Bookworms by W Jay Fuller

Smiir and Stanton, a warrior and a ranger with a penchant for books, find themselves being followed by an unusually eloquent bird creature; by W Jay Fuller.

"You do know someone is following us," Smiir said.

"Of course," I growled. "I am a ranger, you might recall."

We continued walking along the wide path through the thickening forest. Or rather, I walked, and the enchanter glided, his robe never dragging nor rising, but forming a kind of seal with the ground. "It's a harpy," I continued, finally. "Probably from that village we stopped at last night. Caught sight of him about two hours ago. I think he's trying to get up the courage to approach us."

"Not to attack us, I hope. He's not that large a bird. Would hardly make a good lunch between us," the enchanter observed. "And he isn't a harpy, Stanton, he is a Karura. Very different, although they may share a common ancestor."

"Whatever." I waved off his attempt at educating me. "Unless he wants to club us with a book, he's not equipped for it. I didn't see any weapons."

"A weapon of mass instruction," said Smiir. "It would certainly do some damage to you."

I chose the mature, high road, and stuck my tongue out at him.

As we walked we automatically gave the graveyard a wide berth, although it really didn't look that intimidating, being tangled and overgrown. As a rule of thumb for boneyards in the wild, the better the landscaping the more dangerous. Don't mess with someone that can get the undead to mow their lawn.

This one probably just had a herd of aging zombies and ghosts, or their equivalents, depending on its consecration. Maybe a revenant or pack of ghouls hanging around too. We could handle about anything we might encounter, but it was always messy. Blood, gore, mucus, and other various biles and oozes were a bitch to get out of the nooks in chain armor before they dried.

"You said he had a book?"

I nodded. "I didn't see much more than its shape. About the size of one of Mercurious' tomes but a lot thinner."

"Most books are thinner than Merc's books."

We had just set foot back on the main path going north when the tranquility was split by a commotion in the cemetery behind us. I sighed. "It's gotta be our shadow. I'd better get back there and save him." I jogged into the graveyard drawing my swords as I went.

I hate old zombies. Whatever it is that holds zombies together - and, according to a Necromancer I knew, it can be one of several things - fades over time if not reinforced occasionally. Being more decomposed than your usual mobile corpse they were often lumped in with skeleton-type monsters, which aggravated the Skels no end.

The harpy was holding his own when I got there. He was wielding what looked like a femur he had probably wrested directly from the original owner. Zombies, in general, are not tool users.

The war cry I use to surprise and terrorize my intended targets had no effect on the decaying undead but made quite the impression on the harpy who wheeled in my direction and clubbed me in the side of the head, effectively cutting my whoop in mid-whoo.

From there, fortune took over in that I didn't cut myself on my swords as I fell, and I fell on the last of the zombies still ambulatory, putting them out of commission.

I rolled over, holding the side of my head, and struggled to my feet. The bird held the femur half raised and his attentive, sharp eyes were focused on me. I carefully leaned over to pick my swords out of the twitching, rotted mess, wiped zombie bits off on a nearby clump of grass, and sheathed them.

"Nice swing, kid," I said, rubbing the developing lump on the side of my head. The bird stood about nose height on me, mid-chest high to Smiir, I guessed. His feathers were so black they had a blue sheen to them. The orange beak was short and sharp, with predator's hook. Eyes were set forward, allowing him a good binocular field of vision.

"Good afternoon," Smiir said from behind him. The bird whirled and raised the long bone. His back now to me, I stepped forward and plucked it out of his hand - or wing, I wasn't quite sure which. He spun back in my direction. His speed was incredible.

I handed the bone back to him with a smile as Smiir floated up. The enchanter quickly herded us out of the graveyard. "Let's get a little distance between us and them." He motioned at the fetid pile. "Only a matter of time before they get it together."

"I need to clean my armor soon," I grumbled at Smiir.

"We'll find a good spot where we can set up and talk with our new friend without being inconvenienced by, uh, local ruffians."

"It's gonna dry in my armor and I'll never get the stink of rotting zombie out of it," I whined. "It doesn't take too long for you to take care of it." A perk of hanging with an enchanter is that he had some handy spells, one of which cleaned my armor quite nicely.

