The Librarian’s Code, Part 25 (Teens)

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The grass behind the clubhouse was thin, shaded by a giant maple tree and the clubhouse on one side and a hedge at the edge of the yard. I used to hide back here when we played hide and go seek. It was cool back here. and felt private, even though I could still hear everyone talking inside. The walls muffled their words just enough that I couldn’t make them out.

The sick feeling in my stomach started to go away in the quiet hiding place, replaced by the feeling of my face flushing. They were my friends in there and I’d run away like someone asked me to sing an opera in the nude on live TV. They probably all thought I was stupid.

I couldn’t bear to go back inside yet. I cracked open the book, turning to the page Opi had bookmarked. The ritual itself sounded confusing. I could see a diagram to the side, showing a person sitting with their legs crossed. Seven flowers overlaid their body, with a red one at the bottom and two purple ones at the top. I looked for an explanation on the side, and was met with a section on something called Muladhara. I wasn’t even sure how to pronounce that, or what it meant in terms of the ritual.

The entire section was like that, filled with strange terms and images. I recognized a lot of references to elements, but also to colours, and something about lotus flowers, interspersed with chants that I knew I’d never memorize in the next few minutes. The images and words started to blur together, but I barely realized why until the first drop of water hit the page.

“Are you okay?” Sam asked, coming around the corner, and I covered the wet spot with my hand, brushing away tears with the other one.

“I don’t get any of this,” I said grumpily. “It just reads like a bunch of nonsense.”

“Well, it is magic,” Sam said, sitting down in front of me. “But I didn’t follow any of that and it still worked for me.

“Well, what did you do?” I asked, rubbing my eyes on the sleeve of my shirt.

“Well…” She flipped back to the first page, pointing to the picture of the man. “Supposedly, you sit like this, and then you picture each of these as some sort of energy point within your body. And you focus on it until each one is “open”, whatever that means, while doing some chant. It’s some sort of meditation thing.

“When I sat down, I sort of remembered what this red and orange one was, and I tried to do what I should. But then I completely forgot the yellow one and all the rest. So rather than stop on them, I just tried to focus on what the colour meant to me. Seems like it still worked.”

“And that worked?” I said, staring at the coloured circles.

“You guys said it did,” Sam said with a shrug.

I nodded. “Something definitely happened.”

“You want to give it a try then?” Syra asked, standing up.

“One last question,” I said, getting up as well. “What’s that colour?”

I pointed to the 6th circle on the diagram in a dark blue.

Sam rolled her eyes. “Indigo.”

“That’s indigo?” I said, staring at the circle. “Why’s it in the rainbow?”

“Don’t you remember the seven colours of the rainbow? Roy G. Biv and all that?” Sam asked.

“Roy G. What?” I replied, dusting off my knees. “What are you even talking about? The rainbow has six colours.”

“Seven,” Sam corrected obnoxiously. “Blue, indigo, violet.”

“Six,” I said. “Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple.”

“Argue with Sir Issac Newton,” Sam replied. “He says seven. I can’t believe you forgot grade 3 science.”

“My backpack has a rainbow on it, Sam. So does like, half my wardrobe,” I argued. “They all have six colours.”

“Well the book says seven,” Sam said, “So I suggest you use seven colours.”

“Ugh,” I said, walking into the clubhouse. “Quick poll guys. How many colours of the rainbow?”

“Seven,” Rou and Opi said in unison.

“Eight?” Syra said at the same time, questioning her own answer as she said it.

“Bah,” I plunked into the middle of the circle cross-legged. “Let’s start this.”

I closed my eyes, taking a deep breath. Sam had said it was a meditation thing, which meant I should try to be calm. My mom took me to a yoga class once, the first part had been all about breathing. In and out, nice and slowly. It was far more relaxing here than it had been surrounded by a dozen older strangers who were all more attractive than me.

Sam had said I needed to focus on the colours of the rainbow and what they meant to me. I could picture the colour red in my head. Red like the dying coals of a campfire. It was always my favourite part guide camps, when everyone sat around the embers, after all the singing had ended, and just talked. Sam was always there too, her red hair glowing even brighter in the firelight. Red also reminded me of her. She had a fiery temper and was always quick to anger. But she was also quick to forgive and fiercely protective of her friends. She was like fire, both welcoming and dangerous at the same time.

I felt a sort of warm glow come over me, a comfortable sensation like everything was right in the world. I kept coming back to the same idea. Red reminded me of fire.

Orange was the next colour. I’d never really had strong feelings about the colour. I guess it felt sunny, if anything. Like orange juice, or the sunset. I bit my lip gently. If I couldn’t think of some emotion to match the colour, would the ritual fail? I could feel my heart rate rising. Was it more important to do the colours in order, or to stay calm why you did them?

I moved onto yellow. My first thought was bananas. What was with me and fruit? I could just imagine stopping the ritual, and everyone asking if it worked, only to admit I spent the time building a fruit salad. They’d probably laugh.

My friends’ laughing reminded me of yesterday, just after the fairy attack. The fairies had been, but we were still friends and we were there for each other. If I failed, they’d still be my friends. We would still go on fun adventures, like we had yesterday at the creek. I could still see Sam and Opi sitting at the water’s edge, chasing bugs past a glittering river. Maybe this was what yellow reminded me of. Friends. Just knowing they were sitting beside me made me feel more confident.

Friendship felt like a good answer. Next up was green. Green like the grass behind the clubhouse. Green like the camping trips I went on with my parents to national parks. I’d always felt really at home in a forest. There wasn’t even a question in my mind, green felt like nature, like things growing.

So then blue. Would it be a cop out if blue just reminded me of water? Water like the rivers and lakes we’d visited while camping, in particular. My parents had taken me to Killarney park last year with Sam. They’d invited Syra too but she hated sleeping outside. Some of the lakes in that park were incredibly blue. It was unnatural how blue they could be. I’d swum in the water and it felt like getting lost in a blue marble. Perhaps it was lame to think water for blue, but that was all I could think of now. I was content with that answer.

According to Sam, indigo was next. The colour had reminded me of the sky at dusk. Not the sunset, but the colours in the other direction, where the stars were coming up. I always liked star-gazing at night, though I only knew one or two constellations. It was hard to see the stars this close to the city though. The sky tended to end up a purply-blue. I still always tried to look for the stars, but all I could find was Orion the hunter. Indigo definitely felt like the night sky.

I guess the last colour was violet. The name just reminded me of the african violets my mother kept in the house. My leg was starting to go numb now. Had anything happened yet? I hadn’t even heard my friends in awhile. I was tempted to peek out and see what was happening in the circle around me. Was the ritual working? I didn’t feel any different. Maybe I’d been sitting here trying to unlock magic and all my friends were just watching nothing happen. Maybe I was just magically inept.

