Interval VII – Shelf Life

The woman with one seafoam eye, the Shepherd of the Storm, landed on the Library’s carpeted floor with a thump, not even bending her knees to absorb the impact. Absent-mindedly, she ran a hand through her thick tangle of red curled hair as she got her bearings, raising a series of loud crackles – static electricity, accumulated across her transit.

“Well, Ms Huang, what kind of fine mess have you got yourself into?” she asked, directing her question to no-one in particular.

She closed her eye and took a deep breath, taking in the smell of a storm-tossed sea, her connection to the Great Blue, feeling her senses expand with the power of the alien oceans of a far-off Realm. The stormy power of the Maelstrom flowed through her, through the salt in her blood and the magic in her bones.

Her all-blue eye opened, slit pupil expanding as she felt the still air of the Library for any trace of her quarry, her senses expanding through the air in disorienting waves. She caught some faint memories of this ‘Alice’, but nothing recent or conclusive. This wasn’t going to be easy, it seemed.

The Shepherd sighed, and with a flash, was a bolt of lightning streaking through the dry air of the Library with a series of thunderclaps. In this form, she couldn’t see; her senses were replaced by an altogether stranger set of experiences. Eyelessly, she could ‘see’ the nervous systems of the few animals here that were made of flesh, and ‘smell’ the conductivity of the wooden surfaces she seared her way across.

Despite the vast heat released by her passage across charred wood and through ionised air, the wood of the Library didn’t catch fire. Something to do with an altercation, centuries ago, with the Bookburners and some titanic demon of Ignorance. Knowledge Herself had stepped in, and the flammability of all wood within the Library’s reality space was drastically reduced. The fires that powered the Bookburners were snuffed out in an instant, and there was a worrying moment when all oxidation, and thus all biological life, looked like it was about to stop working in the Library, before the Scripteraphim adjusted the Real’s balance to compensate.

Dominions don’t do anything by halves, the living lightning bolt thought. She slammed into an outcrop, and peeled back into her meat form, feeling her thoughts slow down as her brain coalesced. She closed her eye and attempted another aerospicy, but nothing was apparent. The stagnant currents and stale breezes of the Library, a far cry from the open and living skies of the Malestrom, were unresponsive to her Blue witchcraft. The reading was sluggish, and turned nothing up.

“Dammit,” she hissed, and stepped off the the edge of the outcrop, her feet finding firm air to stand on as Notos, her familiar, coiled from their sleeping pouch, solidifying the air beneath her shoes.

Their voice was low and originated from the air inside her ear.

No luck? A pity.Notos’s words had a tinge of humour to them, and the air smelt of ozone and sea spray. Notos was a Fulminant Sylph, a storm elemental, plucked from the Maelstrom and bargained into her service, as an adviser and friend.

She smirked, leaning into the wind as Notos bore her on their back across a wide plain, and they arrived at the foot of a massive bookcase, resplendent with tomes arranged in a rainbow gradient of coloured spines. “Mmm. Plan B, I think.”

Simple aer-divination had failed, but every cloud of the Maelstrom had a lining of Aeolian Silver. The other plan, then. The Council were going to send their idiot simulacrum agent in a short while, and she wanted to get some reconnaissance in before her colleagues blew the chance to catch the culprit by surprise.

From a satchel hidden beneath her massive grey sweater, she pulled an unmarked black book, wrapped tightly in thin silver chains. It twitched and rattled as she held it out, rustling angrily. Next, she produced an iron key, which she held to her mouth.

Alice Huang,” she whispered through the hole in the bow of the key, which hummed in return, her words setting it ringing like a bell.

She slipped the key into a padlock the size of a thumbnail – one the key would, to look at it, absolutely not have fitted in – and with a shiver, the chains around the book retracted into it, freeing the tome. She turned the opening pages away from her, screwing her eye shut in an attempt not to see the writing that writhed like the living thing it was across the parchment. With a rustle and a flapping of paper, the book’s occupant left, and the vessel crumbled into ash.

The only evidence she perceived of the Book Wyrm beginning its hunt was a rustling of paper in the bookshelves, fading out of earshot as the monster coiled away through the inked words that lined the shelves of the Library.

Never liked Book Wyrms. Creepy.” The shuddering of the air around her head indicated Notos’ displeasure with the whole situation. “And are you approved for the use of attack dragons?

“S’not an attack dragon,” she said, sticking out her tongue, “it’s a search-and-discover dragon. I’d have to be as nuts as the rest of the Council to risk brain-damaging our only lead.”

So, what now?

“I think… Hmm. I think we’ll go look at what the other idiots are doing, and follow any leads they have. Now, back in the bag, we’re going to stop over at the old country on the way back.”

Once her familiar was in place, her form collapsed into a point of light, and with a thunderclap, a bolt of lightning shot away, into the Library, headed for the nearest Causeway.

– – –

Five hours later, a nameless Walker was examining some interesting and out-of-place scorchmarks on some otherwise unassuming bookshelves.

Very interesting,” he murmured, taking a moment to breathe in the vestiges of the stormy Blue magic that had been used so recently in the location, fragments of a Pneuma – a magical ‘signature’, ‘fingerprint’ or ‘scent’. Such a thing was almost completely unique, and nigh-impossible to fake. She had been here.

“The Ram.” He pulled his cloak tighter around his shoulders. “The Ram of the STAR. First Grey and White, then the Hand and the Voice, now this. Why are they so very interested in things now?”

Further observation was, obviously, needed. He made a careful series of notes in a hidebound journal and took another quick look around. Finding nothing useful, he stowed the book beneath his robe and vanished like a trick of the light, without actually disappearing, like the viewpoint had shifted a little, revealing the figure to be just a coincidental shape made by the scenery.

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