In the shimmering white settlement of Belaqua, there lived a woman named Eshat who was said to be the most just Mistress of a House of Books who had ever lived in the nine realms. Rumor claimed that her skills with the Translator’s Almanac were so magnificent, and her attunement to the Goddess Ayfer so strong, that not once during her decades of service had Eshat failed to match up a reader with the text that would prove most life-changing to that particular person.

Every day, Eshat clad herself in a plain blue tunic and donned the Mistress’s headband, made of beads of polished silver and lapis lazuli, as she set about her combined duties of diviner, librarian, historian, rector, and wielder of the Almanac. She faced her responsibilities with aplomb and remained composed under the most strenuous circumstances. When the sweltering Fire of Adjut swept the region, reducing neighboring villages to cinders and ash, Eshat located the knowledge that allowed Belaqua’s townspeople to excavate a perimeter trench that kept all but one man unscathed, and even he suffered only mild burns. When the mighty river Idgel flooded the nearby plains, Eshat’s instruction turned disaster to munificence as she found texts that helped the townsfolk dig special irrigation canals, so that crops grew in the wake of the waters. During the harshest winter on record, Eshat researched and instructed her acolytes in the arcane ways of glass and resplendent mirrors, so as to magnify the sun’s enfeebled rays.

Year after year, invigorated or weary, pleased or disappointed, Eshat persisted. Her candles were known to light the prison-like antechamber to the House of Books, in which she had slept for decades, later into the night than the candles of any other household, and her morning ablutions and prayers were completed hours before even the most diligent farmers arose to tend their livestock. Unerring service won her the affection of almost all. Even those, whom through use of the Almanac she found guilty of infractions against the House, eventually expressed their respect for her, with their initial views of Eshat as sententious and unyielding transformed by her verdicts into apprehensions of rectitude.

One early summer morning, during the gracing twilight of Eshat’s unrivaled journey through a lifetime of asceticism and metaphysical jurisprudence, Mehe, one of Eshat’s most tenured Gramaryeans, approached her with a minor request.

“It is an inconsequential affair,” Mehe said. “I feel like I should almost apologize for the intrusion.”

“Not at all,” Eshat said, and proceeded to review the case. An old woman had been caught trying to leave Belaqua with a book stolen from the House, and penance was required. She had promptly confessed her act of theft, and the appropriate sentence would have been obvious to any one of Eshat’s adepts, including Mehe. The sentence required only Eshat’s seal of approval, which she would have normally issued forthwith. But today she granted no such seal.

“Does something... give you pause?” Mehe asked.

Eshat deliberated with some invisible force, and said, “It does. Please, sit.”

Mehe, equal parts perplexity and concern, sat stiffly across from Eshat’s study table.

“Let me precede this by acknowledging that I had a fitful night, and so I apologize if anything I’m about to say lacks tact,” Eshat said. “Not a day goes by that I am not reminded of the kindness of our people, and never do I forget the honor that their confidence bestows upon me. Some of them travel great distances and endure acute personal hardships merely to bask in my presence for a clutch of minutes.

“Surely this is folly. I do not wish to encourage, even through inaction, a cult of personality around me. As my position amidst the townsfolk has risen from trial Mistress to something ridiculously approaching sainthood, I often find myself stupefied. Believe me when I say, I am no saint.”

Here she stopped, and so grave was her silence that Mehe began to wonder whether Eshat intended to speak again.

“No one can deny,” Mehe said encouragingly, “that under your watch, Mistress, Belaqua has become a serene place. Citizens have taken to preempting their own crimes, arresting the very impulses from which those indecent actions would have sprung. This is a great accomplishment.”

“I will not argue that we live in privileged times,” Eshat said, her return to speech not completely setting Mehe at ease. “But as a counter to the praise you provide in attributing our fortunes specifically to me, allow me to share some of the very human selfishness that has, of late, kept me company.”

Mehe edged forward in as subtle a manner as she could muster. She had never heard Eshat volunteer this much personal information.

“Ever since I was a girl,” Eshat said, “I’ve harbored the dream of one day spending my every waking hour freely roaming the vast archive of accumulated wisdom that is our House. Lately, I’ve been reflecting on what it means for the bulk of my life to be behind me. When I think about it all now, it seems to have passed with the diaphanous unreality of a dream lived between the flapping of a dragonfly’s wings. Recently I began to wonder if the peace we have collectively achieved in our time could not, at last, afford me the opportunity to fulfill that long-held dream of losing myself in the exploration of our House’s mysteries. Why not, I thought?”

