Tales from Athenaeum Arcana

Over the course of the Faire, Fairelanders are joining tours of individual lands and telling stories about them. These we will be preserving on this website – and some will be made into special tales to be recorded for Fantasy Faire radio. We’re also going to share some of these stories here, and here are stories from the sixth tour, to Athenaeum Arcana.

(Please note – these are the writing we have received to date. You can also read them on the LitFest Athenaeum Arcana page here – where any further works inspired by Athenaeum Arcana will be published)


The Hand in the Library
By Saffia Widdershins

Cerise picked her way carefully over the broken pavement, careful not to spill a drop of milk from the can she was carrying. Or loosen her grip on the breadsticks under her arm. As she paused at the top, looking down to the foot of the stairs in the Stacks, she could see a gaggle of children playing catchem keepem, running from one bookshelf to the next with giggles and shrieks. Little Maize Philosophy was in the rear, she saw, her pale gold hair flying behind her as she tried to out-run the child who was the Chaser.

“Maizey! Maizey!” The other children, safe now, were peeping round the tall heavy bookshelf to call encouragement.

Maize shot a fearful glance over her shoulder – and that was her undoing. Her foot came down on a pile of loose papers that had drifted from some forgotten volume, and Maize went skidding into a fall.

“Maizey!” The cry became a wail and then, quick as thought, one boy darted out from the safety of the bookshelves and grabbed Maize by her arms to haul her to safety. Cerise saw it was her brother Umber and smiled.

“’Tain’t fair!” The Chaser stood still, and started to pull off the heavy purple gloves. He pushed the mask back from his face to rest on top of his head, and Cerise recognised the freckled face of Rust Gardening. “You’re not meant to help!”

Umber advanced from behind the bookcase. “She’s only little!” he protested. “And she’s my friend.”

Maize, who had been rubbing her upper arms where Umber had grabbed her, gave a warm, glowing smile.

Rust was less appeased though. “’Tain’t fair,” he repeated.

Umber held out his hand. “Here,” he said. “I’ll be Chaser.”

Rust hesitated, even as the other children ooohed in excitement.

“By the Hand?” he said, clearing not trusting.

“By the Hand,” said Umber, raising his right hand into the shape of the claw that had shattered the world.

Rust handed over the heavy purple patterned gloves and was pulling off the matching monstrous mask to make the exchange when a voice spoke beside Cerise. “May I help you with that?”

He had come up so silently that she gave a little jump, startled. “Oh … Blue!”

“Careful,” he said, and there was a note of amusement in his voice. “You don’t want to spill it. Nest let me carry it.”

It was on the tip of her tongue to protest that she could manage, but instead she found herself handing over the can and shifting the breadsticks to a more comfortable position.

“Thank you,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting there to be a new consignment of milk.”

Blue nodded. “The Council decided to harvest the soya. The pressing was a good one.”

“Oh,” she said, taking careful steps down the stairs, avoiding the rubble. “I didn’t realise … “

“Father told me about it,” Blue said, matching his steps to hers. “Careful … this bit is tricky.”

“I know,” she said, the edge of temper in her voice. “I go up and down these stairs every day, almost.”

“Sorry,” said Blue, and she regretted the sharpness of her words. It was hardly Blue’s fault that his father, Master Blue Arcane, was a Primary and a member of the Council, or that Blue had grown up in the airy region of the Heights, with nothing but the Time Bubble between him and the sky while she was a Stacks dweller.

“No,” she said. “It’s me who’s sorry. You come down here almost as much as if you lived here.”

She glanced at him, and she saw that he was smiling a little sadly.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

He gave a shrug. “Father has been going on about apprenticing me to the electromages again. He believes that we can learn to boost the power to start up time again. To restore us to … whatever is outside the Bubble.”

Cerise involuntarily looked to the centre of the Library where the great purple Hand that had smashed upwards and destroyed the Library and their world was still visible – from this angle you could see one of the vast cruel Claws.

“But if they start up time, won’t the Hand move again and finish destroying us all?”

Blue shrugged again. “That’s what the Council are arguing about. Some say that electromancy just holds time in check – and others say the hand must be dead by now – that if time restarted it would just wither away and we could rejoin the world beyond and repair the Library.”

Cerise swallowed. “The Hand isn’t dead,” she said quietly. “You know that. You were there when I … touched it.”

She remembered as if was yesterday the foolish dare, and her own twelve-year-old response – easy, careless, running forward to scramble over the broken rocks to where the hand had thrust upwards. The other children had been calling encouragement – all except Blue who had been begging her to stop …

She remembered how she had lain almost horizontal to touch the enormous finger, meaning only to brush it with her fingertips. And the shock of realising that she was closer than she thought, that her whole hand could lie flat against the leathery purple surface. Then the feel of it beneath her hand – living skin that pulsed with life, a terrible sensation of heat, of anger … and then nothingness.