He leaned toward the bird as we walked. "Stan can get so grumpy sometimes. Squawks more than a manticore with a bent tail." That got a smile from the bird, who had yet to speak a word. "You're the resident woodland expert, Stan, you go find something."

We settled in a small clearing well off the road. "About time," I grumped, after Smiir cleaned us up. He'd tried to teach me how to do the spell once. Whether it was my lack of fine digital flexibility, or a ranger's natural high-magic inaptitude, my attempts to cast the spell had been less than successful.

Well, that was being charitable; on my first attempt, whether it cleaned my armor and underclothing remains a mystery as they disappeared completely, leaving me naked. The second turned them inside out and doubled them in size. There was no third try - if they could get larger then they could also get smaller and I didn't want to be wearing them when that happened. I left it to Smiir now.

The bird's tension visibly eased as Smiir and I went about our well-practiced routine of setting camp, although he still kept a wary eye on us even as he pitched in to help. With a fire warming a pot of tea and warding off the evening's chill, we sat.

"Tea?" Smiir asked. The bird nodded. "My name is Smiir, my companion here is Stanton." He handed a cup of tea to him expectantly.

"I am Erik." His voice had a mellow, sandy quality to it.

"You followed us from town," Smiir said, more a statement than a question, but the bird nodded in reply.

"It couldn't be for our sparkling company or dashing good looks," I said, smiling. "Smiir's at least."

Erik pulled the large book from his pack. "You have a book too," he said.

I reached into my pack, laying nearby, and pulled out a book, smaller than his, but thicker, titled 'The Adventures of Vertimer Mackelford'. I always carried a book when I travelled. Despite my breakneck swashbuckling lifestyle I tried to find time to read. Ok, the truth was that I had a lot of time to read while I tromped around muddy and drippy forests.

I held it out to him. He looked at it, then at me, and held out his book. We exchanged.

His was a child's alphabet book. Entitled 'Letters for Lugs' with a picture of an armored dwarven girl holding an axe on the cover, her helmet emblazoned with the letter 'A'. Opening it to the first few pages I read; 'A is for Axe all covered in red. B is for Beast we whack until dead.'

His beak moved slightly as he read my book, obviously having difficulty with some of the words. "Can I help?" I asked him. He looked up at me abruptly. I imagined I could see a slight line of pink at the base of his beak. Realizing I may have embarrassed him I followed up quickly. "It's a tough book. I had lots of problems with big words." I moved over next to him and, looking over his shoulder I pointed to a word. "'Portent'. I thought that meant a ragged canvas cover."

I was hoping for another smile, and almost got one. "What does it mean?" he asked.

"It's like an omen. A sign that something will happen."

"And this word?" he sounded it out carefully. "Ack-cum-oo-lah-te."

"Accumulate," I said. "To collect. When we went to gather fire wood we accumulated wood."

He did smile at that and we spent some time sounding out and defining words. Erik was a quick study and much of the time, once he got the pronunciation he already knew what the word meant. He had an excellent vocabulary for a harpy, he just hadn't been exposed to reading.

The sun was down and Erik began yawning. I got him settled in a corner of the large tent and went back out to sit by the fire.

"What do you think?" I asked Smiir in a low voice. We were concerned with disturbing Erik's sleep rather than his overhearing us.

"A bird of few words."

"He was sure adding to that pile in a hurry," I said. "Smartest harpy I've ever met. Most polite one, for that matter."

"I told you, Stan, he's a Karura," Smiir sighed. "They're pretty shy to outsiders. You saw their village, if they didn't need metals I doubt they'd trade with the rest of the world at all."

"But his book..." I trailed off, absorbing the implications of what Smiir had said. "Someone left it."

"Or gave it to him, yes. It's probably the only book in the village. Did you see how hungry he was to read yours? My bet is that if there had been anything more advanced he would've been carrying it."

"Then my book..." I trailed off. Smiir interrupted my absorption.

"Yes, yes, he was following your book," he said. "I don't know how he intended to steal it. As disorganized as your pack is, he wouldn't be able to find it."

