Bookman: Volume One
An Epic Fiction Inspired by Katsura Hoshino's -Man
Chapter 1: Bookman's Arrival
The last time he had stepped foot on Clan territory, it had been a cold winter night in the tenth month of the year 1870. He recalled it to be so, as it had been three months following what would be known as The Battle of Sedan during what would soon be referred to as the Franco-Prussian War. That would be recorded in history: the names, the dates, the major players. Everything had concluded and wrapped itself neatly into a tiny package of information. It would be passed on for future generations to read, but never to learn from or understand.
Because in the Bookman's experience, people never learned from history.
The Himalayas were covered in snow, just as they had been on that winter night five years ago. It was still the awe-inspiring winding spine of craggy cliffs and steep, white drops that stretched out in all directions as far as the eye could see. In the cold morning air, wisps of low-lying clouds drifted through the pristine valleys and peaks, almost like the visible breath of the range that had lived for so long. How much history had they seen over the years. The one known as the Bookman could only wonder as he trekked through knee-high snow towards the peak of one particular mountain. Although he was spry for the age of eighty-seven and despite the fact that he wasn't climbing Qomolangma, it still felt as though he was ascending to that altitude, where the air thinned and became so cold that it became hard to draw breath. It was clean, unpolluted air, and Bookman found that despite the complications it left for someone his age, he much preferred it to the dirty, sooty air of the European cities he had left behind.
The place he sought came into sight in a glimmer of sunlight, enhanced by the reflective properties of the endless amounts of snow. Directly on the border between Xizang's southern province and Nepal's northern region, there sat a humble, yet wonderfully exquisite structure. At first, one might believe it to be the home of reclusive Buddhist monks, who took themselves out of the world in order to meditate upon it. However, as one carefully navigated the slippery treacherous pathway of winding slate towards the building, it was easy to discern that it was nothing of the sort. The building itself had seemingly strategically nestled itself into the mountain so that only the main entrance and several of the higher pavilions were visible from the outside. The slate gave way to a lacquered walkway of red teak, protected by a peaked roof plated in copper shingles. Before him, a massive, ornate door beckoned him closer. Two shishi sat on either side of it, their lion-like marble features formidable and fierce though cast in stone. They seemed to growl as he passed: the guardians of the secret place where History was Housed.
Nearing the door, Bookman's gloved fingers curled themselves around one of the two brass knockers. As he pulled back, it creaked from lack of use and exposure to the elements. However, it still made quite the resounding indicator that someone was outside. Even from where he stood, Bookman could hear the sound echoing inside the structure, ringing out in the cavernous hallways. Only twice did he have to knock before the door was opened and he was allowed to step inside. The illumination from the morning had gone, giving way to darkness as the door closed behind him. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the sudden change in light. His other senses recovered much more quickly: the heating system immediately soothed his cold fingertips and other extremities. Meanwhile, the heavy scent of incense and parchment assaulted him, not unpleasantly so, with a spiciness and warmth that Bookman felt would be appropriate to identify as nostalgia. But nostalgia or not, Bookman knew that it was not his home. The structure was just a place to return to. There was no fondness for it, only obligation and duty.
The Bookman was not allowed to call any place home.
"The Honorable Bookman has returned," said two voices from the floor before him. Two boys were prostrate before him, bowing respectfully in their navy haori and zubon. With his eyes once again under his control, Bookman was able to discern the golden cord upon their upper right arms, signifying their rank. They were the Door Keepers: those who protected and guarded the doors from enemies, but also provided a service to those who were visiting allies or affiliates with the Clan. Truly, Bookman acknowledged that it must have been the dullest sort of work possible within their organization, as many of those who were members of their prestigious group held permanent residence inside their headquarters for many years at a time, leaving the Door Keepers to do nothing for most of their days on duty.
"Please allow us to assist you," they said, once again in unison. Bookman allowed them to take his cloak and walking staff, where he knew it would be stored in a specific room for easy retrieval when his time came to leave at the end of his stay. However, he did not allow them to take his traveling pack or the scroll cases he had carried for the entirety of his journey, wanting to see them safely off himself. They provided him with a pair of comfortable silk slippers in exchange for his hiking boots and a Clan haori for extra warmth during his stay. Afterwards, the two boys were once again at his feet, bowing in respect as they waited for further instructions.