“Mary!” Sam’s voice broke me out of the trance abruptly. I opened my eyes to the panicked faces of my friends.

“What?” I said. She pointed behind me.

The entire back wall was scorched black.

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The Librarian’s Code, Part 24 (Librarians)

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“Hello again, Rachael Haven.” The cold voice slipped out of the dark room like frost over the windows. It held the quiet malice of an old Bond villian, greeting the hero just after his capture. Amber’s hand flew to her mouth and she turned to me wide-eyed.

I rolled my eyes, pushing the door the rest of the way open as I walked in.

“Hi Jackie,” I said brightly. “I wasn’t expecting you.” The room brightened as I entered, revealing a row of seven framed mirrors on one wall. In one mirror, a small creature looked out of frosted glass. Vaguely humanoid in appearance, it stood about 3 feet high, with long black horns that added an extra foot to their height. Their skin was an icy blue, covered in bony ridges in dark blue patterns. They stared out of the mirror with white snake eyes peeking out of shaggy, pure white hair.

The demon scoffed, their breath clouding the mirror. “I wish you would at least pretend to be scared of me.”

“I think you scared the new girl, that’s the best I can offer you,” I said.

Jackie’s face peeled into a grin, revealing razor sharp teeth. “You have a new librarian? When do I get to meet her?”

“Now,” I said with a shrug, “if she wants to.”

I heard a squeak outside the door of my chamber. “Your call,” I yelled out to Amber.

There was a moment of silence as we both waited for Amber’s answer.

“H-Hello?” she said, hesitantly poking her head around the door frame. Her hair had come loose since last night, and loose waves hung around her elven face. She inspected room with quick eyes. Several mannequins stood along one wall, covered in various bits of armour. Several brown leather books on a shelf covered in shiny trinkets and globes. And in a corner, my reason for coming. Amber brushed the hair out of her face nervously.

Jackie’s grin spread until it practically touched their ears. The demon leaned forward until their face practically touched the glass. “Hello, little mage.”

Amber looked no less terrified to have seen the imp.

I snorted. “This is Jaxihaime,” I said, gesturing at the mirror. “You can come in if you want, they can’t hurt you here. But don’t touch the glass. Or anything, really.”

Amber looked like she might rather handle a king cobra. “H-Hi Jaxihaime.”

“I like this one, she’s fun,” the demon cooed at me.

I rolled my eyes. “You should also know that some demon consider names to have power over their owners, which is why I haven’t introduced you yet. Take care.”

“He knows your name though?” Amber said cautiously from outside the door.

“Quick learner, this one,” Jackie said.

I scowled. “Doesn’t matter, they’re trapped and we have a pact. One which I assume still holds, as you’re in the mirror again.”

I addressed the last part to the demon and they scowled back at me. “Yes, yes. Our pact ends when your life ends. Where I’m located doesn’t change the pact.”

“Well good,” I said, turning my attention away from them. I went to the shelves first, opening up a set of drawers and pulling out a set of clean clothes and a roll of bandages. Jackie and Amber spoke as I walked into a corner, pulling out a changing screen.

“So then, little mage,” Jackie crooned through the glass. “Will you tell me your name?”

Amber hesitated. “I don’t think so.”

The demon sounded put out. “Why not?” they asked as I stripped off my bloody jeans. I dealt with the scratch on my leg first, wrapping the bandage around it several times.

“You’re only trapped while Rachael is alive,” Amber said. “If she dies and I don’t, you’re free with my name.”

“This one learns too fast, Rachael,” Jackie complained as I pulled on the wide legged, black pants. “Why don’t you bring me the slow ones?”

“The dumb ones don’t become librarians,” I called over the screen. The pant legs slipped into high leather boots which I strapped tightly to my calves. “Their life expectancy is too low.”

“Surely there must be some powerful, yet dumb mages within your midst,” Jackie complain as I stripped off my red leather jacket and blouse. I sighed, fingering the tear that the thorns had left in the leather. I liked that jacket.

“Even if there was, Jackie,” I said, pulling on a dark purple silk shirt, “I wouldn’t bring them down here to meet you.”

“You said you weren’t expecting me,” the demon huffed.

“I wasn’t,” I said simply, stepping out from behind the curtain fully clothed. I looped the chain for my key twice around my neck, dropping it back into the shirt so it nestled in my chest. “Why were you released from your book?”

“Somebody wanted my stronger siblings released,” Jackie purred. “I was a fortunate enough to slip out first.”

I laughed. “So now you’re hiding from them in my basement.”

“You have always been far better company,” the demon replied.

“Flattery will get you nowhere,” I said, turning back to the mannequins in the corner. They wore a variety of armour. One in dark chainmail, another in full plate armour. It was tempting, but chainmail tended to attract more attention than it was worth. Another of them wore a black leather breastplate, I undressed it clumsily, slipping on the light armour.

“Do you need help?” Amber asked from the doorway as I struggled with the leather spaulders.

I turned my back towards her. “Can you do up that strap?” I asked, pointing with my bandaged hand. Amber stepped into the room.

“You’re bleeding,” the demon remarked.

“I’m surprised you’re just noticing,” I said as she buckled up the armour. “Normally that’s your first comment.”

The demon waved a hand, leaning closer to the glass. “You are always bleeding. No, she is bleeding.”

I looked over my shoulder at Amber, grabbing her hand. Sure enough, the cuts on her hand had bled through the thin bandages. “Does it hurt?” I asked.

“Not really,” she said.

“You’ll have to bandage that again,” I said, gesturing toward the medical supplies. Amber nodded gratefully, going to the drawer.

“It smells wrong,” Jaxihaime said, pale eyes millimeters from the glass. “What caused this?”

Amber looked at me questioningly and I shook my head at her. The demon turned to me. “Answer me, Rachael.”

“That answer will cost you a heal,” I said. “Same terms as last time.”

Jackie nodded, placing one icy blue hand up against the glass of the mirror. I walked up to the mirror, placing my bandaged hand against a four-fingered clawed one. All of the cuts on my body seared with cold, the pain nearly indistinguishable from fire. I hissed my breath through clenched teeth and my body tensed. I didn’t dare move my hand or touch the glass.

After a moment the pain faded. I slumped forward, bracing myself against the wall, and the demon retreated from the glass.

“Are you okay?” Amber asked. I nodded, not quite trusting my voice yet.

“I thought you said not to touch the glass,” Amber added.

“I still don’t recommend it,” I said darkly, finally straightening up. A quick check in the mirror beside Jackie’s showed that the demon had done good work again. I couldn’t even see the line where Amber had slashed me. I unwrapped the bandage on my hand and the two long cuts had vanished, replaced by white scars.

