We descended the staircase, and instantly I could tell that it wasn't part of the library. It wasn't even part of California, or the world for that matter. There was something in the air that tipped me off. It's this sort of aura that all Fears have about them.
The corridors were lit by torches, sticking out of stone pillars in the wall. Between the pillars stood bookshelves, from floor to ceiling, nine feet up, lined with dusty books. I instinctively reached out to grab one to see what was inside, but Gabe grabbed my hand as I reached out.
"I wouldn't do that, kiddo."
Last nodded, but didn't turn back. "You wouldn't want to do that, Kenny. The price is too steep. Try reading any of those books, you risk losing every single one of your memories."
I stayed my hand after that. So we continued, down the spiraling corridor, the air growing colder and colder as we went. After about ten minutes of walking, all of which was spent in solemn silence, it opened into a giant room that seemed to go on forever. Maybe it did, as I couldn't see any walls but the one we had just come through the doorway of. Shelves towering fifty feet high, the shelves seemingly infinitely long, and a seeming infinite number of rows loomed around us, making everything feel positively miniscule. Coming down the aisle towards us was a man, probably about eight feet tall, shrouded in a brown cloak that hid all his features save two wrinkled old hands, which clutched a giant tome.
A voice echoed throughout the Catacombs. "What is your business?"
"We seek any information and help to aid us in a fight against the Rake," Last said, yelling to try to match the voice's volume.
"Silence, boy," hissed the voice. "I am right here. I am merely blind, not deaf."
"Blind Man?" I whispered to Crimson, who was standing just off to my right. He nodded but said nothing, continuing to stare at the cloaked man with the book.
"Er...yes, sorry," Last continued, his decibel level returning to normal. "Will you be able to aid us in either way?"
There was a brief moment of silence as the Blind Man considered. "Perhaps," came the voice again. It was strange how he spoke. The voice didn't come from the body of the Blind Man himself, but from everywhere. Not even like there was some form of PA system, but as if the Catacombs themselves were speaking. "But what reason have I to aid you?"
"No reason, admittedly. But you have the means. Your library contains all the knowledge we could ever want. Knowledge that could give us an edge against the Rake. Will you give us the knowledge we need?"
"Perhaps. I have not yet made up my mind."
Last grinned. "Ah! That must mean that we succeed, because if we fail, what cost is it to you to give us that knowledge?"
"You are clever, boy," the Blind Man said, "but not near as clever as you think. You are obviously aware that I see all. The past, the present, the future--all knowledge is mine. However, you confuse what was and what is to be for what could have been and what might be. I see that you succeed, yes. But I also see that you fail. All words remain unwritten until they are read."
Last gave him a blank look.
"When walking in the Garden of Forking Paths, knowing where the paths lead does one no good, for others walk the paths as well. Many follow the paths they were always meant to take. Others challenge their destinies and in doing so, change these paths."
Last thought for a moment, processing the Blind Man's words and formulating his own. "That, great seer, is why we come to you and ask your aid in defeating the Rake. The Rake is impulsive and unpredictable. Can you truly know how he will act?"
"No, I cannot. I see. Perhaps a partnership will prove to be valuable. If the Rake's path were erased, the Garden would see more order...." The head of the cloaked figure tilted up slightly as he considered it, then fixed on Last. "Will you pay the price?"
Last bit his lip. "Am I the only one who has to pay it?"
"I am feeling...generous. The price shall be yours alone."
Last closed his eyes, his body stiffening. "Very well. I'll pay the price."
The Blind Man stepped forward, and half of us took a step forward as well. "No," Last said, holding up a hand to stop us. "I'll be fine. I've...I've done this before. More times than I care to remember."
"More times than you remember at all," the Blind Man replied. The two stepped closer, until they were within arm's length of each other. The Fear reached out and placed his hand on Last's head. As he pulled it away, his wrinkled fingers pulled something from his forehead. The Blind Man's book fell open in his hand, and I saw that it was a quill. As the Blind Man wrote, the quill started to dissolve, and by the time the Blind Man closed the tome again, had disappeared entirely.
"The Rake," the Blind Man said slowly and deliberately, "is not a creature of reason. Perhaps in other pasts, presents, or futures he is keen and calculating, but as he is, he is feral. A creature of instinct. Reason and planning will not work against him. You need another creature of instinct to combat him."
"The Black Dog," Last said, his voice quiet. The cowl shifted as the Blind Man nodded.
"Wait," came an unfamiliar voice. It came from a small end table that I hadn't noticed before. Had it always been there, or had it suddenly appeared? If so, when? The table contained nothing but a basin, but I understood where the voice came from when the Blind Man retrieved it from the table and held it at an angle where all eleven of us could see what was inside.
The water in the basin rippled on its own, and when I looked closely, I could see that they formed a sort of face. It became more clear as the ripples spoke again and I could actually see the mouth moving. "EAT?" I asked Crimson. He nodded, not looking away, and held a finger to his lips.
"I wish to aid them as well," said the basin. "I sense they will be useful allies to us, seer." To my right, Crimson pulled a notepad out of his paper and started writing. "Perhaps it is time for us to finish our creation and send it to aid them."
The Blind Man nodded slowly. "You are right, of course. Very well." He set the basin down and reached into his sleeve, extending his arm to show us the metal sphere sitting in his palm. As we watched, four metal legs protruded from the sphere, and it skittered back and forth across the Blind Man's sizable hand.
"A newly created being," he said. "The Leviathan and I have been working on it for some time."
"It is a being," EAT said, "that evolves on its own. Organic lifeforms, impressive though they may be, can only make small progressions through generations. The Mason, as we call it, will have no such restriction. It can make and remake itself at will to conquer any obstacles it may face. It will prove a useful ally to you."
Last nodded, trying to hold back a grin. "We thank you for all your help. Between the information and your...Mason, you've provided us with plenty. We hope to work together with you again to advance you further in the Great Game."
"Leave," was all the Blind Man said in response.
"That was the Manufactured Newborn," I hissed to Last as we turned to leave. The staircase we had entered through, thankfully, was still there. You never know with Fears.
"Yeah, I know."
"How is that--I mean, they just finished it? How do we already know about it, then?"
"Don't ask me; it's some sort of Schrodinger's Cat sort of thing, probably. It exists, but it doesn't actually exist until it's manufactured? We just...opened the metaphorical box, I guess."
I didn't realize that we were already back at the California State Library until we emerged through the door. What had taken minutes to enter had allowed us to leave in seconds. "All words remain unwritten until they are read?"
He gave a laugh and rolled his eyes. "Sure, something like that. Still, wasn't expecting those three to be connected. I thought we were just going to see the Blind Man. Now we've got his help, as well as EAT's and the Manufactured Newborn's. That's a happy coincidence if I've ever seen one."
"There are no coincidences," I said quietly, half to myself.
He gave me a dubious look as he heard the words he himself had made sure the Masks told me. "No," he said thoughtfully. "No, I don't suppose there are."