The library was vast, even for the strange giants who had built it decades-maybe centuries-before. Books of every size and shape filled every shelf of the towering bookcases, from the slim books meant for the giants' young ones to huge slabs of books that took days to get through.
Its creators and patrons were long gone, the building quiet and devoid of life--except for two small forms that scurried among the shelves. They had been there almost since they could remember--since the humans' war--living among the abandoned books and the papers and the strange furniture and machines. They kept the library in order, even kept the books clean and in repair.
They were called 3 and 4, and they had never met the "human" giants who had used the library; those giant were from a time past, though 3 and 4 looked vaguely similar to them in basic form. They had vertical bodies, they walked on two feet (usually), they had a head and eyes and arms and hands; but they were not human. Their bodies were made of soft, blue cloth, and their legs and arms were made of metal and wood. Their eyes were round and metal, like the lenses of cameras, and their mouths were gashes crafted into the fabric that comprised their heads.
But they could think and feel; in that, they were very much like the extinct giants who haunted the films and books and newspapers that the library housed.
3 and 4 were not born as creatures of the past were, yet they were twins in that they looked alike and acted similarly. They thought of each other as brothers, and were never apart. They spent their days reading their books, eagerly recording all the information in them. They looked at old filmstrips and newspaper articles, cataloguing the information in books as they committed them to memory.
The twins could not speak aloud as others of their kind could; they were mute, but could communicate with one another with the clicks and flashes of their lens-like eyes. They talked excitedly about a new thing they had learned or a strange book they had found among the tomes. They talked about others like them with whom they were friends, like 7 and 9, who would soon live in the library with them.
There were once more; in fact there had been nine of them at one point, but they were all gone, now. The group of rag doll creatures, was never given an official name, but their kind was called "stitchpunk" by the rebels who fought the powers who started the war. They were the ones who helped the scientist, whose name was lost when he went into hiding, avoid the war that tore their world apart. The scientist had made this war possible by trying to better humanity. Instead, he was driven into hiding, where he made one last, desperate attempt to save his own kind.
He created the stitchpunks.
The stitchpunk creations had fought their own war, long after the last human had died. There were machines left from the humans' war, machines brought to life by naïve curiosity. 2 was the first one to die at the hands of the awakened beast. 5 and 6 fell victim to it, too
and even 1 and 8. The twins had not liked 1 or 8 very much, but were still unhappy that they had died. They didn't like death.
The twins were not quite so joyful as they had been once before. They missed their friends, and had seen too much to retain all of their innocence. But the others were free now, their spirits nurturing the blasted lands around them. The twins didn't know exactly what this would mean for them, but it was still some comfort to think about.
And 7 and 9 were still there. 7 was their favorite; she always looked out for them and protected them. She always checked on them to see how they were doing. And she was always nice.
There was a little more light coming from the windows than normal that morning. 3 and 4 knew that the light was caused by the "sun", and had a vague idea of how it all worked, but they had never actually seen this sun. They had seen photos and illustrations and even a filmstrip or two with the sun in it, but never the sun itself. They liked the sun. The more light it gave, the warmer it was, and they didn't have to burn candles or use electric lights, but it was more than that. It was something that they couldn't describe, even to each other-something that their human soul was connected to. It was something their human soul loved.
That morning, the twins were holed up in a corner of the library they had not gotten to yet. The books here were very dusty, and some were even mildewed or moldy-what a terrible thing to do to a book. 3 and 4 spent much of the morning finding these sullied books and putting them on the windowsill to get dry and to let the light help diminish the spots.
Once that was done, they could get to the interesting part and begin reading the books!
4 had just discovered a new book about humans. But this book wasn't a book about their wars or their "countries"
it was about them, themselves! It was a book about how they worked. 4 blinked excitedly to his brother, who was looking at a book obviously meant for a child of the humans. It had bright colors and a lot of pictures. 3 looked up, skittering over to join his brother, blinking and clicking a question about the book he had propped up against a pile of books they had already read.
What is it?
A book. About humans. How humans work!
3's eyes widened, and he turned them eagerly onto the cover. "The Human Body" it was called. Grinning, he grasped the cover of the book and wrestled it open, his eyes flickering over the first page.
Humans worked very strangely, it turned out. So many incomprehensible things, all working together in one body. They were so complex-and they still all died. All of them. How could it be? Was simple better than complicated? 3 and 4 talked back and forth as they recorded each page, reading the information with the same fervor they treated all new information.