"Thank the both of you," Bookman replied. The boys stood and parted, allowing Bookman to pass between the two of them.
"Thank you, Honorable Bookman," they answered politely from behind him, as Bookman followed a pathway dimly lit by a myriad of candles on both sides. Eventually, the hallway stopped before a shoji door, which he opened and slid shut behind him. Beyond the door, Bookman found himself in a hallway lit by bright lanterns. The polished floor shone as he passed beneath the sources of light, his feet not stopping so that his eyes could admire the works of art tucked into tiny alcoves on either side of him. Instead, he quickened his pace in order to reach the end of the corridor, shifting the scroll cases beneath his arm as he exited the extended foyer.
Beyond the entrance, headquarters became one with nature: the lacquered support beams and floorboards melded into the craggy insides of the heart of the mountain. It became a bit colder, but not uncomfortably so, as the heating system at the core of the structure kept the inside rooms at a steady temperature all year round. To Bookman, the place had always been in good taste somewhere between a simplistic mansion and a Japanese dojo. Everything had very clean lines with little clutter. It was almost as if the Bookman aesthetic itself had manifested into visual attributes. Everything was defined and strict, without excess, much like the solitary life the historian known only as the Bookman led.
His destination was in South, where the Main Archives had been located for over 5,000 years. It had always been such, Bookman realized as he called a lift to his current floor. The structure had been divided many centuries ago to mirror the four points on the compass rose. Scattered through the wings were the libraries, annexes, and archives where thousands of years of history resided and was routinely cared for in order to preserve it for many more generations. However, the Clan was not purely a historical resting place for documents and records: it also housed many students and professors, as well as scientists, pharmacists, and other scholars.
The lift dinged when it reached his floor and Bookman stepped inside, indicating for the elevator to bring him to the second to lowest level of the building. The Main Archives and Library were located there. It was the place where Bookmen from the beginning of time had stored their knowledge. It was the place where the current Bookman was going to file away what he had witnessed for the past five years. It was the history that would never be widely known or spoken of.
It was the history behind history.
Within a short span of time, Bookman arrived at the Main Archives in South. It was a poorly-lit place due to its purpose for storage. In addition to this, using candles was strictly prohibited, as one wrong slip could ruin the history of the entire human race. Instead, a new invention known as a halophosphate phosphor-florescent lantern was employed, which could cast its illumination far in any direction, providing ample light by which to see and read. They were stored at the entrance in a cubicle like structure and Bookman helped himself to one in order to venture further inside.
Not much had changed in the past five years. It was still the large space that seemed to be consumed with darkness and knowledge. Secrets seemed to embrace everything about the library, much like the fine layer of dust and spider webs that proliferated on the shelves. These shelves with their secrets and dust and knowledge stretched from floor to ceiling, cradling volumes upon volumes of hand-written tomes and manuscripts.
"Well, look who came back. My, my, isn't this quite the reunion?"
Bookman turned, casting his eyes through the dark to pinpoint where the voice had come from. A circle of light appeared in his peripheral vision and soon, Bookman could see who it was who had spoken. It was a woman of Indian descent, sometime in her late forties. Behind the washed out light she carried, her skin appeared papery white, when in fact Bookman knew it to be the color of the sand in the Saudi Arabian desert.
"It's been a while, hasn't it?" she said with a smile. It looked dark, twisted by shadows, but Bookman knew it was trick of light. It was truly the kindest smile he had seen in many years.
"Indeed it has, Miss Dakshina," Bookman answered.
