During the Midnight Hour Part 18

“I’m surprised it took you this long to ask about our library,” Cyra said as she held the door open for Vitalis.

Vitalis laughed as he stepped inside, holding his own books and notes. His expression faded as he took in the room. Awe slowly crawled over his face as his eyes couldn’t quite wrap themselves around it all.

To put it simple, the royal library in Shiraz put all others to shame. Elista’s library looked a like worn out bedroom shelf in comparison.

Vitalis slowly turned, taking in the endless amounts of books. Everything was kept in pristine condition and was of the highest quality. Traditional Sardesi symbols were carved into the shelves. Murals and portraits of great events in their history and of their royalty hung around the large library.

It was a room designed by and for those who either had a great love and passion for intellectual pursuits or those who had an obligation to it.

Cyra sometimes forgot about the library, and it wasn’t really a surprise. After Mandana and her mother died, Mihrab and Cyra raised themselves on the blade. Of course, she was literate and enjoyed stories occasionally, but she had no personal interest in the dry old books filling the shelves.

Vitalis, however, looked as though he had just found heaven.

He gaped at Cyra, “Where do we start?”

“Wherever you want to start.” Cyra smirked.

The pair then delved into the shelves soon after. They pulled every book they thought could possibly have any information on demons and cults. They were creating quite a stack at a table in the back of the library. Cyra had made sure they were out of sight and ear shot just in case someone else wandered into the library.

Vitalis sorted the books to his liking and kept his notes close at hand. He passed Cyra a book saying, “Skim through here, and if you find anything important, make a note of it.”

Cyra nodded and opened the dusty book. She squinted at the faded ink. This was going to take a while.

Vitalis had skimmed through, noted, and set aside five books by the time Cyra did one. Cyra couldn’t help but glance at him as she opened her second book while he was halfway through his sixth.

How was he so good at this? Sardesi wasn’t even his first language!

Cyra lost track of time, but as she was making a note of something in her fourth book, Vitalis slammed a book shut and groaned.

Cyra looked up. “What is it?”

“I don’t understand!” Vitalis pushed his sheets towards her. “I can’t find it.”

Cyra took a look. All she could see were notes that held basic information and details about demons, the Underneath, what they called their home, and the Banishment War that locked them there. He also had a few historical notes about other cults that had risen and fallen in Sardes’ history, but those cults weren’t related to demons.

Vitalis ran his hands through his hair. “I’ve checked twenty books and not a single one of them has mentioned what a demon or a cult would want with a human baby!”

Cyra set her quill down. “Well, demons are only able to exist here in a non-physical state, requiring a psychical host. Do you think our cult is trying to get a host for a group of demons?”

Vitalis shook his head. “There’s only been one case in recorded history where a group of demons chose a baby as a host. That was Mari, Mari Annette. It’s impractical to choose a baby as a host, they only took her because they were desperate. Mari was their only option, and the only human they could get a hold of that wouldn’t refuse.”

“I see that, the demons have to wait for the baby to grow up, and until it does they have to take care of it. But the cult could raise the kid to be a perfect host. Easier than trying to use someone who’s already grown.” Cyra pointed out.

“That only works if the baby would accept the demons, and an infant doesn’t have the mind to that. Well, most don’t. Roya herself said the baby was perfectly healthy, they only reason the demons were able to take Mari was because she was deathly ill.” Vitalis leaned on his hand. “Roya’s baby wouldn’t let in any demon’s presence because she had no reason too. She was healthy.”

“What if it’s not about getting a host right now? What if they’re going to wait until she’s older and brainwashed or something to where she’d accept the demons. What if this is the long game?” Cyra drummed her fingers on the table. “That’s what that one cult did, like a couple hundred years ago. Their leader had been raised since birth, what if this is like that?”

“But why would they play the long game? They have a whole cult full of grown adults who would willingly be the demons host. No, they wouldn’t use Roya’s baby as a host. It doesn’t make sense.” Vitalis shook his head.

“Do you think maybe they aren’t there yet? We don’t even know if there are demons on the Surface yet, what if this cult is trying to bring demons to the Surface?” Cyra asked.

