Welcome back to Fantasy Firsts. Our program continues today with an extended excerpt from The Librarians and the Lost Lamp by Greg Cox, the start of a trilogy based on the hit TV show. For 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. The sequel, The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase, will be available April 25th.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
New York, New York
One of the world’s great research institutes, housing more than six million books and twelve million documents, the New York Metropolitan Library was Flynn’s home away from home. The landmark building, with its elegant brick and marble façade, looked out over a spacious plaza in midtown Manhattan, which was guarded by a pair of dozing marble lions. Wide steps led up to the library’s grand entrance, which was supported by towering Corinthian columns. A banner stretched above the entrance advertised a new exhibition on King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
Hah, Flynn thought, glancing up at the banner. If only we could reveal the full story there.…
Jet-lagged and dog-tired, he passed through a bronze front door into the library’s magnificent marble entry hall, which was flanked by a sweeping double staircase leading upward. Flynn recalled standing in an endless line on the left staircase on that fateful day, only two years ago, when he had answered a mysterious invitation to apply for a “prestigious position” at the library. Little had he known at the time that his life was about to change forever and that the world was infinitely stranger and more fantastic than he ever could have imagined. Before then, he had been a professional college student, accumulating degree after degree—twenty-two in all—while studiously avoiding going out into real world. Sometimes he wondered what he’d be doing now if he’d blown off that interview.
Something safer, probably, but a lot less interesting.
Most visitors headed up to the Main Reading Room on the third floor, but Flynn veered off to drop into a spacious, sparsely furnished office that always struck him as being several times bigger than it needed to be. A woman was seated at a large, hand-carved mahogany desk at the far end of the office. She looked up from a ledger as Flynn entered.
“Oh, you’re back,” Charlene greeted him coolly. An unsmiling, thin-lipped woman of a certain age, she fit the stereotype of the stern, humorless librarian much better than Flynn did. She wore a pair of tortoiseshell glasses and a severe expression. Strawberry-blond hair was fading to gray. “I was wondering what was keeping you.”
Flynn was used to her brusque manner by now. He’d stopped taking it personally … mostly.
“Good morning to you, too,” he said, yawning. He had come straight from JFK International Airport after catching a red-eye flight from Heathrow. He couldn’t wait to crash at his modest bachelor apartment in Brooklyn, but first he wanted to get the long-lost Stevenson manuscript safely stowed away in the Library, which had much tighter security than his apartment building. Heck, the Library’s security made Fort Knox seem as safe as a convenience store at three a.m. It was one of the most impenetrable places on Earth.
Removing the manuscript from his satchel, he plopped it onto Charlene’s desk. “Mission accomplished,” he bragged. “The first draft of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, safely under wraps.”
“I prefer the musical version,” Charlene said, unimpressed. She shifted the manuscript out of the way, to maintain the neatly arranged order of her desk, and held out her hand.
Flynn rummaged around in his pockets. “Hang on. I’m pretty sure I’ve got them in here somewhere.”
“Don’t let me rush you,” Charlene said dryly. “In the meantime, you owe $1.62 in library fines.”
“Fines? What for?”
“That Traveler’s Guide to Hawaii you checked out a few weeks ago. It’s four days overdue.”
Flynn vaguely remembered losing the book in question while escaping an erupting volcano in Sumatra. “That was work related.”
“Submit an expense report,” she said, unmoved. “Itemized, of course.”
“Seriously?” Flynn hadn’t slept in hours, thanks to a crying baby on his flight and a snoring tourist from New Jersey in the seat next to him; the last thing he needed right now was Charlene nickel-and-diming him as usual. “We’re an age-old, secret organization guarding some of the great treasures of the world. Can’t you loosen the purse strings once in a while?”
“Oh, yes,” she replied archly, “why don’t I just pawn the Ark of the Covenant for petty cash? Or hawk Pandora’s Box on eBay or Craigslist?” She peered at him over her spectacles. “You know better than that. Large expenditures attract unwanted scrutiny, sometimes from the wrong quarters. And careful bookkeeping is the key to a well-run organization.”
