Takes place just before Niccolo starts the forest fire in Blogland. To clarify- this does not take place in Blogland, this takes place in my research cabin, which is in a different forest in Iowa.
I had always been fascinated by fire. It was so beautiful, so fluid and flickering and delicate and undying all at once. And it glowed in the most understated yet awe-inspiring way. Fire was classy. And it was there, but at the same time, it wasn't. I could reach out to touch it, and it would burn me, but aside from that I wouldn't really feel it, as if it wasn't there. Or it could touch me, but I couldn't touch it. Fire captivated me, and I had always been drawn to it. But far stronger than my fascination with fire was my love for books.
If it weren't for the books, things might have been different. I would have been safer, and happier, and I... I didn't think I had anything else to lose, really. At least nothing that only had value to me. My family was gone, any contact with the mortal world and the friends I had there were gone, and now Niccolo was gone again too. I didn't care much about material possessions, so all things considered, there wasn't much left for him to take away. That was what I thought. But I didn't think of the books, and maybe that's why he chose them. He'd never been especially fond of fires.
I might have actually enjoyed, to some degree, watching my cabin burn from the tiny basement up. Nature has some amazing powers, and I like to be reminded every now and then that I can't control everything, that no matter how hard humans try to contain it, nature does what it wants. I like that reassurance. But when I saw the heavy smoke rolling out from the broken windows, all I could think about was the 207 year old book I kept in my room's library, and- my room's library! A clothbound second edition collection of Charles Dickens, countless books on magic and research and fantasy and so many of them old, and- !
I found myself racing straight into the house, using air to try to clear a path to my ladder through the smoke and flames and only partly succeeding. I flew to the shelves and frantically tore through the books, pulling them out into my arms, and quickly realized I couldn't carry them all at once. I coughed, inhaling the thick black smoke that curled upwards in opaque waves, as I turned and frantically glanced through my room. Why did I keep it so organized?! If Niccolo didn't clean all the time... I couldn't find any bags on the floor, so I rummaged through a few cabinets, eventually finding a bag full of training equipment. I dumped the contents carelessly into the drawer- 16 oz gloves, arm and shin pads, and a helmet, all leather- I could replace those anytime, and barely used them anyway.
By then the room was so full of smoke, I could barely see an inch in front of my face, and each time I used a wave of air to push the smoke a way a new tendril filled its place, making the haze even thicker. I coughed and sputtered, torn between desperation for more air and the knowledge that breathing smoke could only hurt me. Stumbling forward, my eyes rendered useless by streaming tears and the cloud that engulfed me, I reached out for where I estimated the books I had dropped would be. I could feel blinding heat creeping up through the floorboards, and stopped to wonder for one precious moment if this was what cremation felt like.
When I tossed a few books into the bag and slung it over my shoulder, and ran blindly to the corner of the room where I knew the ladder was. One careless step sent me falling rather than climbing down to the first floor of the cabin, and I would have screamed if my throat wasn't burning. I was pretty sure I'd just landed in fire, and I wondered if I could even survive something like that. My thoughts wandered in a second of manic helplessness towards the hoard of paintings and research in the basement, but I knew I was already too late for that.
His laughter resounded through the air and seemed to vibrate through the surface I stood on, and I knew I was out of time. Any books I might have saved were probably doomed. But I was already up again and racing for the open door, not even noticing the pain that shot up my right leg as I ran, and I sprawled onto the snow-covered grass outside. The shock of the cool, crisp, wintery air was such that I wasn't even sure whether or not I wanted it. My whole body trembled in spasms as I struggled between gasping for air and coughing up black soot. I could see now, but only in large, distorted blurs, and my eyes stung each time I opened them, but when I closed them the sensation only grew worse.
I barely even noticed him lifting me up by a fistful of my short hair. "Aretha, darling," his voice was just as smooth as always, like a river of melted chocolate, "Look up with those beautiful eyes of yours." I found my eyes open of their own accord, but I could still only see in streaming blurs. "Pity," he said, and dropped me. "Well, I suppose you could borrow mine." I felt his mind enter mine, the sensation so familiar yet so wildly different and invasive at the same time, and I saw the world as he did. I looked at my cabin burning, the smoke flowing out so much that even outside I wasn't safe from it anymore. A second Niccolo strolled into the cabin casually, completely unaffected by the flames, and emerged with a large stack of books.
"What have we here?" he mocked, "It would appear to be Charles Dickens. You're missing a few volumes from that little bag, aren't you? Well, here's volume three," he read off the name and then tossed it back into the growing fire, "Volume nine, ten, eleven. There they go. World War II in pictures is next, it would seem- and you went through such great care to protect those fragile covers." In one final spurt of desperation, I sprang forward, the bag of books sliding off my shoulder to rest in the snow, and ran straight into Niccolo. I should have known I wouldn't be able to move him, but in the moment, I forgot how strong he was.
I breathed out a hoarse "No", quieter than a whisper, that was immediately drowned in another round of coughs. I felt as though someone had reached down my throat into my lungs and was slowly scraping the contents out with their fingernails. The desperation was gone now, and hopelessness took over. I stood no chance against Niccolo to begin with- now there were two of him, and I couldn't even see or breathe. Much to my surprise, the second Niccolo dropped the books anyway, and before I could wonder whether or not he had come to his senses I found myself shoved into a cold, stone cell. I could only hope that whatever books I had saved weren't worth burning anymore.