The only thing that you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.

Pre-Fall scientist


Johanna stopped when she looked to the side and spotted the tall pointed monument visible over the overgrown area.

“This is it,” she half-whispered. “I recognize this.”

“Your vision?” Miles asked.

“It even has that crack on one side,” she pointed in the distance.

“So, it was not a vision of the Ancient times,” Gomez asked, squinting.

“No. The Library of Congress must be… is in that direction.”


Although there were small trees all over the area, the pathway was relatively clear. They followed elongated and obviously artificial ponds. On the sides, silhouettes of ruined buildings showed in places between the woods that had grown over the ancient park.

Once they passed the pointed obelisk, a partially collapsed dome dominated the perspective. Johanna realized it looked strange to her because she was seeing it illuminated by the sun from the front. She had not realized it at the time, but the vision’s building shapes had been lighted from every direction somehow, while they were in the early afternoon now, and shadows were visible.

“The library should be behind that dome shape.”

“The Congress itself,” Gomez noted from up the wagon, checking the map he held.

“It is weird. To realize I’ve seen this, yet probably no one has actually been here since the Fall.”

The ground cover was sparse now, and the expedition and its wagons finally broke onto Ancient road pavement, intact save for a few holes where roots of absent trees had ripped it open a long time ago before vanishing.

They made their way around the domed ruin, and Johanna finally spotted the building she was – no, they were – there for. Although its surroundings were overgrown, the stairs were there toward the opening, and the same half-crumbled side she recognized did not look any different from the winter’s vision, although she was seeing it from the ground rather than the overhead perspective the model-map had offered.

“It’s still there. Unchanged.”

She felt a wave of emotion come. Satisfaction, vindication, and relief, all mixed together.

“Sorry for doubting you, even if I never said it,” she whispered to the Ancient, and Tom squeezed her from behind, dropping a small kiss on her head.


The entrance to the building was locked or stuck. The doors were a mixture of metal grids and glass panes, and Johanna wanted very much to keep the building as intact as possible for future expeditions, so they carefully worked until the slightly rusted door groaned and opened enough to let them in.

Shadows greeted them. There were windows high above, but full of grime and dust, and barely enough light came in. She estimated the size, and brought up a flame orb, bringing more light – and deeper shadows – to the entrance.

A marble hall was revealed, with staircases going up on both sides. Despite fifteen decades, the building itself had relatively little damage inside. What was inside was different. Wood tables were overturned, sometimes with deep scratches, and broken bits of unknown things were strewn all around, torn cloth drapes haphazardly wrapped over places where they had fallen. Something must have happened here. Some of the ruins Johanna had seen were almost undisturbed while others showed people had come and left.

“It looks like there was some fighting?” she wondered.

“No idea. After all, the door was closed,” Miles said from behind her.

A few more expedition members had been squeezing themselves through the opening, casting glances.

“Based on the maps I got from Nashville, there is a main reading room, and adjacent bookshelves on the first floor,” Gomez said. “But then, there should be lots of bookshelves all around. I think there should be a basement too.”

“Let’s see if it’s better,” she said.


The room they entered was full of darkness, vague hints of light up where you could make out the shape of window panes, but she brought an orb again, and it was revealed in its glory.

Large reading desks in circles, with chairs still there. Alcoves in which she could dimly see shelves, and presumably, books. Unlike the entrance, this place did not look like it had been ransacked.

“Wow,” she whispered.

The professor looked at her oddly.

“Sorry. It feels like we should respect this place. It feels like the Fall never happened here.”

“Libraries do that to you,” Gomez said.


Kartmann and a few others had followed, and they brought out torches. They would have to be careful, but using oil lamps would have meant carrying oil, and they did not have enough room in the wagons. Seeing how hard it had been to recruit teamsters, Johanna was happy she did not have to buy an extra and older wagon for even more supplies. Torches were easier to make on the spot.

She peeked into one of the side alcoves, flaming hand active, and was greeted by the sight she hoped to see. Book spines. The shelves looked intact, even if more cobwebs had been deposited over the decades, and the books looked antique. A brass plaque stated “Biographies”, meaning she could expect to find stories of famous Ancients.

Sorry for your legacies, but we have another use for you, she apologized mentally.

Cameron Scott ducked into the alcove and started pulling some of the books, checking them.

“Let’s see what you can get,” she said to him.


“You qualify for a Level, after all. And probably a new Talent.”

The man smiled back and started piling books on his arm.


She’d relocated the floating orb a bit closer and taken over one of the reading desks. It held no books whatsoever, but it was handy to put a stack of the ones they’d already pulled. The rest of the team gathered around her, and she turned to the hopeful scavengers.

Jackson, the other Fire Shaper, was first. A simple Agility parchment popped, making him worry, but when Tom’s touch brought Agility and Ember Hand out of the book, he relaxed and accepted both parchments.

“And the Gauge Stamina does not change after accepting a Talent. It’s just Level that does it,” Gomez noted.