“You promised an answer,” Jackie reminded me from their prison as I walked to the wardrobe that stood beside the mannequins.

“Thorns were the cause,” I replied, shrugging on a long black trenchcoat that hung inside. “Thank you Jackie, you do good work.”

The blue demon pouted. “That’s hardly a fitting reward for my efforts.”

“If I had a better answer, I might share it,” I said, adjusting the coat.

“I can heal you too.” The demon grinned predatorily at Amber. She looked at me hesitantly.

“Don’t,” I warned. I reached in once more, hefting out my bastard sword. I ran a hand over the sheathe, sliding it open to check the long, black blade. Still sharp. I grinned as I slipped it over my head, feeling it’s familiar weight.

The demon huffed at me, sulking near the back of their mirror.

“Shall we see what’s in your room?” I asked Amber. The girl nodded anxiously.

“Goodbye, Jackie.” I waved as we left. “Thanks for your help.”

The Librarian’s Code, Part 23.5 (Side story #2)

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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.”

The Librarian’s Code, Part 23 (Librarians)

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“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.”

The Librarian’s Code, Part 22 (Teens)

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By the time lunch rolled around, Sam and Syra still weren’t talking to each other. English class had passed by in icy silence. Now in the cafeteria, I sat between my two best friends, eating my bologna sandwich.

“So Syra,” I asked, trying to start up a conversation, “What would you even wear to a fairy ball?”

Sam’s anger was palpable. I could feel it run down my back like glacial water.

Syra grinned at me. “I was thinking about wearing my gold and purple dress. Do you remember the one I bought last month?”

I did remember the dress. It was a gorgeous violet colour with a decorative peacock feather design on one side. I’d tried it on too, but I couldn’t get over how the short skirt didn’t even reach my knees and how my chest didn’t even fill out the bust. On Syra though, it looked fantastic. Like she’d walked off the runway and into the change room of the mall.

“That would look fantastic,” I said dreamily. I could picture her now with her hair swept back into a bun, her eyes smoky and dark.

“What about you?” Syra asked. “What would you want to wear?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t have anything pretty enough.”

“What?” Syra said. “What about that cute rainbow one you bought for the dance?”

That dress had been hiding in my back closet ever since the dance. I’d bought it at Sam and Syra’s urging, a floaty little thing with a red bodice and a skirt that faded from red to blue, passing through purple. When I’d bought it it had sleeves and a cape that faded from red to yellow to green, but they felt too much like I was cosplaying when I tried to wear it out of the house. I spent the whole night self consciously tugging at my hemline.

“It was really short,” I muttered.

“So wear it with black leggings!” Syra said.

“I’d feel like I belong in a video game,” I said self consciously.

“They’re fairies!” Syra said. “They won’t care if you look videogamey.”

“I dunno…” I said.

“I think you’d look cute,” Sam said, breaking her silence. She still sounded pouty, but I smiled at her all the same.

“I thought you weren’t talking to me,” Syra said nastily.

Sam sighed. “I still don’t think you should go.”

“But?” I asked.

She pouted. “But I think if we did go, you’d look adorable in that dress. Especially if you wear the cape this time.”

“I felt so dumb last time.” I’d eventually ditched the cape and sleeve in my locker, but the damage to my self esteem was done. I’d spent the whole night in the corner, and avoiding all the boys.

“You were so gorgeous,” Sam said cheerfully.

“Well what about you?” I asked. “What would you wear?”

“I don’t want to go,” Sam said firmly.

“But what if you did?” Syra pushed. “What would you wear?”

Sam sighed. “The dress I wore when we graduated. The blue and white one.”

“Ooo, I love that one,” I said sincerely. The dress had a white bodice with a sweetheart neckline, and faded into an icy blue at the bottom. It fell below her knees, and was covered in glitter. She looked like a proper ice princess when she wore it.

“Yes!” Syra said, “We could do your nails too! And maybe we can do your hair up with my snowflake barrette?”

“I don’t think we should go,” she whined, but Syra and I ignored her.

“The barrette with the rhinestones?” I asked. “That would look so cute with that dress.”

“I’m thinking feathers for you,” Syra said, plucking at my hair that was in a messy bun. “I have this pretty fascinator that’s got feathers and little fabric flowers.”

“You have all the cutest clothes, Syra,” I said, blushing. “I can’t pull it off like you though.”

“Nonsense,” she said, brushing me off. “I can make you look amazing.”

It did sound gorgeous to me. But I always thought I was going to look pretty, and then felt self conscious when I actually stepped outside. Especially between Syra and Sam, who always looked amazing.

“What do you think Opi would wear?” I asked, blushing. He hadn’t shown up for lunch like he normally did. I missed him, but I was sure he’d just be rolling his eyes at the girl talk.

“He’s a boy,” Sam said. “Probably just dress pants and shirt.”

“Yeah, boy clothes are boring,” Syra added.

I sighed as the bell rang, warning us that it was the end of lunch. “I don’t think they’re boring,” I said. I left the cafeteria, rushing to my locker for my books. Behind me, I could hear the two giggling. Looks like peace was restored today.


“So, today Rou is getting initiated?” Sam asked.

“Yup!” Syra said. “She texted me this morning when she got on the bus. She said she’d meet us at Sam’s.”

“And then tomorrow it’s Mary?” she asked.

“Well,” Syra hesitated. “Maybe we don’t have to wait til tomorrow? We have plenty of dew now to do both of us today.”

“Getting impatient, Syra?” I said jokingly.

“Just a little,” she said. “I want to see these ley lines too!”

“You should have seen the one at the river,” Sam said dreamily. “It was gorgeous. Like the river itself was alive and wanted to just burst out of the banks. And all the little fairies just splashing through the water… I need to show you guys the river.”

“That sounds awesome!” I said excitedly. “I can’t wait to see it!”

“But Rou first,” Syra reminded us.

“Yeah,” Sam said. “What was with that? Why was she so freaked out that we’d skip her?”

“I think she’s having a rough time at University,” Syra said quietly. “She was describing her roommates to me and they sounded like dicks.”

“What did she say?” Sam asked. “What happened?”

“They keep standing her up,” Syra said. “Like, they’ll make plans to go downtown one night, and then never show up. Then the next day they tell her they went to a different bar.”

“They sound like horrible friends,” I said.

“That’s what I said,” Syra replied. “But she keeps hanging out with them anyways.”

“She should just find some new friends,” I said.

“I agree,” Syra said, “But hush, we’re almost there.”

Opi was already waiting for us in the clubhouse when we arrived, the marks on the ground redrawn. Sam waved hello and went inside to get the glass dishes as we sat around the edge of the room.

