The Muted Library
The blast of cold air from the insides of the library made the Strawberry Zafara shiver. Quickly, he shed his dripping cloak, mindful of the librarian's chilly stare. It was the season of bad weather again, but he had not thought twice before braving the storm: there were things more important than himself that he needed to think of.
With a disapproving sniff, the librarian waved him off to the cloakroom at the side. They must be getting this weather often, or else they wouldn't had needed to install the cloakroom, thought Zabini as he dried off the best he could near the heater. Why would anyone built a library on a wet mountaintop was confounding.
Now reasonably dry and leaving much less puddles behind him as he walked, Zabini went to see the librarian. Brusquely, she gestured to the book spread open on the counter, obviously annoyed at being disturbed from her novel ('Little Rainbow Maidens', an odd choice to people unversed in the gleaning of subtleties hidden between the lines. The Zafara was rather impressed).
A guestbook of sorts; he quickly filled it in, signing off the name 'Zabini' with less flourish than usual. As he set the horrid pink pen down, he noticed a little blue card stuck to counter-top. Printed neatly on it was a short sentence: 'Do you know the Price?'
He looked up to see the librarian pegging him with an intense glare. Did she want an answer? He nodded anyway.
With that, she waved him off, and stuck her nose in her book once more.
The library was magnificent, every bit worth the gruelling trip and the attached seasickness to get there. The floor was covered by a lovely velvet carpet, and the tables and chairs made of solid mahogany and peach-wood. Stylised lamps lent a soft glow to the library, lighting it just enough to make everything seem warm and homely.
Best of all were the books: they perched on bookshelves that covered the entirety of the walls, with hardly an inch between them. They were lined in book holders around every available table top, leaving just enough space for a Neopet to read. Children storybooks and past year exam questions, novels and textbooks, dictionaries and recipes, spellbooks and encyclopaedias, each one was properly indexed and slotted on its rightful place as far as he could see. There was everything from the newer texts to ancient manuscripts, the more fragile and valuable of the scripts preserved in glass cases. He even caught sight of two volumes of the first-edition of the Grimoire of Affluence, books that were said to be non-existent at the current time. It was a haven for scholars and readers world-wide, and technically free to be used by all.
It was a pity that all this knowledge had to be hidden so well away. It had taken him over two years to track it down, and he had been more fortunate than most. Not everyone had unrestricted access to classified archives, nor the patience to go through part of Finneus's impressive collection for something that had almost no chance for being there. Zabini counted himself lucky that he wasn't coming to the place with a thinning fur. Then again, he was rather pressured for time.
Before he could start looking for the right section, someone from a shelf laughed.
The Zafara stilled, lamenting his luck. It would seem as though the rumours were true: in his search to find this particular library, some of his sources spoke of a Library Faerie tasked with gathering materials for the library throughout the world. For most of the year she would be in some far-off land with her band of Flouds in search of new tomes and manuscripts to add to her collection, but the few weeks she spends in the library itself she spends tailing its visitors and generally distracting them.
Ingrained politeness forced him to turn with a smile.
While most of Neopia's Faeries were the size of humans, this particular faerie would have easily fitted into the palm of his hand. She was pretty as all faeries are, with glossy wings and a heart-shaped face beaming with an army of freckles. A pair of spectacles hung around her neck and she carried a large compass needle on her shoulder.
"Hey there, young'un," she trilled excitedly, waving the needle like a sword. "Looking for something?"
Deciding to make use of the offered help (and maybe just to be rid of the noisy creature), Zabini took up a feathered quill soaking up ink in a nearby pot to scribble on a bit of parchment. The faerie's brow furrowed upon reading the scrawled phrase, and she looked curiously at him. "By any chance, are you a friend of that Cybunny who came a few days before?"
Zabini tilted his head quizzically.
"You know, that one with the nasty pipe I had to remind to put out. The guestbook said that his name was Yerst. Reminds me of bread. But no matter. I have just what you need. Come here!"
He followed her though a maze of books, attentively scanning the spines of any reading material he could see. No good. Not a single book was out of place: the Flouds must have been hard at work. He'd have to search for the Spellcraft section before he can get another lead.
Something collided painfully with the side of his face, and he winced. Backing off, he noted that the 'something' was a sign, and that his legs had apparently carried him to his desired section of the library. Or more accurately, the library had brought him there. This was a place of magic, after all.