“Why not indeed?” Mehe agreed. “You have more than earned it, Mistress. What you cite as selfishness I see rather as the desire to continue improving yourself, an act which in turn enriches all of us.”

“Alas,” Eshat said, her voice lowering for the first time, “it would appear that the Goddess Ayfer has other designs for me.”

Mehe felt her stomach clench. “Whatever do you mean, Mistress?”

“Just as soon as our House’s wondrous vistas of possibility opened up before me, dear one, I found my spirit inexplicably enervated. To be blunt: everything grates on me. Even—and please do not take this as a personal insult—your presence here right now vexes me, though I do my best to hide it. Legendary tomes that beckoned to me since my first blush of adolescence have precipitously lost their luster, revealing themselves within minutes of perusal as desiccated, retrograde texts best returned to the dusts of time. Blessed scrolls have proven reactionary and un-illuminating; rarefied incunabula, fusty and yawn-inducing. Most distressingly, Mehe, even the Translator’s Almanac, that transcendent tool that has helped me steer so many during their moments of need, has provided no solace.

“I am tired. Weary of everything. The freedom filling up the cup of my life seems each day to displace farther and farther the air of contentment I once mistakenly beheld as an emptiness.”

These revelations were so astonishing to Mehe that she briefly considered pretending she had not heard them. But that would be an unthinkable gesture of disrespect. Still, she dissimulated her bewilderment as best she could.

“This is why,” Eshat said, “I need something practical, something real, with which to occupy myself. Such as this case you have brought before me, as trifling as it may appear. My back aches, and my fingers tire of turning the pages of putative masterworks. I will deal with this woman named Taima instead. Make arrangements for us to convene today at sunset.”

“Very well, Mistress,” Mehe said. She bowed in the customary manner and retreated.

With the thinning of the sun’s rays that day, all relevant parties gathered in the House’s chamber of arbitration, and by the time ink-like blots of dark cerulean suffused the sky, the proceedings were well underway. Mehe and another senior member of the House by the name of Qebi supported Eshat in her probing.

“Where did you intend to take this stolen book?” Eshat asked the old woman, Taima.

Small but not frail, Taima shrugged in an inward way, like a spring coiling back into itself. “I had no clear destination in mind,” she said. “I wished merely to walk under the light of the stars into a new tomorrow, and thought this book would be a fine companion on my wanderings.”

“All tomorrows are, by definition, new,” Eshat pointed out. “How and when did you obtain this”—she glanced at the title of the stolen tome—“collection of minor Sufadi poetical works?”

“I selected the book at random,” Taima said, smiling at some secret recollection. “It proved most fortuitous.”

Eshat stared. “How long have you had it?”

“This specific volume came into my possession ten days ago,” Taima replied, “but the meaning of its words has been with me far longer.”

Eshat crossed her arms. “Please limit your responses to matters of fact.” She then addressed the court. “Where in the House of Books is this volume shelved?”

Qebi lowered her face. “The book belongs in Devotional Metaphysics.”

“Access to those shelves is restricted,” Eshat said. “Do we have a record of Taima’s request for that book?”

Qebi hesitated, and Mehe answered in her place. “We... do not.”

“Then how did Taima acquire it?”

“It appears that the book was, ugh, misfiled,” Mehe said.

“Explain.” Eshat’s voice bristled with impatience.

“It seems,” Mehe said, “that the book was removed from Devotional Metaphysics one day before Taima’s visit.”

“Removed by whom? Placed where, and to what end?”

A long silence followed. At last Eshat understood. “Ah,” she said. “You two are trying to protect me. I must have withdrawn the book for study, is that it? I think I recall it now.”

Taima said, “Did the book sing for you, revered Mistress?”

Eshat ignored the question. “How did you gain entry to my private antechamber?”

Again Mehe and Qebi said nothing.

“I found the book in the entrance hall,” Taima said calmly. “I had no need to sneak into your private quarters to obtain it. It seemed to be waiting for me near a stack of Reincarnation Romances. Beckoning, as it were.”

Eshat searched her mind. Shameful that she had not recognized the book in question more quickly—was her memory deteriorating, or had the gluttony for rare books that she shared with Mehe betrayed her? Further, though it was true that during the previous week she had visited Reincarnation Romances, why would she have been carrying a non-related item with her, and then carelessly abandoned it where it did not belong?

She spoke with more restraint now. “Taima, why did you not bring this irregularity to our attention when you discovered it?”