"Well I'm not trying to make the next issue of 'Luggage Monthly', elf." I waved in the direction of his matched set of designer packs. "He wasn't going to steal it, anyways. I made sure he knew I saw him behind us, but wasn't going to bother him." I leaned in and refilled my tea. "You enchanters really miss a lot of what goes on around you."

"At least I don't bolt off chasing rabbits at the drop of a leaf."

"That's only when I'm in wolf form, and you do like the stew it makes, as I recall," I huffed. "So what is so important about a book that he'd follow it out into the wilds? He tried to go through a graveyard, for Kishar's sake! He's obviously never been very far from home."

"The words," Smiir stated. "The first thing he did when you handed him the book was open it. He didn't bother with the cover or title, he went straight for the story."

"I'd give it to him if I could, but it's a library book, and you know how Miss Overhammer is about me losing books." I cringed in mock fear.

Smiir chuckled. "Merc mentioned that Librarian Lily was considering pre-charging you for losing the book when you checked it out."

I grimaced. "At least I've lost them in the most exotic places possible."

"There was the one you threw at that golem tiger."

"Uh, yeah, but she got that one back."

"In several pieces and covered in slobber."

"I was surprised at that too. Who knew that golems slobbered?"

"You could have bought a small castle for what you've paid in replacement costs to the library, Stanton."

"And I've gotten much more enjoyment from the books than I would've a castle," I said. "Drafty old things." I shuddered. As a ranger, a few nights in a building were fine, but any more than that and you would find me camped out on the roof under the stars.

"Well, if I can't give him this book, then let's go get him one of his own."

"Quite right," Smiir said as he rose and banked the fire. "Erik probably keeps bird hours, so we'd best expect an early morning."

We approached the southern bridge that led into Mercurious' estate. It was an estate only by technicality as it amounted to little more than old stones in a fortress-like pile that he lived in, surrounded by several square miles of mostly untamed forest and streams. I loved the place and usually stayed somewhere on the grounds when I wasn't travelling.

"What a rickety old thing," Smiir grumbled as we converged on the bridge. "I usually transport in to Merc's castle directly," he told Erik, "and don't have to deal with all this..." he waved a hand vaguely, a look of distaste on his face. "Nature."

I grinned and punched him good-naturedly in the shoulder. "Yeah, if you didn't feel sorry for the magically-challenged like me you would never touch dirt."

He scowled at his shoulder. "And it wouldn't touch me." He brushed at the spot. "Someone has to keep you out of trouble, Stan."

As we got closer to the bridge, a troll unfolded himself from beneath it. Standing at least nine feet tall, it grinned around foot-long, sharpened tusks.

Finding Erik directly behind me and Smiir close behind him, I said, drily, "Not to worry, I'll save you."

Drawing my weapons, I edged around, angling for the bridge entrance. The troll, noticing how menacingly I was waving around my swords, backed away, growling and swiping his huge paws in our direction as he did.

Carefully sidling between the bridge and the troll I saw our chance. "Run!" I shouted. "I'll fend him off until you get away! I'll meet you at Merc's." Seeing Smiir want to protest, I barked. "Go!" Smiir glided across the bridge at a surprising speed. Erik was already on the other side waiting for the enchanter, eager for the escape.

Turning my attention back to the troll I said. "How's it going, Harley? Long time, no see."

"No' bad," said the troll. "I take it that's th' Master Smiir, eh, suh? Master Merc said you'd be travellin' wi' him. Who's th' snooty elf, though? Din't say nothin' bout him." He gave a rumbling chuckle in the direction of their receding backs. "Shoor put th' fear in 'em, ya did."

"Thanks for playing along there, Harley. Most fun I've had in weeks." I grinned up at him as I sheathed my swords. "Smiir is actually the elf. The bird is our new friend Erik." I had gotten to know Harley some time ago during a slog through the Nordlands following the migratory path of the Slegroot plant. During the winter they pulled up bulb and went north to dig in to the freezing ground and hibernate until spring when they up-rooted and crept back south. Mercurious was thinking about ranching the dangerous vegetation and sent me to collect information on its in-the-wild habits.

As for Harley, he had been huddled under the last vestiges of a tumble-down bridge that forded a shallow, icy stream that was so small you could step across in many places; no bridge required. The starving troll had attacked me, my being the only hot meal he'd seen in days, but was shivering so badly he could barely hold his club. Fending him off easily, I'd built a fire, warmed him up, and fed him.