“Where’s Rou?” Opi asked as soon as we’d settled in, not even bothering to say hello to me. I was glad the clubhouse was dim, so he couldn’t see my embarrassed face. How could I think he wanted to go to a dance with me?

“Right here!” Rou said, coming inside.

“Nice timing,” Syra said. I silently agreed. She’d saved me from having to answer Opi and embarrass myself more.

“Oh good,” Opi said. “I thought you might like to read the book before doing the ritual. There’s a few details about how to do it properly you might need as a refresher.”

“Thanks!” Rou said, taking the book gratefully. “And hi guys! Thanks for waiting for me!”

“Of course, Rou,” I said with a smile. “We said we would.”

“Well, I appreciate it,” Rou said. She started reading the pages Opi had turned to.

Sam let out a sigh of relief as she came inside. “Oh good, you’re here Rou. We should have this set up soon.”

“No rush,” she said distractedly, brushing her blue hair over one ear. I helped pour some of the water into a bowl, setting it down in the circle beside me. Opi dropped her ring into the bowl beside her and Sam and Syra set up the milkweed and candles

“Alright, I think I got this,” Rou announced, moving into the circle.

The now familiar silence settled over the room, and Rou sat down in the middle of the circle.

Her attempt started out a lot like Opi’s had. She began to chant, and on the second chant, the orange aura appeared, rippling around her. But then it began to change. In the northern corner, her ring began to shift. The gem was stretching into a spire into the sky. The orange colour was morphing, turning into a green hue as the crystal grew.

“That’s new,” I whispered barely, watching it change. But she was moving on already. The milkweed in the sundae cup was beginning to rise into the air, rotating in a tiny, controlled vortex around her cup. They didn’t rise any higher than the tower of gem forming in front of her.

Sam stabbed with her elbow, shushing me, but the effects were already beginning to end. The milkweed settled back into the cup and the gemstone folded back in on itself like a strange piece of origami.

“So what happened for me?” Rou asked. “Did the water splash this time, or freeze?”

“Freeze?” I heard Opi ask, but I was already shaking my head. Syra whispered an explanation to Opi.

“The water didn’t do anything,” I told her, pointing at the dish in front of her body. “But your ring went crazy.”

Rou’s head whipped around, sending her blue hair flying in a mini tornado. She grabbed for her ring turning it around in the dim light. I saw her frown.

“Is it okay?” I asked, leaning forward. If we damaged her ring, I wasn’t sure how we were going to continue this. I didn’t know anyone else who owned a tourmaline.

“Yeah,” she said quietly. “But it’s green now.”

“Green?”

We all crowded around the ring. Where it had been a vivid shade of orange, it was now half orange, half green. In the middle the colours blended, fading from one to the other and passing a pale purpley grey.

“Whoa,” Sam said quietly.

“What does that mean?” Rou asked. Everyone shrugged.

“Syra, do you see any leylines?” Opi asked suddenly.

Rou looked around. “Yeah, is that one on the floor?”

She pointed to the spot where Opi had pointed earlier.

“Ha!” he shouted, pumping a fist. “I told you so! Copper, right?”

Rou nodded but Syra cut in. “Wait, wait. We should do Mary now, while we have time.”

“Me?” I said. A knot was forming in my stomach.

“Yeah, you,” Syra said. “You aren’t suddenly chickening out on us, are you?”

“No, of course not,” I said, even though I was considering doing exactly that. It hadn’t felt real to me until right now. “But I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do!”

“That’s why the book’s here!” Syra said, passing it towards me. “Nothing even vanished this time!”

I looked at the pages in the book, covered in a detailed, twisted script and back up at the four small bowls. I was positive I was going to throw up.

“I think I need a few minutes,” I said. Syra nodded excitedly. I looked at everyone else’s eager eyes and grabbed the book, running outside.

“She’ll be back soon,” Sam said as I collapsed in the grass behind the clubhouse. Hiding between the clubhouse and the hedges that surrounded Sam’s yard, I opened the orange book and began to read.

The Librarian’s Code, Part 21 (Librarians)

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“Should I drive?” Amber asked, watching me walk to the car.

“I’m fine,” I said, walking to the driver’s seat. The ground wavered under my feet, but not too much. I collapsed into the seat heavily, taking a deep breath. I needed to sit. I took the opportunity to familiarize myself with Mark’s car. Amber appeared outside my door.

“I really think you should let me drive,” she said again.

I sighed, peeking behind her at the window. I couldn’t see Mark at this angle, hopefully that meant he hadn’t spotted what we were doing. Of course, that meant no one would notice if Karen did come stumbling out. Or something scarier.

“Fine, you can drive,” I said, getting out to move to the passenger seat. As I switched seats, I noticed Jeff looking out the window. He was unlikely to rat out that I was letting Amber drive. I still scared him around the library. But hopefully he didn’t notice me stumbling like a drunk with fresh blood on my bandages.

“Where to first?” Amber asked when I’d buckled myself in.

“The library,” I said. “I’d feel much better after visiting there.”

Amber nodded, pulling the car out of the driveway. I stared at the forest the whole way down the driveway. Was it any brighter than it’d been before? Were those red buds new? Or had I just missed them when I came this way earlier?

“I’m sorry,” Amber said suddenly, startling me out of my contemplation.

“Sorry for what?” I asked, surprised.

“Sorry for your face,” she muttered, “And for being useless in the fight. And for getting us into this mess.”

I sighed. “Well to start, you didn’t get us into anything. The fae managed to glamour half the staff into lending out the books. You’re well off the hook for that.”

“They didn’t glamour you,” Amber countered.

“The fae and I came to an agreement ages ago,” I said grinning, “They don’t mess with me, I don’t mess with them.”

“You can do that?” Amber asked. “The way Kelcie described them, I thought they would consider that a challenge.”

“Normally yes,” I said. “You can’t trust the fae, Amber. That’s rule number one when dealing with supernatural. The fae can lie.”

“I’m confused,” she said. “So, why wouldn’t they glamour you too?”

“Well, the fae might not be trustworthy,” I said, “But demons always tell the truth. I may have had a particularly nasty one on hand when I made that deal.”

“So…”

“So they’re all terrified of what happens if they break the agreement,” I said, my grin so wide it forced the scabs at the corner of my lip to split open.

Amber shuddered. “So they’ll never never mess with you?”

“I wouldn’t say never,” I corrected. “What did I just say about fae?”

“They’re not trustworthy.”

“Precisely.” I leaned back in seat, trying to get the sun out of my eyes. “One day, the reward will be too high for the risks. Fae have bad impulse control and a short memory.”

“And then what happens?” Amber asked.

“Well… Then we’ll dance,” I said. Sometimes the idea that I’d committed to war with the entire fairy domain kept me awake. But I was pretty sure it was mutually assured destruction.