Taima considered her words. “Because, though irregular, I trusted that the sequence of events leading me to this book was natural—inevitable, perhaps.”

“Again I ask that you refrain from abstraction,” Eshat said. “Focus on the particulars of the matter at hand.”

“Esteemed Mistress,” Taima asked, “when was the first time you laid your eyes upon the Translator’s Almanac? Who was your teacher in Ayfer’s ways?”

Mehe was quick to intervene. “The accused will not ask our venerable Mistress any questions.”

But Taima’s words, Mehe saw, had clearly wrought their effect on Eshat, whose shoulders slumped in nostalgia, her gaze soft with the gossamer veil of cobwebbed memories.

After a few moments, the reverie passed. “Has the accused returned the book to us?” Eshat asked, though she already knew the answer, for this knowledge had been shared with her before the deliberation had commenced.

“The accused did willingly relinquish the book,” Mehe confirmed.

“Very well. I will now adjudicate the sentence.” She opened the Translator’s Almanac, but her hand fumbled with the pages, her fingers unsteady.

“Is there a problem?” Taima goaded.

Eshat tried again, and again could not find the passage that would lead her to the correct motion. With a sigh of relinquishment, she closed the volume. “The Almanac is silent on this matter,” she said. “I will therefore offer a standard judgment. Taima, your House visitation privileges are revoked until next spring, and restricted to consultations until the spring after that. Do you understand?”

Qebi’s face betrayed surprise at the leniency of the Mistress’s sentence.

Taima’s countenance, meanwhile, relaxed. “I do,” she said.

At this time it would have been customary for Eshat to ask the accused if she understood the consequences of her actions; it was expected for the accused to acknowledge that a stolen book could not inspire goodness among visitors of the House and therefore diminished the library as a whole. It was then traditional for the accused to use one of several formulas of verbal penance. But Eshat skipped over all of this.

She simply rose and said, “You are dismissed.”

Eshat forewent her evening meal, and the candles in her meager chamber burned through the night. She studied the dancing shadows they cast on the walls with the fervor of a religious seer beholding a holy orator, but their secrets eluded her. She understood nothing. Taima’s question about her past returned to her, hour after hour, like a snaking fog that obscured sunshine and confused the time of day.

At last the real dawn came. Exhausted, Eshat faced her duties. She decided to fortify her spirit by doubling her morning meditations and consulting the Translator’s Almanac. Now, like never before, she felt the need for spirit to be translated into action. Her most recent searches after wisdom in the revered volume had proven empty gestures, the last a very public defeat. Perhaps this time, she told herself, would be different.

A secluded gated alcove at the end of an unassuming hallway near an obscure Cartography sub-section titled Language of Travel, in the House’s deepest level, contained the treasured Almanac, and Eshat alone possessed the key that unlocked the gate. As she walked towards the alcove she glanced behind her repeatedly. How absurd. She was fully in her right to consult the book whenever she wished and as often as she deemed fit; her actions would have aroused suspicion in exactly no one. And yet she felt herself in the throes of an illicit act, desperate to avoid detection.

By the time she reached the narrow hallway leading to the alcove, her fingers had wrapped themselves around the key so tightly that their tips prickled with numbness. Her breath caught in her throat as she unclasped the sweaty palm of her right hand, inserted the key in the gate, and swung it open.

The Almanac was gone.

“I don’t deny it,” Taima said.

Eshat studied her with a detached gaze. “You understand that the Translator’s Almanac is the most sacred volume in the House, and that the punishment meted out to you for its theft will therefore be most severe?”

Taima nodded.

“Accused, please provide a verbal response,” Mehe said. “It is required for the official transcript.”

“I understand,” Taima said, “that my future is not a bright one.”

Eshat found herself counting out her heartbeats in an effort to steady her nerves. Instead, it merely made her more aware of the turmoil within.

“How did you gain access to the key?” Eshat asked.

Taima frowned. For the first time since she’d been fetched here by House authorities—they had roused her out of bed, Eshat had learned from the apprehending party—Taima seemed genuinely confused.

“The key to unlock the gate behind which lay the Almanac,” Eshat added impatiently.

“Ah,” Taima said. A lightness sparked in her eyes; mischief tugged at the corners of her lips. “I found the Almanac as I was departing the House, after my first trial. It lay on an open stack, inviting me to make off with it. Unbelievable, is it not? And yet that is the way it happened.”

