The storm took them by surprise. It beat their ship for three days and three nights, throwing them off course and hurling them, finally, onto a shore they didn’t know. The beach was rocky, the bare roots of the mountain that towered above. In the moonlight, they could just see the outline of a great stone door carved into the side of the mountain.
One of the young sailors approached the door.
“There’s something engraved here,” he said. The others laughed.
“That’s our Crestin!” they said. “Always looking for something to read.”
Crestin ignored them. He was used to their jibes, and thought they were being silly. Every sailor loved a good story. What was wrong with them being written down? He got up to the engraving and read:
At world’s edge, on distant shore
You may find a secret door
Visible for just as long
As the full moon sings her song.
Tucked inside these halls is treasure
Far beyond all mortal measure.
Come in once and you may stay
Until you’d like to go away.
But if you find you’re of our feather,
Come in again, and stay forever.
Crestin said the words under his breath.
“Did you say treasure?” one of the sailors asked. Before he could answer, the door creaked open and the sailors passed around him in a laughing wave. Lights bloomed in sconces along the walls as they traveled, as if awakened by their passing. Crestin hesitated, looking over his shoulder at the night sky. He wondered if the others had noticed the stars.
Someone hollered his name. He caught up just as the sailors’ voices turned from giddy anticipation to bitter disappointment. One spat.
“We’ve been tricked,” he said, crossing his arms. “There’s nothing here but books.”
“You sound disappointed.” The voice seemed to come from everywhere, until a cloaked figure stepped into the light from between two huge stacks of books. “My name is Meliran. Welcome to the library.”
“The sign said treasure,” one sailor said, petulant as a child denied sweets.
“One man’s trash, I suppose,” the figure said, throwing back his hood to reveal a grave, beautiful young man. His dark eyes rested on each of them in turn. “You’re free to go, of course. But make sure, before you leave, that there’s nothing you want here.” He looked up, up to a tiny window that showed a sliver of the sky. “The moon is almost down.”
Crestin gaped at him. Nothing they wanted? This place had everything he wanted. He’d never seen so many books in his life, and that was just in this tiny pool of light. He heard sounds like great pages being turned in the distance, like sails unfurling in a fresh breeze. This place was huge.
“It’s full of books?” he asked.
“And papers,” Meliran said. “Scrolls and stories and histories lost. Every book that was ever written, or will be, or never was. They’re all here.”
“But…” There were so many things he wanted to know. But as he arched his neck and back to follow the lines of the impossible stacks, only one question came to mind. “How do you get all the way up there?”
“We fly,” Meliran said, winking at him over an impish grin.
“Come on,” one of the sailors said, grabbing Crestin as he headed for the door. “Let’s get out of here.” The man’s grip was like a vise around his arm, and there was nowhere in the smooth stone floor for Crestin to dig his heels in. It wasn’t until they reached the shore that they stopped, and only then because Crestin had fallen.
“You alright, boy?” one of the older men asked. Crestin squirmed and rolled his head. The space between and below his shoulder blades crawled with a terrible itch. He rolled onto his back, pushing himself across the rocky beach until the feeling subsided. Crestin lay there, panting at the constellations. They were familiar again, the stars he’d always known. And, without turning, he knew the door would be gone.
Meliran, he thought, and his heart and shoulders burned.
He looked up from his chart table as the ship’s boy opened the door.
“Looks like a storm on the horizon, sir,” the boy said. The captain jumped from his chair, the tiredness in his face replaced with a manic glee.
“Where?” he demanded. “How long?” The boy pointed.
“Starboard,” he said. “Moving fast.”
“Starboard,” the captain said, as if the word tasted delightful. “Hand me that, will you?” he asked, pointing at a satchel hanging by the door.
“They weren’t kidding,” the boy said, handing it over. “You really are storm-mad. I heard the legend once, about a magic treasure at the end of the world, and you have to ride a storm to get there. But that’s just a story.” The captain grinned.
“Stories, young man, are exactly what I’m after.” He shoved past the boy just as rain began to slap the deck.
“Captain!” the first mate called. “Orders?”
“You know the order!” the captain shouted up. “Into the storm!”
They rode the storm for three days and three nights. On the third night, the clouds parted to reveal the brightest full moon any of them could remember. The sea sparkled around them in all directions but one, where a rocky beach in the near distance climbed into a mountain’s peak. The captain looked up and grinned at strange stars, and it seemed to him that the moon winked in answer.
“Now what?” the first mate asked. The captain grinned and stepped up to the rail.
“Now,” he said, taking off his hat and fixing it on the first mate’s brow, “it’s your decision.” Without another word, he dove off the side of the ship and swam in a straight line for the distant beach. Several of the sailors lunged half-overboard with shouts of “Captain!” But for all their noise, the captain kept swimming. As the shouts subsided, one dry, coughing chuckle cut through the night.
“Crazy bastard,” the old man said, with more than a hint of fond admiration in his voice. “I never thought we’d actually find it again.”
“Find what?” the first mate asked, at the same time the ship’s boy cried “it’s real?” The old man nodded toward the shore. In the distance, the last light of the moon shone on the edge of a huge stone door opening and closing.
“Should we wait for him?” the first mate asked.
“Up to you.” The man shrugged. “You’re the captain. But it’ll be a long wait.” The moon sank below the horizon. The new captain looked toward the door again, but it was gone, along with the whole island. “He’s sailing under different stars now.”
They slept, then, and set off at first light toward home. Every man but two faced forward. The old man stood at the stern rail, saying his goodbyes, and hoping the captain would forgive him for dragging him away all those years ago. And the ship’s boy, whose eyes were full of foreign stars, rubbed his itchy shoulder blades against a crate and stared into his memory, wondering.
Alone in a pool of light, the captain called. “Hello?”
“Crestin,” Meliran said, just as beautiful now as he had been all those years ago. “You’re of our feather after all.”
Crestin stumbled forward as his back split open, wings exploding from shoulders that had itched for years. Meliran caught him, held him until the change was complete. Crestin coughed.
“I thought you were kidding,” he said, but his voice was mostly laughter. Meliran grinned.