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Book of Promises

She paused, and waited a moment for him to notice that she was no longer following him. "Let's stop a while," she said as he returned to her, "I'm tired from all this walking."

He nodded his consent. "Very well. I'm sure there are books that will interest you on these shelves too. The library is plentiful in its variety."

She glanced across at the extensive array of books beside her. Each book remained silent beside its brethren, yet all were calling for her to read them. Eventually she picked out a book with a plain grey cover. Smart script on the front and the spine proclaimed it to be the Book of Promises.

"What an unusually plain book," she said, watching the candlelight play off the gold lettering. "You would think a book of promises would be far more interesting."

"Like all things, appearances do not reveal an object's entire nature." His voice was strong despite the quietness with which he spoke. She glanced up at him, trying to judge his expression as the candle flickered in his hand.

After a moment's consideration she looked down at the book again and slowly started to open the cover. A noise came, the rushing of wind overlaid with the distant sound of voices, haunting echoes of unintelligible words. She dropped the cover back again with a thud.

"What's that?" she whispered, glancing back at him then once more at the book.

"Promises," came the reply. "All the promises."

She gingerly opened the book a second time, turning the hard cover until it was flat in her hands. Again came the rushing of wind and far-off words, and she strained her hearing against them while her eyes tracked slowly down the page.

Black text rolled across the paper, a heavy style of hand-written words, each proclaiming a different thought. She traced her finger along one sentence, feeling the gentle indentation made by the pen, while her mind held the words, "I promise I'll be good."

She stopped reading. Just on the edge of hearing, she thought she had made out some words. Nearer words. She read the line again. Sure enough, the sound around her took on a different note. Somewhere, less distant than the other words, she could hear a young child speaking the same words, "I promise I'll be good."

She read some more. "I won't let you down." "I'll always be here for you." "I'll do all that I can." With each sentence the wind whipped into the shape of the words, different voices in the distance each speaking a different promise. She marvelled as every line that she read formed in the air around her, calling voices reaching out to her ears.

"It's amazing," she said, "So many people with different promises."

He nodded from behind the candle. "All the people, with all the promises."

She thumbed through the book, causing a multitude of voices to produce half-spoken sentences as she skimmed across the text. The book was thick and heavy, with many pages. She flicked through to a random point and then stopped. "There must be millions of promises in here." No answer came. "All these people doing so many things for each other."

"Oh no," he said. His voice cut through the far-removed speech, causing her to look at him sharply. "This isn't what people have done. This is what people didn't do."

She peered past the top of the flame, trying to judge his meaning from his face. "I don't understand. I thought these were promises?"

He smiled gently, then reached over and pushed the book shut in her hands. Abruptly the voices stopped as the pages met again, and with a shallow whine the wind faded away into nothingness. He grasped the book softly and took it from her before turning it over and handing it back. "Read the cover again," he said.

She looked at what was formerly the back cover of the book, but now presented to her as the front cover. The same style of gold lettering as before ran across the page, but forming an altogether shorter title: The Book of Lies.

A look of puzzlement ran across her face a moment, then she opened the book. The sound of the wind rushed out around her, and the same unclear voices echoed throughout the library. The text continued in the same vein as before, spoken words briefly penetrating the noise as her eyes scanned across similar phrases: "I'll always love you", "I'll never leave you". She closed the book quickly, and silence rushed in to fill the void of the departing wind.

"How can this be the Book of Lies? They can't all be lies - someone must have kept their promises."

His shook his head sadly as she replaced the book on the shelf. "If it was action, it became part of the past, and is recorded elsewhere. But if it was only words..." he tailed off as a light of realisation dawned behind her eyes.

"It's a book of unfulfilled promises isn't it?" Her hand still rested on the book where she had replaced it on the shelf. The spine had changed to say only, 'Book of Lies'.

"That's correct. For what is a promise of action undone, but a lie?"

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