Dawn woke Gale up as usual, the bright light piercing straight through his curtains and eyelids. He stretched like a cat, reaching one arm over his head. Callused fingertips gently stroked the pale ash wood over his bed. The familiar, polished curve was a harsh reminder, and one that woke him up immediately.
Gale sighed, getting up slowly. His body seemed to react slower these days, getting up a little harder. It felt almost unfair, especially considering the work he’d have to do cleaning up after last night’s visitor. He wasn’t even being paid anymore and the craziness still followed him home. He grumbled to himself as he brushed his teeth, going through the morning routine of getting ready before heading downstairs to make coffee. Assuming the coffee maker still worked.
He picked up the morning paper from his doorstep first, staring at the muddy trail that lead to the kitchen. The kitchen with the ruined back door. That was going to be one hell of a call to a repairman. Hello, my backdoor looks like someone backed a truck into it. Can you come fix it and not ask a lot of questions?
“Maybe I should just call Mark,” he muttered under his breath. A few years earlier, and Gale might have fixed it on his own. But practice was important, and true to his word, Gale had avoided all magic since leaving the library. Mark owed him a favour anyways.
He stepped into the disaster area that was his kitchen and jumped as Sakata raised her large, feathered head to look at him. The griffon was curled in a ball on the kitchen floor, amid a nest of broken wood.
“I thought you were leaving last night,” Gale said with exasperation, stepping carefully over a broken kitchen chair to get into the cooking area. “Why are you still here?”
The griffon cooed at him, the grey feathers on her neck ruffling out.
Gale sighed. “I’m not doing adventures anymore, Sakata. I’m retired.”
She cocked her head to the side as he put the paper on the kitchen island.
“It means I’m too old for this sort of thing,” Gale explained, looking for the coffee maker. It was on the counter still, knocked over in a heap of other kitchen implements in a corner. He pulled it out of the mess and stood it upright, setting the pot in its proper place. The griffin chirped at him.
“Fifty five is old for a human, Sakata,” he said, turning to the cupboards for the coffee grounds. The beast chirped at him more as he searched. “Yes, I know fifty is still a chick for you, but even people in a less dangerous line of work start retiring around my age.”
Sakata looked disappointed, lowering her head to the ground as she spoke. Gale seemed unimpressed as he filled the back of the coffee maker with water and grounds.
“I’m sure he’s a very fine fellow, Sakata, but if you need help rescuing him, you’ll have to talk to the other librarians.” He hummed as the machine chimed into life and the water began bubbling. He popped a few slices of bread into the toaster too.
The bird’s head seemed to sink even lower as she made quiet noises.
“Yes, I know Rachael scares you,” he said, opening the cupboard for a mug. “But I promise the new wind mage is a perfectly charming young woman.”
Sakata’s next words made Gale pause in his hunt for a cup, turning to look at the griffon on the ground.
“What do you mean, ‘Too busy’?” he said suspiciously. The eagle head turned away from him. “So help me Sakata, if the library is in danger-”
The beast cut him off with an angry squawk, turning her head to look at him. Gale looked unimpressed.
“They had better be okay. If not, our friendship is going to be in trouble.”
The griffon nodded solemnly as Gale turned his attention back to the coffee mug. He poured himself a first cup, sipping at the scalding liquid. The black liquid was bitter and burned his tongue, but he felt better all the same. He took it over to the kitchen table to drink with his toast while the rest of the pot brewed.
“Alright Sakata, tell me about this gentleman friend of yours,” he said.
The strange combinations of clicks, chirps and squawks was an unusual background to Gale’s morning coffee, but refreshing all the same. Some part of it brought back a nostalgia that he missed, of early mornings camping outside drinking coffee brewed over a fire. His dinged up coffee pot was still somewhere in the basement, sitting beside unused camping gear and broken model airplanes. Sakata’s story beat the morning newspaper, at least.
“And you swear the other librarian’s aren’t in danger, but are just too busy to help?” Gale asked when she’d finished. His coffee mug was nearly empty now. He got up to pour another mug.
Sakata’s grey head bobbed up and down.
Gale sighed, looking down at the cover of the newspaper. The red and grey cover picture stared up at him. He didn’t even need to read the headline to know that he didn’t want to read the rest of the article.
“Can I at least call Mark before we go?” he asked. “Just to double check everything’s alright. And maybe get him to look at this door you busted in.”
Sakata trilled happily at him.
Gale smiled. “Yeah yeah. I don’t know how you keep talking me into this shit.”
An hour later, Gale sat on his bed, staring at the clock. A large camping backpack sat at his feet, stuffed full and covered in straps and dangling accessories. In his hand, he held a black smartphone, a number already highlighted. It was still early to be calling, but if he was going to go, he needed to leave now.
The phone rang three times before Mark picked up.
“‘Ello?” came a sleepy voice on the other end.
“Hey Mark, it’s Gale,” he said, trying to sound neutral.
“Oh no,” came Mark’s disheartened reply.
“Well that’s never a good greeting,” Gale said, wedging the phone between his shoulder and ear. “Everything alright?”
“I’m in a bed, so I suppose so.” Mark yawned. “Never a great sign waking up next to Nate though.”
Gale scoffed, tightening the straps on his backpack. “Sounds like a rough night.”
“Yeah man, fucking harpies,” Mark said. “Anyways, what’s up?”
The bag was as tightly packed as Gale could manage. He leaned back on his bed, looking up at the pale wood shape that decorated his wall. “A little bird told me you guys might be in trouble. Wanted to know if you guys need help.”
Mark sighed. “I really hope not. What happened to you?”
“Nothing I can’t manage,” Gale replied. “Might have a favour to call in later, but it can wait for now.”
“It’ll have to,” Mark said. Gale could hear talking in the background, and Kelcie’s high-pitched voice that she always used when she was worried and fussing. The phone went muffled for a few minutes, but Gale could still hear Kinder in the background. Finally, Mark came back on.
“Sorry, I’m back.” He still sounded tired.
“Sounds busy over there,” Gale said. “Sure everything is okay?”
“They’re telling me yes,” Mark said, “What was the favour?”
“You know what?” Gale said, making his decision, “I’ll send you an email. I might be out of town for a few days.”
“Everything alright?” Mark asked.
“Perfectly fine,” Gale replied, pulling the pale wooden bow off his wall and restringing it. “I’ll talk to you later.”