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Only three of the Great Books remain from the formation of our world: The Book of Enlightenment, which first gave sentience to the world; The Book of Infinity, by which all of time and space are set; and The Book of Dust, which gave shape to the world, from the stars overhead to the blades of grass beneath our feet. There were other books, of course, which covered life and death and everything in between. Those have been lost for an eon, misplaced somewhere in the whole of the unbound universe.
Charlotte found The Book of Dust, almost entirely by accident, in Kensington, London. It was located in the back of an old bookshop, where its sturdy cover was tasked with holding a shelf upright. Of course, Charlotte didn’t know that at the time. When she pulled it off the shelf, the shelf above it collapsed and sent the books scattering across the floor.
Her mother was there almost immediately, apologizing to the bookseller even as she scolded Charlotte for a child’s negligence. The purchased the book almost by way of apology, stacked the books on the floor beside the shelf where they had fallen, and left in a hurry. Outside, Charlotte tucked the thick book under her arm while she and her mother waited at the bus stop.
“Why’d you need that one?” her mother asked.
Charlotte shrugged. “It looks old.”
“Well, you’re going to read every page of it and write a full report on what you find.”
The girl felt the weight of the book under her arm. She thought about complaining, but what good would it do? Her mother had never given in to her pleading before. They boarded the bus when it stopped, and Charlotte sat the book on her lap.
She opened it and perused the pages inside. The ink splattered on the page seemed to move as she raked her gaze across it. The lines coalesced into a language she understood, but the sight was enough for Charlotte to tug at her mother’s coat sleeve.
“What is it?” Her mother looked down an instant after the last line wriggled itself into the place. “It might help if you start from the beginning.”
Charlotte sighed, flipped to the first page, and glanced it over.
This Great Book was Third in the Great Compendium, given to Master Xielon, on the eighth day of the twenty-first year of the Long Winter. A warning to all who mean to study this book: Read carefully. Things are not as they seem.
Turning the page, Charlotte thumbed through the pages. She found long passages detailing odd histories — things she hadn’t learned in school — and a mention of foreign-sounding names that she couldn’t quite pronounce.
This was, in fact, a blessing that neither Charlotte nor her mother recognized. The Book of Dust is known by another name, though the title has no modern translation. Dust, in the title, is an all-encompassing word which might be better interpreted as the “essence and embodiment of the whole of the universe”.
Had she chosen to interpret those passages and call upon the power in that book, the world might look quite different now. But Charlotte maintained the apathy of a child who lacks interest in the things she does not understand. That, in itself, is blessing enough.
The book sat on her shelf for a number of years before her mother sold it to me during an estate sale. Upon opening those pages, the book disclosed to me its history before I laid it to rest, at last.
There are some artifacts whose power does not hold well with the ambition of the human spirit. The Books of the Great Compendium are among them. And if you are one to believe in miracles, then believe in this: That book could have been found by anyone. It was delivered safely to my hand in the care of a child too young to understand its power.
For myself, though not often a believer in higher powers, that is proof enough.