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The Library - 22
This Chapter: 5,120
And that's a wrap for National Novel Writing Month!
What does this mean? Well, this means that for right now, The Library will be back on hold. With this chapter, all of my pieces are almost
in play, so we're almost to the good stuff and I won't be forgetting about it XD
Buut, there's another project demanding my attention. Chosen still needs finishing. And that sucker's on my mind.
So! If you have not subscribed to my sub, using the comment
And you would like to continue with The Library when this picks up again, leave a comment below on my sticky! I'm going to try and only post update links to comments in response to my sticky, so that I don't spam people who are subscribed to me using the bot
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Going forward, I will be resuming where I left off with Chosen, my main novel.
If you have never tried that story, then I would of course love it if you read the first chapter, gave it a shot. If that's you and you would like to give Chosen a try, this is a link to the first chapter.
If you're subscribed to me, then you should
get updates from me whenever I post anything
here. I apologize if that means you get pinged on a project you're uninterested in.
I think that's enough of a wordwall. If you have any questions, of course, please let me know in the comments below! Their eyes lit up as Owl stepped back into the room. He’d tracked the pair down almost immediately, sending them back to their study like children caught staying up too late.
“Did you find anything?” Gino drawled from his position leaning on the wall. His arms were crossed unhappily. He clearly didn’t appreciate being told to go and wait for Owl to finish. Owl didn’t care. He settled for waving the little slip of paper with one hand. His other arm was occupied holding the enormous stack of texts he’d found waiting for him.
“This should be most of it.” He said simply, dropping the books on the nearest table with a heavy thump. Emma smiled broadly, flashing the Librarian an appreciative glance and a nod.
“Oh! Goodness. This should do.” She said, immediately seizing the first book she could get her hands on and diving in. Owl smiled a little.
“Right. Well. There’s some other stuff out there too, some stone tablets and that kind of thing. I’m not carrying them, mind.” He said, holding up a finger to make that point very, very clear. He was already tired. He didn’t need the stress of that to round off his busy night of keeping strangers out of his home.
“Right, right.” Emma said. Her eyes didn’t so much as twitch, and her attention stayed firmly focused on the book she was reading. Gino didn’t seem to have heard him in the first place, equally engrossed in a roll of parchment he’d found who knows where. Owl just shook his head. They were completely hopeless, but at least they weren’t fighting anymore. He turned to leave. He had things to accomplish with what was left of his evening.
“Where’d you vanish off to?” The voice stopped him short. He looked back over his shoulder. Gino wasn’t looking at him, and seemed every bit as intent on his book as he had a few moments before. But the question had clearly come from him, and as Owl watched, the researcher’s eyes flicked back up to the Librarian.
“Pardon?” Owl said simply, shoving his hands into his coat pockets. Purposefully casual, that was the way of it. Gino just stared.
“You know, earlier. When you left. You were gone so fast. Didn’t expect that.”
“Well, you know. Library’s a big place. Plays tricks on us sometimes, yeah? And besides, you two were the ones who gave me errands.” Owl kept his tone mild and level. It wasn’t a lie. Gino frowned.
“Well, yes...it’s just, I couldn’t have been more than a few moments behind you, and you were nowhere to be found. Surprised me, that’s all.” His eyes were still fixed on Owl. The Librarian could feel the color draining from his face, still safely hidden. Did he know? Was he just taking a random stab, satiating his curiosity, or had he seen the three of them?
“I’m afraid I don’t know what to tell you. As you can see, I’ve fetched everything you asked for, and tracking all of that down took more than a little bit of time. I’m sorry to have missed you. Like I said, the Library is quite large. It’s very easy to become lost, as I think the two of you found tonight. Yes?” He smiled a little as the quip slid out. When he’d found the two researchers, Emma had been nearly beside herself with confusion and the first, ever-growing signs of fear. Gino had just seemed frustrated.
“Right…” Gino said slowly. He still looked unconvinced. Owl leaned back onto his heels. His lips were set in a thin line as he stared down the sullen scholar.
“Was there something else you needed? What was so urgent that you needed to find me that moment?” He settled for asking. For a long moment, the two men glared at each other, standing firmly on the line between passive aggression and open hostility. Owl couldn’t tell where it was all coming from - was this just the way that Gino was, or was he right to be suspicious?
