Bibliophants, Part I:
...In which is discussed the Bibliophanti Age of Weather, as well as the Beginnings of the Bibliophanti Age of Dido
If one were to travel to any of the world’s great libraries (or even to some of those libraries considered not-so-great), one would more likely than not find at least one Bibliophant manning the front desk, or repairing a book binding, or serving as a Library elder, among other things. Bibliophants have, over the centuries, made themselves indispensable to the world’s great libraries, devoting themselves to every kind of role. Some libraries, such as the Library of Pachydermus, located in the Blackgale Forest, Pennsylvania, USA, are staffed entirely by Bibliophants.
Because Bibliophants have come to be synonymous with librarians, one would be forgiven for thinking their history relatively free of conflict. This, however, is a mistaken presumption, as the Bibliophant experience is as varied as that of any other group of people on Earth. For the sake of brevity, we shall focus only on the three main eras of the past two thousand years of Bibliophanti history: the Age of Weather; the Age of Dido; the Age of Knowledge.
The Age of Weather
It is commonly believed amongst Scholars that Bibliophants—originally known as the Pachytdi—are the oldest of the non-human sentient species. Whilst Scholars disagree about when the Pachytdi developed a written language, all stone tablets containing the earliest known form of the Pachytdi alphabet, Pachytis, have been found exclusively in western Ethiopia. It is therefore widely believed that western Ethiopia is where the Pachytdi first developed their love of language. Pachytis contains over thirty thousand pictographic symbols and seems to have inspired, in part, early Chinese.
According to ancient accounts, the initial primary use of Pachytis was the construction of words and phrases that, when shouted or sung with the correct inflections, proved highly effective in frightening off predatory beasts and hostile primitive humans. As both the language and the alphabet evolved, early Pachytdi Wordsmiths began designing and constructing more complex phrases that, when uttered, influenced the behavior of both man and beast.
Pachytdi Wordsmiths continued to experiment with and develop Pachytis, becoming experts in how particular sounds influenced strains of both terrestrial and cosmic energies. It was also at this time that the Pachytdi began to understand Imagination as a living being, as opposed to merely a faculty of a sentient mind.
Whilst the Pachytdi were unable to learn how to control the whims of Imagination, they did learn how to control the weather. Once crafted, weather-controlling phrases were recorded in locked volumes known as Weather Books. Only Pachytdi Wordsmiths were allowed access to the Weather Books.
Due to their weather-controlling prowess, the Pachytdi were able to establish several prosperous cities on an archipelago off the east coast of Africa. These cities eventually formed a kingdom called Sans’bar, which was located on what is now Zanzibar.
The Age of Dido
Whilst the history of the Bibliophanti is officially divided into three distinct eras, it is sometimes, informally, divided into only two distinct periods: before the advent of Dido of Abyssinia and after the advent of Dido of Abyssinia. Arguably, the most significant figure in Bibliophanti history, aside from Pachydermus the Learned, isn’t even a Bibliophant, but a human.
If we wish to learn about Dido’s story in full, we must first learn of Jacques-Philippe, marquis de Trécon, a French noble who joined a crusade in the early 1300s. He was unlike the typical warrior in that he was forty-three years of age. He had wasted the majority of his life awaiting the death of his father. Unfortunately for De Trécon, the old man lived to the ripe old age of seventy-eight—something highly unusual at the time.
De Trécon’s bad luck continued: shortly after his father’s death, he learnt that the old man had secretly squandered the family fortune on a massive collection of ornamental lutes, as well as on several hundred paintings by the minor Flemish painter and charlatan Janus Blootgat. De Trécon intended to sell the items as quickly as possible but the entire collection was mysteriously and completely destroyed by a deliberately set fire. Whilst the arsonist has never been identified, no small number of Scholars believe it to have been Jean Boncochon—one of the elder De Trécon’s many impoverished and neglected illegitimate children seeking revenge for a lifetime of poverty and neglect.
