The ancient and hallowed Black Archives are revered, but that reverence is tempered by the shifting attention of its sponsors. Blood is no longer spattered from white calves across the worn marble stairs: artisans no longer spend their careers and their eyes on their backs, painting masterpieces across the vaulted chambers of the stacks.
But they are still the Black Archives, and even as the city's politics shift in the centuries from god-kings to mere despots to Republicanism, it is here those of old came to pay homage. It is here that was the hut of a witch-woman who sprinkled pig's blood on the brow of the first conquering god-king: it is here that the temple to her, a generation later, was raised. Here came the scrolls of other conquered cities that made of a god-king's kingdom an empire.
God-king, despot, ambitious general or assembly, they had come to the Black Archives, shedding those few ritual drops of blood to seal a barely-remembered pact. The stories of witch-women and pigs became a mother goddess, then a saint, then a fable as the fashions changed.
It has been decades since the last assembly member came to pay even lip service to the stones over the pig farm's dirt, and the Archives must make do.
Truly, it had begun in the early days of Republicanism. Modernizing had taken much of the savor out of blood sacrifice. A student, not even of the city, had spilled an ink of gall across the stones, heedlessly, and gone for more. Short of sleep, and long on tests to take, they hardly noticed how the black and brown soaked into the stones and simply vanished.
They could hardly be blamed for taking notice for passing all of their curricula, much less the scholarship that committed them to the city's college, then the hospital. Nor did they attribute their discoveries and career to the Archives. But they were not the first.
An acolyte of the Saint of Growth nicked her finger with a pen-knife, and the Archives deigned to allow the blood to pool on the stone. It whetted its appetite for a proper offering, and swallowed it down. Later, many years later, when the prophetess was cut down in the poetry archive by revolutionaries, her martyred blood mixed with the burnt ashes of acrostics declared counter-revolutionary.
And the Archives drank deep of the ash and the blood, and the blood of the revolutionaries. Their philosophy too came to those stacks, and stayed, long after the next revolution, and the next.
There were rumors, of course. Hauntings. Moving figures in the faded murals high in the vaults. A witch, who lived deep between the shelves: the mask of a revolutionary crowned with clock hands concealing her face.
Stories change in centuries, and it's whispered that the librarians bound books out of skin. History scoffs at the idea of the cannibal tribes slain by god-kings, by bookbinders displaying tattoos on the leathery skin. The Archives begin a lending library.
Space is rented in the repaired poetry stacks - which mostly hold, these days, books of law from two centuries. Recent by the standards of the Archives, which have become notorious for their complexity. Centuries before, it is said that no book is ever lost, even if it never returns. Now, unnoticed, it takes the loss of a pen for one to turn a corner and find a despot's memoirs high in some dusty embrasure.
But the space is rented to accountants, and the loss of pens becomes a problem quickly enough.
Late one night, one of them: young, headstrong, sharp of eye and working on the city's sewer budget for the next quarter, has managed to lose an entire cart of magic markers, left just in the hallway to be sorted by interns.
When she steps into the hallway, the world blurs, and she smells smoke. She's cut her hand on the paper notes she's kept, and steadies herself on the wall of the library. There's a strange grunting: the heating system, maybe.
Ink coalesces. Fabric coalesces: a priest's robes, aeons old. A hot wind touches the accountant's face, a hand made of ink. A face masked in gold bends over hers.
Made of ink and ash and martyrdom, the Archives, an inkblot pretending at a witch-woman, a priest, a god-king anointing an heir, washes across the accountant like a breath of history, then is gone.
The sewers of the city, they say, are immaculate, and very old.
No one asks why their water bill pays for the Archives.