“So you’ve told me,” Flynn said wearily, too tired to argue the point one more time. “Look, I’ll pull together those receipts after I’ve had a few hours of shut-eye.”
“I’ve heard that before,” she scoffed. “Oh, Judson wants to see you. Something’s come up.”
Flynn groaned. “Can this wait, Charlene? I really need to get some sleep.”
“Well, I suppose I could tell him that you came all the way into the Library but couldn’t be bothered to swing by long enough to check in with him.…”
“Okay, okay,” Flynn said, giving in. “Which way?”
“I believe he’s in the Large Collections Annex, tending to odds and ends,” she said. “Don’t keep him waiting. None of us are getting any younger, you know.”
Flynn was tempted to ask Charlene just how old she really was, but he decided against it. He started away from her desk, but he only got a few steps before she called him back.
“Not so fast.” She indicated the manuscript resting atop her desk. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
Flynn reclaimed the package and stuck it back into his satchel before exiting the office. A short hike brought him to a deceptively normal-looking reading room, where two stone-faced guards were posted to either side of a well-stocked bookcase. Telltale bulges beneath the guards’ jackets suggested that both men were more heavily armed than you’d expect at the average library.
“Hi, Bud. Hi, Lou,” Flynn greeted the guards, who let him approach the bookcase, where he casually tugged on a leather-bound edition of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, just as he had the first time he’d come this way, right after being selected as the new Librarian. The motion activated a hidden mechanism that revealed a secret vestibule behind the bookcase, facing a concealed elevator. The two guards stepped forward in lockstep, and each inserted a key into a slot on opposite sides of the elevator door. They turned them simultaneously, as though following nuclear launch protocols.
As Flynn understood it, the Pentagon had gotten the idea from the Library.
The elevator opened to admit him, and he settled in for the long ride down to the actual Library, which was buried deep below the public library. Tired as he was, the trip seemed to take even longer than usual, but at last the elevator dropped him off outside two frosted-glass doors. He slid back a wall panel to expose a hidden touchpad. Running on autopilot, he keyed in the password, and the doors swung open automatically on pneumatic hinges.
Home sweet home, Flynn thought. More or less.
Stone steps, carved out of the very bedrock and guarded by a pair of golden lions matching the marble felines up top, led him into a vast, cavernous chamber. Dark wooden shelves and wainscoting lined the walls, while row after row of glass display cases held some of the long-lost wonders of the world: the Spear of Destiny, the Philosopher’s Stone, da Vinci’s secret diaries, a crystal skull from lost Atlantis, and many other marvels and relics. The real Mona Lisa hung upon one wall, not far from the actual Shroud of Turin. A unicorn neighed somewhere in the depths of the Library, impatient for his daily portion of virgin oats and olive oil. Vaulted barrel ceilings stretched high above Flynn’s head.
The Library, Charlene had once told him, was always as big as it needed to be, and the awe-inspiring view before him was only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. (The actual tip was on ice in a special refrigerated vault elsewhere in the Library.) Even after two years, Flynn was still stumbling onto new sections of the Library that he had never discovered before. At times he wondered if he would ever uncover all the mysteries filed away in the Library.
He had barely gotten a few steps into the stacks when a shining silver sword came whistling toward him, propelled by some unseen force. Sighing, Flynn ducked beneath the fifth-century English blade, which proceeded to dance around him expectantly. The fact that the sword was floating of its own accord, without anyone wielding it, did not faze him.
“Hi, ’Cal,” he greeted the fabled sword of King Arthur. “I’m happy to see you, too.”
Excalibur feinted at him playfully.
“Sorry, pal. I’m too tired to duel right now.”
Under other circumstances, Flynn might have borrowed another sword from the Library’s extensive collection of antique weapons and enjoyed a vigorous bout of fencing with Excalibur, but not when, as presently, he was dead on his feet. Instead, having anticipated this encounter, he fished a small rubber ball from his pocket and hurled it away from him with as much force as he could muster.
