Auguries. Unknown author. A book with a pale red cover of scaled leather, handwritten in an archaic and densely-packed script of Wrought Idiom, interspersed with printed drawings, artist’s impressions of metallic crystals, alchemical equipment and the cancerous organs of biological creatures.
Sensible librarians keep copies under lock and key, in sealed boxes made of lead, olythreme or some other heavy metal, chained with sanctified brass and kept away from delicate materials, flesh in particular.
Red was not a sensible librarian.
“So,” he said, flicking through his copy of Auguries, “there are some rituals are in here that I think would be useful.”
He rolled his eyes. “Okay, I’m hoping that you’ll tell me some useful information.”
“You’ll give me the copy?”
“Hel-, uh, heck no. This book is stupid dangerous.”
“Then what, by Bathalorian’s Nipples,” they spat, “are you doing waving it around?”
“Language! And intimidation, mostly. Are you intimidated?”
“No. It’s obviously a fake, if you’re handling it so reckle-”
There was a crunch, and Red let out a cry of pain. A couple of his fingers hit the ground in a splatter of blood.
“Obviously a fake?” Red said in pained triumph, showing them the two inch-wide hole in the palm of his hand.
The other person would have blinked, if they could. “That’s fairly convincing.”
“Great,” Red groaned, as the air around his hand appeared to fracture and fall away, dissolving into scarlet flecks of light to reveal an unblemished left hand. “Because I’m not doing that again.”
“Given how boring that book is said to be, I think you may end up eating your words.”
“Ha ha. Now,” said Red, “about those rituals?”
Bandages rustled as the person Red was speaking to reached inside their robe, and produced a long, bone-handled, obsidian-bladed knife. Light didn’t glint off its blade, but seemed to be sucked in, the candles that lit the room seeming to dim in response to its unsheathing. Deep within the blackness of the blade, stars twinkled.
“‘And with this knife of blackened sand/cut from the bones of Morpheus/I slice the shadow from the floor/and peel the light from candleflame.’”
“Huh,” said Red, “That’s… Hyrkon?”
“Hyrkon did indeed write of these knives in his Almanack Obscura, but that was in fact a quote from Drazelius, once a First of the Aeon Mages, speaking of a knife sharp enough to pierce the fabric of Reality. That is an incorrect description, though. Without a ritual, it’s simply a very sharp knife that drinks in light and breathes out darkness. But, with a concentration of cutting such as this, and a complete copy of Auguries… Well, I can imagine few boundaries that would withstand it.”
“Purely hypothetically, would it be possible to break into a Realm?”
The other person paused. “Purely hypothetically, yes,” they said, gently sheathing the Overt Knife.
“How much for the knife, then?”
“Not for sale. There are very few of them left, and they are extremely potent implements.”
“Can I… borrow it?”
“Tempting, but no.”
“Pretty please, with sugar on top?”
“If you aren’t going to stop asking for incredibly valuable things, you can get out. Or offer some kind of recompense or collateral.”
“I’d prefer artifacts, but I’m not opposed to money.”
Red pondered for a moment, and started to say something, but was cut off by another crunch, followed by a strangled yelp. They saw it, this time, the hole through his shoulder expanding, a perfectly cylindrical section through flesh and bone, about five inches wide. He sagged, face grey with pain, as the scarlet cracks of whatever he was using to regenerate started to form around his wound.
“Oh flipping bugger d-”
With a SHUNK that echoed through the room with an air of finality, a hole six inches in diameter replaced Red’s right eye, the bridge of his nose, roof of his mouth and then proceeded through his head, revealing the bookshelf behind him. He stood still for a moment, as if suspended by the invisible pipe driven through his brain, before collapsing to the floor in a splatter of blood and brain tissue.
With a small gesture, the stranger relaxed the spell they had been surreptitiously using to antagonise the copy of Auguries, and stepped back. The book shivered where it had fallen, tiny holes opening up in the floorboards with little creaking noises.
“Wonderful. He’s got grey matter all over the floor,” they said, sniffing disdainfully.
They gestured, and tendrils of darkness slid from within their shadow, seizing the book and lifting it off the floor. With great care, the stranger produced a lead-lined bronze box, just large enough to hold the slim volume, and slipped the book inside. They were careful not to touch it with their bare skin, what little was visible on their bandaged hands. With greater care, they tucked the box back inside their robe.
As they made to leave, the stranger turned back to the corpse partially decorating the floor, and gave a little bow.
“Thank you for your custom, Mx Red. Until next time.”