De Trécon, determined not only to regain a family fortune but to make a name for himself, decided to lead a crusade into sub-Saharan Africa. In the years previous, whilst waiting for his father to die, De Trécon had spent significant amounts of time in drinking establishments across the country, making conversation with people he deemed far more interesting than himself. Various tradesmen and travellers had told him of a supposed kingdom of immense riches located off the east coast of Africa. The kingdom, he was told, was populated by a race of elephant-shaped demons who could control the weather with black magick.
De Trécon decided it was his duty as a Christian and a Frenchman to wipe out the elephant devils and steal their treasure. He was confident the pope would support his religious endeavor, but the real Crusades had ended more than thirty years previous, and in failure. The Church had no desire to finance another one. There was word of a famous Chinese inventor and explorer, who was in Europe gathering crew for an expedition to Africa, but De Trécon had no intention of soiling his crusade with the presence of what he considered to be a “godless heathen”.
De Trécon, undeterred, decided to raise his own army. Since he lacked significant funds, he went about doing so in a highly singular manner. First, he used his father’s connections to clean out a few of the prisons in France. His ranks swelled with hardened thieves and murderers, but most were simple, and were swayed by tales of endless plunder if only they pledged their loyalty. Next, De Trécon traveled all over Western Europe, enticing countless beggars not only with promises of plunder, but daily meals, and a sense of purpose, and favor in the eyes of God. In the end, the Army of the Angel of Death, as they called themselves, numbered less than two thousand, but De Trécon believed it sufficient for his purposes.
With his army now raised, De Trécon began the long journey to Africa: west through Europe, south through the Middle East and finally into North Africa. Aside from the occasional elderly soldier expiring from the heat or the grueling nature of the march, the Army of the Angel of Death experienced very few setbacks during the first leg of their journey. The soldiers were in such high spirits, in fact, that they completely disregarded the periodic appearance of ghosts of crusaders past, warning them to turn back.
De Trécon and his crusaders first encountered serious trouble whilst attempting to cross the Sahara Desert. For it was in the Sahara that they encountered the Malinga Confederacy—a peaceful nation of diverse tribes comprised mainly of Sand Trolls, simian ogres and descendants of Berber nomads. The Malinga offered De Trécon and his men shelter, provisions and maps, but since those of the Confederacy were not Christian, De Trécon decided they should be conquered in the name of Christ, the pope and France. Unfortunately for him and his men, their hubris had become such that they had lost sight of the fact they weren’t actually trained soldiers, whereas the Malinga belonged to a proud, old warrior tradition. In short, when the fighting had finished, only De Trécon and thirty of his men were able to escape with their lives.
De Trécon’s number didn’t stay at thirty for very long. Over the following weeks, roughly half of his number were eliminated by a combination of sunstroke, fatigue and dehydration. The other half met their demise during a surprise encounter with a herd of sand hippopotami. In the end, only De Trécon remained, along with a notorious killer of women named Emile Saint-Bathorie.
De Trécon and Saint-Bathorie would have surely perished if they hadn’t, by pure blind chance, run into the famed Chinese inventor and explorer known as Xanzi. Xanzi had invented one of the world’s first aeroships and had sailed from China to Europe and finally to Africa, in an attempt to find the fabled Library of the Desert Moon, which rose from the sands only on nights with a full Moon. He had ended up crashing in his search, killing his entire crew. He was in the midst of resuming his search on foot when he encountered De Trécon and Saint-Bathorie. Rather than make Xanzi a partner in his quest, or at the very least obtain directions to the closest settlement, De Trécon decided a “godless heathen” like Xanzi couldn’t be fully trusted, and consequently made the accomplished inventor the crusade’s first prisoner.
De Trécon still had every intention of invading the kingdom of elephant devils and slaughtering its inhabitants. Emile Saint-Bathorie, however, refused to allow this, at least, not until his own desires were fulfilled first. Saint-Bathorie was, for lack of a better term, a serial killer, and possessed an insatiable need for the blood of women on his hands. He had joined De Trécon’s crusade because he had been promised the opportunity to rampage through “heathen” towns and cities, slaughtering as many women as he pleased. He had no interest in killing elephants, regardless of how demonic they were, as they were elephants and not women.