Excalibur gleefully chased after the bouncing ball, taking off down a seemingly endless corridor. With any luck, that would keep the sword occupied long enough for Flynn to make his way to the Large Collections Annex. A shortcut through the Hall of Fame, which was lined with painted portraits of all the previous Librarians, dating back to antiquity, brought him to an even more capacious chamber stuffed with oversized relics too big to fit comfortably within an ordinary bookshelf or display case. Noah’s Ark loomed ponderously over the collection. The Fountain of Youth gurgled nearby. Flynn eyed the sparkling waters wistfully. He was thirsty from his walk, but not enough so to risk ending up in kindergarten again. He had graduated from See Spot Run a long time ago.
He found Judson inside H. G. Wells’s celebrated Time Machine, a fabulous steampunk contraption of polished brass and oiled red leather, shaped roughly like an hourglass. The device flickered in and out of the present before powering down and settling into today. Judson climbed stiffly out of the Machine, which continued to tick away like a grandfather clock. He smoothed out the creases in his conservative black suit.
“Welcome back,” he greeted Flynn, somewhat more warmly than Charlene had. “Excalibur has been missing you.”
He was a short, soft-spoken man whose doleful, hangdog features belied his amiable manner. A bald pate and sagging skin betrayed his considerable age, although Flynn sometimes suspected that Judson was far older than he looked. A slight stutter made him seem deceptively mild-mannered and unassuming, but Flynn knew from experience that the old man was much sharper and more resourceful than he let on.
“Going somewhere?” Flynn asked, indicating the Time Machine. “Or -when?”
“No, no, not at all.” Judson shook his head. “At my age, I much prefer to stay put in the here and now. I just had to reset the Machine back from Daylight Saving Time to Eastern Standard Time; otherwise it starts losing time … literally.”
Flynn took his word for it. “Charlene said you wanted to see me?”
“In a moment.” Judson nodded at Flynn’s heavy satchel. “Is that it?”
“You bet.” Flynn delivered the manuscript to his mentor. “And don’t ask me what I had to go through to get it.”
Judson sniffed the air. “Do I smell … beer?”
“Probably,” Flynn admitted. “I didn’t really have time to take a shower before catching my flight.”
“I, I see,” Judson said, although his bemused tone and expression said otherwise. “In any event, congratulations on another job well done.” He hefted the manuscript. “I look forward to shelving this in the Lost Drafts and Apocrypha Collection, next to Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Won and Aristophanes’s Women in Tents.”
Flynn’s eyes widened at those tantalizing titles, which set his Librarian’s heart racing. He made a mental note to check out those volumes after he got a little sleep.
“No problem, but if that’s all—”
“You’ve returned just in time, Flynn. There’s a situation in the Middle East that ought to be looked into.”
“The Middle East?” A whine crept into Flynn’s voice. “Judson, I just got back from Scotland.…”
“A lovely country. I hope you enjoyed the trip.” He tucked the manuscript under his arm and strolled out of the annex into an adjacent section of the Library. “But I’m afraid the world didn’t stop turning while you were gallivanting about the Highlands, and a Librarian’s work is never done.”
Tell me about it, Flynn thought.
He trailed after Judson, only to be interrupted by Excalibur, who caught up with him at last, the rubber ball proudly impaled upon its tip. The animated sword hovered before Flynn, eagerly wagging its blade.
“Again?” He plucked the ball from the sword. “Okay, just one more time.”
He gave the toy another good toss, sending Excalibur zipping after it, before following Judson into a smaller chamber lined with yet more bookshelves, where Flynn was only mildly surprised to find Charlene waiting for them. He felt both outnumbered and ambushed.
“Okay, I’ll bite,” he said. “What’s up overseas?”
“While you were away,” Judson said, “the Baghdad Museum of Arts and Antiquities was robbed by unknown parties. It’s unclear at this point who is responsible or what they were after, but there’s reason to suspect that the Forty might be involved.”
Flynn gave him a puzzled look. “The Forty?”
