Sneak Peek: The Librarians and The Lost Lamp by Greg Cox

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The Librarians and The Lost Lamp by Greg CoxFor millennia, the Librarians have secretly protected the world by keeping watch over dangerous magical relics. Cataloging and safeguarding everything from Excalibur to Pandora’s Box, they stand between humanity and those who would use the relics for evil.

Ten years ago, only Flynn Carsen, the last of the Librarians, stood against an ancient criminal organization known as The Forty. They stole the oldest known copy of The Arabian Nights by Scheherazade, and Flynn fears they intend to steal Aladdin’s fabled lamp. He races to find it first before they can unleash the trapped, malevolent djinn upon the world.

Today, Flynn is no longer alone. A new team of inexperienced Librarians, led by Eve Baird, their tough-as-nails Guardian, investigates an uncanny mystery in Las Vegas. A mystery tied closely to Flynn’s original quest to find the lost lamp. . . and the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

The Librarians and The Lost Lamp will become available October 12th. Please enjoy this excerpt.

 1

MacFarlane’s Brewery was located in an out-of-the-way corner of Old Town, several blocks away from the more touristy stretches along the city’s Royal Mile. The sooty brick building and its towering chimneys dated back to Victorian days. A rich, malty smell leaked from the cracks in the ancient masonry, and a chill autumn wind carried the intoxicating aroma down a dark, empty street to where Flynn Carsen stood watching. It was well after three in the morning and the brewery was closed, but that didn’t matter to Flynn. He wasn’t looking for a drink.

Not that I couldn’t use one, he thought. Considering.

A lanky, boyish-looking fellow in his early thirties, he contemplated the brewery while a chilly breeze rustled his unruly brown hair. The night was cold enough that his breath misted before his lips. He tugged a rumpled trench coat tighter around his body and found himself pining for, say, the sultry warmth of an Amazon rain forest while he considered his next move. He had come straight from the Writers’ Museum on Lawnmarket, only a brisk walk away, where an unauthorized, after-hours visit had revealed that somebody else had gotten to a certain rare manuscript before him. Flynn was pretty sure he knew who had beaten him to the punch—and where they had probably gone to roost.

Duncan MacFarlane was the eccentric owner of the brewery and something of an avid collector in his own right. He and Flynn had been competitors of a sort, both in the pursuit of the same lost manuscript, but Flynn represented the Library, which had a legitimate interest in acquiring said manuscript for the good of all humanity. MacFarlane had his own personal agenda, which was what really had Flynn worried.

If that manuscript contains what I think it does …

Fearing that time was running out, Flynn snuck down a murky alley to find a side entrance to the brewery labeled “Employees Only.” It was locked, of course, but he didn’t let that stop him. Lock-picking was just one of the many useful new skills he’d acquired over the last couple of years. It was funny; there had been a time, only a few years ago, when he would have never dreamed of breaking and entering, but that was before he’d become the Librarian. Things were different now. He was different now. When you ventured into lost tombs and buried temples on a semiregular basis, breaking into a Scottish brewery barely warranted a shrug.

And, with any luck, there were fewer bottomless pits and booby-traps here.

Despite the cold nipping at his fingers, he picked the lock after only a couple of tries. Glancing up and down the alley to make certain that nobody was watching, he tugged open the door and quietly slipped inside the building, grateful to get out of the harsh weather. A large, ground-floor storeroom greeted him. Rows of tall wooden shelves were packed with aromatic bags of grains, malts, and hops, creating an even more pungent atmosphere than the one outdoors. More bags were piled high atop wooden pallets. A parked forklift waited to transport the heavy bags as needed. Humming ventilators kept the storeroom cool and dry.

Flynn gave the looming shelves only a passing glance. What he was looking for was unlikely to be stored there.

The clatter of heavy machinery, chugging away despite the lateness of the hour, led him into an automated bottling area. Glass bottles, tinted brown to protect the beer from the pernicious effects of sunlight, were carried along mechanized conveyor belts to be filled, capped, labeled, boxed, and unloaded at a rate of hundreds of bottles a minute. A separate assembly line did the same with large metal kegs intended for pubs all over the city and beyond. Stainless steel pipes ran along the ceiling, transporting the foamy beer from the vats, copper kettles, and tanks on the upper floors of the brewery. Insulated steam pipes connected with massive industrial boilers elsewhere in the building. The rattling bottles made quite a racket, making it almost too hard for Flynn to hear himself think.

