Your Eyes Shall Be Opened

rating: +15+x

« You Shall Not Die

Tracy Campbell first met the White Crow at the age of ten, the day her old life ended.

She heard him through the thin walls of the trailer, talking loudly to her mother. It was night, so she knew not to come out of her room while a stranger was at the doorway. She listened instead.

She didn't recognise his accent, but he didn't sound like he was from around here. "Ms Campbell, we need to talk about your daughter."

"Who are you?" There was indignation in her mother's voice, at being called on this late in the evening.

"They call me White Crow -"

"Oh, it is way too late for this. You come back in the morning. Or, you know, don't." There was a thud.

"My foot!" He carried on talking as if nothing had happened. "Ms Campbell, I do not have much time to explain. They know about your daughter, and they're coming for her."

"I don't know what you're talking about," lied her mother. Tracy instantly knew what they were talking about.

"Ms Campbell, her secret is out. I have to insist that you -"

Her mother was getting angry now. "I'm the one who's going to insist - "

Another voice spoke up, soft and feminine. "Maybe I should explain?"

"Jesus Christ. Did that -"

"Yes, I speak. Apologies for my associate. He's new to this."

"Thanks, Midnight." He didn't sound like he meant it.

"You scared her, Crow. Strange man like you showing up in the middle of the night, what was she going to think?"

"Why did your cat talk?" Tracy's mother sounded confused.

"I'm not his cat." The female voice sounded indignant.

"She is definitely not my cat." The male voice sounded embarrassed.

Tracy's curiosity got the better of her. She peeked out of her bedroom into the living area of the trailer they shared, opening it just a crack and hoping nobody noticed the light.

She saw her mother, facing towards the doorway. She saw a white man with brown hair standing, his foot in the doorway, preventing it from closing. And she saw a black cat leaning in, paws resting on his shoe.

The cat spoke. "It's a little hard to explain, but we're here because you're not safe. It would be easier if your daughter came out to join us."

Tracy had spent her whole life thinking she was the strangest thing in the world. Her eyes widened with wonder as she gazed on something even more unusual.

The cat looked directly at her with golden eyes. "She has already seen me."

Tracy backed away from the doorway, but it was too late. She'd been spotted. Her mother walked over to her bedroom door protectively, leaving the door to their trailer on the chain. "Tracy. I knew you were listening. Stay in your room."

The cat leaned into the trailer through the doorway, the chain attached and pulled tight. "Tracy, my name is Midnight. I can talk. I believe that you have your own kind of magic?"

In the darkness of her room, Tracy's dark skin glowed with an inner light. The red glow was like a torch shining through her flesh - too dim to see in daylight, but very noticeable as soon as the sun went down.

The man spoke up. "Yes, we know she can glow. Can we move on? A tree across the road is not going to delay them for long."

"How did you find out?" asked her mother. She had been keeping the truth about Tracy hidden ever since her child had been born. As far back as she could remember, Tracy had always known she was different to her mother, different to everyone else in the world, and that she had to keep that quiet.

"Intercepted some communications. You haven't been as careful as you thought." There was no judgement in White Crow's voice, merely a calm statement of the facts. "There have been rumours of a glowing child, they're coming to look into it."

"And who are they?" asked her mother.

White Crow looked directly at Tracy, still peeking out of her bedroom. "Men that lock away anything they don't understand."

Midnight added, "They'll be here soon. We bought some time, but you both need to come with us."

The man smiled. "You think I'm insistent? Jailors never take no for an answer."

Tracy and her mother had gone with them, taking almost nothing with them and fleeing. Midnight had lead them down the road, then across farmer's fields. Tracy, bundled up in many layers of clothing and stumbling through the dark, had quickly gotten tired, so the man who called himself White Crow picked her up and carried her on his back. He said they were a group called the Serpent's Hand, and that they looked out for people like her. Midnight had told him to stop talking, or the Jailors would hear them, and they'd all end up in a cell. He stopped talking.

Midnight eventually lead them to a library, unlocking the door with a word and a gesture from her paw, and then they'd entered The Library.

At first, Tracy had been very shy. She'd spent her whole life hiding, making sure nobody saw her in the dark. But she quickly realised she was far from the strangest person there.

There were people made from metal, animals that talked, colors with personalities. After a while, she even got used to the silent presence of the Librarians, and the long scuttling body of the Rounderpede stopped frightening her. She learned to navigate the shelves, and spent her days reading books and hearing tales from Wanderers.

Tracy often asked her mother if they could visit some of the places she'd heard about. Tracy had never left Alabama in her entire life before coming to the Wanderer's Library, so she wasn't too fussy. Algeria sounded just as exciting as Alagada. But her mother always said it wouldn't be safe.