It hadn't taken much to convince Mercurious to let Harley live under one of the bridges on his property - provided the troll kept all three of them in repair. To the untrained eye, the bridges still looked as decrepit as they'd ever been, and that was a point of pride to Harley. In truth they were rock-solid but, as he put it, 'Iff'n dey t'ink it's wobbly dey wi' slow down makin' it easy to catch 'em.'

"I better get in there before they tell Merc and he blows the whole thing." I reached up and clapped him on the shoulder. "Good to see you, Harley. I'll probably be camped in the orchards while I'm here. Stop by if you think to."

Smiir's scowl told me Mercurious had let the cat out of the bag, or rather, troll from under the bridge. "A run now and again does ya good, 'chanter. All that teleporting around makes you flabby." I grinned at him as I swung my pack into a corner and hung my swords on a peg near the door.

Erik barely seemed to register my entrance, entranced as he was by the books and charts and scrolls piled on tables and chairs and in the bookcases lining the walls. He was methodically reading titles and occasionally referring to a small book he carried that I recognized as my old travelling dictionary. Merc must have found it and given it to him. I couldn't think of a better use for it and would be sure to thank the cantankerous wizard later.

"About time you got here, ranger," Mercurious grumped. The voice was far too large for the gnome it came from.

He sat on a tall chair in front of a work bench on which sat a normal looking back pack, its interior exposed and full of gears. It was smoking slightly. While Mercurious may have been the most powerful wizard in the region, probably even further afield, his talent at mechanisms consistently proved to be indiscriminately dangerous.

"Nice to see you too, Your Surliness." I flopped into a chair. "I see your fashion sense went off its medication." Merc's robe was bright orange and had little pictograms of hammers, wrenches, and screwdrivers all over it. "You look like one of those road safety cones they use in Thulgrest. About the right size, too."

"What? Oh, this. Lily bought it for me. Said I was burning holes in my good robes so I needed a dedicated mechanic's robe."

"Speaking of whom, how is Miss Overhammer?" I asked. Mercurious and Miss Lily Overhammer had become 'an item' after she, in her capacity as a Librarian, had come looking for an overdue library book.

"Quite well, quite well," he said. "She took over as Chief Librarian while you were gone. The coup was nearly bloodless."

"A difference from past, ah, promotions. Most of management is usually, uh, retired," Smiir said. "I had no idea she aspired for the position."

Merc looked embarrassed. "Well it was kind of my fault. The old Chief's fault really, but... Well, I mentioned I was buying a book and she got mad and... I mean..."

Smiir fixed the wizard with a suspicious eye. "Got mad? Was Chief Librarian Bleeg the 'nearly' part of 'nearly bloodless'?" Merc gave a hesitant nod.

"And you were just buying a book?" Merc's head bobbled enthusiastic affirmation.

"And you have absolutely no idea why she was mad about that?" It wasn't a nod nor a shake of the head but a sort of figure-eight. My neck hurt just watching it.

This was getting good and I wanted in on it. "Were you buying a book from Bleeg?" I asked.

'Uh..." Merc said to the floor.

"You have got to be kidding me." Smiir rocked back in his chair.

"'Spell Juxtapositions: Never Fat Finger a Cast Chain Again!' it's an out of print classic! How was I supposed to know it was a library book?"

"The Chief Librarian selling books isn't the least bit suspicious to you?" Smiir asked.

"And you didn't think to run it by your librarian girlfriend?" I added. "No wonder she's pissed. You're damn lucky your guts are too short for garters, Merc."

"Yeah, though Lily may not be done housecleaning." He shuddered then sighed. "I don't know how I'm going to make it up to her."

At that moment my attention was caught by Erik, across the room, turning the page of a huge book on a pedestal. It gave me an idea.

"Merc, what does a Librarian love more than a book?"

"Garters?" he said.

Sighing, I grasped the gnome by the shoulders and pivoted him around to face Erik. Hands still on shoulders, I leaned in. "A reader."