And thinking was what Flynn did best.

Despite the urgency of his quest, he took a moment to admire the operation and the history behind it. Edinburgh had a long and illustrious heritage when it came to brewing beer; at one time, over a century ago, over forty such breweries had burnished the city’s reputation for fine beer. Indeed, the city had once been nicknamed “Auld Reekie” thanks to the vast quantities of smoke produced by those breweries’ many coal-burning furnaces and boilers. Moreover …

Stop that, Flynn chided himself. His brain was a Library in its own right, packed to overflowing with obscure and esoteric information, but now was not the time to go leafing through his mental card catalog. He needed to stay focused on the task at hand. He glanced around, wondering which way to go. A sign reading “Testing Area” caught his eye and interest.

That sounds promising.

Retreating from the mechanized clamor of the bottling room, he entered a small chamber that resembled an old-fashioned high school chemistry lab—or maybe the set of an old mad scientist movie. Laboratory glassware, including a wide variety of flasks, beakers, graduated cylinders, petri dishes, retorts, and test tubes, was arrayed atop stained slate counters, alongside old-school Bunsen burners and heating plates. Shelves held bottles and jars of reagents.

“Okay, this is more like it,” Flynn muttered, even as his heart sank. He feared the lab had not just been used to test new strains of yeast or the specific gravity of some new decoction. Oh, Duncan, what have you been up to?

Sure enough, closer investigation revealed a stack of yellowed papers strewn across one counter. Flynn’s heart sped up as he raced to inspect the documents, which were handwritten in fading ink. He instantly recognized the cramped, hurried handwriting, which belonged to one of Edinburgh’s most illustrious native sons: Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Along with its beer, Edinburgh was also justifiably proud of its literary history. There were monuments and memorials to Stevenson all over the city, while the Writers’ Museum, which Flynn had just come from, boasted an outstanding collection of artifacts and memorabilia once belonging to the likes of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and Stevenson. Flynn hastily flipped through the loose pages to confirm what he already suspected, deftly deciphering Stevenson’s scrawled prose:

At last the time had come to prepare the potion. I measured out a few minims of the red tincture, according to the process described previously, and added, in proper succession, those specific powders which I had taken such care to obtain. The mixture, which was at first of a crimson hue, began to darken, while foaming and emitting a noxious vapor until the compound changed to a dark purple. Trembling, I lifted the glass to my lips.…

“Whoa,” Flynn murmured, experiencing a thrill of discovery despite the more ominous implications of the manuscript’s presence in the lab. This is it, he realized: Stevenson’s original draft of Jekyll and Hyde, long believed to have been destroyed by the author himself.

History claimed that Stevenson had burned his first draft back in 1885, because his wife, Fanny, had found it too horrific and not morally uplifting enough. But rumors had persisted over the years that Stevenson had not truly destroyed that early draft, only hidden it from the world, concealing clues to its location in the pages of his later books. For the last week or so, Flynn had been following a winding (and exhausting) trail that had led from Stevenson’s mountaintop grave in Samoa to the author’s former residences in Hawaii, New York, San Francisco, and London to, finally, the city of his birth—and a secret compartment hidden in Stevenson’s first writing desk.

Too bad MacFarlane had gotten to it first.

If only I hadn’t missed that connection at Heathrow, Flynn thought, and Charlene hadn’t insisted I fly commercial.

The Librarian in him winced at the sight of the precious manuscript strewn all willy-nilly across the messy lab counter. Hastily gathering together the fragile pages, he tried to handle them as gently as he could manage, time allowing, and placed them in an airtight, acid-free plastic wrapper before tucking the package into a well-worn leather satchel slung over his shoulder by a strap. Then he took a closer look at the work area, hoping against hope that he wasn’t too late to keep matters from escalating.

Please tell me he didn’t mix the elixir yet.

But the evidence argued against that wishful thinking. An electric heating plate still felt warm to the touch. Broken glass crunched beneath his shoes. Dirty beakers and flasks gave off a distinctly chemical aroma that didn’t smell remotely like beer. More like sulfur and brimstone, actually.

“Oh, crap,” Flynn said. Having secured the manuscript, he was tempted to turn around and call it a day, but he knew in his heart that his job wasn’t done yet. Librarians did more than collect and catalog lost documents and relics; they were also responsible for keeping certain ancient knowledge and artifacts out of the wrong hands—and dealing with the fallout when things went awry.

