The Book of Sky and Stars

by Quinn D.K.

Chapter 3
: The Librarian and the Knight


I close my journal and look up.

The storm is over and I emerge from the pickup truck to the rain-slicked road. The setting sun peeks through the receding clouds and the sky is alight in streaks of purple and gold. I approach the railing that separates the road from a cliff that plunges straight down into the sea. Although it churns into froth against the rocks, the water is black as coal. I have a gnawing urge to sit and dangle my legs over it.

Ellis joins my side a moment later. My spirits have been high for most of today but something about the after-storm serenity doesn't sit with me.

"Do you think we'll find it?" I ask softly.

"As long as that old bat is telling the truth..."

"Ellis. Come on." His first encounter with Mrs. Zheng was a little tense, if I'm being polite. But I'll get to that in due time.

"I didn't like the way she talked to you."

"She was angry at my father. I can't say I blame her."

He moves closer. My being near a cliff's edge makes him nervous.

"Mrs. Zheng wouldn't lie to me," I continue. "If she says I'll find what I need in Ocean Falls, then that's where we'll go."

He grumbles something under his breath.

"No one wants to get rid of the book more than I do." I try to sound reassuring. "But this is something we need to do first."

"You're the boss."

His nearness warms me. I lean away from the railing and feel his massive chest at my back. He stills, almost baiting me to come closer. We never speak of the quiet intimacy we share and I fear what would happen if we did. So I say nothing as I lean against him. His breath skims the top of my head. If we cannot have our campfire tonight, at least we've been allowed this.

The knight's hand brushes against my clutched journal. My last entry... there's so much more I need to record. I need to do it before I forget, before the book sinks its jagged teeth back into the soft flesh of my memories again.

Ellis watches me open my journal to a fresh page. His breath comes a little quicker. I begin my new entry...


One week after I discovered the book, I stood before the full length mirror in my bedroom to examine my outfit for the Military Ball. Since it was a special occasion, I had a suit tailored. When I asked the tailor what color he recommended on me, he removed the sewing needle between his lips and gave me a frank once over. "Blue," he said. "Like your eyes."

I straightened the vest over my dress shirt and turned to examine my back. My rear end was normally covered in shapeless slacks but now it was hugged, rather flatteringly, by the wool fabric of my new pants. The whole suit clung to me like a second skin. It flummoxed me to see my slender body like this, outlined so closely and put on display.

My hair, midnight black and perpetually unkempt, was swept off my forehead. I never knew what to do with it. I just hoped the gel would keep it in place tonight.

On my way out I took my bookbag and threw in a novel, my journal, and the book. That book. I glared, angry the thing was still in my life. Although there hadn't been another vision or terrifying occurrence since the first, I still regarded its presence with weary fear. It was like a disturbed child had been shuttled to a corner of my home, quiet and capable of violent, unpredictable tantrums that left me bleeding and dazed.

You might think that my brief experience with the book would have driven me to discard or destroy the thing. Know this: I have tried. I try every day. But something seizes my hand before I'm able to grab it, or the thought is curbed from my mind in favor of some convenient distraction. I've had my theories, but I believe the book will not let me harm it or throw it away. Perhaps it wants me to fulfill some strange, insidious purpose first. I don't know. But I've made a clear goal for myself since its power ran amok in my library: I will find a way to overcome the wretched spell this hideous tome has put on me.

Where would I even start, you may ask? Where any librarian would when cataloging a book - the preferred source of information. And in this case, that source was my former mentor Lunella Zheng, who lived miles away on a guarded island I had no passage into.

But that'll change tonight, I thought, clutching the bookbag to my side. Because I have a connection, for better or worse, to the man capable of granting me permission to visit Mrs. Zheng in person. And he'd need quite a bit of convincing.

My father had to see this book for himself.

After bidding my driver farewell I approached the steps of a large mansion estate. The moonlit grounds were lavishly decorated and spotlights splashed across the building's dignified neoclassical architecture. The Ball invitation mentioned it belonged to some hoity-toity New Avalon family. That whole society of theirs, nested along the uppercrust northern city border, made my skin crawl.