As usual, they were so immersed in their books that a sound behind them took them by surprise. As if with one mind, they both stopped reading, froze for a moment, then skittered behind the human book.
"It's okay, you two. It's just me."
The twins exchanged a relieved and pleased look; it was 7! They hadn't seen 7 in a long time! 3 came out from behind the book, followed by his brother, and hugged 7 around the waist.
7 chuckled and hugged him back, then did the same with 4. "How are you two? Doing okay here?" They both nodded, and she smiled. She was dirtier than normal, and looked like she had a new rip in her leg. 3 cocked his head curiously and pointed at it.
"What-oh, that." 7 sighed, looking upwards for a minute. "That was just a stupid mistake on my part. I was climbing on one of the broken machines and I fell on my hind end. That's all; no excitement this time."
3 and 4 looked at each other, each feeling the same amusement, and tried very hard not to smirk at 7's mishap. She'd gotten hurt, after all, and she probably felt pretty silly--but it was still funny.
7 tried to be irritated, but as usual, found it impossible. "All right, you two," she said as they turned back to look at her. "Don't think I can't see that laugh you're trying to hide."
That did it. As one, the twins closed their eyes in silent laughter, and had to duck 7's hand as she reached out to swat them.
3 suddenly grabbed 7's hand and gave it a tug, looking back to the new book they had found. 7 gave him a questioning look, and 4 also grabbed her by the hand. "Found something?"
The twins both nodded eagerly and pulled her along. Laughing at their excitement, she let herself be pulled over to a large, hardback book with a picture of a human on one page. 4 grabbed the front cover of the book and closed it almost all the way so that 7 could see the title and the picture.
"'The Human Body'," read 7, her mouth turning down in an expression of intrigue. "Interesting. You just found this today?"
3 nodded while 4 opened the book back up and pointed to the diagram of the human form. 7 looked a little closer and wasn't sure if she was fascinated or appalled by what seems to be large, soft round things inside the humans' bodies. "Is that really what was inside of them? No frame? Just--soft?"
The twins both looked surprised for a moment, then looked at each other, and giggled silently. 4 turned a page back to show a different diagram, this one showing the bones, not the organs, of the humans.
7 gasped in surprise. "Skulls! Like the Cat Skull beasts. So strange--and complicated! They must have over a hundred pieces to their frames!" Her eyes skated across the ribs, the intricate bones of the hands and feet, and the strange arms and legs. She looked at her own hand, which was pretty simple-a hinged palm, hinged fingers, and a wrist that turned in all directions.
4 made a face when 7 mentioned the Cat Skulls. No one liked those! But the machines were all gone, now, along with the humans and all of the other life that had ever existed--except for them.
7 gazed at the picture for a few moments more before shaking herself out of her reverie. "Weird. Anyway, the reason I came was to tell you that 9 and I will probably be bringing some things over from the Cathedral, and from the workshop today."
The twins knew about both places. The workshop was where they had all been created and born, and the Cathedral was where 1 and a few others had taken refuge for so long before the machines came back. The Cathedral had burned to the ground thanks to one of the machine's creations, but there were some things there that were salvageable.
4 and 3 grinned, and 3 pointed eagerly to a cleared space they had made to use as a living space.
7 smiled. "I know, you worked hard, and it's perfect." The twins beamed, and 7 regarded them thoughtfully for a few moments. "Tell you what: come help us. I know you two don't much like to go outside-after all that's happened I don't blame you-but there's a lot of stuff and we could use the help."
Outside-outside was a terrifying place. Nothing good had ever happened out in the emptiness, and 3 and 4 both feared it. They exchanged an uncertain glance, talking to each other in their own rapid-fire way.
I don't like the Emptiness, said 4, shivering a little.
Me either. But I want to help-I like helping.
But-but the machines, and-and all those broken things, and...
3 smiled and grasped his brother's arm. I know. But the machines are gone. And maybe we can find some books. Maybe at the workshop! The Scientist had books. Remember he used to like watching us looking at his books...
The Scientist; The twins were fond of the Scientist, who had been very kind to them, and always seemed to be amused at their energy and their curiosity. 3's argument decided 4, and the twins turned as one and nodded their agreement to 7.