No matter how dangerous that could get.

“Duncan?” he called out. “Duncan MacFarlane? Are you still … you?”

No one answered, but Flynn knew he couldn’t leave the brewery until he found out how far MacFarlane had gone. Exiting the laboratory, he set out to search for the reckless brewer, who was possibly still lurking somewhere else on the premises. He sighed wearily at the prospect of exploring the huge, five-story building from top to bottom, while keeping a careful eye out for MacFarlane, who was quite possibly not himself at the moment.

Why couldn’t this be a micro-brewery instead?

“Mr. MacFarlane?” he shouted. “This is Flynn Carsen. I think we need to talk!”

Abandoning the ground floor, he climbed a wrought-iron spiral staircase to the upper levels of the brewery, checking them out one at a time. Gravity, which was used to transfer the brews-in-progress from one stage to another, dictated the layout of the brewery, so that Flynn found himself traveling backward through a vertical labyrinth of bubbling vats of fermenting liquid, antique copper boilers, and stainless steel tanks, all connected by a bewildering array of pipes and valves. Some of the pipes were labeled “Hot Liquor” and “Cold Liquor,” but Flynn knew that the “liquor” in question was just water used in the brewing operation. Gas flames heated the huge copper kettle on the second floor, keeping the unfermented wort at a slow boil, using the same process employed by Victorian brewers over a century ago.

It was an interesting place and, ever curious, Flynn wished he had time to take a proper tour, but first he needed to find MacFarlane, who was nowhere to seen. Flynn was starting to wonder if he was wasting his time when, wearily climbing the stairs at a steadily decreasing pace, he heard laughter coming from just up ahead.

No, he corrected himself. Not laughter.

Cackling.

“Okay, that can’t be good.” He knew cackling when he heard it, particularly of the diabolical variety. Is there such a thing as a non-diabolical cackling? he wondered briefly, while reaching the top floor of the brewery and bracing himself for the worst. “Why is this never easy?”

Huge stainless steel mash tuns, where the malted barley and water were first mixed together and heated with steam, dominated the floor of the chamber. An elevated metal catwalk, overlooking the operation, stretched dozens of feet above Flynn’s head. Another burst of maniacal laughter drew his gaze upward and he glimpsed a misshapen figure scurrying atop the catwalk. Heavy footsteps echoed loudly overhead.

“Mr. MacFarlane?”

“MacFarlane?” a mocking voice answered him. “No, MacFarlane isn’t here anymore. Only Hyde!”

A hunched, vaguely simian figure shambled out from behind a metal sluice feeding one tun, stepping into the moonlight from a nearby window. Coarse, wild red hair and muttonchops matched his bushy eyebrows. Bloodshot eyes, nearly as red as his shaggy mane, bulged from their sockets. A sloping brow and prognathous jaws made him look more like a missing link than the actual Missing Link, whom Flynn had run into in Tanzania last Thanksgiving. A pair of lower incisors protruded from his mouth like tusks. An ill-fitting white lab coat looked one size too large for the stunted figure, which clasped a bubbling flask in a hairy, gnarled fist.

Needless to say, this was not what MacFarlane usually looked like.

I was afraid of this, Flynn thought. “You just had to try the elixir, didn’t you?”

As Flynn had suspected, the real reason Stevenson had hidden his first draft and rewritten his book to be more “allegorical” was because that early version had contained the actual secret formula for Doctor Jekyll’s infamous potion, which Stevenson had stumbled onto in his peripatetic travels around the world.

“And why not?” the creature on the catwalk replied, still retaining his thick Scottish accent. “What better way to throw off the stifling restrictions of morality and let loose my true self. I’ve never felt more free, more liberated!” He capered like a deranged monkey atop the catwalk. “And now I will share me wicked bliss with the world!”

He held up the flask, which was bubbling over with a frothing purple potion. Flynn realized with horror that MacFarlane—or rather his bestial alter ego—intended to contaminate the brewing mash with Jekyll’s elixir. Judging from the size of the immense steel tun, Flynn estimated that they were looking at approximately eight hundred barrels of beer, soon to be bottled, kegged, and shipped to pubs all across Scotland and the rest of the world, which meant thousands of Mr. and Mrs. Hydes running amok, with even more to come if MacFarlane kept at it and produced more of the elixir. History’s most monstrous beer bash would cause chaos and carnage across the globe.

