Chelsea Dunlin Library, St. John University. Fallcoast, ME. June 22, 3:15 PM.
It's cool and rainy, which is strange for two days after the summer solstice but not unwelcome. Summer session classes are far from demanding and the general study on the main floor of the Neo-Georgian building. There are always books to be put away. There are always books to be found and put on hold for one professor or another, marked not to leave the library under pain of beeping alarms and dirty looks. It's one of those books that has Jacob venturing into the basement.
Special collections. It seems like a terrible place to store books, but the basement isn't an poorly lit abattoir for literature. There are row after row of glass sealed, hygroscopically maintained, temperature controlled cases that store the special collections. Two volumes: Artephius' Key of Wisdom and Remigius' Daemonolatreia.
Darn tootin' there is some proper climate-controlled storage around here. Jacob might break into hives if there wasn't. The name of the first manuscript rings a bell; the second, he's familiar with. His key ring jungles as he makes his way through the rows, finding the correct case for Artephius' Key of Wisdom and twisting the key in the lock. That's one, tucked away into the crook of his arm. The second's just as easy to find.
Good books are hard to find. Books about how to prosecute witches panned by a corrupt French judge and a treatise on preparing the Philospher's Stone are unusual requests, but the Library's archives are stunningly comprehensive. Enough to merit a mage to be on the lookout for magical tomes. Work done, it's just down the aisle to the elevator.
A shadowy figure steps out from behind the last row of books, blocking off the aisle and standing between Jacob and the elevator doors. Thirty feet of open space separates them, and yet unnatural shadows cling so thickly to the figure that it's almost impossible to discern more than her gender: female, and hair color: bottle berry red.
"Of course St. John's has them," she says. Her voice is unfamiliar and it lifts the small hairs at the nape of Jacob's neck.
Well, that's interesting. Jacob opts to play dumb, reaching up to rub the bridge of his nose. "I'm sorry, this area is off-limits." He tips his chin toward the elevator with a pleasant smile, all nattily attired in his suspenders and dress shirt. The tie's too loose to make him look really official, though. "Why don't you step onto the elevator with me and we can talk about anything I could help you with on the way up?"
"I don't think so. Place the books on the ground and back away." Her voice is as cloaked in shadows as she is, but nothing disguises the aggressive set of her shoulders as she slowly begins walking toward Jacob and the books in his arms. Nor does anything disguise the flick of her wrist that extends the collapsible baton from the size of a petite flashlight to just over a foot and a half in length. She trails the knurled metal tip across the glass as she approaches.
"Last chance, librarian. No one has to get hurt." It would be nice if that were true. This is no way to check out a book.
"Seriously?" Jacob asks, stooping to set the books down on the floor. "Can you not pick a lock or break a case open?" Straightening up, he does not back away. He moves forward, hands flexing in mystical gestures that are like second nature to him. Advancing book nerd, twelve o'clock.
The shadowy woman stops and cocks her head to the side, as if listening to something only she could hear. Then, fast as a whip, she cracks the baton against the glass of the case to her right. A thick spiderweb of cracks knits through the glass. The top part of the shattered window collapses, sending glittering jewels of glass inside and outside of the case. The bottom remains intact, jagged and grinning like a skull as she walks forward.
She takes much longer steps this time, advancing on the books (or maybe Jacob) with intent. The baton is held back just so, ready to strike. The time for words seems to be over.
"I supposed I did ask," Jacob says, lips tugging into a frown as adrenaline surges. The unnatural shadows concern him, really, but it seems like an odd approach for someone that might be able to see the protective energies around him. Jacob brings his hands up defensively and keeps coming. The baton also concerns him; he'll probably take a hit just getting in range to try to punch her.
The shadow kicks glittering glass across the floor at Jacob. None of it flies higher than his knees. It clatters against the shelves and their intact cases. Shiny specks pelt the cuffs of Jacob's slacks. It's a distraction ploy, but the mind knows what glass can do and the flash of light on the pieces is hard to ignore.