She next met White Crow by chance, the two of them walking between tall stacks of shelves in opposite directions. He looked paler than he had last time, with his hair now blond, and Tracy was startled to see a black tattoo of a serpent moving on his right arm.

"Miss Campbell!" He greeted her warmly. "It's been a while! How are you doing?"

She shrugged, staring at the snake on his arm as it turned its head around to face her. "OK."

"That's not an answer."

He was right. She looked him in the face. "l guess I like it. But being here all the time, it gets a bit…"

He laughed. "I know what you mean. The Library will always be home, but I wouldn't want to spend all my time here."

Tracy didn't know anyone else who called the Library home, but was too distracted by the tattoo that was coiling its way up his arm to say anything. Like many things in the Library, it was both beautiful and disturbing.

"Oh, this?" He pointed at the blank ink with his finger. "Found him at an art auction, trapped on a bit of flayed skin. I felt sorry for the little guy, and he hopped over to me."

"Did it hurt?" asked Tracy. That was the kind of thing you were expected to ask people with tattoos, and this was a very large one. With its head at his shoulder, the tail reached past his elbow.

"Still does," said Crow, shrugging. "But you get used to it. Well, I did."

Tracy finally worked up the courage to ask him. "You go out and help people quite often, don't you?" He nodded. "Do you think I could help you?"

His pale face suddenly seemed like a mask, empty of expression. "Miss Campbell, you don't owe me anything."

"But… what if I want to help?"

He looked at her with pale blue eyes. "I don't think you can help me."

It took her a few weeks to work out how to respond to that, but the Library was vast, and she couldn't find him. They next met by accident, as Tracy tried to avoid the man who kept asking her mother if he could use some of Tracy's blood. He didn't seem dangerous, but he was very creepy.

White Crow was in a reading room, lined with racks of scrolls, sitting in an armchair with his sleeve rolled up. A tall figure covered in red-brown fur was stitching up a cut on his arm with a needle and thread. He looked even paler than last time, although his hair was now dyed a deep black.

White Crow was chatting to his surgeon casually, but occasionally winced as the needle went in or as the thread pulled tight. "I'm thinking I need to get myself one of those black suits. Maybe wouldn't end up here quite so often. Although they don't protect the face." He gestured to an already stitched cut on his lip. "And that's my best feature." The surgeon remained silent until he finished, cutting off the thread with scissors delicately held in large hands, then glanced up at Tracy.

The Children of the Night were not particularly common in the Wanderer's Library, but Tracy had seen enough of them to be able to tell them apart from gorillas, which were even less common. There was something about their posture and facial features that looked more humanoid, more adapted to walking upright and talking. Once you got past how large and hairy they were, you could even work out how they were feeling.

Tracy identified this as a stern look. This was an adult telling her to stop bothering him. But if she went away now, it might be months before she saw White Crow again.

"Mister Crow! I was hoping… you could teach me…" Crow and the Yeren (or Bigfoot, but that sounded silly) both stared at her, dark brown eyes and pale blue eyes fixed on her. In the dim light of the room, her dark skin shone faintly with a red glow.

The Yeren spoke softly, in a deep voice. "You should stay away from him."

"That's what Midnight said! But I thought… I thought he could teach me how to help people? Like he does?"

White Crow looked at her, not unkindly. "Miss Campbell, everyone's unique. I can't teach you to be me, any more than you can teach me to be you."

"But all I can do is glow!" Tracy was agitated, and in the dim light. Her red light became a little brighter, contrasting against her black hair and brown eyes.

White Crow looked thoughtful. "All you can do… for now…"

He was about to say something more, when the Yeren interrupted. "You are not dragging her into this."

White Crow smiled back at him. "Etrir, The Jailors dragged her into this."

"He's not dragging me into anything!"

Etrir walked towards her, moving slowly in order to not frighten her. "Child, you will regret learning anything from him."

"I said nothing about learning from me!" White Crow sounded indignant. "You know I'd be a terrible teacher."

Etrir held out a large hand for Tracy to take. "We should go and find your mother, child."

White Crow ignored him. "Miss Campbell, did you ever ask why you're so different to your mother?"

Tracy shrugged. "No idea. Maybe my father? But she never wanted to talk about him."

Etrir scowled at Crow. "Has that answered your question?"

"No. I already asked about her father. Her mother wouldn't tell me either. But it's clear Miss Campbell has an innate connection to light."

Etrir signed deeply. "Which means?"

White Crow stood up. "It means, I think I know a place." He walked towards Tracy. "She'll love it. Her mother too. They'll be safe there."

Etrir looked at Crow, and bared his teeth for the first time. "I don't trust you."

"The Library is no place for a child to grow up. We both know that."