Gino broke first, tearing his gaze away from the white-masked Librarian. Digging deep into his pocket, he pulled out a second sheet of paper.
“Had some other stuff I wanted you to try and find for me.” He said roughly. He was smirking. Owl resisted the urge to say something he’d regret. He just stepped forward instead, taking the sheet and putting it in his pocket without so much as looking at it.
“Of course. I’ll...be right back, then.” He said, though it came out as more of a hiss. Emma was still buried nose-first in her book, completely oblivious to their conversation. Owl turned on his heel, making straight for the door before Gino could make any other ‘requests’.
Not long and they’d be out of his hair, Owl told himself. Not long at all. He just had to put up with them until they left.
The door slammed behind him as he walked out.
“No, no. Not that way. Come on!” Her voice rang out, cheerful and bright despite the mock severity of her words. Stacie jabbed her pencil down at the sheet, marking out exactly where the mistake had been made. Jake groaned, shaking his head.
“I’ll never get this.”
“You will. It’s not that hard. Do it again.”
“Just let me fail.”
“You’re not going to fail.” Daniel said, laughing at the sight of his too-dejected friend.
“He might fail.” Haley said, glancing over Jake’s shoulder. “That seems like a real possibility here.”
“Hey!” Jake spun in his seat, taking a swipe at the girl behind him. She only chuckled, dodging his half-hearted blow easily.
“Hey. Eyes over here.” Ian said, jabbing Haley in the shoulder with his pen. She finally gave up, turning back to her own sheet.
“Damn straight.” Jake said, scowling over at her.
Daniel was still laughing to himself, just sitting back and watching the barely-organized chaos. Stacie glanced back towards him. She was grinning, her eyes sparkling brightly even though they were half-hidden by waves of golden-brown hair.
He thought that this had been a great idea. Stacie had shown him around her ‘group of friends’ - the team. That had gone...fairly well. The other people in the science olympiad club were by and large the painfully awkward variety of nerd. Daniel got enough of that type of person back home. He wasn’t so keen on spending his days with them, too. More than a few times, the thoughts of backing out of the whole thing entirely had wound their way through his head.
Somehow all those thoughts seemed to vanish when he saw Stacie at work, though. She was good. Very good. Almost as good as him. Well, almost as good as he would have been if he didn’t have untold years of study behind him. He chuckled under his breath. Him competing had never been fair. Hadn’t stopped him yet.
Anyway. She had shown him her group, and it seemed only fair for him to return the favor. She’d slid in as easily as breathing, and he couldn’t be more happy about that. Jake was happy, too, as long as it meant he had another tutor to save his bacon at test-time.
Their eyes met as she caught him staring at her. His breath caught, just for an instant. She smiled, ever so slightly, a different expression entirely from the grin she’d had moments before. And then she was off again, putting in all her effort into hammering Jake straight on the example problem.
He tore his eyes away from her, turning back to his friends. But he couldn’t seem to get his mind to follow suit.
The curse slipped out before he could stop himself. Frustrated, he stopped himself an inch before his fist slammed into the keyboard. It wasn’t the computer’s fault, and if he broke the school’s machine he’d never hear the end of it.
The great Librarian, having to code on a beat-up old box in a school library. The irony of it all was not lost on him, but however much it rankled he knew it was just something he was going to have to deal with. He needed to put time into his work if it was ever going to make the transition from Alexandria’s dream to something actually functional in the outside world.
Time that always seemed just out of his grasp. Lately it was one thing after another - School projects. Team meetings. Chores provided by his so-thoughtful parents. And when he tried to work at the house with the tiny scrap of his evening left, Sam would always, relentlessly find something else to occupy his time with. Or, Jeff would come in and insist that it was too late, and time for him to head off to sleep for school the next morning.
All in all, it meant that he was getting exactly no work done, and that was a problem. A problem that staying late at school had been able to solve, even if it was poignantly undignified for a man of his stature.
Still irritated at it all, he resumed clattering away at the keys. One of his books, smuggled out of its hiding spot, was faintly visible under the monitor. Most of what he was working on he could do by memory, but there were still a few things he needed to double check.