Mages are good at focus. Perhaps they're even good at telling the future, because Jacob's prediction comes true. With a flash of brilliant red hair and a sweep of shadowy limbs, the steel baton a poisonous black sweep of pain. The tip misses Jacob's rear thigh by a fraction. Instead, that knurled tip collides with his inner thigh on the extended leg. Nerve clusters and arteries in the leg sing with pain and tingle numbly. It's like a kick meets the funny bone, but this isn't funny.
"Stay down, librarian," she orders. Cold, but without malice.
A flash of pain, nowhere near as bad as it would have been for a regular person, makes Jacob hiss with pain. He drops to one knee. "Can't," he says. "This library has rules, Miss." She is clearly not going to sign those books out properly. Now, will she walk past him? Because that's going to earn her a tackle.
Shadow seems just arrogant enough to try, crossing the side opposite his injured leg as one might try to avoid a traffic cone or a banana peel. Had he taken the full brunt of the strike, there certainly wouldn't have been enough strength left in that leg to propel him into her. At this distance, even the shadows can't cover all of her. Fair but not pale, striking but not quite pretty. She's a little hard for pretty. Leather jacket, leather pants, leather boots with a short heel. The kind of heel that can hurt, if she makes it. It opens her up to the tackle, though going too hard is likely to send them into the glass on the floor or into an entirely different (and currently intact) glass fronted cabinet.
Jacob throws her a solid helping of manbrarian, though he tries not to send them careening into a cabinet. The amount of collateral damage in here is already going to require more explanation than he generally cares to give... then again, this is Fallcoast, so maybe administration will just roll their eyes and wave it off. Perhaps he could say she fell. If he could pin her, that would be great. "Those are some nasty books in the wrong hands," he says, because why not have a conversation.
Shadow wraps her arms around Jacob's torso as he drives her back, glass sticking up from the carpet in ugly, tiny slivers as they both go to ground. The glass digs into her leathers, scratching at the false skin as she pushes up at Jacob's weight. She bows her spine, bracing heels and shoulders to lift him up before she drops one side, rolling over to straddle him instead. She holds the baton in both hands, like a bar, pressing it down almost to his throat.
Glass digs into unseen forces, protecting Jacob's sixth-favourite work shirt from getting scraped up. For now. The librarian flexes his fingers oddly again, reaching up to grab at the baton at his throat and rewrite the object's integrity. "What do... you want... with the books?" he demands, words not coming easily due to the struggle with the leather-clad woman on top of him.
The woman pushes down on the baton, and Jacob is given the choice of no longer using rote mudras or letting the black steel baton pin him by the throat to the ground. "I was asked to get them. I'm getting them," she says through clenched teeth. They war with muscles and weight. She has the advantage of leverage and pushes down with all the weight she's not settling on his hips. "Stop fighting and forget the books."
She narrows her eyes, just pale slits in shadow. Not an offer to be repeated.
"By. Whom?" Jacob demands, free hand's fingers twisting, his grip on the stick tightening. Steel begins to turn brittle, fracture. This could hurt. "Are you certain you want to do this?" Blue eyes fix on hers, finding her in the shadow.
The baton shatters like so much thin ice, raining metal fragments down on Jacob and the floor around him. Shadow's fists slam into the floor on either side of Jacob's head with the sudden momentum change. It brings her face close to his--inches away, really, and inside the veil of shadows. Brown. She has brown eyes and they stare right into his. "You're not worthy to speak his name," she hisses, the words coming with the rapidity and formalism of rote.
Shadow lifts one leg and kicks it down, doing a handspring over the prone librarian and rolling to her feet in front of the books. She gathers them into her arms and looks over her shoulder at Jacob.
Jacob rolls, pushing himself up into a crouch. "Well, that smacks of a cult or something along those lines," he says with a grunt, straightening up. She's so... acrobatic. He is not. "So what you're saying is... you're somebody's bitch?" His hands flex again as he talks, drawing up the lens of supernal vision to examine his shadowy foe. For now, he's not pursuing.
Magic clings to her, roiling like smoke and shadow as it plays along her skin like fog on the lake. There's no sparkle to her aura. No brightness. Nor even any dimness. Try as Jacob might, there's no aura to be seen at all.
