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Life can give you answers, but you have to ask the questions, Brandon would often say to a young Stark whenever he had a confused look on his face. He had always hated that. But he did learn to ask.
It's time to find some answers.
Stark steps into the library, and Melfina shuffles papers on the desk in front of her
"How are you today?"
"Doing well, how about you?" she says in an innocent tone.
"West Luna seems safe. How was your trip?"
"After I stopped by yesterday."
"Oh," she pauses, then answers slowly at first and picks up speed with each word. "I went to Luna. I know you haven't been here that long yet, but I usually go to Luna once a month, to check out the shops, see what’s being sold, and to check out the prices. And of course occasionally I find something worth buying. Last month I even found a cookbook. I know I don't really cook yet, but I've been meaning to learn. And of course that's when I bought the Tome of Lost Knowledge."
Stark might have been overwhelmed if he wasn't looking for any suspicious behavior. "You seem excited. Did you find anything?"
"Oh, no. Not this time. Nothing in Luna."
"Maybe you should leave earlier in the day next time, especially if you only go once a month," he says full of skepticism.
"What are you trying to say."
"You're a bad liar."
"I haven't lied!" she says affronted.
"But you are hiding something. You would have mentioned the trip if it was only to Luna. You went somewhere afterwards. You went to Umbra."
The scribe has nothing to say. I was right. "You're lucky nothing happened to you!" yells an angry Stark.
"This is why I didn't tell you!" She says as she stands up, ready for a fight. "I knew you'd be mad over nothing! There's no luck to it! You were wrong! Cadence was right! They dress a little weird, and are kinda rude, abut that's all! They pretty much ignored me."
"And I bet they would have ignored you if you were attacked to be taken for the necromancers."
Her eyes flick to her work area, and his eyes follow. The green corner of a book pokes out from beneath Melfina's papers. He's never seen one but knows what it is.
"A necrobook!" he spits. "What's that doing here!"
"It's not doing anything. I'm just studying it."
"To learn about them for myself! Instead of relying on all the rumors and myths that people like you have exaggerated throughout the decades. So much that the truth has gotten lost, and everyone just keeps on passing on the wrong information! People should know the truth instead of passing on this unsubstantiated fear! Just a couple hours in Umbra proved you wrong!"
"A couple hours proves nothing."
"So I should spend more time researching until-"
Melfina stops mid-sentence and looks past Stark's shoulder with a glare even angrier than before.
"Am I interrupting something?" asks a distinguished voice.
"Always," she says acidly.
Stark looks over his shoulder, then turns and bows when he sees who it is.
The man dressed in pure white robes stood half a head shorter than he did. An ankh hung from his neck, much like Stark's own, but more ornate. He wasn't Stark's actual father. He was the High Father. The divine leader of the holy mages of Luna. He was advisor to the archduke, on equal standing with the Keeper of All. He led the most holy of ceremonies, oversaw his holy order, and worked to maintain Luna's Library and all materials within.
"Be at ease, my son. I didn't realize that a paladin served Merchant Vendor Melfina."
"Not her specifically, father. I guard West Luna."
"I see. Very good," he finishes, clearly done with the conversation.
"Melfina, I hear you've come into some money."
"Yes," she says challengingly.
"Melfina!" Stark exclaims, shocked at her tone. "This is the High Father!"
"So. I don't worship the paladin god."
"How little you know, young one," he smiled.
"I know how you treated my father. That's enough."
Stark opens his mouth, but the holy mage raises his hand to silence him.
"He was a good man. But that's not why I'm here, young one."
"Why then, Wayland."
"Word has gotten back to me that you are no longer in financial trouble and this shop of yours will remain in your possession."
"Yes," she says cautiously.
"You understand the condition of Luna's Library. The fire destroyed so much and I am still rebuilding. I was hoping to acquire your collection and merge it with mine. Lord Luna was going to allow me the first offer."
"The books are mine," she says fiercely.
"The High Father doesn't steal," Stark says immediately.
"Yes of course," he replies in a calm, reassuring voice. "I won't take what's yours by force."
"You'd just pray I'd lose my life's work, so you could acquire it at a discount."
"Who better to take care of it," he says with his voice beginning to show signs of agitation. "You obviously don't know what to do with it. It would be safe there, and be put to better use."
"You mean you could be in control. You'd keep it hidden away, allowing only a select few to see it. You'd use knowledge like currency as if you owned it."
"And you'd waste it here where no one has access to it no matter your policies because no one travels out here to see it."
"Father, I'm sure-" Stark tries to interject, but is cut off by a raised hand from the High Father.
"Do what you want with your collection. You run a business though. I'll pay you to make copies of what I need. As quickly as you can manage. I will pay any cost for the ones I need."
"I don't need your gold, I don't have the time, and I won't be placed under your power like my father was."
"Your library is open to anyone right? Then I have will just borrow what I need, and have the holy order make copies."
"People have to leave collateral to borrow books, and no one can borrow the rare ones."
"I will send my people here to make the necessary copies."
"I don't want your people spying on me."
"I thought this library was for everyone. You stain your own policies already."
Appalled at the confrontation, Stark knows not isn't the right time for questions, but perhaps he could offer the right answer.
"If I may. I will be your witness Melfina, under God's purifying light, to any agreement made with the High Father."
"There Melfina. Surely you can have faith in him no matter what you think of me."
Melfina pauses, obviously struggling with her thoughts. "Fine," she says finally. "Wait here."
She cleans her hands, opens her rare book cabinet, and spreads them before the High Father.
"Which do you need."
"Lord Blackthorn's A Politic Call to Anarchy," he says delightedly as he looks at the collection. "A copy of course, but an old one."
Melfina glares at the holy mage, but knows she can't resist talking. "The owner had only added it to his collection a week before I arrived. But he quickly decided it was excessive, so he gave it to me for free."
It took only moments for the High Father to sort through the books, scrolls, and manuscripts that he was interested it, while Melfina checked them off as he set them aside. She carefully wrapped them up and placed them into a padded chest.
"As quickly as you can manage. I want these back," Melfina says.
"But of course."
"Two weeks should be plenty of time to copy some of it down, no matter how busy your scribes are. I've written down the date and time for the first drop off so you can't claim I wasn't here. We'll agree to the next drop off after I see your progress. If you take too long, I'll want them all back no matter how many you haven't finished."
"Agreed. You've done Luna a great service," he replies. "Farewell, Melfina." Turning to Stark he adds, "Be blessed in the Light, my son."
"Thank you, father," Stark answers.
Stark waits until he's gone before saying, "You didn't show him the Tome of Lost Knowledge. You know Luna's was destroyed."
"He has no use for it. It can't be copied."
"But if it's as important as you say..."
"No, Stark, it was none of his business. None."
"It's your property. To do with as you will," he gives in.
"Does that apply to the Book of Necromancy?"
Trapped with my own words, he thinks before answering. "Return it. Burn it. That book is evil."
* * *
To: Stark, Guard Captain
I have read your request. Write up a proposal for training and deployment. Leave housing and equipment to me. I expect to get my money's worth.
Lord of West Luna
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