“Why did you want to come back to the library?” Amber asked as we walked through the doors. I held up a finger for quiet and she stopped just behind me.
The atmosphere of the library didn’t feel any different. Everything was still locked up from how we’d left it last night. Hopefully we wouldn’t have too many angry complaints on our voicemail for shutting down unexpectedly all Wednesday. The same muted silence I expected from my library enveloped us, and the air smelled of paper and ink. I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding.
“There’s a few reasons to come back,” I said, leading the way through the stacks toward the restricted section 11. I didn’t bother to turn on the overhead lights, leaving the soft ambient lights to guide us. Amber followed along obediently. “The first is to check that we haven’t lost any more books.”
“Lost any…” she repeated quietly, “Could they do that?”
“Hopefully not,” I said, pulling my key out of my shirt and unlocking the gate to the back section. “There’s a lot of enchantments on this door, and a few more on the keys themselves. But you can never be too careful. Lock the gate behind you.”
“How would they get in?” Amber asked, pulling her own silver key out by its long chain. The head of the key held a pale violet gem. The gem was clouded with flaws, yet it sparkle with an inner light, despite the dimness of the library. It locked the gate behind us with a click.
“We don’t know everything about the supernatural, Amber,” I said, walking to the shelf of coloured books. “They could be prepping some spell, or found a creature that the Falconers’ missed to break into the room… Or worse…”
“Worse?” she asked in a hushed tone.
“They might have Karen’s key…” I said quietly. I had confirmed every other key was still held by it’s proper owner, but Karen’s had been impossible to verify. I knew her though. She would have defended it to her death.
“I thought they were enchanted!” Amber said, thankfully missing the implications. “In fact, I remember that lesson! They can only be used by someone with the same alignment! How could the fae use Karen’s key?”
“Not everyone and everything falls into one domain,” I said. “That’s how I could bind a harpy despite it being a wind elemental. You remember that oak leaf brooch?”
I saw her lips repeat the words ‘oak leaf brooch’ silently.
“That feels like weeks ago,” she said. “The one the man wore when he checked out the book?”
“Yup,” I said, resting my fingers on the bookshelf between where the yellow books should have ended and the green ones began. It was hard to gauge with the number of missing yellow books, but the first two green ones were missing. “I thought it might have to do with the nature domain. There’s a large overlap between creatures of nature and fae.”
“That’s not the only enchantment on the key,” Amber said. “The holder also has to be human. And they need permission to enter. Those are important too.”
She was right, of course. I didn’t even know for certain the nature key was missing. I sighed, counting the books that remained. Twenty four books, including the Birds of Fire that Amber had lent out. No more or less than we’d been missing when we left. It was a good sign. But we were still dealing with Fae.
“Well, we can’t rule out that they might hit here anyways,” I said grumpily. “They’re already stolen over half the books.”
“Should we move them?” she asked hesitantly. “Bring them back to Kinder’s?”
“This room is better fortified,” I said, unlocking the gate and gesturing for her to leave. “These enchantments go back generations. We’d be better off moving ourselves here.”
“Is the library warded like his house?” Amber asked, waiting for me to exit and lock the gate behind us.
I snorted. “With people walking in and out every day? The wards are there in a pinch, but we keep them inactive. The basement is in better shape. It’s our next stop.”
I led Amber towards the backroom, and the gate behind it. The tall bookshelves muffled our steps. I’d always found the empty library to be relaxing, even when it was late at night and the shelves cast everything into dark shadows. I wondered if Amber found the quiet dark as reassuring.
“What’s in the basement, Rachael?” she asked, breaking the silence.
“Have you not been down there?” I asked, opening the door to the backroom. “You were supposed to come here as part of the initiation.”
“Kelcie showed me the doors, but she broke her arm before she could take me inside.” Amber said, hurrying to catch up.
“This should have been Gale’s job,” I said, sighing. “Well, I suppose this’ll be exciting for you. Want to open the gate?”
She gave me a suspicious look, standing in front of the massive gate.
“It wasn’t a trick question,” I said, unlocking the gate myself. The indigo key seemed to make the room even darker and the shadows a little darker.
“Is Kelcie going to be mad that we were down here?” Amber whispered as the gate opened, revealing the dark stone passage.
“Don’t worry,” I said, heading down the steps. “She’ll be mad at me, not you.”
“I don’t want her mad at anyone,” Amber said following behind. “Weren’t we supposed to discuss it before we came down here?”
“That was before we got attacked,” I said, walking past an orange door, covered in geometric patterns in copper and bronze. “I hate going into battle unarmed.”
“Kelcie is going to be so mad…” she muttered under her breath.
“That’s how you know things are going down,” I said, walking past the door of blue and mother-of-pearl. “Kelcie always starts fussing when the monsters come out to play.”
“I don’t understand how the rest of you stay calm,” she said. “I just freaked out and was useless.”
“Calm is a relative term,” I said, stopping in front of my indigo door. “Once the adrenaline starts going, we all start freaking out in our own ways. What you need is better focus.”
Amber fell into step behind me and I gestured for her to step away from the door. None of the doors in the basement had doorknobs, or even keyholes. Instead, there was a small divot in the centre of the door. I pressed the dark purple gemstone in the bow of my key into the hole, and the onyx runes flared with a red light. The light washed over my slashed face, my bloody and destroyed jeans and jacket and bandaged hand. I could see Amber’s beside the blue door, thankfully not illuminated by the deep red and purple light.
The door slid back several inches, and the door cracked open. The shadows inside practically spilled out as the lights faded. A voice that crackled like ice followed in the shadow’s wake.
“Hello again, Rachael Haven.”