7 looked bemused. "I have got to try and start deciphering that language of yours," she said. The twins giggled-they didn't mind her trying, but they doubted it would be easy for her. Half of their communication wasn't expressed with the flashing of the lights. They were so alike and so close to each other that they hardly needed to speak. It was as if they shared a mind, and in a way, they did.
7 led the way to the door, where she stood for a moment, letting 3 and 4 take their time. They skittered on their hands and feet up to the door and peered out-the courtyard outside was where that horrible Seamstress machine had attacked them. They stood up and peered out, but nothing was moving.
The sky above was covered in greenish clouds, as always, which blotted out most of the sun's rays. It was still strangely warm outside, a side-effect of the terrible gas weapons the machines had created to use against their human creators.
The landscape was a vast wasteland of ruined buildings, the twisted metal of long-wrecked cars, the broken belongings of the giants who had made this world. And bodies. There were bodies, too, and the twins hated these the most. The bodies were dead, and they understood death too well. They did not like death.
"C'mon, you two," said 7, smiling at them. She gave them a hug, then walked out onto the concrete of the courtyard, as fearless as always. 3 and 4 exchanged a glance, then followed.
No one said anything for several minutes. The twins were busy looking furtively around them, pointing out different things that scared or intrigued them, and recording everything they saw.
A sudden squeaking noise caught the twins' attention, and they clutched each other, ducking down and looking uneasily left and right. Even 7 looked a little wary, which was no comfort!
"Get behind that boot, you two!" she whispered, reaching back and removing his scalpel-spear from her back. She pointed to an old, cracked, leather boot that had once belonged to a human soldier.
3 and 4 gladly ran for the boot, crouching down behind it and peering out. They stared in horror as they caught sight of something metal moving behind a pile of rubbish-the machines were supposed to be gone! They had all perished when the factory exploded! Had any survived?
7 crouched down to the ground, her eyes alert, her weapon at the ready. She stalked the metal beast, creeping around the rubbish pile, her eyes fixed on the moving bit of metal that she could see above the pile. She tensed, and the twins tightened their hold on each other as she let a fierce war cry and leaped over the pile of garbage.
There was a thunk, a familiar sounding cry of shocked surprise, and an outraged sound from 7: "9! 9, what on Earth are you doing?"
The twins blinked; this was strange and unexpected enough that their wariness left them, and they crept out from behind the heavy boot. They looked at one another; 3 shrugged, and the two of them climbed atop the rubbish pile, ready to run if they had to.
They didn't have to. It was no machine that 7 had just knocked to the ground: it was 9. The twins gaped for a moment before shaking with silent laughter at the scene before them: 9 lay flat on his back, his optics wide with astonishment; 7 stood above him, looking indignantly outraged, and beside both of them was an overturned toy wagon that had probably belonged to a toy doll, because it was small enough for 9 to pull by himself. A metal pole, likely once with a colorful streamer or flag atop it, stuck out from the back, and it was this that the twins and 7 had seen moving behind the pile of debris.
9 finally got to his feet, also beginning to look indignant. "I thought this would make it easier to move everything! Look, it rolls easily, has big wheels, and we can fit a few things in it instead of just carrying it! You didn't have to pounce on me, did you?"
"We thought you were a machine, you dolt!" 7 gave a short sigh of exasperation and returned her weapon where it belonged.
"'We'?" 9 looked up and noticed the twins, and a pleasantly surprised smile came to his face. "Hey, you two! You're out of the library! Did you see what 7 did to me? Pretty mean, wasn't it?"
7 shot him an exasperated look but she obviously had trouble trying to stay mad at 9 because her mouth kept twitching up in a smirk, and soon all four of them were laughing.
"You're just lucky you didn't get my blade in your gut," said 7 finally, walking over to help 9 turn the toy wagon back up onto its wheels.
"Yes, thank you for not slashing first and asking questions later," said 9 as 3 and 4 also came down to help. "Okay. Well, now that we've all had our moment of terror for the day..."
"You only have yourself to blame," said 7 with a snort as she took hold of the wagon's handle.
3 and 4 grinned at one another and scrambled into the wagon, looking endearingly at 7 and 9. 9 chuckled at the hopeful look on their faces, and 7 couldn't help but laugh again. "All right-it's mostly downhill to the workshop; you can ride on the way there but have to help push on the way back. Deal?"
The twins nodded agreeably and knelt down in the wagon, holding onto the front ledge with their hands.