"What I'm saying is that I have the books," Shadow corrects. Then she smiles. It isn't a nice smile.
Behind Jacob, the elevator dings...
Jacob's eyes narrow. "You have nothing. You are owned." And there's someone coming down behind him in the elevator. Probably not help for her. Probably someone ordinary. She hasn't been inclined to hurt him and he's fought her, so as long as whoever's coming down doesn't piss her off even more, he figures it will be okay. He can call security, just like procedure, and they will probably not catch her, but hopefully they will live.
Ding goes the elevator a second time, and the doors open with a soft clunk. "Jesus, what a mess..." mutters a voice. Shadow stands immobile, arm wrapped around the books and the other hand behind her back. Reaching for... something.
"Lucien?" The voice is familiar. Then the light thuds of someone running across the thin carpet. Light and springy steps flavored with crunching glass. "Don't just stand there!"
Another figure, lean and athletic, dark hair in a ponytail flying behind her as she sprints past and toward the Shadow. But Jacob can already see it's too late, magic boils up behind Shadow, like magenta and hunter green ink tossed into a pool of clean water and left to mingle but never quite blend. The world bows sickeningly, pulling at the inner ears of both mages in a wave of nausea as geometry changes and 360 degrees no longer makes up a full circle.
It's a damn potent magic and only a couple seconds to react to it.
"Watch out, she's----" Jacob – Lucien, to Pam, who is Jessica to him - starts to warn, but he's cut off by the nauseous warble of reality that enshrouds them both. His eyes snap shut, like he's a kid that's spun too fast in a chair and he's trying to drown out the conflicting information between his eyes and inner ear. That doesn't seem like a helpful thing, however, so he opens them again and lurches toward Shadow anew. Pam's here to tag-team a tackle this time, though his odds of making it aren't great.
Not great at all. Reality warps in on itself, geometry stretching to the non-euclidian for a sickening moment before everything snaps back into place. Like a spider launched by a rubber band, Shadow is gone into nothingness and a fading wisp of the magenta-green magic that boils away.
Lady Jessica, clearly not intending to run into Lucien here, skids to a stop on the fractured glass, several feet shy of the apparating bandit. Too late to do anything about it. She's wearing a tailored business suit, dark with slacks and low heels, with her hair pulled back in a severe ponytail.
"I'm..." she says, looking at the glass, Lucien, the vanished woman, and then back at Lucien. "I'm not even sure where to start. You work here?"
Jacob steadies himself by planting a hand on the nearest glass case and takes in the Lady Jessica and her business suit. He blinks a few times. "Yes. The books weren't worth getting seriously hurt for. Were you chasing her specifically? "He pauses to adjust his suspenders. They are not meant for the level of pugilism he got up to today.
Jess presses her lips together, stilling the smile pulling at the corner of her lips as he adjusts his suspenders. Business first. "Not until the door opened," she says. "Do you need help with this mess or can you just... Matter it back?"
She looks around, concerned about covering tracks at the moment. It's a mess. Bad for her, as a stranger. Bad for him, as an employee.
Jacob reaches up to rub the back of his head. "Nnnn. I could, with some effort, but she did all this with a baton." He waves his hand vaguely. "And she took two books. I have to report those stolen, so it might be better if there's a mess to show for it." He glances around a little more. "Maybe you overheard a kafuffle and got here in time to find me knocked out."
"I shouldn't even be down here," Jessica says. "I'm sneaking away from a meeting to come look for a couple of books. Let me guess, she got the Daemonolatreia and Speculum Alchemiae?"
Jessica pokes at the shattered baton with her toe, nudging the splintered pieces. Metal doesn't really splinter that way and it's weird as hell.
Well, maybe that. The baton. Jacob debates leaving it and playing dumb for it, too, but he winds up stooping and collecting the pieces. "It's fine. You heard something down here, you came down like a good Samaritan. And she got the Artephius' Key of Wisdom and Remigius' Daemonolatreia. Was that the Daemonolatreia you were looking for?" Were these the droids you were looking for?
