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The Forest of Lost Knowledge

The search for the Celestine Library

By M. A. Mehan Published 12 days ago 12 min read
Top Story - April 2024
27
The Forest of Lost Knowledge
Photo by Robs on Unsplash

Tomorrow marks eight hundred years since the great Celestine Library vanished.

Einar rested his pen on blank pages. Some scribe he’d turned out to be. They were a week into their journey and not once had he written about their travels or findings. Not that there was much to report on that had not been recorded a thousand times over.

Since their departure into the Forest of Lost Knowledge, Einar greeted each new landmark like an old friend. They were exactly as the illustrations and passages described them, each recounter he’d read adding a new detail until he could recognize each natural feature even if he was lost on a moonless night. Many parties before them had ventured into the forest to find the Celestine Library, and all before them had failed. What would make their search any different?

His sisters sat on either side of him with a unison huff.

“You’re making that face again,” Sora prodded him with a stick she’d found earlier. Her fine, dark hair was frazzled and slipping from the braid she’d haphazardly woven before the day’s march. There was dirt under her nails and mud caked into the hem of her flowing trousers and wide sleeves.

“What face?” He griped, closing his journal with a snap.

Sosha raised a brow. “The face that tells us you’re overthinking.” Her eyes, much lighter than her siblings, caught the golden sunset with a sparkle. She smoothed a fold on her head covering and tucked it back into place. Breezy fabric every shade of the sunset wrapped her like a wispy cloud, marking her as an apprentice mage.

“Tell us what you’re thinking.” Sora ordered, dropping the stick in Einar’s lap and unraveling her braid.

He looked up, beyond the camp, to the elm trees that leaned over the clearing, whispers passing among the branches.

“The trees are trying to warn us.”

Sora and Sosha followed his gaze. In the sunset the autumn-orange leaves burned with an inner fire, as if to ward off the gathering twilight shadows.

“Yes.” Sosha said in a level, cautious tone, “But we can’t let them know that we hear them.”

Einar wondered what she could hear in the whispers. He could sense their foreboding, could she interpret words in the rustling leaves? He believed she could. In a forest rife with the rumors of magic, he would not be the one to doubt.

He shook his head and picked up his pen.

Twilight may be a time for misgivings and impractical fears like children in the dark, but we cannot deny what we hear. The forest is angry. It does not want us here.

<>

“Tell me a story, Sosha.”

A few evenings later, the party gathered tight around the campfire. There was less laughter now, the air of the deep forest smothered their voices so that words turned to dry husks in their mouths. The trees were closer together and the whispers were incessant. They didn’t need the mages now to understand what they were trying to say.

Turn back… leave… we don’t want you here.. turn back, turn back…

“What do you want to hear?” Sosha asked distractedly, stroking her sister’s hair as her head rested on her lap.

“Anything,” Sora whispered wearily. She didn’t finish; Anything to drown out the voices.

Sosha glanced over at their leader, Master Erebus, who nodded. As he shifted, his midnight blue robes shimmered with glass-bead constellations. “Tell us a story.”

Einar set aside his journal, flicking a lock of dark hair from his eyes. He too was grateful for a distraction from the unceasing voices that threatened to drive them all mad.

“Centuries ago,” Sosha intoned, “when hens had teeth and tigers advised kings, a library was built.”

The wind shuttered to a halt, the whispering trees pausing mid-hiss. Einar looked up, and the very stars seemed to draw closer, peering through the thick canopy to listen.

“The greatest and most learned men gathered from across the lands to contribute their knowledge. A million books filled a million shelves in that library, so many tomes that they numbered like stars in the sky. They named it the Celestine Library, for each page was as precious as an ounce of stardust, and the wisdom found within rivaled the wisdom of heaven.”

Einar leaned closer.

“They set magical bounds on the library to keep the knowledge within safe for a thousand years, confident that they and their teachings would live forever.”

A profound sadness crept into Sosha’s eyes.

“They were wrong. The great and the learned dwindled, leaving the upkeep of the library to the few and the inexperienced. They faded like sunlight under pine boughs, and with them, all was lost.”

A wail on the wind ripped through the elms and pines, swooping down from the high formations walling them in. It bent the branches with snaps and cracks far louder than the fire. Birds shrieked in dismay before fleeing for a quieter perch. Four white rabbits tore from the underbrush, fur so pristine it sparkled in the firelight. They dashed eastwards, deeper into the forest. One stopped and stared, pitch black eyes full of fear, before diving after its brothers.

“That is enough for tonight,” Erebus said sharply, and turned to the rest of the party. “Rest now, we start out early in the morning.”

Sosha retreated to the siblings’ tent, eyes downcast. “I didn’t mean… I wasn’t thinking…”

Einar and Sora knelt next to her. Einar put an arm around her shoulders. “You didn’t know.”