7 and 9 talked quietly to one another as they pulled the wagon along, but the twins paid them little mind. The outside world frightened them, but it fascinated them as well, and they couldn't stop looking at it and cataloguing the things that surrounded them.
The group was nearly to its destination when the twins saw it; it was about the size of 3's or 4's head, and it sat on a broken dish--and it moved. But it was not a machine. 4 saw it first, and he clutched his brother's arm, pointing at what he had seen. 3 turned to look, and his eyes widened, his mouth opening in rapt astonishment. Then he was jumping down from the wagon, his twin brother on his heels, and grabbing 7 by the arm.
Startled, she broke off what she was saying to 9 and looked around. "What? What's wrong, 3, are you okay?"
They both pointed.
7 made a sound of awe, and 9 could only gape. The thing the twins had spotted had a greenish body-or perhaps the greenish sky simply cast the odd color onto the thing's surface. It had wings, though they weren't like any wings the twins ever saw on a flying machine. It seemed to have eyes, though they were strange, also. 4 nudged 3, and pointed once more.
I think I saw something like this in a book. We must look when we get back. But--the book was about living things.
3 nodded, remembering the book-but could this thing truly be living?
Curiosity made the twins feel bold as they crept up on the creature. It moved its iridescent wings and scuttled sideways on spindly legs that didn't seem as if they should be able to support such a big body. 9 and 7 approached slowly behind them, looking just as amazed.
Smiling with innocent fascination, 3 reached out to lightly touch the moving thing. It gave a startled buzzing sound and rose into the air, its wings moving so fast they seemed to disappear. 3 leapt back, even more startled, and clung to his brother. 7 laughed softly, putting a hand on their shoulders.
"I think it's harmless, you guys."
The twins weren't so sure! Especially not when the strange thing flew at them and landed on top of 4's hood. His immediate reaction was alarm-he shook his head, ducked down, and the two of them darted behind 9.
"I think I understand," said 9 softly as 3 and 4 cautiously crept out from behind him, staring at the flying creature. The creature had landed on the plate again, regarding the group with primitive curiosity. "I think I finally understand."
"Understand what?" asked 7. 3 once again tentatively approached the creature and touched it, but this time the creature did not fly up. Instead, it turned and crawled onto 3's arm. 3's eyes widened, but he did not shake the creature off-instead he stood as still as he could, his arm held rigidly out in front of him, watching the creature with utter fascination. 4 bent down to get a closer look, his eyes flashing as he recorded it.
"It's alive, 7," said 9, his voice that of reverent awe. "Maybe-maybe the first thing that's been alive since the humans' war. And-and it's because of the scientist. Because of-" 9 stopped speaking, his mouth shut tight, his expression tightening into surprised sorrow.
"Because of...?" asked 7 gently, walking over to put her hand on 9's shoulder.
"The others," said 9 quietly. "The others that died. 1 and 8... and 2 and 6...and 5." 9 looked up to the sky, which was still covered in greenish clouds. "The scientist gave us his life force--and his spirit. But we made it our own. When--when we freed the others from the talisman...."
"That rain," said 7 with a gasp of understanding.
"Yeah; it was them. Their spirits. They're the ones that are letting life return!"
7 nodded, the understanding bright behind the glass lenses of her eyes. "Even when we awoke, the humans were still alive, but they'd destroyed so much life already; I've never seen anything like what 3's got on his-" She broke off into a giggle as she looked over to the twins, both of whom looked simultaneously delighted and uncertain, "-face! Made a friend, 3, have you?"
The creature covered 3's entire face, and he looked very taken aback. 4 looked amused as the creature crawled on top of 3's head, and 3 looked up at it, his shoulders sort of hunched. Finally 3 shrugged and nodded. The motion disturbed the flying creature, and it took to the air, flying away. 4 watched it go, eyes still clicking, until it was out of sight.
"I hope we see more of those," said 7, her voice oddly wistful.
"I think we will," said 9, walking over to join the twins. "This is just the beginning."
The four of them were silent for a moment as they watched the creature fly off...and then something strange happened.
As the four of them stood there, the quality of the light seemed to change around them, and the air seemed to get just a little bit warmer. 4 looked down in startlement as his shadow became sharp and dark, and 3 grabbed his arm excitedly.
9 had also seen it. "7, look!"
It was something the twins had wanted to see since they awoke-something they could only see in filmstrips and pictures. Something amazing and powerful and gentle and bright.
It was the sun.