“That is one possibility, doesn’t answer our questions about Roya’s baby, but it’s possible the cult is still working on getting a group of demons through the cracks in the seal. It might also be possible they’re already through, maybe holed up somewhere for now.” Vitalis frowned.

“If a group of demons were through, surely they would have already attacked. One group of seven was able to take your capital and kingdom. A group of demons and the backing of a cult could take Shiraz. But they haven’t. There’s something still missing, there’s something not right. This cult hasn’t been making any moves. They’re still hiding.” Cyra ran her fingers over the cover of a book.

“They know we’re onto them. They could be lying low because of that.” Vitalis offered.

Cyra’s eyes flickered across her notes, muttering, “Maybe they are making moves and we just don’t know it.”

“But what moves? To what end? We’ve been chasing down puffs of air and fog for weeks, months, and what do we have to show for it?” Vitalis gestured to the table in front of them.

“Nothing,” Cyra said, pushing her own hair back. “We have nothing.”

“I’m just not sure where else to go. Roya’s baby is the only piece we have to investigate, and even with all these books we’re not anywhere close to an idea that makes sense.”Vitalis ducked his head.

“Maybe we’re reading the wrong books,” Cyra said quietly as an idea slowly formed in her head.

Vitalis looked up. “What do you mean?”

Cyra gave Vitalis a small, hesitant smile. “You remember that you’re talking to the daughter of Sardes’ champion who was a widely revered warrior, particularly as a demon slayer.”

Vitalis nodded.

“If what I remember is right, Mihrab inherited a journal our father kept, a kind of record of his journeys and battles. Maybe he encountered something that might help us,” Cyra said.

“You’re brilliant.” Vitalis beamed, leaping out of his chair.

Heat rushed to her face. “I wouldn’t exactly call it that.”

“You won’t convince me otherwise.” Vitalis grinned.

Cyra pushed herself out of her chair. She rolled her eyes at him, but started to lead the way. Vitalis kept to her side as they headed towards the guards’ quarters.

“Will Mihrab ask why you want the journal?” Vitalis asked as they turned a corner.

“Mihrab doesn’t need to know.” Cyra shot Vitalis a look.

“You don’t think he’ll notice if you just take it?” Vitalis lowered his voice.

“Mihrab isn’t exactly reading it every day. He won’t notice, and it’s not like I tell him anything anyway.” Cyra rolled her eyes.

“I understand not telling him about what we’re doing, but you don’t talk to him about anything else? Vitalis frowned.

“You’re an only child. You don’t understand what it’s really like to have a sibling.” Cyra glanced at the ground. “So, no, I don’t talk about to him about anything recently. Mihrab and I were really close when we were younger. We were all the other had left, other than Soray. Our mother didn’t take my sister, Mandana… our mother didn’t take her death well. She fell ill, and while she tried to get better, but she had just accidentally made herself too weak from the start. Mihrab and I bonded as we both decided to join the royal guard.”

“What happened then?” Vitalis asked.

“Well, if I tell you, you’ll probably think me evermore the fool I’ve set myself up as.” Cyra shook her head.

“You know I don’t think that,” Vitalis said softly.

Cyra sighed, “Honestly, it began happening when I started experimenting more with my magic based on a request from the shah. He wanted me to spy and gather some intelligence for him by dreamwalking. Mihrab wasn’t exactly thrilled. It was a place he couldn’t go with me to help me, at that point I hadn’t figured out how to bring people with me. So, the more I did it, the less I told him, part of it was being sworn to secrecy by the shah, and the other part was because I knew he didn’t approve. So, I just started keeping everything from him that I knew he would be upset about.”

Heat crawled up her neck, and her heart shuddered. She swallowed thickly and said, “It got worse when Ano and I… well, you know, Ano was, is of a much higher station. Mihrab would never have approved me getting involved with him. He would have tried to talk me out of it, and I didn’t want to hear it.”

Cyra rubbed her neck and glanced at Vitalis. “He would have been right, of course. Hindsight, you know?”

“Speaking of, how are you? I mean about Anoshiruvan and everything?” Vitalis’ arm brushed hers.

Cyra stepped away, shaking her head. “I’ll be alright as long as I’m not thinking about it. I’m not emotional or especially romantic, so I guess I’d rather not deal with it.”