He wondered where Stacie and the others had gotten to. They were probably long gone, he thought sourly. Most everyone was. Not him, though. He could just picture them now, all sitting around some table somewhere. Jake telling a stupid joke. Stacie laughing at Jake telling a stupid joke.
The keyboard screamed its complaint as he jabbed at the letters far harder than was strictly necessary.
“Still here, Mr. Christensen?” A voice behind him asked. He flinched, shooting up several inches in his seat. Forcing himself to breathe, to slow down, he glanced back over his shoulder.
The librarian, of course. An older woman by the name of Marge. Given how much time he spent in here, she’d quickly made it a point to set him straight on how things would go in her library. And, well, he’d shown her grudging respect, as a token of their shared position in life. Sure, he might be nearly all-knowing and tasked with keeping the sum of human knowledge safe, while she was tasked with keeping high school students from looking at porn during class hours, but they were both keepers in their own way.
“...Yeah.” He said, plastering an innocent smile onto his face. “Just have a few more things to finish up.”
“Not tonight, no.” Marge said, glaring at him good-naturedly from across the room. “School’s closing. Time for that tomorrow.” She was wandering closer. He saw her eyes focus in, her brow wrinkle as she peered through the darkness. “What’s that you’ve got there?”
Daniel’s heart skipped a beat as he realized his notebook was still laying out on the table under the computer monitor for all the world to see. Scooping it up with what he hoped was careful nonchalance, he tucked it carefully into his backpack.
“Oh- Nothing. It’s nothing. Just some notes I was transcribing. For Jake. You know how it is.” He said, grinning disarmingly and shaking his head. Marge chuckled.
“If he’d only read the notes you made him for once, he wouldn’t be an inch from falling back a year.” The old librarian said, her eyes full of humor. Daniel laughed along, clearing his project from the computer’s history with a few purposeful keystrokes. No sense leaving traces for a particularly bored student to happen across. Marge didn’t see all that well, and it was dark in the library this time of the evening. He had to trust that coupled with the distraction making fun of his friend provided, he’d be in the clear.
Indeed, she simply waved as he slung the backpack over his shoulder and made for the door with a final nod goodbye. He could see her shutting off the last few computers as the library clicked shut behind him.
He could feel the edge of the hard-bound notebook pressing into his shoulder as he booked it for the exit. His heart was still pounding in his ears. Too close. His books were too precious, far too advanced for even an exceptionally gifted high school student to be walking around with. He needed to be more careful.
The cold blast of night air hitting Daniel’s face stilled his nerves somewhat as he blazed a trail for the house.
The chair creaked as Daniel leaned back too far, pitching it up on two legs. The walls of Alexandria rose high over him, chock full of texts and books. That didn’t change anything. He couldn’t stop fidgeting.
He’d been in the Library for years. Too many years to count, and more than he really wanted to see added up to a grand total. He simply settled for acknowledging the fact that he’d been inside the walls of the Library for many, many years. And yet, it was just now that it was really beginning to sink home.
He was bored.
He’d never felt anything like it before. There had always been something - another book to read, another guest to entertain, another magical technique to practice. A project in urgent need of his attention. Even when his guests had struggled with the isolation and the monotony of it all, he’d never really processed the emotion before. He’d looked in at them from the outside, a complete stranger to what they were feeling.
Every time he picked up a book, there was a heavy weight down in the pit of his stomach. It just felt like he was treading the same tired ground he’d been walking in circles on for millenia. It was all the same information, the same story retold in a slightly different way. The guests that he once struggled to handle, the ones he had deliberated for hours to select, all seemed to blur together one after another. Occasionally, he’d run into one who was actually interesting. Very rarely, he’d find another Lenny, someone he had to keep a close eye on.
But by and large, they ran in the same mold. Placid, dull, and boring. They provided a tiny bit of relief from the endless silence of Alexandria, but nothing that approached real conversation. He shook his head, rocking on his chair.
If only the Library could talk to him, he thought. It would surely have some good stories to tell.
The thought made him grin, if only for a moment.
And it gave him an idea.
