Just pushed his face in front of mine. There was a gun in Just’s hand, still smoking. The smell of sulfur stung my nostrils. Blood pumped from a bullet hole in my left shoulder, just below the clavicle, and the images of paradise were fading, washed away in gouts of blood.
“Quiet!” A voice rang like a tuba blast, otherworldly, amplified well beyond the capacity of human lungs.
The distraction gave me a moment’s grace, enough time to strike a blow at Just. This time it was a genuine blow. For once I was grateful for the raw physicality of the sensation, nerves registering contact. The reality of causing pain established a link to another soul.
A sort of creature, emerged from behind a row of shelves. Its mouth looked as if it were made of wet spaghetti. Four roving antennae fanned the air above its head. I would have thought the appearance loathsome, but for the fact this creature had just saved my life. It walked over to where Just lay unconscious. “Hmmm….” it said. It picked up Just’s gun and examined it, holding it at a distance, as if it were an unclean thing. Then it gestured mystically over the bullet wound on my left shoulder.
“You are very kind,” said I, impressed with the way the alien spell stanched the bleeding.
The alien turned toward rows and rows of bookshelves, all standing upright. “I don’t care about you or your petty squabbles. My concern is for this library. You were bleeding on the books.”
The collection stood perfectly intact. The collapse of the bookcases had been a hallucination, part of my imagined victory over Just, another unreal Valkynne. Then the creature picked up the ancient scroll, and poked his fingers through 3 bullet holes. The holes were real enough. It shook its head sadly. “For centuries to come, scholars will ponder the ambiguities created by holes in the holy text.”
“Mystic lore is best advanced by contemplation of what is not there,” I snapped back, not really meaning to be snide. I suppose I was trying to assuage my guilt in the matter.
“I am pained by this damage– far more than you with your shoulder. You can’t even begin to imagine how much effort it took me to put this library together. It was centuries. Centuries.”
“You? You assembled the library?”
Its affect suddenly brightened. “Like it?”
Incredulously, I stammered, “My most venerable teacher told me they built the library of souls!” I gestured over to the comatose forms, clustered in circles by the northern wall.
The creature regarded the forms for a moment, stroking the noodles of its mouth in contemplation. “They did nothing. They can do nothing. They are the seekers of Valkynne.”
One of the shriveled, vacant eyed faces caught my attention. The gender was no longer discernible. The prominent nose had withered, but there was no mistaking the striped pattern of wounds on his cheeks. I peered closer. August Schiller had found his paradise. I touched Schiller’s forehead, trying to read his thoughts, to see what the great man saw…
CROW CLAIMS SEGMENT NINETEEN FOLLOWS
TO CONTINUE IN ORDINARY SEQUENCE, FOLLOWING NUMERICAL ORDER, FOR ZEKE RINGO’S ULTIMATE VERSION, NEXT TURN TO SEGMENT NINETEEN