An hour later...
Hurrying across the city with frantic purpose, Crane reached the warehouses by the wharf before pausing to catch his breath and think. He couldn't go back to the ship he'd arrived on, whoever Arathea was working for had likely reached them already. The same went for his home, likely the other librarians as well. He needed to get off the Isle though, and he needed to tonight. It had already started raining - Crane wondered briefly if his situation could get much worse. No one was suicidal enough to leave port in the middle of a storm.
"You've run far enough, Crane."
Crane whirled about to see Arathea before him, arms crossed.
"Oh, I don't know, I feel great." Crane said, starting to reach for his sword. "Could go like this all night!" By the time his hand touched the handle, Arathea was behind him, the knife-edge of her hand slamming into his neck and sending him bouncing off the alley wall. Her eyes glowed with green light, fading a bit as Crane pulled himself up, coughing. "*wheeze* Then again..."
"It didn't have to be like this, Crane. You think I didn't like having a friend for once in my life?"
"The..the guard passed by less than half a minute ago." Crane bluffed. "I'll scream - they'll come running."
"They'll believe a magistrate, Crane. Not the thief who just set fire to the city library." She pointed deeper into the city, where smoke and red-orange light poured from a familiar structure.
Crane's blood ran cold. Mouth agape, he managed to walk a shocked few steps towards the library's burning form. The lamp flame had died before it had even gone at Arathea, the floor was stone.
"It was you...you burned it..." Appalled didn't begin to describe. The library had been a home to him, the first he'd had since arriving on the Isle. Full of nigh-irreplaceable knowledge, its doors had been open to anyone that wanted to better themselves with it. It had been Crane's dream, and now, it was all gone. Crane turned on Arathea with rage in his eyes.
"How could you? How DARE you?!" the scholar thundered, Arathea even surprised by his intensity. "You hurt all these people, the whole damn REALM even by doing this, and for what?! Me? This one book? Who the fuck do you think you are?!"
Arathea shot foreward with the speed of a striking cobra, her knee crashing into Crane's stomach and knocking the wind out of him. Spinning around with another kick, Crane went flying back into the alley wall as her heel cracked across his face.
When Crane caught his bearings enough to think, Arathea already had his head in a tight grip. Struggle as he might, it wasn't going to be nearly enough in the state he was in.
"Stupid fucking mortal!" Arathea spat, her voice cracking under the emotional strain. "You think any part of this has been easy?! It's all just black and white to you, crying and railing about injustice and it's-not-fair! I don't get that luxury!" Crane knew she was going to snap his neck any second. He had to do something. Arathea sniffled a little, her grasp still like iron. "I'll make it quick, though, for you. I'm sorry Crane. I was glad to have you as a friend."
He couldn't die here. Not here, not like this. He had to save that book, or all the loss of the library would be in vain. Every part of the archaeologist strained, every bit, crying out not yet...
Arathea suddenly gave a cry of alarm as a golden pillar of light pierced the sky, enveloping Crane and sending Arathea sailing into a pile of vegetable crates. Crane could barely comprehend the magnitude of the being that spoke to him, as his eyes glowed a golden light, a gold circle flowing into existance on his brow, the upper half filled in with an open half-circle on the bottom.
"Yes. Yes, I know. I understand, now." Crane said breathlessly. The scholar found the book resting in his hands as he regained his awareness. It opened of its own accord, its pages rewriting themselves as a voice spoke directly into Crane's mind.
I am Byblos. I am spirit of the Book, God of All Recorded Knowledge. I give thanks to the soul of Sikharam who saved me, who has reawakened me with new purpose.
Crane arose as the pillar of light vanished, blie-white and golden light surrounding him as Arathea pulled herself from the wrecked crates, shaking off the impact.
