Of Scales, Blood Ink and Forgotten Things
My hand hesitated just above the door handle. Of all the things I had done in my life, what I was about to do bothered me the most. There was something sacred about a library.
Especially an old one.
I had to get over myself. This is where the note had said to go.
I know, I know. Following the instructions on an anonymous note isn’t exactly the brightest idea and someone in my line of work should know better. But how does one resist the pull of an ancient piece of parchment that was sealed with wax and a long forgotten symbol when it arrives on your window sill in the middle of the night? Delivered by a raven, no less.
I shook myself and pushed down the polished brass door handle.
The controlled environment of the ancient library washed over me. I closed my eyes and breathed deep. There was something intoxicating about breathing in the smell of worn pages, barely-held-together bindings and the lovingly polished wood of the shelves, tables and chairs. The undercurrent of cleaning supplies and something I couldn’t recognize shoved itself up my nose and nearly ruined the book high.
That was something I wasn’t too sure I liked about the modern age; the harsh smell of cleaning supplies that permeated the very existence of our world. Yes, obviously it was better than the unwashed odors of the past, but not by much.
I moved slowly into the darkened library. I had never truly felt alone in a library, but this was different. Someone else was definitely in there with me. Maybe the librarian lived in the library, like the caretakers of old.
My mind drifted to old memories of ancients I had known the had kept rooms either above or far below carefully maintained knowledge treasure holds. What had ever happened to them? Librarians today didn’t live where they worked. At best, they lived around the corner or down the block in a town home furnished by the donors who kept the building running.
I berated myself for not paying attention. In my lapse, whomever was in the library with me had gotten closer. I could have sworn I heard the gentle shifting of scales against one another and claws on the wooden and marble flooring. It was so faint that I was sure my imagination was playing tricks on me.
It wasn’t the first time. Since I was a child, I had never been overly fond of the dark. Ironic now because nearly all of my work was done in the dark. I suppose that was part of it, part of why I did what I did as an adult. I had never feared the dark itself, but what was in the dark. Now, I was one of those things to fear in the dark. But still feared other things in the dark.
Hey, I never claimed to be fully sane or to make sense.
I continued to creep along the shelves, working my way towards the main desk and then the spiraling stairs behind it that led up to the mezzanine above. Some small part of me screamed that it was a trap, but who sends notes anonymously, in a dead language and in blood ink anymore?
Sure. Like you would be able to resist it.
My ghostly companion followed me through the library. Perhaps it was waiting to see if I was a thief or a dreaded arsonist. What a laugh. Of course, I was a thief. But I drew the line at books. Books and children. Everyone knew that.
I stopped at the bottom of the wrought iron spiral staircase to the left of the highly polished desk and tucked myself in to deeper shadows. Faint shafts of moonlight drifted through the skylight above. Like the fairies of old, the light shimmered and danced through the library with forgotten magics. I waited to see if I could catch a glimpse of the other entity in the library in the watery light.
No such luck. Whatever it was, was staying well away from any kind of light. Or not?
I caught the barest shimmer of something out of the corner of my eye. There and gone again before I could be sure of what I saw. But I did not imagine the enormous shape that moved through the utter darkness to my left.
Well, I wasn’t waiting around to find out what that was.
I made my way soundlessly up the stairs to the floor above and began my search for section 2L-13-9. This library had an organization all its own. What kind of label was that?
But, I found what I was looking for along the right side of the walls. Sure enough. 2L-13-9.
Now for the title of the book. The History of London, 1759, no author. No author. Seriously?
I checked the space around me again for whatever had been following me, then turned back to the section of shelves. All old history tomes for cities that had long crumbled to dust and cities that had managed to still exist. Trust me, I wish I knew why some lasted and some didn’t.
I frowned when I reached the part of the shelf that the book should be on. Of course, it was missing. Because why not? I should have listened to my gut. Someone was no doubt messing with me. Probably a rival, trying to see if they could catch me unaware. I really needed to work on my will power when it came to books.
I became suddenly aware that I was not alone and froze. Keeping my eye and one hand on the shelf like I was still searching, I eased my right hand to the dagger on my hip. It should have been a gun, but I wasn’t taking any chances around old books. Fool.
“I’m afraid that book hasn’t been on that shelf for some time,” a voice said next to me. It was both young and old, high and low, plain and accented.
I turned to see a woman of undistinguishable age standing calmly next to me. Her dark hair was set perfectly on top of her head in a prim bun. Her pale skin was covered nearly head to toe in overly conservative dress that one would expect of a librarian and golden rimmed glasses perched on her thin, straight nose. Bright emerald eyes watched me carefully and were totally at odds with the blush pink of her full lips.
She gracefully unfolded her clasped hands to reach for the parchment that I wordlessly handed over. A frown creased her delicate features as she read the already fading writing.
Wasn’t blood ink supposed to hold? Like, forever?
“I haven’t seen this writing in an age,” she said quietly.
You and me both, lady. I had only ever seen it once before and it belonged to someone I thought long dead. Not dead, wait a bit and I’ll be back some day, dead. No. Irrevocably dead.
“Follow me,” she said. She turned and slipped back in to the darkness, not waiting to see if I followed.
Obviously, I followed. It was too cryptic for me to ignore. Outside of my weakness for books, my curiosity was going to be my downfall. I guess it was a good thing that it took a lot to kill me.
I followed the ethereal woman down the staircase, and, to my eternal surprise, down another staircase that appeared at the bottom of it. There was no way this library was that old. What had I missed?
Three spiral staircases, and a need to sit til the room stopped spinning, later, we reached what looked like a second library deep beneath the first. So, there was an ancient librarian that I didn’t know. Surprise.
She waved me towards a chair that was sat in front of a roaring fireplace. Which I should have taken, but I knew better than to take a chair in an unknown place. Far underground. With no discernable exits. With a strange woman.
“Sit down before you fall down,” she said firmly.
“Where did you get this?” she asked me once I settled into the chair.
Oh, the warmth and the chair were dangerously comfortable.
I debated on lying to her, but chose the truth in the end. “It was delivered to me.”
I stared at her. “How did you know that?”
“So, he isn’t dead,” she mumbled to herself. She turned to look at me fully. “And he sent you.”
I fidgeted beneath her withering stare. I couldn’t help but feel that she looked deep inside of me and found me…wanting…somehow.
She waved her hand again and the part of the wall that held the fireplace faded away to reveal an impossibly large opening and tunnel with torches along both sides. I couldn’t even begin to guess where it led or how long it was.
I leapt from the chair and palmed my blades when her body shimmered and a dragon took her place, ever so gently setting the golden glasses on a desk.
“You’re a…a…,” I stuttered. I hadn’t seen one in ages. Literally ages.
The dragon snorted at me. “Little fool. Of course, I am. All of us are. What is a library if not a hoard of books?”
She had a point. One that I had never considered before.
“Follow me,” she said over her shoulder as she started down the tunnel. Her emerald, deep purple, midnight black and blush pink scales glittered in the torch light. Her silver horns and claws cast sparks of light along the tunnel walls. Leathery wings, that were no doubt softer than the most expensive silks, were tucked tightly along her lithe body.
Sure. Follow the librarian dragon down the long dark tunnel. Why not? It’s not like it was the weirdest thing to ever happen to me.