Merc's translocation spell deposited us in a large tiled area full of people and other assorted monsters. Behind us was a line of doors that I knew led outside to a huge portico and an expanse of stone stairs that ran down to a large square and then to the street. In front of us we faced a line of check-out and information desks. Beyond them was the Thulgrest Public Library, Central Branch.

The Thulgrest Regional Public Library System was the largest public library system in the world and boasted hundreds of branches in some far-flung locations. It was so well known and respected that the Librarians rarely had to resort to violence in conquest of public libraries to absorb or private libraries to 'repurpose'. With some of the most learned magic-users and assassins on the Library System's staff, few would dare.

"We'll get one of the Desk Librarians to take us to Lily through the Back Halls," Mercurious said and started toward the closest Info Desk.

"Hang on there, short and stuffy," I said. "I don't care how many extra steps you'll bitch about taking, but this is Erik's first time here. Let's take the long way. If it's too far, have Smiir carry you." I winked at Smiir's horrified expression and turned my attention to the arugala, uh, karabu, er, the harpy.

"Welcome to the Thulgrest Public Library, Erik!" I swept my arms out, encompassing the expanse of shelves, books, and library patrons - each of many sizes, shapes, and configurations. "There is more knowledge here than anywhere else in the known world. From books on weaponizing your garden, to books that will try to enslave you when you open them. Well, all books do that, really. I'm a slave to a good story, but that one's a bit more proactive about it."

Smiir's tall form glided across the marble, radiating every bit of power he could and clearing a way through the throng. We followed in his wake passing by the desks and onto the main concourse.

I pointed at the huge stone archways along the three walls. "Practical Sciences and Alchemy down that way, Divining and Symbology through there, Heavy Magics and the Administration sections are down the center hall. Practitioner rooms, book vaults and such are upstairs." I leaned sideways toward Erik as we walked to line up perspectives as I pointed. "See the symbols and numbers along the halls and on the end of the shelves?" He nodded. "Learn to read those and you'll have the key to learning anything, and always have a book to read."

The Librarian guarding the door to Administration knew Mercurious on sight and, after a quick exchange, passed us through. Most of the Librarians and support staff were in armor. Merc said this was common after a 'Leadership Transition' and would gradually fade over the next few weeks until the staff were only carrying their usual weapons.

I'd never been in the back areas of the Library but could tell which office was Miss Overhammer's right away. The door had been ripped off its hinges and was propped next to the doorway. It showed spots on it where I assumed a nameplate had been. That nameplate was probably the one that read 'Chief Librarian Bleeg' and now adorned a decorative steel pike in a weighted base sitting to the other side of the empty door frame. Mounted on the pike was the head of the former Chief Librarian.

Merc knocked on the door jamb with all the calm of a snow bunny giving a hellhound dental hygiene tips. "Lily? Dearest?"

"What do you want?" came the gruff, but dulcet, reply.

"I've got someone here you should meet, honey." His voice barely quavered.

"If it's anything like the lot you hang out with, then I'm busy." Merc grimaced and mouthed "Sorry" in our direction.

"He's a karabi, uh, karrotee, ah, kurling -"

Just as Smiir leaned over and began whispering in Merc's ear, Miss Overhammer appeared in the doorway. "Karura? Why didn't you say so?" She humphed at the gnome and turned her full attention onto the bird. She looked Erik over. Noticing the dictionary he was clutching, her eyes flicked to me, then back to him with a curt nod of approval.

She extended her hand. "I'm Miss Overhammer."

Eyes wide, he reached out a tentative hand to shake hers. "Erik."

"Well then, Erik. Why don't we go into my office and get comfortable. I've never met a Karura before, and certainly not one with a book." She gestured us toward a seating area adjacent to her desk. "Don't mind the blood-stains, they'll be redecorating next week. It's dry by now anyways." She smiled a disconcertingly pointy smile.

Miss Overhammer, besides being the new Chief Librarian, was also a Thought Horror. Tall and lithe, she had gray skin, piercing red eyes, talons (painted a conservative burgundy), and multiple rows of very sharp teeth. The gray wool skirt, white starched blouse, hair-in-a-bun, half-glasses on a chain, and of course, sensible shoes, rounded out the picture.

"So, tell me, why have you come to the library today, Erik?"