“As in the Forty Thieves.” Judson pulled a dusty copy of The Arabian Nights off a shelf and laid it down atop a wooden table. He flipped through the pages until he reached an engraved color illustration of Ali Baba hiding from the bloodthirsty thieves whose treasure he had stolen from a hidden cave. Knives drawn, the Thieves scowled murderously, intent on revenge. “In reality, it’s a centuries-old criminal syndicate that past Librarians have clashed with more than once, albeit a bit before your time. They haven’t been heard of since they tried to get their hands on the Jewel of Seven Stars back in 1903, and I’d hoped they had finally died off, but I now fear that was just wishful thinking.”
“What makes you think this Forty outfit is involved in the Baghdad heist?” Flynn asked. “I hate to say it, but looted historical sites and museums are old news in the Middle East at this point, what with the wars and political instability in the region. It’s a shame, but I’m not sure where we fit in.”
Judson looked at Flynn. “Are you familiar with the House of Wisdom?”
“Of course,” Flynn replied, vaguely insulted by the query. “During the Golden Age of Islam, from roughly the eighth to the thirteenth century, the House of Wisdom was the greatest library in the known world, attracting scholars from all across the map to Baghdad, which, at the time, was the undisputed center of power, wealth, and learning in the medieval world. Alas, the House of Wisdom was sacked in 1258 during a Mongol invasion, causing many rare books and documents to be lost forever.”
“Supposedly lost,” Judson corrected him. “The invasion was instigated, at least in part, by the Forty to give them the opportunity to raid the House of Wisdom for the secrets it held, but the Librarian at the time managed to keep them from obtaining anything too dangerous—although, yes, some of the House’s most priceless volumes did go missing in the process.” Judson shook his head woefully. “Call it a hunch, but this business in Baghdad feels uncomfortably familiar. The thieves went straight for archives, bypassing more valuable artifacts and treasures, as though they were searching for ancient knowledge, not riches. That sounds like the Forty to me, and Baghdad used to be their home base, back in its glory days.”
“I don’t know,” Flynn said. “No offense, but that sounds like a stretch to me.”
“Perhaps,” Judson said. “I could be wrong. I probably am. But we can’t afford to take the chance. Even if the Forty aren’t back in the game, somebody raided those archives, and, as you should know by now, the secrets of the past can often pose a serious threat to the present … if they fall into the wrong hands. In a worst-case scenario, we could even be talking about—”
“The fate of the world,” Flynn supplied, knowing the spiel by now. “I get it, really I do. It’s just that I was hoping for a little time off before embarking on another globe-trotting trek into possibly mortal danger.”
“And I was hoping that my next blind date would turn out to be Antonio Banderas,” Charlene said sarcastically. “Tough. We don’t always get what we want.” She handed him a coach-class airline ticket. “Your flight leaves from LaGuardia in three hours. If I were you, I’d get going.”
Flynn bowed to the inevitable. If he hurried, he might be able to manage a shower and a change of clothes before hightailing it to the airport. New York to Baghdad was at least a twelve hour trip, so maybe he could catch some sleep on the way there.
Or catch up on his reading at least.
“Good luck,” Judson said. “But watch your back. The Forty weren’t just thieves; they were murderers and cutthroats. If they’re back in business, they’ll stop at nothing to achieve their ultimate goal … whatever that might be.”
“You heard him,” Charlene added. Just for a second, a flicker of what might actually have been genuine concern softened her pinched expression. “Be careful, and don’t forget—”
“My receipts,” Flynn said. “I know, I know.”
He sighed in resignation. Times like this, he wished he weren’t the only Librarian.
This job was too big for just one person.…
Ten years later
Magic is real, Colonel Eve Baird thought. Just look at this place.
