The Sorcery Society: Part Three
Neopia Central Library was not significantly different from any other library in Neopia. Located about a mile north of the Bazaar, the building, constructed of red bricks, was nestled on a quaint, picturesque street that also hosted a department store, a toy shop, a toddlers' clothing store, and an ice cream shop, among other ordinary businesses.
Inside the library, not a single thing was even a tad unusual: The bookshelves were tall and crowded; silence and peace abounded; and everywhere, there was the faint smell of dust and age. This was a smell that I was particularly fond of, although it often caused me to launch into a fit of uncontrollable sneezes when I least expected it. Despite this, as soon as I stepped into the library on that cloudless, sunny day, I inhaled the library's smell, dust and all, a smile gracing my face. Citrus had decided to tagalong; she was bouncing on the heels of her hooves, restless and obviously itching to run straight to the kid's section.
"Go ahead," I told her.
The baby Uni flashed me a smile and waved before running off toward the "Kids' Corner."
I made my way over to the reference section, where a petite Faerie Gelert, dressed in a lavender dress with her long, straight brown hair tied into a soft bun, was checking off boxes on a clipboard.
Athy was nineteen years old, and was the kindest adult I'd ever met; never in my life had I encountered someone so sweet and forgiving. The motto that she lived her life by was "Forgive and Forget," something I found fairly unbelievable since the Gelert's life had been marked by one unspeakable tragedy followed by another.
Athy was an orphan, and neither of her parents had died in a manner even close to pleasant; her mother had succumbed to a mysterious illness when the Gelert was young, and her father perished in a freak accident when she was little more than fourteen years old. Before the untimely demise of her father, Athy's little brother had gone missing; the story is that he ran away, but Athy has never confirmed or denied this theory.
As an orphan, Athy was passed from one family member to the next; each wronged her, and one even went so far as to strip her of her inheritance - how, I'm not quite sure. After only a few months of moving from one home to another, Athy left to live on her own, and, after an immense about of struggling, she was able to gain a tentative stability in her life - and, as she would one day tell me, "it is all thanks to the library." It's understandable - libraries do not often hire minors, especially fourteen-year-olds, but Athy was as quiet and hardworking as any adult, and I suppose that is why they made an exception.
I'd been friends with Athy for five years, ever since I wondered toward the reception desk when I was nine. At that time, she'd only just begun her work at the library, and, upon seeing me, she offered me some hard candy and led me back to the Kids' Corner, where my mother, unaware of my whereabouts, was worriedly searching for me. After that, I'd always stop at Athy's desk for a piece of hard candy and to chat before venturing toward the Kids' Corner in search of pretty picture books.
Although the years of hard candy and picture books were over, I still admired Athy. Never once in my life I had ever seen her grow angry or irritated; it was as if she had an endless reservoir of patience stored inside of her. Never had I seen her panic or lose her calm; whenever someone was looking in sheer desperation for a particular book, and, even if that individual happened to be irritating to an extent, Athy was always able to offer them a kind smile and her services. It was something I always admired about Athy - the way she could deal with people. She was amazing.
The Gelert smiled warmly when she saw me. "Bonjour, Emmie. How's Happy Meadows?"
I considered telling her about Ru Ralander's journal, but decided against it. "Okay," I replied.
"That's good to hear. I've heard the houses are selling fast," Athy said, whilst adjusting her glasses with the rectangular frames and fuchsia rims. "So, what can I do for you?"
I briefly thought about how I should word my request. Then I told her: "I'd like to look at some records, on - on an individual by the name of Rudolf Ralander. He used to live here in Neopia Central, I believe." Then I hastily added: "I saw his name somewhere in a book, and was curious. I thought his name was unusual." That statement was actually quite true - I had seen Ru Ralander's name in a book, his name was pretty unusual, and I was curious. Perhaps too curious for my own good.
"Rudolf Ralander? Well, that is a rather unusual name. Anything else?"