"You will discuss this with her mother."

White Crow smiled. "Goes without saying." He walked over to Tracy. "Miss Campbell, I once read about a place where they wield the light of the sun. Let's go and find that book again, and see what your mother thinks. I think you might like it there."

White Crow sounded very confident. Tracy asked "Are you sure you can find the book again?" Finding books in a place the size of the Wanderer's Library was always a challenge.

"Miss Campbell, I used to be a Librarian. If there's one thing I know, it's how to find books."

He had found it in the end, navigating miles of shelves before eventually locating a document on the Dragons of Tlaneyanco. Her mother was hesitant, but White Crow was persistent.

It had taken him a while, but he'd eventually found some residents of the Kingdom of Tlaneyanco, and they'd persuaded her mother to visit. They'd insisted that Tracy would be completely safe there, that there'd be no need to hide her away. The visit was extended, until one day Tracy's mother told her she'd decided to stay.

It had taken a while to settle in, but an underground island beneath an artificial sun felt ordinary compared to the Wanderer's Library. Over time it became home. It was nice to have a house again, rather than just sleeping in a quiet corner of the Library. It was nice to be somewhere predictable, where you could count on seeing the same people every day. It was nice to have a teacher, not to learn from an eclectic collection of encyclopaedias and textbooks, none of which exactly described her own Earth.

At first, she'd been an oddity, by day because she was a foreigner and by night because of the light within her, but her friends and neighbours quickly got used to it. Tracy learned Spanish fairly quickly, but had never quite gotten the hang of Nahuatl. She was far more interested in the other things that had to teach her in Tlaneyanco.

They called it tlanextlitetl, tlanex for short. At first, she wasn't sure how the things they could do were connected to light - they could create, and transform, and destroy, but that wasn't any different to the other forms of magic Tracy had seen. She wanted to learn, to be able to do something useful and feel like she really did belong there, but it just didn't make any sense to her.

An old man called Raúl told her to think about where the light within her came from.

Tracy told him it was an anomaly, and he laughed. Raúl told her that was a fool's reply, that she lacked curiosity and would remain in the dark until she understood the answer.

Tracy was upset by his blunt words, but he'd made her curious. She started wondering if her light came from the food she ate, or the water she drank, or maybe she took it in by day and released it by night. She tried to work it out, measuring it as best as she could at different times and under different circumstances. She sat in the dark, hungry and thirsty, and tried to see if it got any dimmer. It didn't. But as Tracy read more about tlanex, she realised she had too narrow a focus. It wasn't about exactly where her own light came from. All energy was starlight. All matter was stardust. One night, unsure if she was dreaming, Tracy saw the red eye of a great dragon, and she understood that fire and ruin could come as naturally to her as the light did.

That was the easy part. Controlling it was far harder. Raúl had been very concerned for her safety when he realised she'd accessed the destructive aspect of tlanex, and Tracy quickly realised why. It was far too easy to burn out, to unleash fire and corrosion until she passed out from the heat. Tracy had started late and was far behind everyone else her own age, and had to work harder at it than anything she'd ever tried to catch up. She eventually gained a measure of control, but didn't really think about what would come next until she was sixteen.

Sitting around the embers of a campfire with friends, their conversation turned to the future.

"Radiosol? You sure about that, José?" asked Marco. "Never saw you as a businessman."

José shrugged. "It's not about the money. It's about seeing the world!" José had always been fascinated by the world outside Tlaneyanco. That was probably why he'd been Tracy's first friend here.

Marco was far more practical. "The only thing you'll see is a factory production line."

"Marco, they're getting out there! Tlaneyanco's showing the world what we can do, for the first time since… I don't even know how long! Don't you want to be part of that?" Tracy recognised the excitement in his voice. He had the same tone in their many conversations about the Wanderer's Library.

Marco shrugged. "Never saw the appeal. It sounds dangerous. Did you know that the murder rate in-"

Alejandra interrupted. "You're forgetting we have an expert with us." She pointed at Tracy, who was sitting a little further away from the fading campfire. None of her friends found it at all strange that she glowed in the dim light, and that was comforting. "Tracy, you're the one who's actually been out there! What are you planning on doing?"

"I don't know." Her three friends all looked at her, expecting a bit more than that. "I'm not sure I want to go back. I… I don't want to hide again."

Alejandra looked puzzled. "What do you mean, Tracy?"

Tracy always felt a little awkward talking about the outside world. She was expected to be some sort of expert, but she'd basically never seen more than her small hometown in Alabama, then the Wanderer's Library. "Well… it's a different world. You can't use tlanex out there."

José shrugged. "I could keep it hidden."

Marco laughed. "The master of stealth and subtlety."