Tucked away under the south end of a lofty suspension bridge crossing the Willamette River, in what appeared to be an unremarkable gray utility building, the Library’s Portland Annex was much more impressive on the inside than on the outside. Antique electric lights cast a warm, gentle glow over the Annex’s ground-floor office, which had a certain timeless charm that was distinctly at odds with the building’s weathered stone exterior. Sturdy wooden bookcases were crammed with worn volumes on everything from stamp collecting to cutting-edge string theory. An old-school card catalog ran along one side of a sweeping staircase leading up to the mezzanine overlooking the office. A large inlaid compass symbol decorated the hardwood floor. Side doors magically linked the Annex to the rest of the Library, with its innumerable galleries and collections, while the frosted-glass “Back Door” led to, well, most anyplace she cared to imagine, as well as a few destinations beyond imagining.
Baird surveyed the familiar scene from her desk, where she had been carefully reviewing the Library’s security systems and emergency action plans. A statuesque blonde whose supermodel good looks came in third to her top-flight military training and no-nonsense attitude, she preferred to leave nothing to chance when it came to guarding the Library, its inventory, and its agents. Granted, the deceptively cozy-looking Annex was a far cry from the hostile war zones and rogue states she’d once frequented as part of an elite NATO counterterrorism unit; you’d never guess that she was often dealing with far more dangerous weapons of mass destruction these days.
Magic is real and frequently deadly, she reminded herself for the umpteenth time. And maybe someday that won’t sound quite so crazy to me.
Over a year had passed since the Library had recruited her as a Guardian, making her responsible for the well-being of three newly minted Librarians. The Portland Annex was already starting to feel like her home away from home, but the whole magic-and-monsters thing still took some getting used to. Yawning, she stretched at her desk to keep from getting stiff.
She could have used a good workout. Ever since that weird “time loop” business at DARPA, things had been quiet—maybe too much so for her tastes. Where had all the troublesome dragons and golems gone? Surely there had to be some long-lost magical relic they should be tracking down?
Two of her new charges, Jacob Stone and Cassandra Cillian, were seated at the cluttered conference table in the middle of the main office, across from Baird’s own desk. Typically for Librarians, they were taking advantage of the downtime to catch up on their reading. Cassandra, a petite redhead with a penchant for short skirts, knee socks, and frilly collars, was avidly devouring some abstruse mathematics text as though it were the latest bestselling thriller, while periodically peering up at swirling patterns and calculations that only she could see, thanks to her peculiar gifts. Her slender fingers traced equations in the empty air. Baird had stopped trying to figure out what Cassandra was seeing. Chances were, she wouldn’t understand it anyway.
Sitting opposite her, Jacob Stone looked as rugged as Cassandra looked dainty and delicate. Scruffily handsome, in a country-western kind of way, he leafed through a lavishly illustrated coffee-table book on pre-Columbian cave paintings while scribbling notes on a yellow legal pad, no doubt in preparation for writing a learned monograph on the topic. A rumpled plaid shirt, faded jeans, and work boots belied his status as a world-class expert on art and architecture, with numerous publications under a variety of pseudonyms. As every Librarian knew, you couldn’t always judge a book by its cover.
Worryingly unaccounted for was Ezekiel Jones, self-proclaimed man of mystery and master thief. Baird wanted to think that Jones was behaving himself, but she knew better.
Try not to end up on a most-wanted list, Jones, she thought. Just this once.
“Seriously?” Stone reacted indignantly to something in the book he was perusing. His gruff voice held more than a hint of Oklahoma and the rough-and-tumble oil yards where he had once labored. “You call those Aztec fertility symbols? Any fool can tell that they’re obviously Toltec in origin.”
“Obviously,” Baird said dryly.
Stone looked up from his book. “Say, didn’t you and Flynn explore a buried Toltec temple a while ago?” He turned the book toward her. “You remember seeing anything like these petroglyphs when you were there?”
“’Fraid not,” she replied. “I was too busy running from molten lava and a bad-tempered feathered serpent to check out the finer points of the decor.”
The discussion drew Cassandra out of her private reverie. “Speaking of Flynn, have you heard from him recently?”
I wish, Baird thought. “Last I heard, he was in Nepal, or maybe Tibet, doing his own thing … as usual.”
