Spell of Fate

Mayer Alan Brenner
Spell of Fate
By Mayer Alan Brenner

"AUNTIE LEEN! AUNTIE LEEN! Look what I found!"
Auntie Leen, also known as the Keeper of the Imperial Archives, raised
her eyes above the lenses of her reading glasses as the three-year-old
figure of her nephew skidded to an uncertain halt next to her desk. In
the midst of a frenetic bustle of waving arms she could see that both
hands were empty, and the pockets exhibited no more than their typical
bulge. "Very well," said Leen. "I'm looking. What are you hiding, and
where are you hiding it?"
He was tugging insistently at her hand. "Here! Come here!"
Robin had been rummaging somewhere off in the back, playing
hide-and-seek with himself among the uneven aisles and coating
himself with his usual cloud of grime. With her free hand, Leen slid an
acid-free marker into the ancient book and closed the crumbly cover,
leaving it perched on the reading stand, and picked up her lantern.
Although her work area was liberally furnished with candles, thus
slowing the deterioration in her eyesight, the deeper reaches of the
archive had only the illumination one brought to them. How had Robin
been able to see whatever he'd discovered?
As Robin trotted ahead of her off into the darkness, a blue glow spread
out ahead of him, lighting his way through the crates and leaning piles
of scrolls and books. Leen scowled to herself. She must be getting
prematurely dotty, on top of blind, or perhaps it was mere engrossment

in the book, although that was an excuse with more charity than Leen
was usually willing to allow herself. Nevertheless, absentmindedness
was the least dangerous explanation she could claim. Puttering about in
the dust while mumbling non sequiturs was professionally expected of
an archivist, but when you stopped backing it up with a lucid mind it
meant trouble. One day you're forgetting the trick tunic you yourself
had given the boy with the very goal of making it safer for him to
prowl through your domain, as she had done at his age when it was her
grandfather at the great desk, and soon you've advanced to fuddling the
sequence for disarming the door wards, with the immediate sequelae of
an expanding cloud of archivist-shaped vapor and, of course, the
election of a new archivist.
Robin pulled up next to a long spill of books and more than a few
freely floating pages and stood hopping impatiently from foot to foot.
The glow from the runes on his shirt diffused out through a hanging
cloud of fresh dust. Come to think of it, Leen did vaguely remember a
crash and thud some ten pages earlier in her own reading, but it hadn't
seemed nearly serious enough to rouse her. Leen took a look around.
They appeared to have arrived at a wall, or at least a room-sized pillar.
There were many similar spots around the catacombs. "Show me what
you've found, Robin," Leen said patiently.
Robin flopped down on his knees and felt around under the
next-to-lowest shelf.
The bottommost shelf was a single thick slab of wood extending to the
floor, and the next shelf above it was only a book's-span higher, so
Robin was about the largest person who would have been able to
discover something that far down. Three or four books from the lowest
shelf had been removed, judging by the gaps in the line of snugly
fitting spines; without the added clearance, even Robin's
three-year-old-sized arm wouldn't have had space for maneuver.
"Watch!" Robin commanded.
Leen barely heard a soft click. The bookcase made a much louder creak
and pivoted slowly away from them into the wall. An opening large
enough for a person of Robin's size appeared on the right side, then

continued to widen until a Leen-and-a-half could have fit comfortably
through. Robin took hold of her hand again and dragged Leen toward it.
How long the shelves and books had been there was anyone's guess.
Leen had found a journal kept by the fourth archivist before her own
tenure which set forth his theories. He had been the only member of his
particular dynasty, if she recalled correctly, which explained his works
not being handed down through the line as her own family had done,
although in his case that was not the only plausible explanation. On the
basis of flimsy (not to say cryptic) evidence he had speculated that the
structure of the archive catacomb itself dated from the time of the
Dislocation, if not before. Leen had her doubts. After all, the same
archivist had apparently gone loony himself soon after writing his
conjectures, closing his career by triggering the trivial third-bend gate
and letting loose a construct that had taken half the palace strike team
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