I thought for a moment. "Also look out for the names Merah Ralander, Ancti Vendette, and Vidla Maral. Oh - " I paused, as if speaking the name would curse me, "and Jhidaya."
"Rudolf Ralander, Merah Ralander, Ancti Vendette, Vidla Maral, and Jhidaya. Got it. Why don't you come with me into the reference room? Four eyes are better than two."
I smiled, then followed Athy behind the reference counter and through a worn wooden door.
The reference room was dark and musty. Beneath the rancid smell of something rotten, there lay the sickly odor of mold mixed with the stench of some foul liquid. The only light in the room was produced by a single light bulb that hung, naked, from the cracked, concrete ceiling. Even though I had to take a moment to gag before adjusting to the smell, Athy strode forward, unnerved.
The room was small, square, and dark; the walls were unpainted brick, and all around us there were metal filing cabinets, cardboard boxes with tiny, white labels, and wooden crates stuffed full with ancient papers. Athy shut the door behind us before going over to one of the filing cabinets; in a moment's notice, the rattling of drawers being opened and shut filled the room, a strange cacophony of sound.
I went over to the one of the wooden crates that was labeled "R" and pried off the lid. I thumbed through the papers and coughed as a cloud of old dust was blown into my face, stinging my eyes and filling my mouth and nose. I sneezed a few times and sighed. This wasn't going to be a fun ride.
Hours passed, and I vaguely wondered if if Athy was allowed to leave the reference desk empty for so long. I brushed away the thought and tried to concentrate at the task at hand, but my hopes for finding any records about the Ralanders and company were dwindling. Four hours must've passed by the time Athy held up a wrinkled paper she'd discovered in one of the cardboard boxes, and cried out in triumph.
"What did you find?" I asked, more tiredly than eagerly.
"An old page from a copy of 'The Central Gazette' - a newspaper that went out of print a while back! I used to read it when I was little! This article - this article is dated back to ten years ago!"
I felt energized by Athy's enthusiasm and hopped to my feet, striding over to where the Gelert stood. She was taller than me by almost a whole foot, so I had to stand on my tip toes to peek over her shoulder and look at the article, which was crinkled and yellow; the words had faded so that it was almost impossible to read it without squinting. Athy read aloud in an excited, animated voice:
"Dark Faerie Caught! Yesterday, on the 29th Day of Collecting, Jhidaya the dark faerie was revealed by a certain little girl. The malevolent being was disguised as a benevolent light faerie; she planned to take over Neopia Central and make all of its inhabitants her evil minions! However, her guise was uncovered by the fourteen-year-old pink Usul, and her wig was yanked off by a certain Kyrii passerby who, like the young girl, wishes to remain unnamed. Jhidaya was apprehended by authorities - as in, the Defenders of Neopia - and is currently being held in custody for questioning. Let this story inspire everyone to speak up against suspicious sights or activity, just as this little Usul has! Hurrah!"
I raised my eyebrow at the writing style of the author, but my attention was quickly drawn away by the photograph that accompanied the article. It depicted a furious, yet beautiful, dark faerie, struggling against the might of a uniformed DoN officer. The picture was just a crude sketch, which the artist hadn't even bothered to shade in, and yet the aspects of the faerie's facial expressions frightened me immensely: the fury and hatred captured in her eyes; the angry scowl of her mouth; the baring of her fangs...
I turned to Athy.
"Did you find anything else?" I asked.
She shook her head sadly. "No," she replied. "Maybe if you had another name to go by..."
As soon as she said that, something struck me. "Athy! The woods - you know, they tore down half of it to build Happy Meadows - do you know its name?"
Athy tilted her head to the side and thought, long and hard. "Willow Woods," she said eventually.
"We'll look that up," I suggested, a smile suddenly widening on my face. "We'll look for articles concerning incidents in Willow Woods - ones that contain the names of Rudolf Ralander, Merah Ralander, Ancti Vendette, and Vidla Maral - four fourteen-year-olds and a treehouse."