"Actually -" said me, Merc, and Smiir simultaneously.

She cocked an eyebrow and her gaze pinned each of us in turn.

I took the plunge. I left out the part about Erik following us and started with the graveyard incident. I'm sure Smiir appreciated my neglecting to mention his run from the bridge.

"Erik is really smart, ma'am, and he wants to read. Mercurious immediately thought of the Library." The damn gnome better be thankful. "And you were the person he most trusted with a new-ish reader. He was telling us on the way here about how reading habits have long-term positive effects on all aspects of our lives."

The eyebrow shot up again and her gaze moved to Mercurious who was looking apprehensively hopeful. Red eyes back on me, she said. "So, Mister Bowmaine, you are telling me that it was the Wizard Mercurious' idea to bring Erik to the library and to me?"

"He fairly insisted on it, ma'am."

She held my eyes for several month-long seconds, then grinned her too-many-sharp-teeth grin. "You're not a half bad liar, Stanton. If you weren't trying to lie to a Thought Horror."

"It was worth a shot, Miss Overhammer." I cautiously smiled back. "Merc told us about the book and -"

Merc interrupted. "I can take it from here, Stan. Thanks for trying. I'm really sorry, Lily. I didn't mean for all this to happen."

Erik hadn't exactly tuned out of the conversation, but he wasn't exactly listening, either. He was, after all, in the presence of a good number of books. This included a tub of various titles that had been shoved near the seating area, probably during the recent commotion.

Sitting next to him, I watched as he reached in to the tub and pulled out a book. He opened it on his lap and turned to the first page. Reaching for his small dictionary he suddenly went still. Before I could blink, one of his taloned fingers was poised next to a small hole through the pages. A worm fuzzed into existence inside the hole and Erik deftly dipped the talon in and hooked it out, flipping it into his beak to crunch it. At least I think that's what happened, it occurred so quickly.

He did the same thing twice more; talon poised, worm fuzzed in, hook, flip and crunch.

Apparently I wasn't the only one fascinated by it as I saw Miss Overhammer watching Erik too. Perhaps noticing the lull in the conversation, Erik looked up, his eyes widening, probably worried that the worms had been being saved for something.

"You're quite adept at that, Erik," Said Miss Overhammer. "You've had practice."

The bird nodded. "There are Phase Worms near my home. These are like them, but smaller."

"Thankfully so. Are there any more worms in that book?"

"No, Miss Overhammer."

"Are you certain?"

"Yes, ma'am. I see where they will cross this phase. There are no more crossing points in this book." Erik reached into the tub and pulled out another book. "There are no crossing points in this one. There are in the rest."

"Where they cross this phase?" At his nod her eyes kind of lost focus for a moment. Her attention returning, she smiled at Erik. "Would you like to work at the library, Erik?"

"Uh..." he said. His beak gaped slightly.

"You can read all you'd like and, unless you'd prefer to live with one of..." she made a motion that encompassed Merc, Smiir, and I, then paused. "No, I think not. We have quarters here at Central for you," she finished.

"I can stay at the library?" The bird sounded breathless. "And read everything?"

"Not quite everything. We have books that give even Mercurious difficulty - quite the rough customers. Fortunately there are enough left over to fill several of our lifetimes." Miss Overhammer traced a portion of a brass sigil that was inset into a corner of her desk. A small ball of energy coalesced above the symbol. She leaned forward and whispered to it. It pulsed green, then turned red and sped out the door.

Miss Overhammer smiled at Erik. Not a too-many-teeth smile, but one of those smiles that made you forget she was capable of flaying your mind as easily as she could flay the rest of you. "Let's get things started, shall we?"

Reaching in to a desk drawer, she came out with a small brass card. Placing it in the middle of her desk, she reached over and traced a different portion of the desk's sigil. Another little ball of energy materialized. This one looked subtly different. More spikey, perhaps.

She whispered to this one too. It pulsed green, then turned blue and zipped to a spot a hand-span from Erik's beak. I flinched worse than Erik did. The spikey ball floated left, staying a consistent distance from Erik's face. Erik turned his head to follow. The ball sped up - Erik tracked. It zipped the other way - so did Erik's attention. I knew from when I'd gotten my Library Card that our little energy Spike was just trying to study Erik's face, but the bird had the speed to frustrate it mightily. Giggling would probably be frowned upon, so instead I nudged him. "Keep still. It won't touch you, it just needs a good look-see."

