Thank you to the wonderful ViCorva for this prompt.  Content warning: blood.


The books were a huge find.

The building had been one of the ones to collapse halfway during a particularly bad storm, almost everything in it ruined. Finding a set of three rooms which weren't ruined was a coup all of its own.

Finding a set of shelves completely protected from the weather, from the rioting that had come before and after that storm, from the years that had passed since The Storms, was nothing short of miraculous.

Even if Natosha hadn't had books on her list, it would have been the sort of things she'd have stopped for.

As it was, she pulled on her gloves and mask and pulled out her special preservation bags and started very carefully pulling books off the shelf.

They were holding together quite well -- they might not even require much restoration. She bagged each one up and slipped it in the hard-sided section of her pack.

The fourth one off the shelf was splattered in blood. She set it down on the nearby table - itself nearly level, and, from the ruined book holding up one leg, had been nearly-level for a very long time - and carefully opened it, supporting the front cover.

Inside, a blood stain had seeped into one corner. She continued to flip pages, carefully unsticking those that would move and not moving those that would not unstick.

The book looked benign, mundane. It seemed to be a math text, the subjects rather elementary.

Three chapters in, the blood splattered across the pages again. There were notes written in the margins, first in pencil - Wrong! This is the wrong sort of math! - and then in blood, possibly with a stylus of some sort - I cannot find the proof. I cannot find the proof. I cannot prove the findings. I cannot find the findings.

Natosha flipped another page and another, now curious. There was nothing particularly malignant about the math; it looked like advanced geometry. She had been studying such, before she decided to become a scavenger for a while.

Another page, another one. The unknown writer could not find it, whatever it was.
She looked around; there was no blood in the room save on the book - possibly plural books; she'd have tocheck - and no signs of foul play.

She pulled out the next book and found it bloody as well. More geometry. And the third one - physics.

The fourth book - this one with only a few blood-splatters - was philosophy.

On the fourth page, she found a bloody handprint and the words - in pen - I found it!

She flipped, curious.

Written around the text - something boring; she'd never been in to philosophy - in tiny, cramped handwriting was an explanation, of sorts.

The answer, as it turns out, is not in the skies, as some thing (the storms that will not stop, the flooding that continues to rise, the winds that destroy). It is not in the ground (the bunkers, the basements, the hopes for a solution in the mines). It is and has always been in the walls and in our blood.

It took a great deal of blood to discover it. I had to leak it out of myself and pull it out of others and sometimes shake it out. Blood is the key, you see. Without blood, the doorways will not open.

Without the doorways, we will not survive.

Without survival, we will never find the final proof.

Without the final proof, we will never stop the storms.

Natosha scoffed. The storms had stopped. They haven't been stopped, they had simply subsided. That was history. Also meteorology, and, some said, theology.

With this blood, we will solve everything.

Behind the books, on the wall, was a single bloody handprint, surrounded by mathematical figures. From the looks of things, as far as Natosha could follow, the writer had been trying to solve for a tangent.

She bagged the last book carefully. Bloody or not, they were useful textbooks. There were others - not splattered with blood - and she took those, too.

She barely noticed when she caught her finger on a splinter on the table, or when her bloody finger smeared onto the wall, lighting up, for a moment, the handprint there.

She did, however, notice when the exit was gone and, with it, the lopsided table.