“How big is your nuke?” Amber asked. I gave her a curious look and she added, “How dangerous is the demon?”

“Dangerous enough that the threat of going to war with him scared the fae for the last 10 years,” I clarified.

“And he just let you keep him on call?”

“Well, we made a deal,” I said. “That’s how it works when you summon demons, you make an offer, and state the terms clearly before the summoning. Then if they agree to the deal and your sacrifice, they’ll show up.”

“What did you sacrifice?” Amber asked.

“I locked myself out from casting fae magic,” I said. “It wasn’t my smartest move.”

“Do you miss fae magic?”

“Not at all. It was worth it to not deal with their petty tricks.”

“Then why regret it?” Amber asked.

I smiled. “I’ve since learned that demon would have gone to war with the fae for a song. I got robbed.”

Amber giggled.

“I was younger back then,” I said. “I made bigger deals. Some not-so-smart ones. You’ll get better at fights too.”

“All I did last night was cut up your face and puke on my shoes,” Amber said bitterly.

“What this little thing?” I said, tracing the line down my cheek. “I hardly felt it.”

“Still, I hit a teammate…” she said, turning into the parking lot of the library.

“It happens,” I said. “Don’t worry, I’m fine. It was even useful.”

“It was?” Amber asked, parking the car.

I nodded, getting out of the car. “Just don’t make it a habit, please.”

Amber’s cheeks went a lovely shade of red as I walked into the library, grinning.

The Librarian’s Code, Part 20 (Librarians)

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“Rachael!” Amber’s voice was high with panic, though I was sure she hadn’t actually noticed me from the door.

“Over here,” I grunted. My hand burned from the thorns buried in my flesh, but I refused to let go even as my blood dribbled down the branch. Behind me, I heard Amber’s footsteps run up to me, only to stop a few feet away.

“Oh,” she when she saw me. “Um, are you okay, Rachael?”

I couldn’t help but laugh, wincing as the movements drove the wooden barbs into already damaged flesh. I leaned forward slightly, to get a better view of the girl. “I’m not trapped, if that’s what you’re asking.”

She nodded carefully. “And um, this is intentional?”

I started to nod, then gasped in pain as a the forest reached out with another vine, pushing thorns into the back of my hand. “Mostly intentional.”

Amber nodded, shooting a glance back at Kinder’s house.

“Don’t!” I said quickly, making Amber turn back to me. “If you tell Mark or Kelcie, they’ll just worry and try to stop me.”

Amber took one last glance at the house, sighing. “You aren’t making a good case for yourself, Rachael.”

I smiled, trying not to think of the thorns in my hand. “I knew you had to have a sarcastic streak in there.”

“I’m serious!” she said a little louder, reminding me of some of our teenaged clientele. She wasn’t that young, but compared to the older librarians, it was hard not to notice her youth. “You better tell me what you’re doing before I march in there to tell Kelcie.”

“Helping Karen,” I said. The forest was as dark and foreboding as it had been when I walked out. I’d hoped for a slightly more obvious effect. “At least, I hope I am.”

Amber looked from me to the forest, and sat down on the driveway that lined the forest. “Explain to me,” she said firmly. “Or I tell Kelcie.”

I sighed. “Fine. I’ve got time for a magic lesson. You know there’s seven domains of magic. Do you remember how they’re divided up?”

“There’s four primary elements and three orders of magics,” she recited. “Fire, Nature, Water, Air are the primaries, and the orders are Fae, Arcane and Demon. And I’m supposed to be the expert in the Air domain.”

“Good,” I said, gritting my teeth. The thorns were digging in, forcing my hand to involuntarily clenched harder. “They did teach you something. The domains have uses on their own, of course. Fire can heal, and arcane can transmute, for instances. But most people combine the fields to create better spells. Especially elements and orders.”

“Like how Kelcie tried to teach me to make blasts of wind?” Amber asked. She looked at her signature on my face. “She said it was fae.”

I nodded, feeling my hand pulse around the thorns. “Fae magic combines well with primaries. It’s flashy and creation based. Almost the entire team knows and uses fae magic. Except for me. And Karen.”

Amber looked up at the forest that hadn’t been there yesterday. “This looks creation based.”

I shook my head. “Karen is very good at nature magic. She cheats. Cheats so well even I forget that it’s not fae-based. This whole forest? It’s demonic. And demon require a sacrifice.”

“So you’re sacrificing yourself?” Amber asked. The branch was slick with my blood now, making the dark grey wood even darker. “On the hope that it’ll help Karen?”

I nodded. “They said you were smart.” My arm was starting to quiver, I wouldn’t be able to do this much longer. I really hoped Karen was actually in there. I didn’t know what I’d do if both Karen and the books were missing. I might have “go Jack Bauer” as Mark had put it.

“Does it hurt?” Amber asked, cutting off my train of thought.

“It would be a bad sacrifice if it didn’t,” I said, my voice stuttering slightly.

Amber reached out to the forest tentatively, touching one of the thorns. It looked like a rose thorn, stubby and black. As I watched, she placed her thumb over the thorn and pushed, driving it deep into her finger. She winced, and I could see her fighting the urge to pull away from the pain.

“The first time is hard,” I said quietly, still gripping my own thorns. I wanted to let go. I needed to let go. But I knew she’d let go the moment I did. I drew in a shaky breath. “Why did you come out?”

“You said you were going out,” she said, grimacing. A bead of blood bloomed around the thorn. “I wanted to come with you.”

“Do you need to pick up something?” I asked, slowly pulling my hand out of the twined branches. They snapped as I pulled away, reluctant to lose their prey. There was a sense of satisfaction as the thorns peeled out of my flesh. I dropped my bloody hand into my lap, breathing carefully.

Amber looked like she wanted to pull away too. Instead, she wrapped her fingers around the branch, driving two more thorns into her palm. “I need to… check on my cats,” she said hesitatingly.

I nodded, re-wrapping my hand in the bandages. “No boyfriend or anything who can check in on them?”

Amber shook her head, eyes still locked on her hand. “I could call my uncle. But they hate him.”

“That sounds like a story,” I said, trying to catch her eye.

She gave me a small smile. “Last time I went on vacation, I asked him to stop in. Squee sat in the hallway and swatted at my uncle when he tried to feed them.”

“Sounds like an ungrateful cat,” I said.

Amber laughed a little. “I guess so. But he’s cuddly when he wants to be. Unlike my other little terror, Paradox. He bites.”

“Oh, so you’re used to this,” I said, gently pulling her hand away from the thorns. “Still, no use in over-doing it your first time.”

Amber sighed in relief, looking at the three deep puncture marks. “Do you think that helped?” she asked.