“Hold on!” Flynn said. “That doesn’t strike me as good idea.”

MacFarlane glared down at him from the catwalk. “Ye cannae tell me what to do. Who do ye think ye are anyway?”

“The Librarian,” Flynn said.

The creature’s beetled brow furrowed in confusion. “A librarian?”

“No,” Flynn corrected him. “The Librarian.”

For over two thousand years, ever since the days of the first great Library in Alexandria, a Librarian had protected the world from dangerous secrets and magical relics that needed to be stored away until humanity was ready for them, which was quite possibly never. Flynn was hardly the first Librarian, and wouldn’t be the last, but he was the one and only Librarian at present, and stopping a deranged brewer from turning thousands of thirsty beer drinkers into monsters fell squarely within his job description.

Easier said than done, of course.

“No matter!” MacFarlane snarled. “No one can stop me now!”

He poured the contents of the flask into the sluice leading down into the tun, where it joined the heated water and grains being mashed together in the tank. A scruffy hand slammed down the lid of the tank and dialed up the heat.

“And that’s just the first batch!” he said, cackling. “I will flood the world with my divine concoction … and unleash the beast within us all!”

“Uh-uh,” Flynn said. “The world doesn’t need those kinds of spirits.”

His keen eyes spotted a valve at the bottom of the tun. Rushing forward, he grabbed it with both hands and twisted it counterclockwise. Lefty-loosy, righty-tighty, he reminded himself as he strained to open the valve. The stubborn metal resisted him at first, but a good kick loosened it up.

“No!” MacFarlane cried out in rage. “Ye cannae do this. Ye have no right!”

“Got to disagree there. The way I see it, this falls squarely within my job description.” The valve opened, and the tainted mash gushed from the tank, spilling onto the floor. He scrambled backward to avoid being knocked off his feet by the flood. A sticky, sugar-rich solution flowed across the floor. Flynn gasped in relief as he saw the contaminated mash vanishing into drains on the floor. That was one batch that wasn’t going to ruin anybody’s disposition.

“Damn ye!” MacFarlane smashed the empty glass flask against a railing, turning its wide end into a jagged weapon. Spittle sprayed from his lips. “Ye’ll pay for that, ye meddling bibliophile! I’ll mix yer blood and brains into me next brew!”

Springing from the catwalk, he grabbed onto the overhanging pipes and came swinging down at Flynn, who retreated toward the stairs. MacFarlane’s feet slipped on the wet floor, but he managed to hang onto his balance and keep from falling flat on his face. The near spill did not improve the monster’s mood.

“Come back, ye craven vandal!”

Brandishing the broken flask, MacFarlane loped after Flynn, splashing through puddles of spilled mash. His nostrils flared. Drool dripped from his lips. His dirty lab coat dragged through the mess.

“Maybe another time,” Flynn shouted back, “when you’re not under the influence!”

Flynn raced down the stairs, taking the steps two at a time. He was a scholar, not a brawler, so a strategic retreat struck him as the better part of valor in this instance. Past run-ins with unscrupulous treasure hunters, well-armed mercenaries, and the occasional mythological beast had toughened him up to a degree, but he still preferred to use his brains rather than fists or guns. He had the manuscript, and he’d foiled MacFarlane’s scheme; that was enough for tonight. Now he just needed to get out of here in one piece. He could regroup and figure out how to deal with MacFarlane’s transformation later.

The elixir had to wear off eventually, right?

Reaching the ground floor, Flynn glanced back over his shoulder to see MacFarlane gaining on him. The harsh fluorescent lights of the bottling room reflected off the jagged edges of the broken flask. MacFarlane cackled in anticipation of turning Flynn into fresh haggis. Librarian or not, Flynn found himself wishing momentarily that Stevenson had burned his manuscript after all.

“Hold on there,” he said to MacFarlane. “Maybe you should sober up a bit before you do something we’ll both regret.”

MacFarlane chortled at the very idea. “Me mind has never been clearer.” He backed Flynn up against the churning conveyor belt. Freshly filled bottles rattled along toward the labeling machine. “No regrets, no guilt … NO MERCY!”

