I went back this week to and old Wendig challenge, a random title generator. This time, instead of randomness, however, I read the list and picked the combination that leapt out at me. Thus, I give you,
The Forgotten Library
A lone rider advanced wearily up the long, winding road toward the city that rose from the summit. The horse drooped with heat, dust, and fatigue, and the rider slumped in the saddle as though the effort of remaining upright were nearly too much.
For long months and years the pair had sought this place, riding over much of the known world, following rumor and ancient tale, ignoring those who said it had never existed. Now from time to time, as the rider drew up to allow the beast to rest, the cloaked figure ran eager eyes over the walls ahead, and a gleam of life sparked under the dust and exhaustion.
Little about the place would seem to call forth such interest, or explain the life-long quest. No flags or banners flew from the walls. No bright-mailed guards watched from gate or tower. Only birds flew overhead, offering the semblance of life in a place that had been dead for years beyond all accounting.
The dusty travelers topped the last rise and halted at last before the gates. This was the last barrier, the final puzzle to be solved before reaching the long-sought goal. For despite the passage of many lifetimes since the walls were manned, the gates still stood intact, an immovable barricade between the rider and the long-sought destination.
“’No man can breach the gates,’” the rider murmured, as though quoting something learned long ago. “There is no spell, they say, and yet people have entered. There will be a way.” The horse twitched an ear, gazing dispiritedly about. A forecourt so long abandoned should have been overgrown with grass and weeds, but nothing showed green here, no mouthful offered itself for a weary mount’s refreshment.
Dismounting stiffly, as one who has been too long in the saddle, too many days together, the rider scouted in either direction. Perhaps the wall had crumbled elsewhere, that folk might enter without breaching the gates. But the wall fitted too well to the top of the hill, and there was no path to trace to either side. The city wall merged seamlessly with the cliffs below. Only at the road and the gate could one approach the city at all.
Frowning with the frustration of the thing, the rider reached out and touched the gate. There was no movement of the immense panels. Suddenly, however, the rider laughed, and spoke. A single word in a strange tongue echoed from the walls. The gates still did not budge, and the rider frowned once more. After a moment’s thought, the cloaked figure tried another phrase, first in the long-dead alien tongue, then in Common.
“I come seeking knowledge.”
No living creature moved, but the gate swung aside, just enough to admit horse and rider. “No Man may enter indeed,” she said to herself with a smile. “But yet it seems that Woman is not barred.” Behind her, the gate silently swung shut again. They made a solid sound that made her frown as she looked around. A shudder passed over the cloaked body, ravaged and lean from a hundred months of ceaseless journeying. Would the gates that so easily admitted one seeking knowledge let her out again when curiosity was satisfied?
Would she even want to go?
Too late to turn back. With a shrug, the rider led her mount over the cobbles. A trickle of water ran ever into and out of a trough across the courtyard, out of a stone pipe and into a hole in the cobbles to vanish beneath the city. The rider spread a hand over the pool, and finding no sign of magic or disease, knelt and drank deeply before allowing the horse to sate its thirst.
“Easy, girl. Not too fast.” She pulled the animal away, and filled a waterskin from the trickle. She should leave the horse there while she searched, she thought, though a look about revealed no more grass grew here within than without. But the silent, empty city filled her with a chill she could not shake, and she would not lightly part from the only living creature within the walls. Even the birds did not land or nest here. She took up the reins and led her mare deeper into the maze of streets.
Led by who knew what instinct, she followed street after street, turning right and left as though she knew where she went. At last she stopped before a grey stone building. The houses on either side had broken and fallen, but the grey stone looked untouched by time. She looped the mare’s reins over a broken timber from the next building and approached the immense timber door. Hand shaking with anticipation, she reached for the latch.
Silently, the door swung open, and she stepped inside, halting to gaze about in awe and wonder. It was real. She had found it.
Row after row of shelves led away into the dim recesses of the single, huge room. Every shelf was filled—jammed—with books. Reverently, she stepped forward along the first row, reaching a shaking hand to touch a spine here, a scroll-end there.
They should have been covered with dust. They should have decayed into dust themselves long since. But this long-forgotten library showed signs of neither age nor neglect nor use. Magic crackled in the very air, but she ignored it. With a happy sigh, the scholar pulled a volume from a shelf, read the title with a smile, and settled into a chair at the single long table and began to read.
Outside, the horse gave a toss of her head. The bridle slipped over her ears and dropped to the ground. Turning, she went in search of grass and water.