Daniel grinned, more broadly this time. Success. It had taken him months of work - something he had expected, but dreaded. No matter how perfectly the Library simulated the minutiae of the outside world, there were bound to be some discrepancies. Discrepancies that would otherwise seem small, but could throw real wrenches into his work.
Even with his absurd, limitless wealth of experience and raw time to throw at the problem, he’d feared for a while in the middle of it that he’d hit the wall. All the time he’d poured into this little pet project of his, both in Alexandria and out here, would all be for nothing. The fears had nipped at his heels, driving him onwards. He was not going to go back to the start. He wouldn’t allow it.
And now, with the simple, basic interface churning away methodically in front of him, he could finally lean back with a smile of satisfaction.
His interface worked. The programming inside it was sophisticated - his first real draft. It would go out and reap the benefits of all the information it could find, legally or...otherwise. He had been very careful. He covered his tracks. And after it had rendered the piles of data into something useable, it would deposit it at his fingertips. The rigs he had stacked into the room had been expensive, carefully saved for and purchased piece by piece. An investment, he had told himself. One that very soon would begin turning a profit for him.
With one last check to make sure that everything was working properly, he turned away with a smirk. No sense in spending any more of his precious time staring at the screen. No. He had other things to tend to.
Tenderly, almost reverently, he picked up the small, half-uncased object sitting on the back of his desk. He’d made quite a bit of money from his online adventures, coding and programming and marketing his creations to whomever he could. He was making a name for himself, alongside all of the money. And he hadn’t spent it all on his main rig.
Daniel cradled his latest work in his hands, gingerly draping it on the front half of the desk. It wasn’t done yet. It wouldn’t be done for some time yet. But it might be close enough.
He checked the power, made sure everything was connected properly. It should be communicating. It should be ready.
“Hello, Alexandria.” He murmured, half-under his breath.
He could see a dim light reflecting against his keyboard as a tiny screen on the far side lit up to the sound of his voice..
The group that gathered in the little restaurant on the edge of town was small, but loud. They weren’t the partying types, by and large, but on a day like that they made do. They’d won. The geeks had seized the day, at the last minute Winning was a new experience for most of them, and they were milking the moment for all it was worth. The still-nosy Mr. Hines had bought the team pizza.
Daniel hung near the center of the group, as cheerful as the rest. He masked his discomfort at the noise and business of it all with practiced ease, shoving a slice of pizza down his throat. As often as he could, though, he cast glances over his shoulder. Stacie was lurking there, chatting with one of her other friends on the team. A smile spread from ear to hear on the girl’s face. She glowed with the light of it.
“I just wanted to say- Quiet, guys! Quiet!” Mr Hines roared, from the front of the battered little dining room. The cashier glared at him from behind the counter for his bellow. “I just wanted to say how proud I am of how you all performed today! You’re all…” He prattled onwards, all the standard, familiar niceties and compliments. Daniel had heard them all before. He ignored the teacher, chuckling with the students seated on either side of him.
He’d carried them through, of course, with his well-timed last-second saves and his little study groups. Not that any of them would notice, naturally. He had made sure of that. If he was too up front with the sheer scale of his contributions, then he’d be seen as an arrogant asshole. And, well…
Daniel glanced backwards again. Stacie was laughing, her head thrown back as she shook with the force of it.
He couldn’t be seen as an asshole. No, sir.
They filed out of the pizza place in ones and twos, making for the oversized school van. He trailed behind, nearly at the end of the group.
He could hear her behind, still laughing with her friend. His heart pounded too-fast in his throat, a staccato rhythm. He wouldn’t be surprised if half the team could hear the hammering of it. He was the Librarian. He’d dealt with crises before. He’d fought off fires, and grasped explosions in the palm of his hand. People had tried to murder him. Why, then, did talking to her seem so much more terrifying than any of those things?
“S-Stacie.” He said. Tried to say - it came out as little more than a strangled squeak. Stacie meandered onwards, not so much as turning.
The van doors were sliding open ahead. He could see Mr. Hines climbing in the driver’s seat. He was almost out of time. Now or never, Librarian.
“Stacie!” He gasped. It only half-sounded like a cat whose tail had been stepped on.