"Come, let us speak in a better atmosphere than this one," Dakshina offered, with a small bow. She led him through the darkness for some time, Bookman following her silhouette and the train of her haku patasi. Then suddenly, from above, a light larger than their hand-held lanterns came to life with a resounding click and illuminated the main desk and work areas. The light was a paler blue, less harsh than the blinding white from before. Bookman could then see her more fully: everything from the maroon bindi upon her forehead to the way her hair had been clipped up into a severe bun. Even knowing her for so many years, Dakshina was still a rare oddity, considering how the Clan majorly consisted of men. Women were to hold only minor offices and titles of lesser importance. But Dakshina was the first woman in their history to hold the office of Archive Master. To be Master of the Archives was a prestigious and noble title, requiring that the individual be intelligent, patient, and quite meticulous. And if anyone, Dakshina possessed these qualities to the highest degree.
"Now, that's a bit better, isn't it?" she said, turning off her lantern. Bookman followed suit and set it on the counter beside hers. She turned to him and once again smiled warmly. "Where have your travels taken you these past years, Bookman?" she inquired.
"Many places," Bookman answered.
"Vague and mysterious as usual," she replied. He set his scroll cases down upon the marble countertop. Dakshina observed them without comment, her keen, quiet eyes appraising their size. Upon the lock catch, the Clan crest shone beneath the overhead light: an open book, the compass rose, a quill and sheaf of parchment, and a scale that was perfectly balanced. All four symbols comprised a visual portrait of the principles that had been upheld by the Bookmen since the Clan's initial establishment. The open book represented erudition. The compass rose signified extensive travel. The quill and scroll illustrated the recordation of history. The balanced scale exemplified the most important attribute of the Bookmen: impartial, unbiased judgment. All of these qualities were required to be upheld and fulfilled by the ones who recorded history.
"These are for the Archives," Bookman said, removing the scrolls from their cases. Dakshina aided him in this, her touch cautious to make sure that the utmost care was taken in preserving the thin pages from damage. From beneath the desk, she produced three cylindrical cases made of a clear, synthetic material. With the same amount of care as before, Dakshina slid the scrolls inside of each case until they were entirely enveloped in the protective fabric. Afterwards, she zipped the top closed on all of them and pulled a cap open on the very top, preparing to vacuum seal them so that oxygen would not destroy the information over time.
"Lavi," Dakshina said, calling the name over her shoulder. Bookman did not see anyone come at her beckoning, but heard the scuffle of clumsy feet moving forward in the dark. When they stopped, she directed her words downward: "See that these are prepared for storage."
"Yes ma'am," replied a voice—a male child's tenor—from behind the counter. Within seconds, a small child's face appeared beside Dakshina's left elbow. In the florescent light, his complexion was pale and washed out to make him appear rather sickly. To add to this notion, he was rather small and looked a bit underfed. However, it was neither his pallor nor size that attracted Bookman's attention, but rather the black patch that obscured the child's right eye. The left scrutinized him for a moment: a rather eerie green in the overhead light that Bookman met with unwavering indifference. Soon, the boy's gaze dropped and his small arms took up one of the scrolls before he disappeared behind the counter again. Bookman heard his small footsteps hurrying away towards the back preparatory and storage room. It wasn't until his echoing footfalls were out of earshot that Bookman inquired:
"The Chancellor will want to see you," Dakshina replied, evading his question with ease. The way her hands continuously smoothed the fabric of the plastic scroll cases made Bookman wonder exactly what it was that had made her so nervous about his question.
"I would not doubt it," Bookman answered, pulling the empty scroll cases toward him. He placed the smallest inside of another and then that one inside of the largest in order to consolidate space.
"You should see to him immediately. After all, you would not his mood to turn sour, would you?" Dakshina asked, a teasing smile in her words. The boy's footsteps were coming back, returning to retrieve another scroll as she had asked him to. Bookman did not say anything and instead shouldered his case before turning on his heel to walk towards the door. Dakshina's voice stopped him before he could make it out of the circle of light around the desk.
"Oh, and Bookman," she said, causing him to turn and look at her. The young Indian woman's face was set in a severe look that indicated she would not take any disobedience or defiance from him. "Do not make him angry." The Bookman smirked at her, his eyes flickering momentarily to the small boy that had appeared at her side once more. But his curiosity would be sated eventually, he knew, and the old man opted instead to continue on his way toward the exit of the library.
"I won't make any promises," he said quietly. He was a footstep outside of the archive when he heard Dakshina's echoed response:
"I heard that."