The faerie was nowhere to be seen, although he did spot a flash of pink a couple of stories above. Taking advantage of her distraction, he started looking.
There was plenty of material in this section. He chuckled silently when he saw his sister's work on Qasalan Curses slotted between a journal and an old manuscript given a brand new spine. It was only published the week before. Even if she wouldn't show it, he knew that she would be flattered to hear of this.
His well-practised eyes scanned the brimming shelves as fast as he could walk, right hand tracing the spines in an old habit picked up during his apprenticeship. Twice he stopped, both times removing a thick volume and flicking through it before replacing it dejectedly.
Third time was the charm. Eagerly, he climbed up the librarian's stool to peel off the reference book he wanted: Old and New Shenkuuvian Form-Altering Magic, by T. Ribbon. He opened the book.
All of a sudden, a glass bead in a clear plastic bag tumbled out of the table of contents. Zabini fumbled around with it before sticking it in his pocket for safekeeping so that he could properly read without hindrance. With gentle hands, he then turned the page.
The Zafara blinked and squinted, and when that didn't work, ignored Cyra's teachings and rubbed his eyes. If the story ever gets out, he'll protect himself by saying his eye-drops weren't on hand. But more importantly, it didn't help. The words remained somewhat blurry, and despite fluently speaking nine different elder languages and reading another twelve, he found himself thinking the scriptures indecipherable.
And why did he feel so drowsy? A nap suddenly seemed like the best course of action to take.
Someone was angry. The kind of angry that Verity got when she found that her spell-books had been misplaced, and everyone knows never to get on a sorceress's bad side. Fierce purple light flared through his eyelids, and he vaguely felt a return to consciousness, which was quickly hasten by a scream in his left ear.
He jolted awake, immediately smacking his head against the bookshelf and curling up in pain. The faerie finally had the sense to stop her shooting, but she still looked furious.
"Get out!" she shouted, flying at his face and brandishing her admittedly dangerous needle. He ducked out of consideration of his face's well-being. "What were you thinking, staying overnight? Your twelve-hour limit is almost up!"
He glanced at his watch in surprise. The faerie was telling the truth: it was nearly dawn, and he had only eight and a half minutes left. It would have to be enough.
Glancing around, he spotted the book by his feet, and flipped it open. Just as he suspected, it had been laced by a one-time use sleeping spell, moderately strong. Whatever residue that remained he removed by dusting, and began speed-reading the contents. The faerie fluttered closer, curious.
"Is that the book you were looking for?"
Disappointed, he shook his head.
"What? Give me that!" she snatched the book back, leafing through its pages with a maniacal frenzy. She halted within the first quarter of the book, temporarily frozen in horror.
Sketched on a page was the picture of a smoking pipe.
The air seemed to crackle, thunderous. "That insolent creature! Why, that Cybunny swapped the covers of this book with one of his own! What a scandalous treatment of a book! My only copy too: does he not know how difficult it was to get this- oh no you don't!"
In the middle of her ranting, Zabini had tried to slip away, but the faerie froze him with a shot of magic. "I need your help," she said firmly, flying close to his face. "Find that Cybunny, and get me my book back. I'm not going to have this black mark irreversibly staining the library's reputation."
Three minutes left, and who knows how accurate these ancient curses were. Not seeing anyway out of this, and far too soft-spoken to protest, he nodded. The faerie smiled in triumph.
"It's a promise." He found his limbs movable again and thus ran as quickly as he could, between bookshelves and up a small flight of stairs, squeezing past a massive mountain of books on the floor where the airy faerie had spent most of the night cataloguing new material before remembering that she had both a visitor and a request. He pushed hard against the double oak doors, politely dipping his head to the sleepy-looking librarian as he swung by the cloakroom, grabbed his things and ran out into the rain.
No change yet. Panicking, he tried moving a few paces away from the glass door entrance, working his throat all the while and trying to get even just a single note out of his vocal cords.
It took a few minutes to be able to choke out a raspy, quiet 'hello', but it was enough to make him sink down onto his heels in relief. The rain had lightened into a drizzle. He took a few moments to listen to his own heavy breathing, enjoying the sound before it grew quiet enough to be washed away by the slapping of water into puddles.
Well now, books aren't going to find themselves. The Zafara heaved himself to his feet, swung his cloak over his wet self and began the tedious climb back down the mountain. Since he had promised the faerie, he had best get a head-start on following the only lead he had. The name was bothering him though.
Why does it sound so vaguely familiar?