“I should have.” She whispered.

The night passed uneasily, and Einar couldn’t sleep. He could have sworn that the faint silver-blue glow highlighting the lines of their tent was coming from more than just the starlight. He didn’t dare investigate.

<>

Day Twenty Six in Search of the Celestial Library

The trees are moving. We awake every morning and the trees are not where they were the night before. Even with watches set, we do not know when or how it happens. We see rabbits everyday, always white, always sparkling whether overcast or sunlight, always in fours. The deer also, though they are black as night, with spots like constellations across their backs. The farther we travel, the stranger the air becomes, and the light is always golden. We are reaching the edges of all the tales, there are few records of what lies at the banks of the Black Teardrop River, and they say none have survived the crossing. We are coming to the point of no return.

“Einar!”

Sora ran up to him, cupping something in her hands.

He drew back, instantly suspicious. If this was one of her pranks…

She held out a tiny mushroom. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said, wide-eyed.

The fungus was small, black as night and in the dappled shadow of the canopy its gills glowed faintly orange.

“I know every nature handbook in the palace front and back. There’s not a single one that comes close to matching this.” Nature that stumped the naturalist.

“Where did you find this?” He asked, standing and stretching. He was tired of waiting for the scouts to find a ford. The looming presence of the river was making him restless, and though the muttering leaves were still in the breathless afternoon, he could still hear warnings in the back of his mind.

She beckoned him towards a copse of trees. “This way. I think there are more too.”

The aspen copse was thick, overgrown with ferns and thick grasses. Sora pointed to the thin path she’d trudged out earlier. “In there.”

He stepped in, pushing aside branches and fronds. There were more mushrooms, yes, deep in the shadows, but they were growing off something strange… something like bones. He yanked a passel of vines out of the way. A human skeleton lay half buried in the dirt at his feet.

Sora fell back on her rump with a scream.

Einar leaned forward and with one finger gingerly lifted the gold pendant that hung around the corpse’s neck. The royal seal from a dynasty long since fallen glinted from its chain.

Peering into the underbrush, he caught more glimpses of white. He counted twelve skeletons in all, a complete party. Turning to help Sora to her feet, he blocked her view of the bones and pushed her back in the direction of camp.

“Are you alright?” He asked quietly.

She nodded, tight lipped. “We should tell Master Erebus.”

Sosha found them on the way back, her murky eyes troubled. “Scouts found a crossing, we need to go.” She caught sight of Sora. “What happened?”

Sora shook her head. Einar gently put a hand on her shoulder. “Not now. The forest sent us another…” Warning wasn’t the right word, threat was more like it.

“I see.” Sosha turned on her heel, fabric flurrying around her. “Well then, the sooner we leave this place the better.”

<>

The river was dark and fast, and the water carried the same hostility that rustled through the leaves.

Turn back while you still can!

“We do not fear the muttering water!” Master Erebus thundered to the gathered party. “We push on!”

They crossed the river with great trepidation, progressing slowly against the rushing current. As they fought to keep their balance, the water’s warning wails morphed into singing, sweet and soft and beckoning.

“Keep on,” Sosha said in a low voice, catching Einar’s arm. “Do not listen to the singing.”

Einar looked over his shoulder at the two men bringing up the rear. They were slowing down, heads swinging back and forth as they searched for the source of the sound. He tried to call out to them, but the voices were so beautiful he could not bring himself to muddle the air with his own.

The bank on the far side of the river was steep, and they needed all their wits about them to scramble up the mud and roots to make it safely to solid ground. As Sora wrung out her sleeves, she looked around, confused.

“Where are Jorah and Li?”

“Who?” Master Erebus turned.

Sosha and Einar looked down the incline. The two men were nowhere to be seen. “The scouts, Jorah and Li,” Sosha said, “They were just behind us.”

“I’m surprised at you, Apprentice, ” Master Erebus snapped. “This is not the time for such a childish prank. We never had men by those names in this party.”

The sisters opened their mouths to reply, instead their brows furrowed and they glanced at each other.

“Apologies, Teacher,” Sosha’s words were halting and jerky, “I seem to have forgotten what we were talking about.”

Einar went to speak up but he too, was suddenly hazy on why Erebus had snapped at the girls. Had they forgotten something across the river? Or had they dropped something in the water? Whatever it was, the recollection was already fading, and as they pushed on into the jungle, so did the river voices that called them back to the water.

<>

The farther they progressed, the more magical the forest became. Creatures beyond description crossed their path, and the trees conversed in a way that made them believe the forest itself was alive… and conspiring against them.

