There are shelves. Rows and rows and rows of bookshelves. There’s a tinted glass wall at the back that lets in blue sunlight, and servants bustling back and forth with books gathered in their arms. Between the many shelves, there are tables and chairs placed at regular intervals for patron use.
“This is the section where we keep our translated texts,” Aurel says. “We have servants translate texts as needed, which are then archived here. Of course, since we have had these texts for so long, some of these translated texts are yet again unintelligible to all extant human societies. You will likely find the most use in sections over here.” He gestures to a set of bookshelves to the right. “As I said, we take the safety and preservation of our texts very seriously. One of the servants will supervise you whenever you are here alone to ensure you do not steal or damage any of the texts. You may make copies as you please, however.”
Isla looks down the rows and rows of shelves until they turn out of sight. “This is just the translated works? You mean there’s even more?”
“Our main archives are much larger than you see here, but they are very difficult to navigate as a result,” Aurel says. “If you cannot find what you are looking for here, you may request one of the servants with black cuffs to find and translate a text from our main archive. This should be a sufficient start, however.”
Isla tries–and fails–to not stare. “Yeah, I’ll say.”
Aurel leads Isla around to a set of bookcases and says, “This section contains information about artifice. Many of these texts are extremely esoteric, but there should also be appropriate resources for your skill level, wherever that may be. If you wish to research more…traditional magic, those resources are mostly contained in that set of shelves over there.” He gestures to a much smaller set of bookshelves against the wall. “Our collection is somewhat less comprehensive with regards to that sort of thing due to the ban on such materials within the Empire. I cannot vouch for their accuracy, but you may find them useful. If there are other things you need to find, one of the library assistants will be happy to assist you.”
Just then, another servant comes by and hands something off to Aurel. He looks at it, then addresses Isla. “I apologize. There is another matter around the palace that requires my immediate attention, so I must leave you here. If you need assistance in anything, please ask a servant and they will take care of anything you require.”
“Oh, okay,” Isla says. “Take care of whatever you need to. I’ll be looking through these books for a while.”
“I will return as soon as I am able to. By that time, my scan should be complete, and then we will see if you should attempt the spell I found.” Aurel bows. “I will take my leave of you now.”
With that, he turns and strides out of the library. Isla wonders what needs his attention so badly.
The great doors of the library close again, and Isla goes back to look through the shelves, starting with the artifice books. Not all of the titles are in a language she understands, and others are such an absurd combination of words that they might as well be another language. It makes her feel somewhat inadequate, how much knowledge there is beyond the depth of her understanding.
She finds a couple of books that seem simple enough and takes them off the shelf. She’s not sure what use she’ll get out of it, but since she’s here, it seems like a good time to review what she does or doesn’t know. At the very least, it would help her understand more of this palace, especially if she’s going to be here for a few more days while they search for Lucian and Solanus.
She finds a table and sets her books down. She pulls out the first one, ‘An Introduction to the Ancient and Noble Practice of Artifice’, and starts reading.
It’s an appropriately beginner-level text, and surprisingly, she understands a lot of it. The more of it she reads, the more she seems to remember using back before everything went off. She still can’t recall what she used it for, but the terminology and diagrams make sense for the most part. She pulls her journal out and takes notes about certain symbols or motifs to work into any designs she might need to use in the future, but for the most part, she really knows artifice, at least at this basic level.
It’s the complex stuff that starts losing her. She knows the basic components of artifice–how to change properties, how to store magical energy in objects, even how to make small magical constructs if she has to–but more complicated things like mechanics are well beyond her. Forget automata, she could barely make a functional toy, even with instructions. There’s diagrams full of gears and tables full of material properties and equations she can’t make heads or tails of. She gets through about half a page before skimming through the rest of the book and determining it’s completely incomprehensible. She’s not going to learn how to make mechanics, especially not in the short amount of time she has.
She closes the book and tries another.
It goes on like that for a while. Some books are useful, but some are not. She takes notes when she finds something interesting, but there’s a whole lot that’s so beyond her comprehension that it gives her a headache just thinking about it. It’s not until she reaches the bottom of her stack that she has to stop and stare.
‘The Application of Artifice to Living Bodies’ stares back at her, and she takes a deep breath. It was some kind of morbid curiosity that led her to take it off the shelf, but she’s still not sure she actually wants to open it. Artifice on living things is a huge taboo, and excruciatingly painful, even after the marks have been removed. The Empire used it for torture a long time ago, that was considered too inhumane, even for torture.
She doesn’t even remember why she was experimenting with artifice on herself. She remembers being desperate, that’s all, and thinking she knew how to handle the intersection of artifice and a living thing when no one else could. She was wrong, obviously.
She takes a deep breath and flips the book open. It starts out with the theory of the spirit, the soul, and the body, and how they’re integrated together. It’s theoretically possible to combine different spirits, souls, and bodies, but in practice, all past experiments have ended in abject failure, with the body rejecting the soul or the other way around.
A soul or soul-like entity had a profound effect on the body it inhabited, and a soul in a body not its own tended to self-destruct in a matter of days, especially if the body already belonged to a different soul. However, the book goes on to explain, artifice could allow a soul to be stably placed in a body that has never had a soul in it, giving rise to ensouled automata. Ensouled automata had no spirit and therefore no free will, but a soul gave them an amount of intelligence and flexibility that couldn’t be achieved with artifice alone.
Isla tries not to think about what experiments had to occur to come to these conclusions.
There’s a section after that about how to stabilize the soul and spirit for transplantation, as well as how to safely extract the soul by destroying the spirit. She skips past that, not least because the concept in of itself makes her very ill.
She keeps going until the book starts talking about how to apply artifice to living things, accompanied by some unnecessarily detailed illustrations of various animals with marks applied to their limbs and torso. The text explains that applying marks to living systems without interrupting them is difficult not because of the biological complexity of an animal, but because of the presence of a soul or soul-like entity, which reacted with artifice in volatile ways.
The main way to navigate that difficulty was to literally physically work around it, on certain areas of the body that are ‘safe’ to apply marks to, including parts of the arms, torso, and back, as well as several internal locations that Isla tries not to think too hard about. There’s an enthusiastic list of uses for artifice on living beings, but Isla closes the book on reflex, unable to read further.
She takes a few deep breaths, just wondering about the things that must have–may have–happened in this palace over the last thousand years. She rubs her forearms nervously. They don’t hurt, not even a little, and she can’t see them even if she looks very closely, but she thinks she can feel them, like the touch of an insect’s legs crawling up her arms.
A servant comes to the table and bows. “Miss Isla, the master wishes to speak to you.”
Isla nods and stands up. She doesn’t think she would like to do much more research anyways. “Sure,” she says. “Where is he?”
“His workshop. I will escort you now.”