One by one, all the scavengers made their way into the Library to check their progress. Only a handful, all of those who’d activated Level previously, got parchments. For the rest, the book conversion did not start. Ulrich smiled when, after two Strength parchments, he got Immutable Wood. The parchment refused to light, but he stored it anyway for when it would.

“Catching up to you, Miles.”

“I got the superior Talents.”

The two drivers got also their promised specialization and Talents. A Ranger and a Deadeye, whatever that specialization was. From the Talent names, that looked like some form of Heroic close-and-range combat type.

After all the expedition members, Johanna hesitated briefly. There were books still stacked on the reader’s desk.

“Well, let’s start making parchments for the future,” she announced loudly for the benefit of the Ancient.

The new parchment was a classic one. Level, Authority, Shaper. Another sorcerer starter specialization. She slid the parchment aside and passed the book to Tom while picking another.

Level, Authority, Flame Handling.

Looks like we’re starting with a set for another fire sorcerer, she mentally noted.

Perception, Mana Sight.

Ah, another of those. It is due time someone else got it.

Level, Dexterity, Flaming Blade.

Level, Agility, Earthbind.

Uh? What does this have to do with fire? It doesn’t fit

Level, Fire Shaper

Okay, that’s five.

Then she converted another book and froze, looking at the new paper.

Dexterity, Fireball… and a struck-out Earthbind.

Gomez looked at her, noting her hesitation. He looked then at the parchment.

“What is it? Two talents, one with a bar?”

“That’s how you remove Talents. Petra got her Frostbite removed like that. But… that’s what happened to me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Those parchments… they’re recapitulating what happened. I started as a Shaper, with my flaming hand… Flame Handling. And the Mana Sight. Then I got the blade. Then Earthbind.”

“Then you became a Fire Shaper…” he continued.

“And then later, I lost Earthbind, which was replaced by… Fireball.”

“That’s what happened to you?”

“Yes. Then… the next one should be the breath…”

She picked a book and watched the conversion occur.

Empathy – curious – and Steam Breath, along with Level. It does look like you’re correct,” Gomez noted.

Level, Strength, and Flaming Orb were next.

Johanna exhaled slowly. All of her skills finally laid bare.

“Thank you,” she whispered, drawing an odd look from Gomez before he realized who she was talking to.

“It’s interesting, I agree.”

Level. Agility. Cinder Circle.

She stopped again.

“Looks like it’s the sixth quality Talent,” Gomez noted. “The one that will replace your Earthbind.”

“Wait a second…” she replied.

Spotting Kartmann, she immediately came to him.

“Has my… power level changed?”

The minotaur was startled by the question and gauged her.

“I don’t think so. Nope, you still feel as before.”

She came back, as the rest of the team looked at her.

“I was wondering why that parchment. I shouldn’t have that Talent yet.”

“Not yet, maybe. But I am assuming that’s what’s next for you,” Gomez answered.

“In advance?”

“Why not? You made a parchment for Ulrich Sengfield that he has to activate yet, after all. If you can pick what qualities you get, then your Talent progression can be somewhat predicted.”

“Tom? What about you?” she asked.

She looked. Tom’s parchments were Level, Battler, followed by Level, Strength, Slam, then Agility, Intercept. The parchments followed the same type of progression, with the last two indicating Blind Fighting and then Grapple. Counting the Levels, the latter was the eighth as well.

She looked, spotting Gomez noting down the parchments Laura had produced. She immediately realized the Combat Fixer had had First Aid all along, probably before they encountered the Lepus colony where that Talent had probably saved her life. Falter had come later… and at the same time as her Flaming Blade. During the Lepus attack on Anasta, she realized.

He knew what was important.

Gomez finished taking notes.

“Looks like all of you got an advance notice of your next Talent.”

“That’s handy. But I seem to lack… one,” Peter noted.

“Your current Level seems empty. And you do not have any associated with either Authority or Empathy, interestingly. However…” Gomez started muttering inaudibly.

“However?” Peter asked before Johana could.

After a longer pause, Gomez finally said just, “interesting.”


“Later. It seems there are more parchments to produce,” he replied, pointing to the large pile of books.

“Let’s see what sets we get then,” she replied, smiling.

Johanna picked one book and started again.

The parchment that popped was a simple one. And it lighted under her touch.

Fire Master.

At that moment, she felt suddenly faint, and the light hanging above extinguished itself, plunging the library room into darkness.

A note from Vincent Archer

Normally, you'd stew over the cliffhanger for a couple of days, but not with the accelerated schedule.

About the author

Vincent Archer

  • France

Bio: Vincent Archer wrote his first story around age 11. On a mechanical typewriter, with carbon paper for a mimeograph to distribute in class. His teacher knew enough to make vague encouraging noises rather than really tell him what she thought. He wrote more stories afterward, but Time has thankfully managed to erase every trace of them.

Now that his career has settled in a mix of routine and insanity and that he's figured out that herding cats would probably be easier, he's finally started to write stories again on a media rather than inside his brain. Some of those are even potentially good enough to show to other people.

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