They shuffled down meandering corridors lined with fetid shelves, not touched in decades, their deeply purple robes dragging in the dust behind them, leaving a wake that would remain until the next pair of auditors made their way along, decades from now.
The Beachcombers, as they were called by others, were strictly forbidden from being in this part of the library alone. There were other areas (‘Districts’ as they were known) that they could be alone, their minds having been sufficiently hardened to cope with the stresses and tremors found there. But in this area, there was sufficient chance of even the most experienced ‘comber being lost to the whispers of the beings in the shelves that it was seen to be necessary to ensure there was always someone else looking over your shoulder.
This section was known as ‘The Old Gods’. They had been collected when humankind’s fickle attention had moved on to the next shiny bauble, leaving these gods stranded or jettisoned by humanity, left at the high tide mark as the sea retreated. The Beachcombers simply collected and filed them away in a kind of eternal reference library. Whether they did it because they wanted to bring order to humanity’s chaotic relationship with the Gods or because they had been given the task by some other, higher-order, supernatural being was a debate that galactic scholars would burden themselves with for centuries to come.
The dark purple robes denoted one of the highest ranks of the order, and they moved together in silence, weaving along corridors, making their way under distant vaulted ceilings and through great halls until, footsore and weary, they reached their destination. It was less a room, more a connecting corridor that had been filled, floor to ceiling, with shelves in order to create more space after some other area had overflown its banks and spilled out.
One of the robes, with a good deal more pomp and ceremony than necessary, pulled out a heavy book wrapped in black, thick leather and, picking off some non-existent flecks of dust, opened it to a page marked with a thick tongue of dark, red material. The old finger, topped with a yellowed nail, traced its way along the rows of jagged symbols and a high-pitched, airy voice as dry as the surface of the sun, read aloud in a language only spoken by a handful of people in the whole cosmos.
Once the recitation had come to an end, the other, presumably junior Beachcomber, stepped forward and stood before the shelves. Hands slipped into the hood, gripping the unseen head in unseen hands, and elbows brought together began rocking back and forth chanting in a language quite different to the whispered language of the book, full of clicks and buzzes. After many breaths (there was no other way of measuring time in this unchanging place) the hands slipped out of the dark hood and into the darkness between the shelves.
The old wooden shelves, seemingly mismatched and scavenged from a thousand shipwrecks, were full of a miscellany of statues, jars, bells, stones, and skulls. However, the old hands brought out from the depths a wooden mask on a pedestal. It was small, only big enough to cover a child’s face, and made of wood so old it had become dark and hard as stone. The figure cleaned it with the sleeve of their robe, paying especially close attention to the small plaque with name and dates on the bottom.
The older figure stepped forward, taking it and holding it up into the dim light, and said quietly, enjoying their moment of drama
“Yahweh, your time has come again”
They stood in silence for a moment, contemplating the enormity of what they were doing before setting off, not back the way they had come but forwards, towards some unknown destination ahead of them.