One in every generation, Mrs Physiology had said to her mother as she administered a dose of fungi. One in every generation – to serve as a warning. Marked with the purple stain on her palm and, once her hair grew back in, the deep purple colour there too.

“The Hand is alive.”

The words hung in the air between them as they reached the section of the stacks that made a home for the Crafts family. Bookcases surrounded it on three sides and most of the fourth – Cerise’s mother Rose had hung a curtain over the gap to ensure privacy.

“Ma!” Cerise called, announcing her arrival. “Blue Arcane is here. He helped me bring the milk.”

Rose Crafts pushed aside the curtain and smiled at both of them. “That was kind of you, Blue,” she said as she took the can. “Won’t you stay and have some tea?”

Blue shook his head. “My father wants me to … to meet some people,” he said. “But I was glad to help Cerise.”

And, with a smile and a bob of his head, he was gone.

Cerise let the curtain drop and looked around their small home, so neatly furnished and decorated by her mother’s skill.

“He’s meeting the electromages,” she said. “His father wants him to apprentice to them. They are talking about … about restarting time.”

Her mother turned from stowing the foodstuffs and looked at her. “And that thought worries you?”

Cerise swallowed. She closed her eyes and reached …. Reached deep inside to that small core of flame that had been embedded into her since the day she had touched the Hand, the core that had nearly killed her but that gave her … something … something that deepened and roughened her voice as she spoke – or rather, as the core of flame spoke through her.

“If you release Time,” the Hand said, “you release Me.”


Athenaeum Arcana Tower Secrets
by Moira Draconia

The tower loomed before me, the tattered library below.

Three figures stood above me, motionless statues. Each holding a object.I took out my looking glass newly purchased from the bazaar, and held it up to my eye. I studied each face a frown upon each, seeming transfixed on the giant demonic hands bellow. The first was holding a lone gear. Was this gear missing from the tall tower above? It seems as if it could fit a great clock, or perhaps run some machinery within the Athenaem Arcana.

Next to her a woman frozen in time holds a glowing hourglass.

It is exactly halfway through, I realized. It is an exact equilibrium of time.. The rays from the hourglass form a bubble that surrounds the ruins. Moving my looking glass slightly I find yet another woman to the side of her, frowning as well, clutching

A valuable book with the title “Veritas”…truth. I must find a way to sneak up into the tall tower and find out what these three guardians were protecting from those giant hands bellow.

I entered inside the tower through a secret passageway. Where you might ask? Well, If I told you then it wouldn’t be a secret anymore! It isn’t where you would expect it. Took me awhile to find it. There was a remaining book on the many shelves that did not seem to fall when the great library froze in time. I am almost certain it wasn’t placed back on the shelf like the others nearby. It was a faded purple book like a spell book.

I touched it and noticed it had some give, and pressed it firmer still

A staircase revealed itself, spirraling up a passageway and up into the tower

I climbed and climbed up this stairway, seeming to go on and on forever in a cramped spiral.

I made it to the top and looked out at the view of the globe from a dim room.

It seemed unreal..that something so powerful could stop a force even more powerful than itself..in this tug of war and balance. It was the cure to the giant hands that wanted to uproot this place of knowledge and wisdom. It was beautiful too, and it was being fed by several power sources, but what was feeding those sources? I ducked back into the tower room.

Inside the tower room it looked like whatever was once up in that tower was elsewhere now. Tables and chairs were strewn about, and three pedestals lay empty and covered in dust. There was nothing much to see here. It seemed like these items perhaps had some value. It took finding a secret passageway to find this room.

I carefully descended the spiral staircase, and as I emerged back into the Athenaem Arcana I felt a sense of sadness. The books lay strewn about in piles where the volunteers were not yet able to tackle the mess. A giant force destroyed such a beautiful place, yet it remained frozen. I couldn’t help think that the three women statues were once alive and were not always on their pedestals on the tower. Time can distort sizes and distances in our memories, can’t it? I think this place has that effect on me. It has been twenty years since I lost my grandmother, twelve since I lost my grandfather, and four years since I lost my uncle…yet I still hold them in my memory as if they didn’t leave that long ago.

As I made my way back I looked again at the three women’s faces and felt hope for the first time in a long time. Maybe a few can make a big difference for many just like the three silent women in stone who seem to hold the Athenaem Arcana in a state of suspended animation.

If they could not stop this creature with giant hands ripping the very foundations of this library, then perhaps someone can in the future. The three guardians of work, time, and truth might be silent now, but I have a feeling someday we will know how to help them stop this destruction once and for all. For now, I will explore the racks of the library and see if I can find anymore discoveries that will lead me closer to solving the mystery of the Athenaeum Arcana.

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