and those descendants are recollected not by their modern successors. Nay, She-Who-Tears-Down, my hoard cannot be replaced.”
Rivi’s throat was too dry for her to swallow, so it worked futilely while she waited. There was nothing she could say. Even now, her mind rebelled against the truth of what she had witnessed: a dragon’s hoard of knowledge across millennia, the greatest library’s entire collection, featuring every civilization ever to create records, gone in an instant, transformed into the dust it would have been had not the dragon’s geas been upon it.
“What punishment is fitting for you who annihilated the learning of millennia?” Cognōscere spoke, and her voice sent the silence scampering back for the shadowy corners. “How shall you suffer, She-Who-Tears-Down, for this crime worthy of the name you did not know you bear?”
A half-realized thought flickered through Rivi’s terror-hazed mind too quickly for her to comprehend, but Cognōscere, caught it. She huffed a breath heavy with ozone. “Remember? Mortal child, even a dragon’s memory cannot contain forever the notions which were here recorded.” Her inner eyelid dragged over her eye, and there was a disconcerting glitter there, independent of reflecting sparks, when she glared at Rivi. “There is some I can recall. All my collection I read.” A sinister, contemplative note rang with her words. “Yes, a suitable punishment for you. It fits the crime.”
Despite her saturated state, Rivi’s dread surged. “What…what’s that?”
Dragons’ faces are not conducive to human expressions, and the maleficent smile that twisted Cognōscere’s was as terrifying as the savagery in her voice. “Stories,” she answered. “Stories I will tell you of forgotten lands, one for each of the civilizations that are no more because of the fell deed you wrought. Stories until your mind is flayed from holding them, history shatter your bones with the immensity. Perhaps then some fraction of the crime which you committed shall you comprehend.”
No obsequiousness could solicit safe harbor for Rivi, but this punishment Cognōscere invented for her torment seemed a mild one compared to what the thief imagined. Even when the first vision struck her and the first words boomed within her skull, she did not understand the magnitude of Cognōscere’s intention.
“Fourteen hundred years ago, near what you call Hillanico,” Cognōscere narrated. She spoke, and Rivi felt the hot, sulfurous wind on her face, the bits of ash bringing tears to her eyes, and she coughed on the noxious fog that lingered around her. “Fȳr breathed his last this day.”
An ancient man stood upon a rocky promontory, flanked by pools of bubbling sulfuric mud and polychromatic acid. His waist-length beard blew in the infernal wind. “Take it!” he bellowed, holding a carven bone aloft over his head. His words were directed towards no one whom Rivi could see. “Take it, Cognōscere! Let not my wisdom be forgotten.”
There appeared a woman standing beside Fȳr on the promontory; her hair was silver –lustrous, metallic silver – and it was bound by a headband that shimmered black, as if someone had melted onyx into thread. It framed a timeless face of features inhuman in their perfection. She wore a cloth bound about her torso and limbs in a nyansapos, the sheen of which would make an oyster envious of the garment’s inimitable pearlescence. Such a garment and such a woman required no ornamentation, but perfection was elevated by the necklace of jade and turquois set in gold, and the matching bracelet upon her wrist. This, Rivi recognized, was Cognōscere’s avatar, the same projection of her presence that greeted Rivi when first she came to Mount Bibliotheca.
In avatar form, Cognōscere took the bone from Fȳr and cradled it to her breast. A gout of molten rock expectorated from a crevasse to splash harmlessly upon a radiant, ephemeral dome surrounding her. “Your words will live forever in my hoard,” she promised.
“Then…I can go to my doom as a dragon ought.” The ancient figure inclined his head to Cognōscere, and Fȳr’s avatar walked off the promontory and faded away like fog on a sunny morning.
Stone, sulfuric mud, acid, and magma all faded in similar fashion, returning Rivi to the present, bound and suspended inside Mount Bibliotheca. She only realized there were tears on her cheeks when she tasted salt on her lips.
“One story, and many,” the thought-dragon growled. “Another.” Rivi fell into Cognōscere’s next narrative.
A city in the desert shimmered through heatwaves; Rivi stood upon the top of an obelisk, watching a silt-laden river crawl beyond squat walls. The air that seared her lungs with each breath was like retrieving boules from an ipnos, yet from the obelisk’s base stretched a long, shallow, reflective pool, and lush greenery bedecked intricate pillars and statues.