That last part came out a bit more acerbically than she had intended. Although she liked Flynn, and found him oddly attractive, his tendency to run off half cocked and on his own drove her nuts sometimes. Used to being the only Librarian at large, he wasn’t exactly a team player, which was something of a sore spot between them. For all she knew, he was knee- deep in a new adventure right now, flying solo, which was apparently just the way he liked it.
“Sorry,” Cassandra said sheepishly, as though fearing she had inadvertently crossed a line. “I didn’t mean to pry.”
“It’s all right, Red,” Baird assured her. “Flynn is a big boy. He can take care of himself.”
“One would assume so,” Jenkins said, strolling into the office from an adjacent reading room. A dapper, silver-haired gentleman who was older, by centuries, than he appeared, he had been looking after the Annex for longer than Baird knew or wanted to think about. He placed a neglected copy of Cagliostro’s personal diary back on a bookshelf, precisely where it belonged. “Not that Librarians are always the most prudent of individuals. In my extremely extensive experience, their erudition is consistently beyond dispute, but their common sense? Well, that’s another matter.”
A pair of frosted-glass doors swung open, admitting a breeze and Ezekiel Jones. The cocky young thief sauntered into the Annex bearing a pink cardboard box and an infectious grin. A wiry man in his early twenties, he had dark hair, mischievous eyes, and designer clothes that had probably been shoplifted from only the most fashionable outlets. His stylish wardrobe contrasted sharply with Stone’s more blue-collar attire, and put Baird’s own workaday clothes to shame as well. As a rule, she preferred to dress for practicality, as in a white button-down shirt and trousers.
“Miss me?” An Australian accent betrayed his Down Under roots. An irrepressible smile lit up the room. “What am I saying? Of course you did. I’m Ezekiel Jones. Who wouldn’t miss my delightful company?”
“Everybody you’ve ever ripped off?” Stone said sternly, like an older brother addressing a wayward younger sibling. “Where’d you get off to anyway? Monte Carlo? The Riviera? Fort Knox?”
Baird eyed the box apprehensively. Please let that not be the Crown Jewels, or a priceless Picasso.
“Nah,” Ezekiel said. “Voodoo Doughnuts. Just up the road from here.”
Cassandra’s large eyes widened even more than usual. “Doughnuts?”
“Portland’s best.” Ezekiel placed the box down on the conference table and flipped its lid to reveal a mouthwatering selection of gourmet doughnuts. “Feast your eyes, and then just feast in general. The doughnuts are on me.”
Baird stepped out from behind her desk to investigate, drawn in part by the tantalizing aroma of the deep-fried treats. She had to admit, they did smell tasty.
“That’s very generous of you, Jones. Uncharacteristically so, in fact.” She regarded him suspiciously. “I don’t suppose you actually paid for these doughnuts?”
“You’re joking, right?” He scoffed at the very notion. “I need to keep in practice, after all. You wouldn’t want me to get rusty.”
“Heaven forbid,” Jenkins said archly. “But perhaps, Mr. Jones, you could kindly refrain from placing your ill-gotten refreshments on top of these private love letters between Napoleon and Josephine, detailing the actual circumstances of his exile on Elba?” He sighed theatrically as he extracted several yellowed sheets of paper, each carrying a faint whiff of French perfume, from beneath the doughnut box. “And to think this used to be such a quiet, contemplative environment, before it turned into a children’s playhouse.”
Baird was used to such grumbling by now. She and her freshly forged team of Librarians had set up shop in the Annex at a time when the rest of the Library was lost between realities. Jenkins had already been a fixture at the Annex, along with the card catalog and desks, and had stayed on for the duration, despite his frequent sighs, disdainful sniffs, and sarcasm. Baird suspected that his high-handed curmudgeon routine was at least partly an act.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Sounds to me like you’re protesting a bit too much. Are you sure you don’t actually enjoy our company?”
“Quoting the Bard, are we, Colonel?” Jenkins placed the Elba correspondence in a desk drawer, safely away from icing and sticky fingers. “Why don’t you leave Shakespeare on the shelf and join your ravenous colleagues in their sugar spree?”