The party stopped in a clearing, the grass soft underfoot. Magic hung thick in the air, wrapping around them so tangibly they could almost see it undulating through the trees.

Sosha was on her knees, hands splayed wide in the grass. Her eyes, once a murky hazel, glowed amber.

“It’s the library,” she whispered in awe. “Everything, the whole forest, is feeding off the magic of the library!”

With that declaration, the forest around them erupted into chaos. Birds dove down and scratched at their faces and the ground roiled beneath their feet. Freezing wind blasted through the trees, carrying with it wordless threats and striking them with senseless terror.

“Run!” Erebus thundered, and they scattered like rabbits. Einar grabbed his sisters’ hands and raced blindly into the forest, knowing, quite without realizing, that he was running in the right direction. The howling forest pursued.

The trees passed in a blur, and still they ran. It wasn’t until Einar felt his heart would burst that he slowed, and as he did, a glint of light caught his eye. A domed roof overlaid in gold and choked in vines rose high above the ancient woods.

“The library!” Sora gasped, and they forced themselves once again into a run.

They were close now, close enough to see branches like hands covering the door, barring their way.

Ours! The trees hissed as they drew near. A thousand thorny vines reached out to trip them.

Sosha’s hands seared with flames and the clawing vines retreated. The massive wooden doors swung open of their own accord, and they tumbled in.

With a earthen scream, the forest threw itself against the opening, and the doors slammed, shutting the forest out.

As their breathing slowed, the siblings inspected their wounds. Sosha’s hands were angry red, a small price to pay for the magic she’d expended.. Sora’s lip was split from a lash from a low-hanging branch, and her legs were covered in scratches. Einar was worst off- a deep hole leered from his side; how he’d sustained it he couldn’t remember, but he was losing blood. Sosha knelt at his side, tears forming in her eyes.

The cold wind howled fruitlessly outside, and the sounds of the outside world faded as a warm breeze from the depths of the library rose up and wrapped them in a gentle whirlwind.

Sosha sat back on her heels, slack-jawed. Einar’s wound had closed completely, they both knew she wasn’t advanced enough to heal like that. Her gaze caught on something over Einar’s head, he turned to see an ancient talisman set on a stone table near them, alight from within, little tendrils of light reaching out to caress Sosha’s cheeks.

Einar’s gaze shifted, behind the talisman bookshelves as tall as ten men marched into the distance, a millenias worth of knowledge waiting to be explored once again.

Sora wandered a few steps away, eyes glued to the massive tree in the center of the hall, the trunk twisting and lifting purple flowers to a muralled galaxy on the far distant roof. She turned back, a grin splitting her face.

“Welcome, little royals,” A warm, powerful voice echoed through the golden halls, shuddering through the floor. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

ExcerptYoung AdultthrillerFantasyFableAdventure
27

About the Creator

M. A. Mehan

"It simply isn't an adventure worth telling if there aren't any dragons." ~ J. R. R. Tolkien

storyteller // vampire // drink goblin // desert rat

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  3. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  1. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

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Comments (14)

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  • John Snow9 days ago

    This is such a brilliant story Loved it. You can also check stories on: https://vidmatehub.in/

  • ROCK 9 days ago

    Congratulations on Top Story!

  • Ameer Bibi10 days ago

    Congratulations 🎉🎉 for top story Your resilience is an inspiration to all who know you. Keep inspiring others with your strength

  • Lindsay Sfara10 days ago

    This is so masterfully written, and I can't get over the imagery used throughout. Well done, and congrats on top story!

  • Rachel Deeming10 days ago

    Some vivid images in here. I'm never eating black mushrooms with orange gills. The Tree of Knowledge in the middle of it all? Why let them through? What do they want with them?

  • Ainy Abraham10 days ago

    A master peice of a story u have written u deserved being on the top story by the way i am new on vocals please support me

  • Anna 10 days ago

    Congrats on Top Story!🥳🥳🥳

  • Andrea Corwin 10 days ago

    A tale that draws the reader in. Knowledge always finds its way out! Congrats on TS.

  • Christy Munson10 days ago

    Enthralling story! Loved every delicious moment! Congratulations on a well deserved Top Story!

  • Call Me Les10 days ago

    You caught me here "“Yes.” Sosha said in a level, cautious tone, “But we can’t let them know that we hear them.”" I had to keep on to the end after that. I loved this twist. Very well done!

  • Nono Fabrice 11 days ago

    Really really fantastic

  • D.K. Shepard11 days ago

    Fantastic! An incredible fantasy tale with compelling characters and a captivating quest!

  • LB12 days ago

    This was so beautiful to read, it really transported me to another realm. Congratulations on such a rich story! LB xo

  • Novel Allen12 days ago

    A well written tale, I always found the movies and series about libraries quite fascinating.

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