Stacie turned around. She looked confused at first, scanning the group for whoever had called her name, but then her eyes settled on Daniel.
“Dan?” She said, falling back. Her friend lingered a second, tittering a little, and then latched onto one of the other boys.
“Could-” He coughed, clearing his throat. “Could I talk to you? Just for a second.”
She didn’t respond, only nodded as she stepped back towards him. The first slam of a door echoed across the parking lot as the forerunners of the team clambered into the van. They were alone. Well, alone but for the other students, whose noses he could see pressed to the glass windows. Watching them.
He opened his mouth, and stopped. He didn’t know what to say, dammit. He’d run the words around and around in his head, things he should say and what the stories had told him she’d want to hear. He’d had it all planned out. And now, seeing the way her eyes glowed under the street lights, all of the pretty words he’d practiced fled.
“I-” He started again, and a second time was caught in place. The red was spreading from Stacie’s ears down across her cheeks, and he knew that his entire face was cherry red to match. Her eyes flickered between his face and her feet, unsure as to where they should rest.
“I-I was thinking.” Daniel stammered. “Next w-weekend, there’s a-”
The blaring of the van’s horn cut him off, sending him flinching and twitching at the sudden shock. He could hear Mr. Hines laughing.
“Hurry it up, you two!” The teacher called. Daniel hadn’t thought it possible, but he flushed even more red.
“You said next weekend- The orchestra concert?” Stacie interrupted, seemingly unwilling to wait any longer. Daniel bobbed his head feverishly in confirmation.
“I-wondered-if-you-might-like-to-go-with-me.” The words escaped him in a nearly-incoherent, breathless rush. Get a grip on yourself! He screamed mentally. This was embarrassing. He was the Librarian, not a snivelling teenager. “C-could get dinner beforehand.” He knew she loved the orchestra at their school, and many of her friends would be playing. It was all he could think of, when he spawned this ill-fated plan.
But to his surprise, she was nodding, a faint smile on her lips as she tried to rub the blush from her cheeks.
“I’d...like that.” She said. The van honked again, cutting off whatever she was going to say next. And the other students were hanging out the windows now, jeering. Daniel flipped them off from over her shoulder, earning raucous laughter from the kids and an angry yell from their teacher.
Daniel wasn’t sure he’d have been able to say anything else, even if he’d had words ready to go. Given that his mind had settled into a hazy blur - He had a date - he settled for falling in behind Stacie as she raced for the van before it could leave them behind.
Owl cursed softly to himself. He glared at the walls around him. They stared impassively back, as walls are apt to do.
Again. This was the fifth time, now. He’d go out, into his own damn Library, and find strangers poking around. At first, sure, it was just Carson or Brad, and things seemed amiable enough if a bit forced. They’d wave, and greet him cheerfully. For his part, he hadn’t kicked them out the front door as he so dearly wanted to. He’d just gritted his teeth, put a smile on his face, and waved right back.
Alexandria liked them. That was his only consolation, the one thing he told himself to make it a little less intolerable. Alexandria liked them, and if the Library was happy, then he was happy. Of course, he’d be happier if they would follow any sort of schedule, or respected any sort of reasonably boundary.
The last two times, there had been others with the two. A woman, with dark skin and long, glossy black hair, and a pasty red-haired man who’d been attached to Brad’s shoulder the whole time. College friends, he presumed. He was keeping half an eye online, now that he knew it was a problem, and so far he hadn’t seen the two men spreading stories about Alexandria to the world.
When he’d spotted their little group the last time, they’d been poking around the door to his room. His room. The red-haired man was in Owl’s overstuffed chair by the fire, dammit. It wasn’t right.
He pursed his lips, still glaring unhappily. I know you like them. He tried speaking directly to the wood-paneled walls in the sitting room. But could you at least, I don’t know. Keep them under control? Not let them in here? They can study all they like, within reason, but why do they need to be here?
The walls didn’t respond. They were walls. He continued glaring at them anyway.
He leaned forward, ready to begin his silent argument anew, when something interrupted him.
The bells. The grand bells at the front of the Library, the bells that announced new visitors. They were ringing, filling the little sitting room with deafening noise.