“Assuming she’s in there at all,” I said, rummaging through my purse one-handed. I pulled out a pack of adhesive bandages and she took it gratefully.

“Where else would she be?” Amber asked, covering up the bloody holes with the little fabric squares.

I shrugged. “No where good.”

Amber frowned, looking at the forest and her hand, covered in beige squares. “What else can we do?”

“Not much,” I said, pushing myself to my feet. The ground swayed slightly beneath me. “Let’s go feed your cats.”

The Librarian’s Code, Part 19

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“I can’t believe we wasted the whole day licking our wounds,” I said angrily, staring out the window Kinder had sat at all night. I could see why he’d been here, from his perch there was a clear view of the front yard and the massive, dark forest that had taken it over.

“You don’t have to stay,” Mark said quietly from the couch. His shirt had been a lost cause, and he was wearing an old t-shirt from Kinder. The sleeves didn’t quite cover the large puncture wound on his arm, where dark red, twisted scars twisted out of the dime-sized mark. I’d seen the other three holes last night, while they were still bleeding. He looked a lot better today, thankfully.

“I do have to stay,” I said bitterly, “You drove last night.”

I turned back to watching the forest for any sign of Karen. It was too dense to see anything, but sometimes I thought I saw motion inside. Was that Karen emerging? Or just the forest twisting on itself? My watch was broken when a handful of jangling metal hit my head.

“Ouch!” I said, as the car keys fell to the ground in a clump. I looked back at Mark, who was rubbing his arm with a grimace. “Did you just try to throw that with a dislocated shoulder?”

“No,” he said, despite the obvious evidence. “They fixed it.”

“Of course, we’re just keeping you on the couch for fun.” I bent over to pick up his keys. I wasn’t even sure Nate had healed his shoulder. Popped it back in, sure, but surely he’d put most of his focus on stopping the bleeding. Nate hadn’t even woken up yet to ask what he’d done. Healing was exhausting work, for all parties.

“Well, now you can go,” Mark said grumpily.

“Are you sure?” I asked, even though I already knew the answer. I tossed the keys in the air, catching them with my unbandaged hand. The once white bandages were soaked in blood by today, but it had stopped bleeding over night.

“Yeah,” he said with a sigh. “I shouldn’t drive anyways.”

“Too right,” I said, pocketing his keys and looking outside. The forest was still foreboding and intimidating. I had hoped it was a cocoon last night, but with the clock approaching 5 PM, that was feeling less and less likely every moment.

“Do you think she’s okay in there?” Mark asked.

I shifted in my perch, checking to see if there was anyone lurking in the hallway. I didn’t see anyone, they’d all gone off into the basement to figure out how to remove Kelcie’s cast. According to Kinder, healing her arm was the last thing Nate had done before passing out. Of course, trying to remove the cast was a trick in itself and a welcomed distraction.

“No,” I said, answering Mark’s question. “I don’t think she’s okay.”

He frowned, adjusting his position on the couch. “This isn’t the first time she’s done something like this.”

“It’s too big,” I said. “Last time she had what, five trees? I walked around it earlier, it goes all the way to the road. Like, a full acre, at least.”

“Is bigger a bad sign?” he asked. “I know almost nothing on Nature magic.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “But it’s also malicious.”

Mark snorted. “Of course it’s malicious. You trained Karen enough to see it’s demonic.”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” I muttered.

“Mhm,” Mark said. “They tell me most of your wounds are self-inflicted.”

“Only some of them.” I didn’t want to look at him, so I held up my leg instead, pointing out the long scratch through my jeans. “Her forest did this.”

“Ouch,” he said sympathetically, like he hadn’t just been bleeding out on the floor less than 18 hours earlier. “You should get something on that, it’s still oozing.”

“It’s what?” I leaned over to look. Sure enough, the scratch was still bubbling up around the clotted blood. I touched the pinpricks of blood and the small scab peeled away and a tiny river of red spilled out. The cut was a long one, wrapping around my calf, but it had been shallow. Definitely shallower than the slices in my cheek. “That’s worrisome.”

“Scared of blood?” Mark drawled. “Who are you, and what did you do with Rachael?”

I half laughed, poking the bandages on my hand to see if I could peek underneath. It looked like it was healing fine, though it was hard to see what was fresh blood and what was not. I poked at my face instead, rubbing my thumb over the self-inflicted cut.

“Spell it out for me Rachael,” Mark said wearily from the couch. “I’m too tired to play twenty questions.”

“These cuts aren’t still bleeding, are they?” I asked, pointing to my face. Mark shook his head. I grunted. “They were deeper. This…” I pointed at my leg, “I’ve had worse cat scratches. It shouldn’t be bleeding today.”

Mark shrugged. “So what’s that mean?”

“I don’t know,” I said, standing up. “Watch the window for a bit?”

“Do I have to get up?”

He sat up on the couch, still looking too pale for my tastes. I shook my head. “I’ll be back soon.”

Kinder’s basement was dark and unfinished, a sharp contrast to the polished finish of the upstairs. Jeff’s back was to me when I came down, too focused on Kelcie, her opened cast and several power tool that sat on the workbench beside her. I could see the angry red lines on his neck, poking out of another borrowed t-shirt. He jumped when I touched the cuts, smearing blood over his golden skin.

“Jesus, Rachael!” he said, grabbing the back of his neck. “Warn a guy before you sneak up on him.”

“Did you get those cuts in the forest?” I asked, rubbing the fresh blood between my thumb and forefinger.

“I… What?” He pulled his hand off the back of his neck slightly, tracing the cuts. “Yeah. Those thorns are nasty.”

“Is anything else still bleeding?” I could see the blood on his hand now. Not much, but significant.

Jeff pursed his lips, looking at his hand. “I don’t think so. But it’s not bleeding hard.”

“No,” I said in agreement. Everyone else was staring at us now. I could see the question forming on Kelcie’s lips and cut it off with my own. “Does anyone want me to pick up something?”

Amber perked up, looking at me hopefully.

“You’re going out?” Kelcie said, flexing her freed arm.

I nodded, jiggling Mark’s keys. “I’m going to go crazy in here. Figured I’d drop by home and the library for some essentials.”

“We haven’t even discussed the missing books yet!” Kelcie said, getting to her feet. “That was the whole purpose of coming here!”

“I think the plans changed when the flock of harpies attacked us,” I said angrily. “Besides, unless you want to go wake up Nate up, we’re still waiting on people.”

“He’s still asleep?” Kelcie said, looking at Kinder. “Is that a bad sign?”

I sighed. “We’re surrounded by bad signs, Kel. I’m going out before they get worse..”

I headed back up the stairs before I could listen to her protests.