“Like you’ve never indulged your own sweet tooth,” Ezekiel teased him. Claiming the biggest, frostiest, most lavishly sprinkled doughnut for himself, he took an enthusiastic bite and smacked his lips afterward. “Now that’s what I call a treat for the taste buds. Almost as delicious as those gold-flecked Swiss chocolates I nicked in Dubai last Easter from a certain overfed oil baron who, frankly, could stand to lose a few stone.” He licked some icing from his nimble fingers. “Come on, mates. Dig in.”
Stone shrugged. “Don’t mind if I do.”
A raspberry jelly doughnut met with his approval. “Whoa. That’s positively sinful.” He stepped aside to let Cassandra get at the doughnuts. “Step right up, Cassie. You’ve got to get in on this action.”
She contemplated the all-too-tempting spread. “Well, maybe just one.…”
“Only one?” Ezekiel asked in disbelief. “Live a little, Cassandra. What have you got to lose?”
An awkward hush fell over the office as his careless remark landed with a thud, reminding everyone present of the grape-sized brain tumor that threatened to make Cassandra’s life a short one. An abashed look came over Ezekiel’s face as he grasped what he’d said. It wasn’t often that his trademark self-regard slipped, but this was one of those times.
“Um, I didn’t mean it like that. It just slipped out.…”
“It’s okay,” she replied. “You don’t need to walk on eggshells around me. None of you do.” She boldly plucked a triple-chocolate doughnut from the box and bit into it lustily. “And you’re right. Life is too short not to indulge yourself sometimes.”
“Roger that,” Baird said, hoping to break the tension. “Dibs on the deluxe apple fritter doughnut.”
Before she could snag her enticing prize, however, the Clipping Book grabbed her attention instead. Laid open atop its stand on the table, the magical scrapbook thumped momentarily as an unseen force turned its pages to reveal a couple of fresh news clippings that hadn’t been there before.
“Heads up, people. Seems we’ve got a new mission on our hands.”
The Clipping Book was the Library’s somewhat antiquated way of alerting the team to events that required their attention. A collection of newspaper articles pasted in an old-fashioned scrapbook, such as were once used in newspaper offices before the digital era, the Clipping Book’s selections seldom spelled out exactly what kind of preternatural unpleasantness they could expect to encounter, but the mere fact that the clippings had magically appeared in the scrapbook indicated that there was more to the story than met the eye.
“Thank heavens,” Jenkins said. “Some peace and privacy at last.”
“Don’t count on it,” Baird said. Jenkins rarely ventured into the field with them, but that didn’t mean she didn’t need him holding down the fort here at the Annex—and providing them with crucial intel as needed. “All hands on deck, including you.”
“Of course, Colonel. I’m at your disposal.”
“You bet you are.”
Along with their Guardian, the Librarians gathered around the Clipping Book to see what new mystery had presented itself. Baird quickly scanned the headlines:
LOCAL MAN WINS MILLION-DOLLAR JACKPOT.
LOTTERY WINNER IDENTIFIED AS VEGAS RESIDENT.
The team crowded one another to read the clippings, with only Jenkins staying aloof. A quick skim revealed only that one Gus Dunphy of Las Vegas, Nevada, had recently won a big payout in a state lottery. A black-and-white photo showed a grinning Dunphy accepting an oversized check the size of small billboard. That in itself didn’t raise any red flags for Baird; people did win lotteries without magical assistance, and Dunphy looked like a thoroughly average, unassuming type.
But if the Library thought it was worth checking out …
“Aces,” Ezekiel said. “We’re going to Vegas.”
“So it seems,” Baird agreed. “Get your game on, everyone. I want to be in Sin City in thirty minutes, tops.”
With their snack break cut short, she reached for the apple fritter doughnut, only to find it curiously missing.
“Hey, what happened to my doughnut?”
Jenkins wiped a crumb from his lips with a silk pocket handkerchief.
“I’m sure I have no idea,” he said.
Copyright © 2016 by Electric Entertainment
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