He lunged at Flynn, who dropped to his hands and knees and scurried beneath the conveyor belt before jumping to his feet on the other side. Taking a leaf from MacFarlane’s book, he snatched a bottle from the machinery and hurled it at the mad brewer like a missile. The bottle smashed against MacFarlane’s chest, staggering him and driving him backward. Snarling in fury, MacFarlane tossed the broken flask at Flynn, but his throw went wild and missed Flynn’s head by six inches or so. It crashed into the machinery behind the endangered Librarian.

“Bah!” MacFarlane spat. “I’ll throttle ye with me bare hands if I have to!”

Flynn believed it, but he wasn’t about to give MacFarlane an opportunity to carry out his threat. Keeping the transfigured brewer at bay, he flung bottle after bottle at the creature, as the conveyor belt supplied him with a seemingly endless supply of missiles. Bottles shattered loudly, one after another, causing the whole room to reek of spilled beer. Flynn thought it smelled like survival.

Until MacFarlane shut off the power.

Crouching low, the crazed science experiment loped across the room to a control panel mounted on an exposed brick wall. His hairy hand flung a switch, and the entire assembly line ground to a halt.

So much for that bright idea, Flynn thought.

Hurling the last few bottles to slow MacFarlane down, Flynn darted across the sudsy floor to the storeroom beyond. Glancing around for the exit, he noticed the waiting forklift—and the towering piles of hops and grains stacked high atop the pallets.

On second thought, maybe he didn’t need to leave MacFarlane running berserk.…

“Where are ye, meddler?” MacFarlane charged into the storeroom, murder in his bloodshot eyes. Rage contorted his already seriously unattractive countenance. His knotted fists swung at his sides. “No more of yer bloody interference. I’ve got some serious brewing to do!”

“Not without Stevenson’s recipe you don’t,” Flynn shouted from the cab of the forklift. “And you’re not going to go prowling through the city, either.”

He fired up the forklift’s engine and hit the gas. The loading truck surged forward, slamming into a huge pile of bagged hops, which toppled over onto MacFarlane, burying him beneath their weight. The startled monster only had time to let out a single howl before vanishing under the avalanche.

Not quite how Hyde was vanquished in the novel, Flynn thought, but if it works …

Flynn engaged the brakes and clambered out of the forklift. He cautiously approached the fallen bags, hoping that the collapse had only taken MacFarlane out of commission, not killed him. A muffled groan coming from beneath the strewn bags raised Flynn’s hopes, and, straining his muscles, he shifted the bags to uncover MacFarlane’s head, while leaving the rest of the bags to weigh the lunatic down, just in case he still had some homicidal mania left in him.

“MacFarlane?”

The stunned monster was out cold, but that wasn’t all. Flynn watched in amazement as MacFarlane’s bestial face began to melt and dissolve back into its original configuration. The jutting brow and jaws and tusks retracted, while the bristly red hair and eyebrows receded to a less frenzied state. Streaks of gray infiltrated the man’s lank ginger tresses. Within seconds, the monster’s atavistic features had given way to the blander, much more unassuming face of Duncan MacFarlane, hopefully for good.

Is that it? Flynn wondered. In Stevenson’s book, it had taken repeated doses of the elixir before Jekyll started turning into Hyde spontaneously, without the aid of the potion. So, in theory, MacFarlane shouldn’t be able to transform again without the formula in the manuscript. Here’s hoping that wasn’t something Stevenson added in the rewrite.

Stepping away from the unconscious brewer, who was probably going to have a monster hangover when he came to, Flynn checked to make sure the stolen manuscript was still tucked away safely in his satchel before contemplating the brewery itself. As far as he knew, he had disposed of the only batch of contaminated product, but could he be absolutely sure of that? It seemed a shame to let the rest of the brewery’s refreshing output go to waste, but …

He took out his phone and dialed 999, which was the Scottish equivalent of 911.

“Hello,” he said once someone picked up at the other end of the line. “I’d like to report a public health issue. I have reason to believe that the MacFarlane Brewery has been contaminated with … toxic fungus. You might want to have the health inspectors check things out.” Another thought occurred to him. “And, oh, you might want to send an ambulance right away. I’m afraid there’s been something of an industrial accident.”

He hung up quickly before anyone could press him for details, and headed for the exit. He needed to make tracks before anyone showed up to investigate, but first he scribbled a sign on the back of a shipping invoice and taped it to the front door.

CLOSED—DUE TO HEALTH CONCERNS.

“That should do it,” he said, stifling a yawn. “All in a day’s work.”

It was time to go home.

Copyright © 2016 by Electric Entertainment

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