Play nice, I reminded myself as I navigated the steps to the main doors. Knights and valkyries - men and women twice my size - swept around me like rushing river streams. Paparazzi snapped pictures that were being pushed to vidscreens all over the city. I heard one of the photographers chortling as I made my way through.

"Someone hire a tricker for this thing?" A round of derisive laughter shook the paps until one of them recognized me. His face went white. "That's the Knight Commander's son!"

Lenses swung in my direction and my steps quickened. They called my name and begged me to smile and preen myself for them. I wanted to be anywhere but here. There was an alcove on the third floor of my library nestled between Biographies and a large window that overlooked the ocean. I'd take my tea on breaks and crack open a romance novel. Why couldn't I have been there now?

I kept my face down as I reached the mansion's main exhibition hall. The Military Ball was already in full, lavish swing. Golden party lights twinkled from walls and ceilings while rose petals fluttered like confetti. In attendance was Vancouver's elitest elite mingling with high-ranking UGW personnel, valkyries in elegant ball gowns, and knights in sharp tuxedos. Crystal flutes of champagne circulated as revelers danced before a live band. A tiered golden chandelier dripping with diamonds rotated above the marble dance floor, held in mid-air by an anti-grav core. Priceless pre-war art hung proudly from the walls. The whole affair was a sugar rush for my eyes, an overload of opulence that left my head spinning.

But where was my father?

I wove through the crowd and tried not to catch the eyes of any guests. As the son of the military's highest ranking knight I usually kept a low profile. But a random paparazzo had somehow recognized me and now, well... now I was left a little unsettled.

A handful of drunken men bumped into me. Before I knew it, hands were reaching for my jacket, their slack mouths open in disbelief.

"The commander's son?"

"That can't be-"

"Does Admon know about this?"

"Chase Cansu! We haven't seen that face since-"

Diverting my eyes, I pushed away from them and ducked out of sight. The alcove, I thought, trying to steady myself, Remember the alcove, the cups of tea, the novels you've curled up with there.

Once I was properly lost in another crowd I tried to breathe again. A server presented me with a tray of canapes and I shook my head as politely as I could. I hadn't eaten since noon but my appetite was gone.

I thought back to my father, how desperately I needed to speak with him. Having an actual reason to even be in the same room as him was foreign to me, unfamiliar. There was Mrs. Zheng's letter and then the business with the book. That made me a great deal more nervous than any paparazzo or drunken party goer.

He's going to think I'm insane, I thought. And maybe I was. Maybe I still am.

On the mezzanine I found a terrace overlooking the city. Bracing myself against the railing, I took in the cool night air with sigh. I'd been at the Ball for ten minutes and already needed a break from it. My father, wherever he was, would have to wait. The discomfort made me stuffy so I removed my suit jacket and slung it over a chair. I turned my attention to the skyline.

City lights twinkled and ended in an abrupt, straight line across the northern border. Beyond that was the scorched destruction of Roamer territory. A bit of a misnomer now, considering the Roamers are gone, but everything beyond the remaining cities has been decimated by them. It might as well be theirs. I've been outside the city approximately once in my life and I shudder to remember the ruined landscape. It was as if the Earth had swept back the savage curtain of war to reveal the bruised, bleeding wounds underneath.

I've heard that the knights go on regular patrols outside the borders in search of Proxies, humans who've been touched by the Roamer plague, who now skulk among the ruins in a perpetual, bloodthirsty rage. There are stories of Proxies that seize me with fear.

"Do you still find books more interesting than men?"

I turned as a familiar man joined me. Ellis, ruggedly suave in a tuxedo as dark as the night. Dare I say, were it not for the scruff he refused to shave, he'd actually approach dapper. Did my face give away how I lit up when I recognized him?

"Depends on the book. Depends on the man."

Ellis' eyes traveled down my face to my outfit. Without my suit jacket I felt a little exposed, especially considering how these slim-fit pants made me look from behind. From his gaze I caught a glimpse of appreciation and... surprise.

"Glad you've ignored your father's insistence on arriving early."