“I speak on behalf of the assembled when I say that your account beggars belief,” Eshat said, confident that none would contradict her. “Your answer will therefore be recorded as an avoidance of the truth.”

Taima blinked, as though stung. “I have been unfailingly honest with you,” she said.

“In that case I ask you again: how did you obtain the Almanac?”

“And again I answer: I chanced upon it on a table near the House’s main hall. Unguarded and unclaimed. I studied it for several minutes, letting my hands persuade my eyes of what they disbelieved. There it was—the Translator’s Almanac, the most singular of tomes, in its full, esoteric glory!”

Mehe shifted uneasily. “Even if we were to go along with this absurd story, the question remains why you didn’t immediately alert us. Particularly in light of the previous crime of which you had just been found guilty.”

Taima smiled openly now. “There you have me,” she said. “I did initially plan to do as you say. I imagined that I might be rewarded for saving the House from embarrassment, or worse, a potential crime. I fantasized that my prior sentence might even be commuted—a most appealing notion. But once I allowed my eyes to pore over the Almanac, my whole being was imbued by a most curious energy I was helpless to resist. I could not let the book go, and it would not release me. Thus mutually captivated, we held each other. I walked out of the House without any further considerations of right- or wrong-doing.”

Eshat cleared her throat. “Where is the Almanac now?”

Taima took a long time to respond. Eshat felt the collective restlessness but allowed the silence to bloom.

At last Taima said, “Oh, how I wish I knew. I walked with the book clasped in my hands all day and all night, my mind in a trance. Not cognizant of how much time had elapsed, or where I was. I was stirred to consciousness by your officers. I discovered I was back home, in my own bed, with no sign of the book.”

“You have no recollection of where you left it during your peregrination?”

“None,” Taima said, with genuine remorse.

“Describe this trance you were in,” Eshat said.  

“I witnessed visions for which I do not have words. Fireworks inside my mind. A parade of sights against an impossible backdrop of contorting geometries. Ever since I was woken up this morning, reality’s tide has been washing out the details. Only vague impressions remain on the sands of my memory. It is all becoming fainter by the moment.”

Eshat’s words were clipped. “Without the Almanac, the House is as good as useless.”

Several council members looked up sharply. Never had they observed such defeatism in the Mistress.

“Surely with you to guide—” Taima began.

“Do not speak about things you cannot comprehend,” Eshat snapped. “The loss of this volume is most grave and wounding. Our collective spirit has been maimed.”

Murmurs arose. Seeing Eshat like this—cracks appearing in a foundation once thought unbreachable—generated palpable concern.

“Perhaps,” Mehe offered, “we should adjourn and reassemble after a short break.”

“I appreciate your gesture,” Eshat said, “but I retain sufficient self-awareness to realize that I am in no position to issue a sentence at this time. I am distraught. I feel bereft. This compromises my judicial abilities, to be sure. And yet we must move forward as promptly as possible, for we cannot serve Belaqua in our current state. A simple recess will accomplish nothing. I have therefore resolved to pursue a different path. I will perform the ritual of Equiprimordial Lumen Naturale and confer directly with the Goddess Ayfer.”

Mehe gasped. “But such a ritual was discontinued generations ago,” she whispered. “For good reason.”

“You’re right,” Eshat said. “But we have no other alternative. The options for Taima’s punishment are clear: permanent exile, or death. I am unsure, given the inexplicable circumstances surrounding her transgression, how to assess her level of culpability and pick the correct sentence. I must therefore attempt to communicate with the Goddess. Despite the enormous risks.”

Eshat found herself falling out of a long and vivid dream into a deeper reality ensconced within.

The aroma of invisible fruits wafted everywhere around her. She floated down to the ground from a great height, through a realm made of sky and song, as though sound had become simply one more color in nature’s palette. When her feet alighted on rich porous soil, with a deftness and nimbleness she hadn’t felt in sixty years, all became silent save the pulse of her soul.

Eshat’s spirit rose with a newfound buoyance. Almost as an afterthought, she realized that the ritual’s potions, incenses, and incantations must have worked.

She had entered Ayfer’s realm.

She dug her toes into the earth, and each vibration of peaty particles reminded her of Taima’s fate trembling in her hands. She closed her eyes, but her vision remained wide and expansive, as though the lids had not descended, though in fact they had. Eyes still closed in this manner, she closed them again a second time, and this time channels of darkness poured forth from her fingertips and smothered the sky, so that she became a bridge between the ground and a black infinity beyond.

