Prologue Part III: The Cragheart

A boulder crashed through the front doors. The tiny Quatryl people working inside ducked under their desks which shook as if in an earthquake. When the rumbling stopped, they peeked from behind their barricades to see the boulder had arms, legs, and two angry eyes.

"Oh good, the only cragheart I've ever seen pick up a book has returned," said a Quatryl standing on a raised platform behind the main counter.

He held his position while the others crept off as low to the floor as they could.

"Did you bring back our text?"

The Savvas person stomped up to the counter rattling every piece of furniture it passed. It slammed a book on the wooden surface beneath its palm.

The Quatryl bared his tiny teeth and growled.

"Be gentle with that. I don't have to remind you that if you damage another one, I'll revoke your access to the library."

The small mountain pressed a single dense knuckle against the spine and slid it the rest of the way across. The clerk picked it up with his long, dexterous fingers never letting it touch his palms. He flicked through the pages with the multi-jointed digits acting more like tentacles than fingers. The more pages the tiny person turned, the more distraught his face became.

"Something the matter?" said the earthy creature.

Its voice sounded forth as if coming from a deep canyon.

The robed Quatryl looked up into the scowling, featureless eyes above him.

"You've smudged all the pages again with your dirty hands. Those coarse and callous things are meant for laying brick not delicate matters such as reading."

The golem banged its stoney fist on the desk and leaned over the bookish gnome.

"The next one. Now."

The Quatryl adjusted his spectacles and cleared his throat.

"Yes, well. I'm afraid that was the last one within your general knowledge aptitude as indicated by your test results. The rest of our material on harnessing elemental forces would be too advanced for you."

"The next one. Now."

The rock covered muscles of its face groaned as they grinded against each other to frown harder.

"Ye-yes. Of course. One moment please."

The librarian grabbed the returned book and hopped down from his stand. He shuffled over to a bookcase behind the counter. One of his fingers ran along the titles of the texts on the shelves searching for the proper place for the new one. The act was meaningless of course. He already knew where the book should go, but he needed time to think of a plan. How could he get rid of this nuisance for good?

"What's taking so long?" said the cragheart, pounding its fist again.

The Quatryl slipped the book onto the shelf with a concealed smile.

"Apologies," he said. "Let me consult with a colleague."

He disappeared behind the storage unit to an area with more shelving and carts.

"Ophealiah," he said. "Ophealiah where are you?"

"Yes sir?" said a hushed voice.

A female Quatryl tiptoed into view.

"Is that monster gone?" she said.

"No not yet."

"Oh Hinri, how did that horrid thing ever pass the aptitude test to gain access here?"

"Apparently it's smarter than I gave it credit for," he said. " I've already revised the exam since then, but I'm not about to let it soil any more of my books, especially those with greater scholarly merit than the ones I've checked out to him.

"I've come up with another way to deal with this clod-headed lout and keep our sacred knowledge out of the hands of such riffraff. There should be a book by the title of On the Nature of Elements in the selection to be removed from our archives for lack of academic integrity. Would you fetch it for me?"

"Whatever for sir? It's been debunked as mere pseudoscience."

"Precisely. Since we're getting rid of it anyway, I think I can put it to better use than simply storing it away."

"I'll have it for you shortly."

As Ophealiah scampered off, Hinri returned to the head of the main desk.

"Where is the book?" said the Savvas.

"Patience my friend. Someone is retrieving it now," he said.

A silence settled in. Hinri moved his gaze about the room avoiding direct eye contact with his customer who stared intently down upon him. He noticed a few glints of reflected light through the stretched arm holes of the sleeveless tunic the client wore. His head unconsciously leaned sideways for a better view, drawn in by his instinctive curiosity.

Amongst the sediment of the golem's chest lay twinkling flecks. Near the center, he saw the edge of a hole curving steeply into the body cavity. Jagged shards of broken glass lined the perimeter of the craterous depression. Before he could ascertain its full breadth and depth, the cragheart drew back a step and pulled its clothing tight to its torso. For just a blink, the scowl in its eyes relented. A soft hurt flashed across them before growing even angrier than before.

"So sorry," said Hinri. "I did not mean to stare. Uh, perhaps we should discuss payment."

"What payment!"

The tabletop between them reverberated from the booming voice. The items upon it all shifted a centimeter from where they started.

"Please quiet your voice. This is a university. People are trying to do research," said Hinri.

"What payment?"

"The bimonthly service charge. We can't keep our inventory up to date without income. I'm truly sorry to spring it on you. We don't charge new members for their first fifteen days and few people come back for the second so we don't usually mention it. You can understand that I'm sure."

"How much?"

"Oh it's just a trifle really. Ten gold pieces."

"Ten gold!"

"Shhh. Your voice."

"Weapons cost that much."

"Given your interest in intellectual properties, I think you'll find our product more valuable than any material object. If you are willing to pay a full month in advance, we offer a discounted price of eighteen gold."

Ophealiah slunk to Hinri's side.

"Ah, here is the new book you requested," he said.

He picked up an ink quill and a checkout card. He continued while filling out the name and date.

"And don't worry about the first fee. You can pay it when you return this book. We are always looking out for our valued patrons. There we are. Here is your book Kahdmeer. Thank you again for coming in."

The Savvas glared at the Quatryls for a moment. Ophealiah bent her neck as far forward as she could while Hinri grinned. Kahdmeer slapped its palm down on the book's cover and dragged it along the counter. When part of it hung over the edge, the golem pinched a thumb under it and turned to leave. The gravel skinned humanoid tore out of the building in the same manner as it entered. It shoved the double doors open with total disregard for anyone who might be standing on the other side. A stream of light fell across the librarians.

"I don't think we'll be seeing that thing ever again," said Hinri.

"I hope not," said Ophealiah. "Overcharging on the service fee was a brilliant idea sir."

The corners of his lips curled up as the closing doors snuffed out the light.

To pay the membership cost, Kahdmeer would need more money. For that, the cragheart would need a higher wage job than paving roads. And before finding one, the Savvas needed a drink. It trampled off to the nearest tavern serving alcohol.

Cutting a furrow through the people on the street, Kahdmeer refused to deviate from the straight course it set for itself. Only one man remained in his way, too preoccupied showing off for his date. Her best attempts to point out the incoming danger went unnoticed. Without losing a step, the golem grabbed the unsuspecting man by the upper arm. It yanked him off his feet and tossed the man over its shoulder. A cry of "Edward" was all Kahdmeer heard as it plowed ahead.

Finding the Sleeping Lion before anything else, the living boulder stomped up to the bar and dropped itself in a seat. The chair compressed under the weight. It ordered a big mug and slammed the glass against its mouth upon receiving the drink. An acidic ash bubbled against the rough inner walls of its throat.

Between each gulp, the golem checked its left and right with shifting eyes. Two men flanked its sides a couple spots away. They stared through the oversized arm holes of its shirt. Kahdmeer smashed the half finished mug on the wooden plane. It straightened its posture so the shirt lay flat over its glass speckled chest.

It returned to its drink, but the crashing of the front door interrupted it again. From where it sat, Kahdmeer barely needed to look over its shoulder to see a behemoth Inox struggling through the vestibule. The spiked armor on his shoulders bumped the frame twice before he resorted to twisting at the waist to make the angle.

The giant slid to the side. A Valrath woman strode gracefully past the threshold with an arrowhead tipped tail trailing behind her.