"Hah. Glad to see you looking so debonair."

Ellis grumbled and worried the collar around his muscular neck. "I'm stuffed into this damn thing. I'd rather be in my armor. I keep reaching for my swords like an idiot."

"Well, at least I'm not the only who feels out of place."

His gaze was dark and searching. "So, this is what a librarian wears on a night out?" He stood close enough that I could inhale his scent. An earthiness, soap and light sweat. "Thought the outfit came with glasses."

"I decided to go rogue." I stood a little straighter and adjusted my vest, hyper aware of the way it cinched my waist and flat stomach.

He cleared his throat. "You... wear it very well."

"That almost sounded like a compliment, Sir Ellis."

"It was."

"I suspect compliments don't come to you easily."

"They don't."

My lips pursed into a playful grin. "What an honor."

We hadn't been in contact since we met the week before so Ellis filled me in on what he'd been up to. On-Earth missions were becoming rare so he'd taken the lead on a few more deliveries and continued with his combat and weapons training, which took place every morning at the crack of dawn. He does more exercise before daylight than I have in my entire life.

When I asked him if being stationed on Earth was growing dull, he looked at the sky. "Running errands for public service employees isn't where I thought I'd be at this point in my career. No offense."

"None taken, but where did you think you'd be?"

Ellis pointed to the stars. "A Legion class knight. The highest class in the battalion." I must have looked confused, for he continued, "The Legion are the only knight class who can take missions off-world. To any planet or ship in the galactic network. Can you goddamn imagine?"

I couldn't. Although I was born aboard a ship in Earth's orbit, I've never even ventured beyond our moon. That sort of thing was for the astrominers and terraformers. It required a sense of fearlessness and adventure that made me dizzy to even consider. I'd much rather stay home.

"How does one join the Legion class, then?"

"Promotion. Politics. Being at the right place at the right time. I was promoted to Vanguard class five years ago. No one's made it up to Legion since then."

"How come?"

"Hasn't been that much trouble in the stars since we defeated the Roamers. Maybe there's just no reason to send up any more of us. Anyway." He paused thoughtfully, frowning. I wondered if this was the most he'd ever talked about himself, his goals, his future. "How's the library been treating you?"

I opened my mouth but stopped before any words came out. My bookbag, slung over the suit jacket I'd taken off, thrummed with a pounding energy I felt in the dead center of my forehead. My grip on the railing tightened and a gasp escaped me. The book... was it trying to reach out again?

"Chase?" He took my shoulder, stared at my pale face. "What's wrong?"

His touch made my insides tumble with warmth. When I saw the deep concern on his face I knew I couldn't be as honest with him as I would have liked.

"I'm fine," I said, my voice higher than necessary. "The champagne went to my head a little quickly. And the library's been fine, too. Everything's fine."

What I didn't say, among other things, was that I was still reorganizing everything (and I do mean everything) that had flung off the shelves after my encounter with the book. Aside from one tenured historian who gave the chaos a sideways look while returning a vintage German dictionary, no one else had seen what transpired.

I wasn't expecting the worry that flickered in Ellis' eyes or the way it softened his stony, solemn face. He learned something new about me that day: I'm a terrible liar.

"Didn't mean to pry," he said, "You just seem... out of sorts today."

I looked at my shoes and smiled despite myself. "Wow, he's met me all of two times and already knows when I'm in or out of sorts."

"My instincts never failed me before."

"It's... this new project at the library." I figured coloring the truth a different shade was better than outright lying. "It's been taking me longer than I thought. Sleep hasn't been easy to get this week. But I'll push through it. Really, you don't need to worry."

"You're sure?"

I debated the flow of events in my head. Could I tell Ellis about the book? What would that accomplish? What could he possibly do? Would he even want to help me? And that's all on the off chance that he'd believe what even I previously thought to be unbelievable.

Part of me just wanted to tell him everything so he could keep touching my shoulder...

Instead, I nodded yes and he let go. "You're more empathetic than you look, knight."

"My vows to protect the people are sacred."

"Do you think I need protecting?"

"I think a stiff breeze could knock you sideways."