The Lady Jessica raises her eyebrows, but then gives a little shrug. If you think it will work. "What is the Key of Wisdom? The Speculum Alchemiae was an alchemical manual written by Francis Bacon. Probably. It supposedly contains the instructions on how to use magic to stabilize certain super acids. I'm not a Moros or a chemist, so don't ask me how it works. The Daemonolatreia, though? It's a book on how to jail, test, try, and kill witches. Magi." Us.
She spares him a small smile, but it's a worried smile meant to reassure her as much as it is to reassure him.
Jacob gathers up a few more pieces of baton. "The Key of Wisdom has to do with the Philosopher's Stone. Again, neither is incredibly dangerous on its own. Just bits of truths. So you were at a meeting here?" He looks up, arching an eyebrow. "What is it you do?"
"I'm a commissioning editor. Like most universities, you carry a lot of our trade and technical journals. Actually, if it's published stateside, it's probably us. I was going to meet Harvey Brinkmann about an anthropology paper we wanted him to write," she explains. "I don't really care about the article, but we'd publish it and I wanted to get down here. So..." She gestures and widens her eyes. Sooooo, indeed.
"Who was the woman?" The sixty-four thousand dollar question.
"I have no idea," Jacob tells Jessica, now holding most of the steel baton. "But someone put in a request for it, and that might be a link to her somehow. I'll have to look into it." Frowning, he straightens up and finds himself a trash bin. Glancing inside it, it has enough junk to cover up the steel shards, so he dumps them in and adjusts the other detritus to cover it. Hopefully that works. "Can you do me a favour?"
Jessica looks up from the mess. "Probably. Don't say you want me to knock you out. I'm not into that kind of thing." She smiles again, a little more her and a little less what the hell behind her lips this time.
"Are you sure? I can be terribly annoying. Also, it's going to mean more questions if I claim to be surprised and I don't have a scratch on me." Jacob closes his eyes for a moment, letting the protective spells dissipate. Opening his eyes again, he adds, "Just think of it as pre-emptive hitting? It'll be okay. You can buy me a drink after."
"I feel like I should charge you for this. Where do you want it, tough guy?" Jessica isn't entirely buying that he can't just fake it, but... he's one of the Wise, too. She'll trust his judgement. Besides, how often do you get a chance like this?
"Fine. I'll buy you a drink," Jacob says with a smug smile. That's just how his face is. With the smug. He turns around away from her and gestures behind his head. "Pretend I'm a book nerd who's in your way and you're surprising me before I turn around and get a good look at you."
"Okay--fuck, she's back," Lady Jessica says, eyes narrowing into serious slits. Of course, it's theater. The moment Jacob turns to look and starts to turn back, she clocks him about medium right in the breadbasket. The solar plexus of nerves, just below the ribcage, isn't a knockout punch but it doesn't lead to broken teeth, cracked jaws, or concussions either. Instead, it quickly and immediately robs you of your breath, your ability to regain your breath, and the urge to stand up. At all.
She hits like a girl, but that's no slur. The kind of girl she hits like usually only shows up in comic books. Tell everyone that Huntress or Black Canary did it.
Jessica stands over him for a long moment, making sure he isn't going to die. then crouches down carefully and puts a hand on Lucien's shoulder. Did he even call security? Is anyone coming down here? "I hope you know where the cameras are," she mutters. "All of this needs to disappear unless you can explain magic to your boss."
Jacob's legs buckle; he drops to his knees. She hits REALLY HARD. A strangled little noise escapes him. He rubs the back of his head when he touches him. "Sonuvabitch. Ow. Yes. Gotta call security, too. Are your hands made of cement?" It's kind of admiring, really.
"Maybe I should get knuckle tattoos that say "HUGS" and "KISS", what do you think?" Jessica will help him up. Help him, if he needs it, to a phone. He'll be wheezy and out of breath and tender for several more minutes. Plenty of time for security to get here. Turns out the only camera on this floor points at the elevator and there are none in the stairwell. Chelsea Dunlin Library will scrutinize what they can, repair the cases, and eventually chalk it up to the same weirdness that infests the town, never realizing it's the start of something much more insidious than that.