A vacancy in the position of Master of the Guild.

The snow had only just stopped. From the comfortable position of my armchair, with a book in my hand and wings spread over the chair back, I had settled myself in for the night, I could see the last of the white drift slowly from the sky before all was still. Outside chambers, that I kept in one of the tallest towers in the Guildhall, the Library had turned into a kind of painting. My window served as the frame, and the dull colors of the library as the paint of an old Ronex master.
Such paintings decorated every inch of the walls of my small chamber. Had I never found a position as a member of the Guild, I would have liked to think that I could have followed my interest in art. Even now, when my studies take up more of my time than anything else, I still found the time to paint a little.

On the far side of my chambers, well away from my desk, stood an easel on a floor of tarpaulin. Beside it, on a small stool, was a pallet of dark paints. The work was my latest in a collection I had begun some years ago. They were all of wanderers I had come across in the Library. Most were humanoid, if not entirely human. Others, such as my current one, were beings of a more ethereal nature.
Since my promotion to one of the Masters of the Guild, I had put my painting on hold. I found that in my new position, I was able to spend far less time than I would have liked at the Hall, and was forced to visit more and more worlds. Even when I could stay in the Library, sometimes I was forced to travel for days, or weeks just to find whatever book was needed for my research. In some parts far from any Ways or Knocks, the Library had turned into a wooden jungle. Shelves the size of moments had collapsed under the weight of the tomes they carried. Creatures that lived on no other world had found ways to survive in the Library, picking on whatever poor wanders they could find.
And that is to say nothing of when I had to find primary sources. Intervening a man who fought at the battle of the Barrneck is hard enough before one learns they are all in hiding after King Lue claimed that any man who had fought against him could still be executed. I spent a year searching high and low throughout that damned Kingdom before I could find even one willing to recount the battle to me so that I could put it down in writing.

Not that I am complaining. For while I have an interest and art, my true talent is in the study of the past. If I truly found the work at the Guild so unbearable, I never would have made it to the position of a Master. Certainly never Master of History, perhaps the most fought for Mastership of the eighteen on offer. Not the most challenging, for that, would be the Mastership of Mathematics. Nor was it the most prestigious. That title went to the Masters of Literature. No, the Mastership of History was not the grandest of positions.
But, perhaps because of these things, it was the position most sought after by members of the Guild. Unlike the Mastership of Mathematics, it did not require a mind that could comprehend the full nature of equations.
And unlike the Mastership of Literature, the position of history did not seem like something out of the reach of all but the greatest minds along the Guildsmen.

So, the Mastership of History came with its own kind of respect. It was known that whoever held it had not stumbled into it by chance. I was not exempt from this rule. After the passing of the last Master, a man who I had always liked, but never fully gotten to know, I made it immediately clear to the other Masters that I was the best choice for the post.

It was not an easy thing, but it would have been harder for a man with more pride. It would have been almost impossible for a prideful man to visit each of the Masters and beg them for the post. I never begged outright, but I did put myself at their mercy, asking them as if they were the gods themselves to use their powers to install me among their ranks. To raise me above the rabble of my fellow Guildsmen and to a position where I could truly change things.
Somewhere easier to convince the others. Some believed I was too young for the post. That it should go to a man who had already distinguished himself, who's papers were already read outside the Library. Others said that an angel such as myself was far too short-lived to truly understand what history meant. A ridiculous notion and I was certain to let anyone who claimed that exactly what I thought of it.

Whatever their lack of convictions where I had managed to change their mind. Some only agreed to support me for the Mastership in exchange for future favors. I have no qualms about the fact my Mastership was gained this way. I know how the game is played in the Guild.

The Mastership had come with more benefits than prestige alone. I was able to pick and choose which projects I wanted to follow, and what subjects I could pass on to lower Guildsmen. I was less likely to be sent away suddenly, without warning. And I was entitled to finer chambers than the lower members of the Guild. Among the finest houses that one could reside in within the Library, the Master's suites in the Guildhall were legendary.

It was in these chambers that Eric Aunger came to me, not long after the snow stopped. I heard his footsteps outside on the landing, recognizing his footfalls long before I could ever see his face. Without bothering to make my chambers presentable, or tidy my unruly hair, I opened the door. Eric was a good enough friend that I need not present to be presentable in front of him.