“You seek guidance,” Ayfer’s voice said, each word a caress within Eshat’s mind. “And yet I can only tell my story. You are responsible for yours.”

Eshat considered the meaning of these words, and she felt her mind guided to thoughts of the House of Books. The House transformed before her, morphing into a temple more vast and ancient than she had ever known. In this mythical place, alabaster shelves housed thousands upon thousands of books whose knowledge rang in faint echoes, plucked on golden harps and lyres of pure thought. From enormous vases of onyx and chalcedony sprang trees as tall as mountains, whose branches sinewed seamlessly into the shelves. From the farthest recesses of the shelves sprouted obsidian chalices encrusted with silver seashells and plaited leaves.

“Behold the first House, from which all others flourished,” Ayfer said.

The House dissolved, mercury-like, a confluence of dark ochre rivulets that poured into a reservoir of unimaginable size. As the shelves and books and vases and trees quicksilvered away, the reservoir grew into a sea, featureless save for a single six-oared skiff that floated in perfect melancholy tranquility upon its surface.

“Time’s reversal,” Ayfer said. “This ocean you see before you was my sadness, and from it emerged the progenitor House. Like all great enterprises that stand the test of time, it was sown with tears.”

A lone girl leaned over the skiff’s edge, beholding her sullen gaze in the waters upon which she drifted.

Eshat wondered what could have possibly caused the Goddess such incalculable sadness. She did not need to voice her question.

“Ever since my birth,” Ayfer said, “I wished to find a way to help every living being become as joyous as might be, to know the plenitude of nature’s bounty. I spent a near-eternity searching for the best means of doing this, and at last discovered a path forward: a special story for every life, a singular imaginative text that would uniquely touch and transform and heal the soul for which it was meant, opening it to a new appreciation of the cosmos. I then toiled tirelessly to seed space and time with the inspiration of my designs.

“Alas, after my great task was accomplished, I realized the tragedy of my predicament. All the imaginable beings of the cosmos had been assigned stories—save for me. I had forgotten to set aside a story for myself. And so I cried and cried, and in time my tears calcified into the books of the ancestral House.”

“But the texts of the House over which I preside,” Eshat said, “are uplifting, ennobling.”

“That is so,” Ayfer admitted. “They represent my attempts to console myself from the realization of my ineffable loss.”

Ayfer’s presence became muted.

The skiff faded into invisibility, and the sea turned translucent, each wavelet a ghost of its former self.

“This was my journey,” Ayfer said, “from which you must now fashion your own.”

The faintness resulting from Ayfer’s withdrawal grew louder, her distance more proximate, until her ebbing into the ether converged precisely with Eshat’s arrival back into herself.

At that moment, Eshat opened her second set of eyes, and then her first, and as she passed through the tunnel connecting Ayfer’s realm back to the ordinary world, she wrapped herself around the wisdom she had gained, holding onto it for dear life: the beautiful and the sad were forever linked.

After the ritual, Eshat spent five days and nights in bed, beset by high fever and deep, rheumatic pains. Her breathing was labored, and her every movement, no matter how slight, exploded into a flash of vertigo and sent convulsions snaking from her feet to her forehead. Her throat rasped and her joints brittled. Cold burned and hot chilled. She could not hold food down and could barely drink water, which was placed on her tongue, drop by drop, by her endlessly patient caregivers.

At the end of the fifth night, the sweats subsided. The miasma inside her chest dissipated. Gradually, her appetite returned, and with it her strength.

In the morning, when for the first time Eshat was able to leave her quarters and pace part of the way to the House’s central hall, Mehe said, “We are blessed that you are alive.”

Hearing these words, Eshat stopped in her tracks. She rested both hands upon the cane she was using for support and straightened her back. “More than alive,” Eshat asked. “I’m seeing the world with new eyes. I’ve experienced a rebirth.”

For the third time, Taima was brought before Eshat.

The gathering was the largest the House had seen in years. Word of Taima’s transgression had circulated among all the adepts, so that all manner of Narravitists, from the most fledgling Declensionists to the most magisterial Gramaryeans, were in attendance. Anyone who currently served in Eshat’s sphere or had at one time been part of her circle came to bear witness to an epoch-defining ruling. No one had been banished or sentenced to death during Eshat’s entire reign. No matter what she decided today, history would be made.

Eshat surveyed everyone. Then, in an unprecedented move, she took off her Mistress’s headband of gemstone beads and set it on the table before her. Everyone became still, and the room took on an air of cavernous silence.