Saint-Bathorie demanded Xanzi show them to the nearest human settlement so that he might get his fill of misogynistic carnage. De Trécon had little say in the matter, as Saint-Bathorie was bigger, stronger, more ruthless, and more than a little unhinged. De Trécon knew his life would very quickly become forfeit if he tried to defy his bloodthirsty companion. Therefore, he remained silent as Saint-Bathorie forced Xanzi to lead them to the nearest settlement, on the Ethiopian Highlands.
Deep in the Ethiopian Highlands was a village called Amlak, named after Yekuno Amlak, the Ethiopian prince who reestablished the House of Solomon as Ethiopian’s ruling dynasty. Unlike the Kingdom of Kaffa, which came to be located in the southern part of the Highlands, Amlak was not located near any fertile land or stretches of forest. In order to survive, the people of Amlak tamed Ethiopian wolves and used them to hunt small prey. They also consumed a nutrients-rich mushroom known vernacularly as Wolf’s Shadow, as it grew in the dung of the Ethiopian wolf.
As eager as Emile Saint-Bathorie was to resume murdering women, he hadn’t forgotten the disastrous confrontation with the Malinga. Rather than invade the village, he forced De Trécon and Xanzi to set up camp with him some miles away. Then, at night, he crept into the village and kidnapped women as they slept. He brought the women, one at a time, back to the campsite so that he could kill them at his leisure. In all, fifteen women were slain by his hand.
De Trécon was too frightened of Saint-Bathorie to do anything besides try to ignore the screams of his victims. That is, until one night, when Saint-Bathorie brought back a sixteen-year-old girl so beautiful that De Trécon was moved to action. She was called Dido after the mythical queen of Carthage, and he vowed to save her life so that he might have her for himself.
De Trécon begged Saint-Bathorie not to kill Dido, claiming he wanted to do so himself. He claimed to have been transformed by Saint-Bathorie’s nightly killings. The persistent scent of freshly spilled woman’s blood, he claimed, had awakened a powerful, primal spirit within him, and he wanted to cultivate that spirit, as doing so would make him stronger. He dismissed women as creatures of the devil—corrupters of man’s noble character who were better off being disposed of if not producing sons. Saint-Bathorie was so impressed by De Trécon’s change that he placed Dido’s life in his hands. He even allowed De Trécon to take Dido deeper into the mountains, so that he might savor the murder in private.
De Trécon did not kill Dido, of course. Rather, he brought her straight back to Amlak. He explained to the villagers who Saint-Bathorie was and what he was doing, and offered to lead them to him so that he might be dealt with properly. The village leaders decided to spare De Trécon and allowed him to lead them to Saint-Bathorie. Upon being found, Saint-Bathorie was promptly taken prisoner and brought back to Amlak. It was here that the relatives of his victims were set loose: first, they broke every bone in his body with wooden mallets and clubs. Then, they skinned him alive. Finally, they chopped up his body and fed it to their pet wolves.
De Trécon became something of a hero to the Amlakans, though some of the villagers wanted to kill De Trécon because he hadn’t stopped Saint-Bathorie soon enough. Nonetheless, De Trécon believed he was in rights to ask for Dido’s hand in marriage as a reward, and was confident that the girl was as good as his. However, what he didn’t know was that, unlike in Europe and other parts of the world, Amlakan women were considered equals to men and couldn’t be forced to do anything they didn’t want to. Despite his heroic deeds, Dido still considered De Trécon a brute and wanted nothing to do with him.
Unsurprisingly, De Trécon refused this rejection. He secretly returned to Amlak a few nights later, snuck into the hut belonging to Dido’s family, and threatened to put Dido’s parents to the sword if she didn’t accept his proposal and come with him. Dido accepted, but planned to murder De Trécon in his sleep before long.