I poked my head into the living room on the way to the front door. “I’m going out after all,” I said to Mark. “Did you want anything?”

“Root beer,” he said. “Any protests?”

“The usual ones,” I replied. “Maybe I’ll pick up pizza on my way back to make amends.”

Mark snorted, “I know you’re getting old, but they have this crazy thing now for pizza. It’s called delivery.”

“It’s not nice to mention a woman’s age,” I said teasingly.

Mark laughed as I headed out the front door. The forest loomed overhead, a dark reminder of last night’s brawl. I walked right past Mark’s car, stopping a bare foot in front of the thicket.

“Are you in there, Karen?” I asked. The woods writhed in response. I sighed,kneeling down beside a large, thorny branch. “Unfortunately, I don’t speak tree,” I said, unwrapping the bandage off my hand. “So I’m just going to hope I’m reading your other signs right.”

The cuts on my hand glistened darkly, still oozing blood when I curled my fingers. I wrapped my hand around the branch, letting the barbs sink deep into my hand.

Librarian’s Code, Part 18

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“Opi’s gonna take you to the da-ance,” Syra crowed down the halls.

I tucked my head, trying to hide my blushing cheeks behind my hair. “Shut up, Syra. No he’s not.”

“Oh yes he is,” Syra crowed. “He’s going to take you to the ball and you’re going to be gorgeous and he’s going to dance with you and then it’ll be Opi and Mary, sittin’ in a tree-”

“Shut up!” I hissed. “It’s not like we’re going alone.”

“I don’t think we should go at all,” Sam said, interrupting Syra’s song.

“What?” Syra sounded hurt. “Why not?”

“I just…” she stammered. “I don’t know. Did you see how they turned on us?”

“Yeah, that was kinda creepy,” I said. They’d pinched and bit at everything they could grab, like a swarm of blackflies. Going back into that was not high on my list of priorities. And yet… Then there was Opi.

Syra pouted. “But daaaaance.”

Sam shrugged. “It’s not like my parents would let me go anyways. I just don’t think it’s a very good idea.”

We rounded the corner to my locker, and Opi was already at his, only two away from mine. I had met him one night during an online game with Syra. We’d teamed up for 2 hours, and I’d been really surprised to learn he went to the same school as we did. Even more surprised to learn his locker was right beside mine.

“Opi!” Syra yelled, waving to him across the hall. “Sam says we shouldn’t go dancing!”

Opi frowned, pushing his glasses up his face. He only ever wore them in school, I never saw him wear them outside of classes. He said they made him look smart. I agreed.

“Why do you think we shouldn’t go?” Opi asked.

“I don’t know,” Sam said. “Just a bad feeling.”

Opi sighed. “Well, I know what Syra thinks, what about you, Mary?”

I couldn’t even look at him. “I don’t think my parents will let me,” I muttered. “But I want to.”

“Hm,” Opi said. “I think we should go.”

“You do?” I said, trying not to sound too excited or hopeful.

Opi nodded. “Yeah, what’s the worst that can happen?”

“Are you trying to get us killed?” Sam snapped. “You could literally say anything else and it wouldn’t be tempting the gods that much!”

Syra snorted. “You think there are gods that are just sitting around listening for someone to say that?”

Sam glowered at her. “In six hours, we’re going to sit in a treehouse and do some ritual so your sister can learn to do magic, and yesterday we were attacked by tiny fairies, and you’re questioning the idea that gods might be real?”

Syra looked embarrassed. “Yeah, but really, gods are going to spite us for a question?”

“I don’t know!” Sam said. “And neither do you! You just want to go to a dance.”

“Well yeah,” Syra said. “Of course I do. Opi and Mary want to go too, right?”

“Uhh,” Opi said. I didn’t want to say anything, not wanting to get into their argument. Sam glowered at me and I looked away, going into my locker. We all had english class next, but I got the impression it was going to be a very awkward class.

“Mary, there is no way your parents would let you go,” Sam said, trying to pull me into the fight. “Why are you backing this?”

“Please,” Syra said before I could even respond. “Have you not watched any teen party movies? You tell your parents you’re sleeping at her house. She tells her parents she’s sleeping at my house. I say we’re sleeping at Brooke’s house. Then when everyone calls my parents, my sister can pick up the phone and cover for us.”

Sam stared at her. “You know how all those movies turn out? With everyone getting caught!”

“Yeah but this is like, real life,” Syra said. “Not some movie that needs to ramp up the drama.”

“I still don’t like tempting the fates,” Sam replied.

“So now it’s the fates against us?” Syra said. “Before it was the gods, now the fates?”

I closed my locker, turning to Opi. “Those two will be at it for awhile,” I muttered. “Let’s go.”

“Are you sure?” he asked, following me anyways.

“They have to get to class too,” I said. Sure enough, they started walking as soon as we were just out earshot.

“So what do you think?” Opi asked. “Should we go to the ball?”

I made a murring noise, glancing back to the other two girls where they were arguing. I knew they’d be over it by tomorrow, but for today, it was going to be a long day. I sighed, looking back to Opi. “I don’t know if my parents will let me go to a party on a Saturday night.”

“That sucks,” Opi said. “I was kinda looking forward to dancing with you.”

My brain went into total panic mood. Opi wanted to dance with me? He couldn’t want to dance with me, boys didn’t fall for me. They fell for girls like Syra, with her long blonde hair and her multiple piercings and gothic fashion sense that looked like she’d come off a runway. Or cute girls like Sam, covered in freckles beneath her red hair. Not me. I still hadn’t even figured out how to make my chestnut hair do anything but explode into frizz when it rained. And my best outfit was when I paired rainbow arm warmers with my Rainbow Dash t-shirt. It made me 20% cooler, but 20% of zero was still zero. I was too tall, too awkward and too nerdy for boys.

“Uh, Mary?” Opi said, waving a hand in front of my face. “Earth to Mary!”

I realized we were standing in front of our english class, but I had barely noticed walking. “Oh, sorry,” I said, pushing my hair out of my eyes in what I hoped was a flirty way. “I kinda spaced out.”

“I was saying it’s a shame your parents won’t let you out,” Opi said and I almost got lost in his blue eyes. Opi continued, “I was looking forward dancing with you guys.”

“Oh,” I said. My disappointment was palatable, but hopefully he thought I was just sad I’d miss it. “Yeah, that’s a shame.”

Opi walked into the classroom, finding his seat at a our table. I couldn’t meet his eyes when I sat down, pulling out the assigned reading and burying my nose in the book. Of course he was looking forward to dancing with all of us. Who wouldn’t look forward to dancing with Syra, the blonde goddess? She’d look right at home amongst fairy princesses and princes. I couldn’t even hope to rank second amongst all the women who’d be there. I’d already done my readings last night but I re-read them again, not even looking up when Syra and Sam sulked in in silence, glowering at each other over their books.