Tracy pointed to her skin. It glowed like the embers of the fire they were sitting around. "He can do that. I can't."

There was an awkward silence.

Alejandra filled it. "Still, there's plenty to do here! I was thinking about going into medicine. I'd like to help people."

Marco nodded. "I was thinking about going into construction. I guess for the same reason?"

José looked unimpressed. "So predictable." He turned to Tracy. "This was before you got here, when we were all children. Alejandro would make us pretend to be sick, so that she could pretend to take care of us. Marco would always prefer to be stacking up blocks to build his own little houses."

Alejandro looked embarrassed, but Marco looked indignant. "As if having a plan is a bad thing!"

"He said that then too!" He started laughing. "The exact same words!"

When he'd stopped giggling, Tracy said, thoughtfully, "I think it's easier for them. Alejandro, you have the orange flame, so you change thing to make people better. Marco, you have the ruby flame, so you can create anything you need." She turned to José. "We have the amber flame. We destroy things."

Alejandro looked upset. "You can't just define people like that, Tracy!"

José agreed. "Yeah, there's loads of things we can do. Just not always with tlanex."

Tracy paused, but they were all looking at her, so she said it. "I guess I feel I have this for a reason. I want to find a way to use it."

Marco looked thoughtful. "I get that. I guess you could… go into the military? Or the police?"

José looked doubtful. "Nothing ever happens here! They don't do anything!" He turned to Tracy, apologetically. "Sorry. I got carried away. It's fine if you want to stay here."

"That's not what I meant." Tracy stood up, and willed the fire back into life, the sudden roar of it startling her three friends. Lit by the flickering flame, she said to them, "When I think about the future I want, I think of things that need to be destroyed first."

Tracy had occasionally returned to the Library, her mother going with her at first, then later letting her go alone. Her mother had been spending a lot of time with an older man in Tlaneyanco, a widower, and Tracy figured they'd appreciate the time together without her. But it had been years since she last saw White Crow.

As she walked up behind him Tracy wondered if he'd even recognise her.

"Mister Crow?" He turned to face her.

He looked paler and more tired, and his hair was now white, although his face didn't seem much older. He still met her with the same smile. "Miss Campbell! It's been a long time!"

"I've been busy."

He looked intently at the top of her head, which was about level with his eyes. "Anything besides growing?"

Tracy glanced to the left, then to the right, then held up her right hand and conjured up a small amber flame in the palm. "Learned to do this." She quickly extinguished it before the Librarians noticed.

"Very impressive." White Crow did not sound impressed.

Tracy was indignant. "I can do more than that. But the Librarians wouldn't appreciate me setting the place on fire."

"We definitely would not. So, what do you intend to do with it instead?"

Tracy looked directly into his pale blue eyes, and spoke with conviction. "I intend to help people."

He laughed. "Good answer. If a little vague."

There was a long silence before Tracy spoke again. "You told me once that you couldn't think of any way for me to help you. And then you changed your mind."

He shrugged, and smiled innocently. "Miss Campbell, I found you a safe place to live."

"There are other safe places."

"If I only wanted you to be safe, I'd have let the Jailors take you. I sent you there so that you could be free."

She'd asked plenty of people about White Crow over the years. The one thing they all agreed on was that he never did anything without expecting something in return. "You didn't think about whether I'd come back with something you could use?"

"Miss Campbell, I was hoping you'd gain something you could use. For whatever you wanted to. Whether or not you came back here was entirely up to you."

That was true. "But I have come back."

"You want me to apologise? For setting you on this path?" Tracy felt like he was making an offer.

"No." She was making her own bargain. "I want you to help me."

He smiled, and asked her, "Now, what with?"

"I want to be there, for people like me. Like you were for me."

"You're playing with fire, Miss Campbell. And it's not the kind you can hold in your hand."

"I'll do it without you." She spoke with conviction. She didn't need him. But she was still asking for help.

After a long silence, he spoke. "You'll get yourself killed."

"You sound like my mother. That's a risk I'm willing to take."

He looked thoughtful for a long time, and Tracy began thinking about other people who she could ask. Finally, he said, "I'm not going to be taking a child along with me."

"I'm not a child." Embarrassed, Tracy turned to walk away. He wasn't the only member of the Serpent's Hand. She didn't need him.

"Miss Campbell, you still have so much to learn." He didn't sound angry. He held out his right arm, the black head of his serpent tattoo stretched out across the back of his hand. "But I can show you how we do things."

Tracy Campbell turned around again, and walked back towards him. She eventually took his hand and shook it. The tip of the black serpent's tongue flickered out across Crow's skin and touched her palm. She winced at a sudden pain like a stabbing needle, but maintained a tight grip.

"If that doesn't put you off, nothing will."

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