He sat up straight, double-checking the mask was properly hooked to his hood. With all of the strangers that had been wandering around Alexandria, he had taken to wearing it constantly outside his quarters. It was hot, and itchy, but he just couldn’t take the risk anymore. At moments like this, he was glad for it. One less thing to worry about.
Who could it be? He just couldn’t place it, as he worked his way up towards the entrance. It wasn’t time for a new guest. He hadn’t even been sent the documents for a new guest yet. Was it the Library responding to his complaints about the constant, undisciplined intruders? Because if it was making them actually use the door now, rather than just appearing and vanishing from the Library whenever and wherever they pleased, he’d get right down on his knees and kiss the floor where he walked.
With the collegiate wanderers on his mind, his surprise was total and complete as he pushed open the door to the little annex.
Indira turned around to face him. She had been examining one of the chandeliers with all the apparent signs of interest.
The years had been at work on her too, Owl noted dispassionately. There were new wrinkles lining her face, and a patch of grey was blossoming at her temples. But her eyes were still bright and sharp. She clutched a leather-bound folder to her waist under clasped hands. More from force of habit than anything pressing, Owl guessed. It was too small to carry much of anything at all.
“Oh! You’re here already. Good. Good.” She said. She was smiling as she stepped gracefully across the room towards him. He slid his hands into his pockets. He might appear casual, but he knew that if she tried anything he’d be more than ready. Not that he had any idea what she would be here to try in the first place, but, well. He couldn’t place any reason for her to be here, period. That worried him. He didn’t like unpredictable.
“Good evening, Indira.” He said smoothly, holding out a hand as she approached. Owl noted with a slight smile that he now stood a head higher than her. She noticed it too. He could tell from the way her eyes tightened, just a little, and how her smile suddenly turned wry. She took his hand, shaking it firmly. The silence stretched on as she stood there. Watching him.
“To what do I owe the pleasure?” He finally said, sliding his hand back into the warmth of his jacket.
“Well. It’s been some time, hasn’t it?” Indira said, beaming up at him. “Can’t I stop in and say hi to my favorite Librarian?”
Owl paused, narrowing his eyes.
“Well...you could, yes. But you never have before. So you’ll forgive me for being...surprised by you showing up.” He sized her up carefully. She seemed sure of herself, like always. But there was something in the way her hands flexed around her binder, the way she shifted her weight from foot to foot. She wasn’t comfortable, even if she had been trying to convince herself that she was.
“How about we just skip all of the bantering and back and forth we’re about to do, and you skip to the part where you tell me why you’re actually here?” Owl said, deciding that blunt would probably suit him better than polite. Indira was the Guildmaster, but she was still a scientist. If he went straight for the point, she’d probably follow suit.
Sure enough, the wry grin seemed to be poking around the corners of her mouth again.
“Straight to business, I see. Well. I suppose that’s…” She trailed off, seeming to collect herself. “It seems that things have been going smoothly, wouldn’t you agree, Librarian?”
“...I suppose so.” Owl said warily, still watching her. He wasn’t really convinced of that, no, but the last person who needed to hear about his struggles around the Library these days was Indira.
Unless she already knew? He couldn’t shake the thought of it. He was an idiot, thinking he could just keep everything quiet and have it all work out. She was smart. She had connections. Of course she’d find out.
He pushed the insidious thoughts away. He knew nothing of the sort. Before he got himself all worked up over assumptions, he’d damned well let the woman speak.
She smiled up at him.
“Right. So it seems, anyhow. I’m very glad that things have worked out so pleasantly.”
“...Right. I got your notes.” Owl said blankly. He could picture the thank-you notes she’d sent him clearly.
She bobbed her head in agreement.
“Yes, very good. Well.” Her fingers gripped the leather-bound binder again. Owl watched with more than an idle curiosity. “Seeing as things are going so well, I….” She brushed her hair back from her ears. Owl leaned back, letting her take her time. “I- That is, the Booklender’s Guild has something we’d like to discuss with the Librarian. You.”
She held the little leather binder out.
“We have a proposal for you, Owl. We’d like you to hear us out.”
submitted by Inorai