The Librarian’s Code, Part 17

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Kelcie was in my face the moment I opened the door. “What’s the status?” she said worriedly.

“The harpies are gone,” I said pushing Jeff into the house first. “So’s Karen.”

Kelcie frowned, but she’d never missed a good opportunity to lecture me.

“You were just supposed to go yell for someone!” she said scoldingly, “Not go run into the fight!”

I stifled a yawn. “And leave our people out there?”

“You know Karen can take care of herself!” Kelcie said, grabbing at my bleeding hand.

I shook her off, tucking it behind my back. “And so can I. So why are you worrying?”

She sighed, turning to Jeff. “And I suppose you’re fine too?”

“No, he’s not,” I said, cutting off his reassurances. “He was running on fumes, and then I pushed him further.”

He scowled at me as Kelcie started fussing over him instead. “I’m fine,” he said, trying to shrug off the shorter woman’s tending. I grinned at him and slipped into the living room.

“Rachael has good reason to worry,” I heard Kelcie saying behind me. She wasn’t entirely wrong, if Jeff wasn’t feeling it yet he would be in the morning. But right now, I was more worried about the reason I’d gone out there. Mark wasn’t in the room anymore though. I could see the red stain where he’d sat, but not where my friend had gone.

“He’s in one of the bedrooms,” Kinder startling me from his place at the window. “Asleep. Nate is with him. They’re both fine.”

“Not the one with the harpy, I hope.”

He scoffed. “I’m not so helpless I can’t take care of one harpy, Rachael. It’s in the basement.”

“Still alive?” I asked curiously. Kinder nodded and I collapsed into one of his chairs. “Good.”

Kinder frowned, and I pulled my bleeding hand away from his upholstery, letting it drip onto my jeans. They were ruined by now anyways. My self-inflicted cuts were still dribbling. Amber was gone too. Hopefully she was also asleep.

“So, harpies are gone?” Kinder asked. He’d gotten dressed since I left the house, and was now wearing a faded set of jeans and collared brown shirt. Despite the greying hair and casual wear, he looked imposing. He could have looked intimidating even in his housecoat. Which he had.

“Gone or trapped in your old garden,” I said. “I saw at least 20 bodies in there. Not worried about them.”

“And Karen? Are you worried about her?” Kinder asked. From the corner of my eye, I noticed Kelcie had returned, standing in the doorway with her arms crossed.

“I’m always worried when she doesn’t come back,” I confessed. “But she’s done this before, and I can’t get through her forest. I almost didn’t get out again.”

“Seriously?” Kelcie asked, her voice a mixture of sarcasm and disbelief.

I turned to her. “Well, not without sending you into a motherly panic.”

She grunted. “Maybe I’d worry less if you ever stopped to consider your own limits. How much blood did you lose this time?”

I sighed, holding up my uninjured hand. It quivered, barely. I looked back up at our fae expert.

“Not enough to wake up Nate,” I said grinning. “And no demons to clean up.”

Kelcie rolled her eyes. “Thank god for small miracles. Give me your hand.”

I hesitated and she glared at me, holding a roll of bandages. “You said the harpies are gone. You don’t need to bleed all over the place until we find Karen.”

I sighed, helping her to wrap my hand in gauze. She was far more nimble with one hand than I would have been.

“We should get that cast off you,” I said, yawning. I blinked, trying to fend off the adrenaline crash.

“In the morning,’ she said. “I think everyone was too primed for a fight tonight.”

“How so?” I asked.

“Killing them all wasn’t necessary,” Kinder said. “You had the house defended within minutes, they’d be gone by morning.”

“And instead,” Kelcie continued, “We have all our biggest hitters all down for the count because they tried to get fancy.”

“And you worry about me over-doing it?” I said, flexing my bandaged hand.

Kelcie scoffed. “Have you looked in a mirror lately? You don’t look like you showed much restraint.”

“So little faith,” I said, sticking out my tongue. “I know what I’m doing.”

“Speaking of,” Kelcie said, turning to Kinder, “what are we doing?”

He’d been staring out the window when Kelcie asked the question, and he seemed to be surprised when she asked. “Tonight?” he said. “Sleeping, I’d imagine.”

“I’m not sleeping,” Kelcie said quickly.

Mr. Kinder gave her a curious look. “You complain about her overdoing it, but you have as well. Your energy is nearly drained as well.”

I snorted at the indiginant expression on Kelcie’s face.

“I’m fine!” she protested.

“Yeah, and all those glamours in the library were nothing?” I asked. “How are you doing?”

She turned on me angrily. “Someone needs to stay up and maintain the wards, and it won’t be you!”

“And why not?” I asked. “I’ve already gone and activated them.”

“Enough, ladies,” Kinder said, “Both of you need sleep. We can handle the books in the morning.”

“Someone needs to manage the wards,” Kelcie said. She reminded me of the one weak spot in my shield, the ward she had activated. I could still feel that one spot glowing in the indigo dome.

“Kel’s right,” I said. “I can do it.” I pushed myself to my feet wavering as I stood. I grabbed the arm of the chair to get my balance. I hadn’t spent that much blood, had I? My cheek had bled far too much already, but I hadn’t even needed to summon something inside the forest. Or was the forest to blame?

“I don’t think so,” Kinder replied. He stood up from his seat on the windowsill, tapping the rune beside his window. It flared into a bright, copper glow, pulsing blue in the core. A quick check let me see that all the defenses were now under his control. “Now then Rachael, my bedroom is the first one to the left of the stairs. There’s an attached bathroom. Please take a shower before you get in my bed.”

I gave up on arguing, leaving for the promise of a shower and bed. Behind me, I could hear Kelcie and Kinder still talking.

“If Karen’s still out there, when should we expect her back?” Kelcie asked.

“Hard to say,” Kinder responded. “Last time, she came back at dawn.”

I lost the rest of the conversation as I entered the bedroom. It was weird using his room, but even his big house wasn’t prepared for 6 bloodied and exhausted librarians to crash in. His bed was still unmade from when we’d woken him up.

In the bathroom, I could see why everyone was freaking out. Amber had scored me from my hairline to the corner of my lip, and the blood had dripped all down my neck. My own cut on the other cheek was shorter and shallower, but it had still smeared blood over most of my face.

I saw the shower but just the idea of undressing to stand under it sounded exhausting. Grabbing a washcloth, I wiped away the worst of the blood off my face and hands. I lay two of the towels from the bathroom over his bed, kicked off my jeans and jacket, and collapsed into the bed.

When I woke up, the sun was high in the sky, and Karen still wasn’t back.