Two weeks into their journey, Dido almost did murder De Trécon, if not for accidentally coming across the crusader’s diary and maps. Dido’s father, a relatively educated man and former world traveler, had taught her to speak and read several languages, not least of all French. She was therefore able to read De Trécon’s diaries and learn about his plans for finding and exterminating the Pachytdi. Dido had heard numerous tales of the Pachytdi from travelers passing through Amlak. She was intrigued by the idea of beings who could supposedly manipulate the world around them with only a few words and the power of Imagination. She wanted to learn such abilities in order to protect herself and her family. Her father had horrified her with tales of the Crusades—which, in his travels, he had witness firsthand—and she was frightened of Europeans, frightened that they might bring their holy war deeper into Africa. Even though Dido had desperately wanted to meet the Pachytdi and learn from them, she hadn’t known where to begin looking for the kingdom of Sans’bar. Now, however, she had maps. She stole the maps, as well as De Trécon’s weapons and boots. She was no longer interested in killing him because she’d also heard that the Pachytdi who performed the miracles, the Wordsmiths, were able to do what they did because they were pure of conscience. She knew that slaying De Trécon would leave a permanent stain on her soul.
By the time Dido arrived in Sans’bar two weeks later, she found the kingdom in a state of turmoil: a serial killer known as the Moon Beast was on the loose. A new victim vanished every night. There was never any body, nor signs of struggle, nor any common factor between the victims. As a consequence of all this, foreigners were no longer welcome in Sans’bar. Luckily for Dido, the Pachytdi had known and liked her father, and as a result were inclined to believe her when she claimed to have solved the mystery of the Moon Beast.
Dido traveled several miles from Sans’bar to the nearest wood, and after several hours of furtive searching was able to find where De Trécon and Xanzi were camped. It was as she had figured: De Trécon and Xanzi had arrived at Sans’bar first probably due to one of Xanzi’s shortcuts, and De Trécon was employing the same strategy Saint-Bathorie had used at Amlak. He’d known that invading Sans’bar head-on would have been suicide, so he decided to complete his crusade by exterminating one Pachytdi at a time. Victims were kidnapped from the streets or their beds, brought back to camp, killed and butchered. The Pachytdi were nothing more than animals to De Trécon, so he bore no qualms about using their remains for meat. He collected their tusks in a large sack and planned to sell them for exorbitant prices upon his return to Europe.
Dido slipped back to Sans’bar and then returned to the campsite with a contingent of Pachytdi warriors. Whilst De Trécon was taken prison, Dido requested the inventor Xanzi be released, as he had spent his time with De Trécon as a chained, malnourished slave. He couldn’t have stopped the Frenchman if he had wanted to, and so shouldn’t have been made to suffer the same fate as his captor. Xanzi was released and De Trécon dragged back to Sans’bar.
When brought before the Pachytdi leadership, he declared himself Champion of France, Christ and the Pope, and proudly revealed his intention of wiping out the Pachytdi and stealing their treasure. Since execution had been outlawed in Sans’bar for centuries, the Pachytdi concocted a punishment more befitting De Trécon’s ambition: the kingdom of Sans’bar did indeed possess an immense treasure. It was so large, in fact, that a small castle had been built to contain every coin, gem and bauble. De Trécon’s eyes were burnt out with a heated poker and he was condemned to polishing every piece of this treasure in the darkness of blindness, using only his fingers to feel for specks of dirt and dust, until death. He may have wished for his death to come quickly, but ended up living another one hundred and thirty years thanks to the highly nutritious Pachytdian diet he was forced to eat everyday. When he finally did expire at the age of one hundred and seventy, it was, unsurprisingly, with a frown on his face and a brow heavy with the weight of so many wasted years.
In gratitude, the Pachytdi were prepared to give Dido enough treasure to live like a queen for seven lifetimes. She did not desire this, however. Rather, she wanted to stay in Sans’bar and study the mystical properties of the Pachytis language under the kingdom’s greatest Wordsmiths. She wanted to be able to manipulate reality as they did, and was willing to give years of her life in order to accomplish this goal.