"How in-" She looked up, eyes wide with a mix of astonishment and terror as she saw Crane. No. No way could he have... "-you demon!" she snarled, swords drawn as she charged. Eyes still glowing, Crane regarded the magistrate coldly. Closing the book and tucking it under one arm, Crane's blade practically leapt into his hand as he met Arathea's charge, golden essence shimmering off the blade as he deflected her swords. Blow for blow, he parried almost perfectly, dipping and weaving out of the way as Arathea's green-hued anima flared in its own right.
"You can't beat me, Crane!" Arathea yelled, more for her own benefit than any kind of slight against him.
Crane leapt up onto the warehouse's roof, quickly pursued by Arathea. The scholar raised his sword to parry, but the swift young woman snapped her hook-bladed swords together at their crook, trapping Crane's weapon between them. As the two struggled, Arathea finally twisted the swords, snapping Crane's in two halfway down the blade. Tossing the broken weapon aside, Crane leapt backwards, trying to avoid her rapid flurry of strikes before a glancing blow finally hit home, Crane's own anima turning the hit aside even as it knocked him back out of her reach. Crane brought forth the book, which opened to a page of its own accord, the spirit within using Crane as a conduit as the scholar started to speak in Old Realm.
"<You, who would keep the masses ignorant to fatten your own belly...>" Arcane energies swirled about the archaeologist, his anima flaring to full life, a blue and gold mandala swirling about him as a crane of golden essence unfurled its wings around him. Arathea could recognize sorcery forming.
"No...how?! How could you possibly know that spell!?" Arathea's incredulous proclamation fell on deaf ears as Crane continued, the Sidereal struggling to bring countermagic to bear.
"<I cannot abide such wickedness.>" Crane intoned, in a voice that both was and wasn't his own, the words of the spell undertoning his own. "<I bring the light of learning for all to see.>"
A blast of intense golden light surged from Crane, just as Arathea's countermagic rose to meet it, the emerald barrier buckling and at last shattering under the power of the spell. Arathea raised her swords protectively to no avail - the beam destroying the mundane steel, the magistrate screaming in rage and agony as she was flung back down to street level, crashing through the wall of a warehouse before the beam faded. Crane shook off the book-spirit's presence in his head woozily, forcing himself back to focus.
We must leave here, Child of the Unconquered Sun. Others come, and I am incapable of defending you against them all.
Crane looked to the city proper, where he could already see lights of elemental animas bursting into view. "Right...let's move."
Taking off across the rooftops with his newfound powers, the archaeologist vanished into the maze of the district.
Arathea came to in a temple, her wounds bandaged and treated. It had likely been days since Crane had...had...
"You had us frightened, my dear."
The old man in the doorway wore only a simple monk's robes, though Arathea knew full well his importance.
"When I heard what had happened, I thought it best to see you myself." He turned to the other monks, who bowed to him. "It's all right, I'd like to speak with her alone if I may." The two mortals quickly filed out, closing the door behind them.
"Master Kejak..." Arathea said nervously, getting to a kneeling position and prostrating herself. "I'm so sorry, sifu, I've failed you so horribly."
"No, no, child." Kejak knelt down by the wounded girl, bringing her gingerly back to a position where she could lie down. "You did all you could with the information at your disposal. Had I heard of the situation before it actually happened, I assure you you would have been better prepared. I am the one who should apologize."
"I...I had no idea. How could this have escaped our intelligence? I mean...the book, and the sorcery he used, it..."
"Perhaps I shouldn't have sent you to resolve it. It is a lonely life we lead, Arathea, anyone you consider a friend is likely less than you think. There were some that considered you too young to undertake such a difficult mission, perhaps they were right."
"No." Arathea said with a growl. "They're wrong. That...that man, he's ruined my record now. He'll be a black stain on it for as long as he's alive. And he won't be for long." She looked Kejak dead in the eye. "One way or another, I will kill Slashing Crane."
"Indeed you will, my dear, the stars themselves will guide you to it. And I plan to give you the opportunity, as soon as you're well again. Now, tell me more of what happened out there."