Cognōscere’s narration boomed like a deity’s proclamation. “Luga, City of Queens, eighteen thousand years ago.”
Rivi barely came to her senses in Mount Bibliotheca before the next vision took her, then more. She lost track of time, of herself. She saw ten stories, then a thousand, each one unique, as Cognōscere forced her to experience all she could remember of her hoard. By the five thousandth story, Rivi felt her mind fraying, unable to process more experiences than she would accumulate in ten lifetimes. By the ten thousandth, she could not recall who Rivi was, for there was only story.
In a pause in the torrent, what once was Rivi heard a new note of melancholy and loss in Cognōscere’s voice. “One, final tale, mortal. The greatest tale, the foundation of all your myths and legends for fifty thousand years. A tale of dragons.”
She spoke, and Mount Bibliotheca faded. Perceived like a sun god surveying his domain, a mountainous landscape appeared. Amber agricultural terraces stepped down high mountains like mazes from this distance, and the steepest peaks scraped clouds from the sky. Cognōscere conjured more, each separate, a story unto itself, like island archipelagos. Humans occupied these colonies, and each, at its highest point, hosted a magnificent dragon.
“Behold the Ten Thousand Peaks,” Cognōscere intoned. “Each Mount, a dragon. See Gardīnus, the paradise from which Tima and Timo were exiled. The adjacent peak is Tīw, who taught you warfare. Hydōr, who brought the ninety-day rains. Suadēre, the origin of cooking, after Fȳr demonstrated his namesake. Esdellō, who became your demons. Gūđea, the Defender, who is the origin of your hero myths. Aevitās, for which those tempted by immortality search in vain.”
Cognōscere did something, and a fragment of Rivi recovered awareness enough to shatter anew at this revelation. “Do you see?” Cognōscere demanded. “I am no Mermēra, to recollect all, but Mermēra is twenty thousand years slain. This is what you wrought with your recklessness; when I am slain in turn, all you have seen will be irrevocably lost.”
As Rivi bore witness, mesmerized, the Ten Thousand Peaks became less real. No longer could Rivi smell alpine air, or feel cold, dry wind that chapped her skin, or see ten thousand dragons as clearly as she saw Cognōscere. It became like a painting, then a tapestry, then a mosaic, until that cracked, faded, and crumbled, leaving Rivi in Mount Bibliotheca, suspended in the air while a dragon cried at her feet.
Rivi might have laughed at a dragon crying over a lost hoard, so closely did it hew to stereotype, but bearing even a fragment of what was lost made that impossible. She realized in that thought that her mind was not broken, that she could think and feel herself again. As Cognōscere sobbed, she sought to recall all the dragon showed her, but it was already confused in her memory.
Time passed: perhaps a day, perhaps a year, perhaps an era. Cognōscere mourned her destroyed treasure. Rivi cleared her throat. “I don’t mean to be rude, but…what do you intend to do with me?”
Tediously, Cognōscere raised her head; the dragon seemed surprised to find Rivi still present. After she regarded the mortal for a protracted moment, the dragon closed her eyes and lowered her head back to her forelegs. “Begone.” Barely a mumble, but the magic constraining Rivi dispelled, and she dropped to the floor.
Rivi stumbled to her feet. She brushed herself off, and licked her lips, eyeing the dragon, but Cognōscere made no move to impede her. Expecting to be incinerated at any moment, Rivi scurried from the dragon’s lair, a thief only of her own life, wondering that Cognōscere had not punished her further.
She barely noticed the handles wrought of an unknown ore into the form of nyansapos, the wisdom knot, which opened the adamantine doors carven with symbols from forgotten eras, framing a mandala at the doors’ shared apex. She stumbled past the shadows of the statues of spiders and biwas, owls and lyres, gamayuns, tyets, and diyas as she fled the empty cavern that was once the greatest library in the world.
Only when she sought to recall the visions Cognōscere showed her of forgotten people and forgotten lands did she realize the true torture the dragon intended. That glorious knowledge slipped from her grasp like the dregs of a dream, so that she could add only a vague sense of wonder, and a profound sense of loss, to her own hoard of memory.
Thank you for reading Lloyd Earickson’s short story, Dragon’s Hoard, an IGC Publishing original story. If you enjoyed the story, please consider leaving a comment or review in the discussion below the story. Be sure to follow IGCPublishing.com for updates, more information, and other freely available stories.
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