Cyra touched her necklace gently. “I can’t just get rid of my feelings, and believe me I know how ridiculously sappy and weak it sounds. I just can’t stop loving him immediately. I don’t know if I ever can stop. I don’t exactly have a lot of experience. I still love him, and yes, it still hurts, but maybe it’ll get better with time.”

“It’s not weak or degrading to have emotions, you know,” Vitalis said, leaning in slightly.

“Well, that’s easy to say when you’re not in love with someone. Someone who is so far out of your reach you feel ridiculous for even hoping.” Cyra stared at her feet.

“That doesn’t mean you’ll never love someone else. Just because Anoshiruvan is out of your reach doesn’t mean the next one will be.” Vitalis had a strange twinge to his voice.

Cyra stepped away. “I’d have to believe there is a next one, which I don’t. Ano, Ano was it. Come on, Mihrab’s room is down here.”

She didn’t like where the conversation was leading. Talking about love wasn’t exactly on here list of priorities. Not when it all hurt so much.

Cyra opened Mihrab’s door and ducked into his room. It was identical to hers in every way. Neither sibling had the taste or patience to decorate.

Vitalis stood in the doorway, watching her silently as she rummaged around for the book. It took her a moment until she found it at the bottom of a chest. Cyra would bet Mihrab had forgotten about it.

Cyra held it up triumphantly. Vitalis grinned as she quickly put everything back the way it was when she found it. Mihrab would never miss it.

Cyra and Vitalis were gone and back in the library as if they’d never left.

Cyra carefully opened the dusty journal as Vitalis read over her shoulder.

Together they read through several of her father’s accounts of early battles he had. How demons and their hosts were easy to pick out from a crowd because they so obviously moved in unnatural, inhuman ways. Many cases looked exactly like the one before it.

She could feel Vitalis’ frustration rise beside her. She kept reading, but she couldn’t change the words that were written. She flipped a page. As she got halfway through it, she began reading out loud, “But there is something I have discovered, and have always wondered. I know that demons work in groups of seven, and it is seven at a time that rely on hosts. That is how it is. Every host I have encountered has had seven demons with it, but killing the host is all that it takes to get rid of the demons. It seems that the demons are most effective with seven, however I have always wondered what would happen if a lesser number tried to take a host. I suppose maybe there is a good reason no one has ever seen it.”

“So, your father wondered about that. Do you think it means anything?” Vitalis asked.

“I have no idea, but maybe, well, we don’t really have any record or history of demonic cults in the past. We also don’t have any evidence of demons and hosts working with cults. We also don’t have any record of any groups less than seven.” Cyra’s eyes glanced over the pages again. “Maybe that’s what this is all about, what we haven’t been able to figure out. Maybe they’re trying to help the demons in the Underneath break through to the Surface without having to have seven to a group.”

“That’s a possibility, but that’s a big stretch. We have no proof that’s what the cult is trying to do.” Vitalis admitted.

“We have no proof it’s not, and we have no proof of anything else.” Cyra pointed out. “Still, why else would demons needs a cult if a group of seven of them has enough power to take a kingdom?”

“Which brings us around, again, to why would they need a baby? Is there anything else in your father’s journal about that?” Vitalis asked.

Cyra flipped through a few more pages. “As far as I can tell, no. He didn’t seem to encounter a host or any demons trying to get a baby. He mentions once he tracked down a few missing children. Someone had taken them, edge of the desert, but throughout the whole investigation he didn’t really find any signs pointing to demons. If demons or their host did it, they left the children and were long gone by the time he showed up.”

Vitalis sighed. He looked over all the books and notes of the table. “I need to think about this. Maybe we should see Roya again, have some better questions to ask.”

Cyra pushed away from the table. “You’re the genius here.”’

“It’s hard to feel like a genius when all I’ve gotten us are dead ends,” Vitalis muttered, gathering up his papers.

“You got us to Roya.” Cyra grabbed his shoulder. “I never would have been able to do that. If I had my way, we never would have found her. We can find answers.”

“Let’s just hope we can find them before it’s too late.” Vitalis turned away, picking up the books.

“Too late for what?” Cyra asked.

“That’s the problem.” Vitalis paused. “I have no idea.”

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