City Story: an extract

I have heard that there is an edge to the city, that if one travels far enough one will come to a fortified wall, greater than any known bastion, beyond which lies… what might be called empty space. Land without buildings. Bedrock the same as that through which the lower levels are burrowed, but covered with a layer of the same mold that is cultivated as a medium by olericulturists, which in its turn is populated by a vast crop of self-propagated plants. Such fantasies are surely wish-fulfillment, but who would not wish to see such a paradise, who could bear to deny its possibility once the idea had been presented to them? It is not dissimilar to that better known fantasy of the okeanopolis, inspired by the great marshaling basin of Salar, and perhaps has a similar origin, in a natural response to  great glasshouses like those at at Middlegate. The difference is that many believe that the okeanopolis is real, that there is a place where great wharves stand at the edge of a basin whose extent is too vast to encompass with the eye. I have even seen maps…

In truth though, the city has an edge: it is where I live. All I must do to cast my eyes beyond it is to step through the window of my garrett onto the library roof, and look upwards. The boundary between roof and sky is too clearly delineated to deny, and one can easily suppose that there is also a lower boundary, although explorers have yet to fathom the deepest extent of the catacombs. It is in the lateral compass of the city that we must face the philosophical necessity of the infinite, and the axiomaticity of the proposition that the city in which we live is the universe, not a thing that is in it. Such a fallacy springs from the presence in our language of two words for essentially the same thing: but all the universe can be said to contain aside from the city, is the sky.

There are days when I could imagine that the library itself is the entirety of the cosmos. Although I am The Librarian, I have no assistants or apprentices. It was a wealthy and powerful family that collected the library, but although they still bear the title of Dynast, it is now little more than an honorific. It is as much as I can do to prevent the most important works from falling into decay, and my days spent conserving bindings, poisoning worm and cataloguing little used stacks are long enough that I often leave the library only during the hours of darkness. It is rare, and therefore welcome, for a visitor to the crumbling palace to require assistance in research: mostly they do not proceed beyond the well appointed reading room, which is kept presentable for the use of the family.

The Dynast Pel Horotin of Metateichan Parast is (or was) a moderately distant cousin of my employers, the Konefkin Dynasty, the owner of a small estate in the district of Parast that lies beyond the Peregrine Wall, separated from the refuse heaps and slums of the Scatapolis only by the River Óis. Like all metateichans he was prone to impetuous action, and ill founded, optimistic beliefs. He was however, a deeply intelligent, perceptive man, and a true scholar, notwithstanding that he was principally a man of action, and a feared duellist. In his company, and through collaboration with him, I have unlocked the meaning of much of the obscurest content of the Konefkin Library.

He first came to the library in a state of great agitation, bearing two ancient texts, small, hand copied codices that he had purchased from an archaeologist excavating deep catacombs to the far south. They were written in an admixture of ancient tongues, and promised to hold a clue to the proper reading of the Paleokiano language, which was known in many texts, but which had never been properly understood. Even its name was a description of its great age, and the fact that it was principally written in blue ink: no scholar had the first idea how it might be pronounced.

Dyn. Horotin, however (who to my great discomfort insisted I address him familiarly, as Pel) was no linguist, and, though interested, was not excited by the possibility of solving this ancient puzzle for its own sake.

The Paleokiano texts were the subject of much speculation by those who hoped to prove the reality of mythological sites: the okeanopolis mentioned above; the Citadel of Mikhtan, filled with its armoury of magical weapons; the great subterranean waterway of Kanna; and many others. His researches had led him to believe that our library’s Paleokiano texts might hold accounts of travels far beyond the regions that constitute the known world today, travels he himself wished to emulate. This was the source of his excitement: he believed he might find directions to ancient sites and treasures that would unlock the earliest history of the city’s peoples, and perhaps enable a scholarly account of the origins of the city itself. In short, he thought he had found a way to discover the identity of the putative First Builder.

This search was to prove the impetus to the transformation of the Konefkin library, to a great leap forward in the scholarship of ancient texts, and sadly, to the almost certain death of that brave, intelligent, foolhardy and misguided man.

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