“During my communion with our divine Teacher,” she began. Her lips trembled, and her mouth closed. Only with titanic effort was she able to command the muscles in her face to continue to mold the words she had envisioned herself speaking. “During my communion with our divine Teacher, I learned of new facts directly relevant in this case. It is now clear to me that I played a critical role in the loss of our Almanac.”

Muffled outcries.

She imagined what they must be thinking. The fevers broke the old woman’s mind. Her judgment cannot be trusted. We must interfere before pandemonium erupts. Eshat knew she must proceed quickly, or else she risked losing her resolve, not to mention her audience’s patience. The sense of urgency was like a heat on her neck, ever closer, threatening to sear her skin.

“In my sleep, I retrieved the Almanac from its holy alcove and left it for Taima to find the following day, precisely as she described. I did not do so consciously, nor did I remember these actions during our most recent congress. Nevertheless, it is so. Taima has spoken nothing but the truth. Further, since I can personally avow for the Almanac’s magnetism, it is obvious to me that we cannot hold Taima responsible for her departure from the House with the book. This too is as she says; she became merely an instrument of the book’s will.”

Mehe, tears pooling in her eyes, peered directly at Eshat. “What are you saying, Mistress? That Ayfer’s will is for us to be without an Almanac? How then will you match up our citizens in need with the texts that provide them relief and succor? And what of right and wrong? How will we administer true justice? Has Ayfer forsaken us?” At this last question her voice cracked, and she raised a hand to cover the gentle sobs that followed.

“It is true that without an Almanac, I cannot do my job,” Eshat said. “Therefore, effective immediately, I am stepping down as Mistress of the House of Books.”

Voices surged and clamored.

“Please, please,” Eshat said, her tone more beseeching than it had ever been during her many years as Mistress. “I was a vehicle for Ayfer, as was Taima. We must trust in Ayfer’s will. She has never led us astray, and she will not start now. The wisdom of our Goddess does not reside in the Almanac; it resides in the House, and we collectively channel it and bring it to life. As long as the wisdom in these walls is preserved, we shall endure.”

The furor began again, but one voice cut through it.

“What will happen to me?” Taima asked, with newfound equanimity.

Eshat knew the moment of ultimate truth had arrived.

Breaths were drawn in; heads tilted forward; ears attuned.

“You share the same fate as I,” Eshat decreed. In that moment she missed the familiar weight of the Mistress’s headband and knew she would never wear it again. “We are both now free.”

It took many months for Belaqua to accept the new order of things, and some of its people never did, recording in their hearts the demise of Eshat’s rule as steeped in ignominy and disgrace. They resented their previous admiration of her, because their resentment hurt less than the pain of their loss.

Mehe and Qebi, along with several others, set about making the changes needed for the House’s continued operation. The citizens began to adapt to a world without an Almanac—a world in which a given text must be merely good enough, rather than ideally suited, for its reader.

During this time of transition, Eshat assisted in a limited way. At last the moment came where she knew she had done all she could for the House and she must entrust it to the next generation.

“I wonder sometimes,” Eshat mused on her day of parting, “if she ever even existed.”

Mehe’s brow furrowed. “Of whom do you speak?”

“Taima,” Eshat said. “Maybe she was simply the story that we needed to tell ourselves in order to break through our illusions.”

“Surely—” Qebi began, but did not know how to continue.

Eshat smiled, and the smile blossomed into a peal of laughter, a sound as startling for its rareness as any Mehe or Qebi had known. “Perhaps I jest,” Eshat said.

They accompanied her to the House entrance and, some paces beyond, to the lip of the terraced steps leading down into the garden. Their intellects burned with questions, but their bodies were quenched by mindfulness. After a lifetime of tutelage by Eshat, there were so many things to be said that not a single one could be spoken.

Eshat raised her arms and opened them wide, as though embracing not only the garden below but the entire world.

“I was once one with the Text that told me that this was my place, that these Books were my books, this House my house. But now, I have discovered a deeper Text. It has shown me that all stories can be my story, all places my temple.”

And with that she turned and walked down into the dazzling sunlight of a golden summer day.

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Alvaro Zinos-Amaro is a Hugo- and Locus-award finalist who has published fifty stories, as well as over a hundred essays, reviews, and interviews, in a variety of professional magazines and anthologies. These venues include Analog, Apex, Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Galaxy's Edge, Nature, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Locus,, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, Cyber World, This Way to the End Times, The Unquiet Dreamer, It Came from the Multiplex, Shadow Atlas, and many others.

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