Athy looked at me strangely. I think she was trying to understand why I was doing this, what I was thinking, what, exactly, I was looking for. As these thoughts crossed my mind, I began to wonder the same thing - why was I doing this? What was I looking for? What was I trying to accomplish?
I supposed I was just looking for the end of the story - what had happened to Rudolf Ralander and his friends, ten years ago, on Halloween? I brushed away these thoughts and began to help Athy scour the room for records about incidents at Willow Woods, dated back ten years before.
Only thirty minutes had passed when Athy practically shoved a worn article of "The Central Gazette" in my face. Her face was flushed with excitement.
I took it from her, gratefully. The article was entitled, "A Silent & Unfortunate Event."
I read aloud:
"Yesterday was Halloween. A night for tricks and treats; for ghosts and ghouls; for witches and wizards. A night for children and adults alike, of all various sizes, species, and colors, to dress up in whatever costume they desire and reap the neighborhoods of their free candy. But as we enjoy and celebrate this lovely holiday, it never crosses our minds that somehow, somewhere, something awful is happening - or has happened.
Last night, in the central area of the secluded Willow Woods, a giant tree, which hosted a small treehouse containing three young individuals, came crashing down. The three individuals were sleeping over in their treehouse for the night, and were, at that moment, waiting for their fourth friend to arrive. However, when none of the four youngsters returned home the following morning, their guardians went to into the forest, only to discover the awful wreckage.
However, the bodies of the three teenagers were not found, and the fourth individual, a young girl, has gone missing. The DoN are refusing to disclose any other information at this time, but, when they do, I will inform you immediately. And, in the wake of this unusual and frightening event, only one thought crosses through my mind, haunting me like a silent ghost:
If a tree falls in the middle of a forest, and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?"
So that's what happened. They had been in the treehouse - waiting - and it'd just fallen down? My curiosity was becoming insatiable. Who was the fourth member of The Sorcery Society who had been late to the meeting that night? Was it Jhidaya who caused the tree to fall? Were any of the four ever found?
I looked up from the article to find that Athy was squinting at a thin sheet of dusty, faded pink paper. I peered over her shoulder to get a better look, and found that it was a letter written in elegant cursive.
"It's a letter from Miss Mira Ralander. Did Ru and Merah have a third sibling?" Athy inquired.
I thought briefly before replying, "No, that's their mother."
Athy nodded. "According to this letter, the poor dears stored a lot of books in the treehouse, but there was only one that they found - in the aftermath - that was in decent condition. Apparently, a week or so after the incident, Mira Ralander donated the book to the library." I felt a shiver travel up my spine, cold and quick.
"What book?" I asked.
"It doesn't say. But we have a log for donated books. I can look up her name, find the name of the book, and check to see if it's still in the library. Here, follow me."
I followed Athy back to the reference counter, where she walked over to a small alcove covered ceiling to floor in shelves stocked with alphabetically labeled papers. Turning to a wall toting a small green place card that said "Donations," the Gelert quickly found the R section. Twenty minutes must've passed by the time she found a tiny piece of paper, one with the name "Ralander, Mira" scribbled on it.
"Ah! Now, I just have to check the Book..."
Anxiously, I watched Athy drag a huge, leather-bound book from the corner of the alcove and plop it down with a large wham! on the reference counter. A cloud of dust filled her nose and mouth as she flipped through the pages, but she was unfazed. A moment later, the Gelert slammed the book shut, grabbed my paw, and roughly dragged me through the library's long rows.
We eventually arrived in a small corner of the building labeled "Miscellaneous." Nobody was even near this section, and the books that lined the shelves looked like they hadn't been touched in ages. After rummaging through the shelves for a few minutes, Athy pulled out a book with a look of modest triumph in her eyes as she gently handed it to me.
The book was entitled Making A Spell is Like Laying An Egg.
To be continued...