From the moment I opened the door, I could tell that something was wrong with Eric. As the Guilds Master of Linguistics, there was no one in all the Library who knew words better than he did. He operated language the way that some operate a machine. It obeyed him.
I, who had never managed anything beyond a few words in any language other than English, found the way his mind worked truly remarkable. But I was not the only one. The youngest Master in living memory, he had already won himself acclaim both inside and outside of the Guild. At only twenty-four, he had written more papers and books than most Guild Masters would in their entire lives. More than I would, if no one else. He was widely reputed as one of the greatest minds of language, both inside and outside of the Library. Frequently, he was called away to read texts that no one could read. Just last year, when Master Kislorod had found a temple buried deep within the lower levels of the Library, it had been Eric who had learned the meaning of the glyphs scrawled on the wall. Their meaning had done a great deal to educate the Guild on the nature of beings who lived in the lower levels.

All of this is to say that Eric Aunger was a genius rarely seen in the Guild. We were more than lucky to have him.

But how could he not be a genius? Raised by the High Master Uhloill, success in the Guild had always been written into Eric's destiny. Uhloill had been High Master of the Guild for as long as I could remember. For as long as anyone in the Guild could remember. But he had been more than that to young Eric. To the Master of Linguistics, Uhloill was the closest thing he had to a parent.
And Uhloill was the reason that Eric had come to my chambers that night, not long after the snow stopped.

A handsome man by nature, something that might have been sorrow warped Eric's features as he stood in my doorway.
"Oherod…" He said to me, in a flat voice that was totally at odds with the energetic and lively voice he usually possessed. Sensing something was wrong, and that this was more than a mere social call, I welcomed Eric inside as gently as I could. One thing I had quickly learned during my years of friendship with Eric was that one could never pry information from him. He gave it when he was ready.

So there was nothing I could do by wait until he was ready to tell me what he had come to say. Strangely silent, I worried about what could drive my friend to my chambers at this hour. Nothing to do with his study could throw Eric into such a state of melancholy.
Seating him in a comfortable armchair not far from the fireplace, I offered him something to drink. Tea, or something stronger perhaps. He only shook his head.

I sat down beside him. Watching him, I realized that his eyes could not meet mine. So as to relieve some of the pressure from my friend, I asked him if he had something he wanted to tell me. I was careful to be gentle about it, lest Eric misunderstand my intentions.
Much to my surprise, he answered. "Uhloill… passed away."

There have only been a few times in my life that words have ever truly taken my breath away. Words that have shaken me. That moment, when I heard that our High Master had passed away.
Fumbling for words that would not have come, even if I knew what to say, I asked, "What? How did it happen?" It seemed impossible. It was impossible. I had not seen the High Master for some days, yet it could not have been more than a week since we had last spoken.
Eric seemed in a similar state of disbelief. "A sickness. It came on at the beginning of last week. Doctor Rounderhouse did what he could, but so little is known about Tri-symbiote physiology that there was nothing he could do."
"I didn't even know he could get sick," I muttered. It was true. Beings like Uhloill seemed as immortal as anything got in the Library. I had not really meant to say the thought out loud. Eric almost laughed at it.
"Neither did I. He raised me for twenty-two years and was never sick." Silence returned to the room after he finished. I wanted to say something to Eric, but for all my skills as a Wordsmith, could not find the words.
"You know what happens now?" Eric asked. I shook my head, deciding that it was better to let him say whatever he truly wanted to, rather than try to give an answer.
"The Guild will need a new High Master. As soon as word gets out, the crows and vultures will take flight. Already, they will be fighting amongst themselves for the position. Before his body is even cold."
"Who else knows?" I asked in a low voice. It would have been both impossible and impractical to keep the news of Uhloill's passing hidden for long.

Eric shook his head. "I'm not sure. I came here as soon as I heard the news. Oh gods, Oherod, I'm not sure how I'll face them all tomorrow. While they say pleasantries to my face, offering condolences. But behind my back, when they think I cannot hear, they will be plotting with one and another for his position. How will I take it, Oherod?"
"You will take it the way that they would have wanted you to," I told him, trying to say just what it was he wanted to hear. "Uhloill would have wanted the discussion. He would have wanted the Guild left in the best possible hands."
"Those are not the hands of someone who would use the Guild to advance their own agendas and powers." Eric snapped. It was widely known that my friend was an adamant believer that the Guild should not only stay out of the politics of the Library but should also remove all politics from its inner workings. If he could have had it his way, the Guild would devote itself completely to its academic study.
Once again, the conversation faded into silence. There was nothing to say. The pair of us retreated deep into the fortresses of our own minds. The shock was still too fresh for either of us to consider what our next steps would be.

Uhloill was dead.

There was a vacancy in the position of Master of the Guild.

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