After giving Erik a head-to-toe going over, Spike zipped back to the desk and splashed into the card. Miss Overhammer picked up the newly etched card and carefully bit it across one corner, leaving two curved rows of dents.

She handed it to him. "This is your Library Card. Don't lose it; it's how The Library remembers you. I'll introduce you formally tomorrow. It will also allow you to travel the Back Halls." She smiled, pointedly. "If anyone gives you a hard time show them the card and tell them I will be glad to bite them so they can compare the tooth marks."

A small kobold knocked on the door jamb and the Chief Librarian waved her in. Slight and covered with short brownish-gold fur, she had a wide snout and tall ears. Even measuring to her ear tips, she probably only stood to my chin. She wore a green pants suit and, of course, sensible shoes.

"Erik, this is Emma. She will get you settled into a room and show you around. In the morning we'll go about setting your work and school schedules."

Erik gasped. "School?"

"Of course." She looked stern, but there was an unmistakable warmth to her voice. "You'll need a good education to read some of the books you'll be reading."

Erik beamed.

The Chief Librarian turned to the kobold. "If you'd get Erik situated in quarters, please. Get him a good dinner, too - no telling what these three have been feeding him the last few days." She began to shoo Erik and Emma out of the office. "First thing, though, is to go find a book, Erik. Maybe two. Emma will show you." She made a quick hand signal that Erik couldn't see but Emma could. The kobold's nod was barely perceptible.

"Wait!" I rocketed out of my seat. Realizing I had everyone's attention in the room, including Miss Overhammer's, my mouth went dry. "Uh... Can we visit? I mean... Maybe Erik can come for a weekend sometimes?"

The librarian's look softened. "Of course, Stanton." I saw Erik smile and nod.

"We could take Erik on, uh, educational field trips, and -"

"Don't push it, Mister Bowmaine," she said, and waved the Karura and the kobold out the door.

With Erik gone I felt we'd lost a measure of protection. No more compulsion for Miss Overhammer to exercise politeness. I scooted away from Merc fractionally. I think he noticed.

Smiir spoke. "He sees dimensions."

The librarian nodded. "Emma is one of our best enchanters. She'll be a good gauge on how powerful he is and if he's trainable. Or if he even wants to be trained." She leaned back in her chair. "I've never met a Karura before, so for all I know phase-sight is a species trait. Did you see any evidence of it when you passed through his village?"

Smiir shook his head. "Though we weren't looking for it, either." The high elf looked at me and grinned. "Ready for another trip south?"

While Smiir and I debated the route, and the relative merits and hazards of taking Mercurious along with us, Mercurious was busy agreeing with anything and everything Miss Lily was telling him.

"She didn't exactly forgive you, wizard," Smiir said as we exited the library's admin office area.

"She did agree to dinner," he said.

"Worked out pretty well for Erik," I noted. "A job exterminating the Phase Bookworms, room and board. Full-time school too."

"Being paid for out of my coffers," Mercurious groused.

"And you'll insist on a top-notch education," I told him, deciding the matter.

"You should be glad about that," said Smiir. "She might have begun his studies with Internal Gnome Physiology. Her office was already decorated for vivisection."

"Very funny, elf," Merc said.

"Well, rather than having to listen to your plaintive bleats and watch you grovel, I could have had a sandwich."

I was appalled. "Smiir! I thought you only ate free-range gnome."

Smiir reached over and pinched the top of Mercurious' hair-fringed bald head. "True enough, Stan. This one's pretty fatty anyways." As we descended the stairs in front of the library, the tall high-elf pointed at Dobbin's Diner and Specialty Meats across the street. "I suppose a kebab will have to do."


  1. I liked that the story mixed fantasy with the practical elements of getting a job at a library.

    Ben Finateri

  2. Thanks! I actually didn't expect to build a library when I started writing the story, but when it showed up I realized I had a great setting that could even be a character in future stories. Fortunately, working in a mundane library gives me an edge on knowing the magic required.