I laughed. Ellis continued, "Hard work is good for a young man but don't be afraid of a little relaxation, either."

"Do you ever relax, Sir?"

"My duties come first. But don't model yourself after me, you'll just grow bitter."

I laughed again. Ellis watched me as I did. Beneath his beard, a slow smile came.

"I don't think you're as bitter as you say you are," I said.


"A bitter knight wouldn't be so anxious to explore the stars, would he?" I nodded to the unseen worlds concealed behind the blanket of night. "You don't strike me as a complacent man."

"Bitter was the wrong word. Frustrated, maybe."

"Well, that I understand all too well."

We let a moment pass between us. A silence that was comfortable. I returned to the skyline and tried to see what Ellis did. Stars that I took for granted were faraway suns, many supporting worlds like ours. Their existence must have felt like a teasing agony to an Earthbound knight. They represented everything our world no longer did: possibility, life, growth.

The pleasant breeze that had been cooling the terrace sharpened and howled. I hugged my arms to my chest. Ellis peered down at me. "Where's your jacket? Your father would kill me if you caught your death out here."

Another gale of wind roared, so strong it sucked the breath from my lungs. The updraft wrenched my suit jacket loose from the chair and dragged it toward the edge of the railing. Startled, I leapt and reached for the blue fabric. Before I could even process what I was doing I was halfway over the balcony's edge.

"Chase!" the knight bellowed behind me.

As if in slow motion, Ellis' brawny arms caught my waist and pulled me away from the railing. The jacket slipped from my fingers and went tumbling into the jagged limbs of a large tree in the front yard. I don't know what came over me then, whether it was the image of the jacket tangled pathetically between two branches, or my clumsy repetition of the near-mishap that brought Ellis and I together in the first place, but it was too much too quickly.

I burst into a fit of laughter.

Ellis couldn't believe what he was seeing. "You're a maniac. Anyone ever tell you that? Fucking hell, you need to be leashed around heights." His voice caught an edge of annoyance that stoked my laughter even more.

In the chaos of catching my windswept leap, Ellis' head was now below my chest. Looking down in order to see him was new but not unwelcome. I took his broad shoulders in my hands to steady myself. Well-developed chest muscles strained against his shirt and his expression, still bewildered from my momentary insanity, wrinkled the deep scar on his forehead.

Unlike the last time Ellis caught me, there was no awkward rush to be released from his grip. I trembled slightly as his hands pressed tight against my waist. His lips, inviting and full in the wilderness of his scruff, were close enough to kiss. I swallowed hard and tried to focus on his eyes. Still chocolate brown, but now I saw subtle flecks of gold.

"You stare at me as if I'm so mysterious," he said.

"You are."

This seemed to catch him off guard. "Maybe I think you are too."

My heart twisted with longing. Where did this knight come from? How did his mere touch leave me so shaken and out of breath? Men like him paid me no attention... but in both our meetings he made me the center of the world. "You keep saving my life."

"You keep endangering yourself in front of me."

"That might be the effect you have on us librarians."

"Just the one, so far." There it was again. His dangerous half-smirk.

A sharp ache of desire welled inside me. My hand crept from his shoulder to the dark brown stubble of his face. It was the first time I felt him beneath my fingers, warm and hairy and real. His beard wasn't as prickly as I imagined, rather, it was smooth and fine like the fur of a wolf. It took me a moment to realize my thumb was stroking his cheek.

God, what on Earth had possessed me? Touching a knight like this was inviting an arrest. Or worse.

Ellis didn't jerk away or tell me to stop. He stood rooted to the ground and allowed my tenderness to continue. It was like bringing a wild, fierce animal to his knees. I could barely move, fearful I'd break the fragile peace of the moment. The wind continued to howl, speaking where words failed us.

And then a gruff, sandpaper voice barked behind me. "Chase?!"

I pulled away, startled, and Ellis set me back on my feet. Both our faces were crimson red.

"Great," I breathed. "Just who I'd been looking for." And then I turned the full force of my attention to the man I call my father.

End of Chapter 3
To Be Continued

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