|It always seemed bigger than it was. Morena stood still for a
moment, breathing in the musky smell of books and the clean, dusty smell
of stone. Although she had never seen or heard anything uniquely
fey within its walls, the library of Tamson House had always reeked of
magic. It made her skin tingle in the way that old buildings full of stories
and magic always did. Absently, she rubbed her arms, letting her
gaze wander over the glass display cases filled with their curious treasures
and the countless spines of books that lined the room. A wisp of
harp and a few notes sung by a dusky voice wafted through the quiet air.
Morena smiled: Clannad. The librarian was in. Giving a quick
smile to the painted eyes that regarded her from the rotunda above, she
moved across the room, the thick oriental carpets muffling her steps.
She paused here and there to glance at one of the objects on display in the glass cases sprinkled around the room. Although she had spent hours examining the cases, there always seemed to be some curio that she had missed, something new to pique her interest. Pulling herself away from her newest find, she turned toward the dimly-heard music. Setting resolutely toward the sound, she was arrested at the sight of a figure occupying one of the red velvet wingback chairs clustered within the bounds of an ornately patterned rug. It was not surprise at encountering a fellow houser that gave her pause, for, although the library always seemed empty, its unique cul-de-sacs and crannies usually provided privacy for a more than a few residents. It was, rather, the nature of the chair’s occupant. Resting comfortably on the velvet cushion was a penguin. He was perusing a copy of The Voyage of the Basset, his leg encased in a cast and propped up on a napping soapbox. Morena paused, staring in astonishment.
“Need something?” Two small black eyes appeared above the splayed covers of the book.
“Oh,” Morena shook her head, “uh, no. I just wasn’t expecting to see a penguin in the library.”
“Ah,” the penguin nodded, returning to his book. “It’s the best place to get peace and quiet these days.”
Turning hastily toward the back of the library, Morena shook her head. “I guess it would be,” she muttered to herself.
She found the librarian tucked away in his usual spot at Northwest corner of the library. In a book-lined alcove, almost hidden amongst the shelves, was the rough equivalent of a living room. A well-worn leather sofa leaned against one wall, and a curly maple coffee table was minimally visible in front of it, straining under a multitude of papers and books. Beyond them, leaning against the right wall, was an old-fashioned scroll-top desk, its pigeonholes bristling with neatly columned records. Balanced atop the desk was a portable stereo, emitting the gentle strains of Clannad. A clean white glow and the clicking of keys bore witness to a computer nestled atop the desk, hidden by the figure occupying the chair in front of it.
Morena cleared her throat softly, and the man at the desk swivelled to face her, a smile lighting his features.
“Well, well. You haven’t been in for a while. Not since,” he leaned his head back, biting his lip, “since you brought me that, er, corset picture.”
Morena chuckled, then paused, jerking a finger over her shoulder, “do you know there’s a penguin sitting out there in the library reading The Voyage of the Basset?”
Grinning, the librarian nodded, “Of course there is. My friend Snetterton. He’s just had a bit of excitement, and he’s having a little rest.”
“Mmm.” Morena nodded noncommittally, unconsciously glancing over her shoulder toward the bicoloured occupant of the main room. “Interesting. Actually,” she flipped a recalcitrant strand of hair over her shoulder, “I have to admit that I came over to ask you a favour.”
“See what we can do.”
“Thanks.” Morena picked her way over several books and at least two trays of baseball cards to the couch. “You mind?”
The librarian shook his head, and she dropped into the softness of the leather cushions. “What,” she propped a hand behind her head, “do you know about a chap named Akkash?”
“Akkash,” the librarian’s forehead wrinkled thoughtfully, “I know I’ve heard that name somewhere. Let me see what I can find. One ‘K’ or two??”
“Try two,” Morena pursed her lips. “I’m not really sure, but two sounds more imposing. Try it that way and see if anything comes up.”
Returning his attention to the computer marooned amongst the papers on the desk, the librarian began to type, the click of his keys alternating with the whirring of the computer itself. After a moment he shook his head.
“Not in the R database.”
“Mmm,” he twisted his head over his shoulder, nodding at an odd angle, “Regular database. Where did you hear about this fellow anyway?”
Morena twirled a stray strand of hair absently, deciding how much of what Farren had told her to share. “Well,” she bit her lower lip, “it seems he was am elf lord turned necromancer who got himself thrown out of the Realm. Elves hired some earth-shattering sorcerer from this side of the border to lock him away in chaos. And we don’t know what since.”
“Hmm.” The librarian returned to his key clicking. “Probably in the F database then.”
“Fey, you silly child, Fey database. No.” The librarian scratched his nose thoughtfully, squinting at the screen. “Well then, if we have anything on him, it’ll be in the P database.”
Morena closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath, “Okay, I’ll ask. What’s the P database?”
“Pagan. Ah, here we are,” he leaned back in his chair, “Akkash with two k’s. Not listed as an elf lord though. Says here he’s a dark god with a respectable following among humans and fey.” He paused, letting out a low whistle, “Damn, seems to be a twisted bugger. According to this entry, a few acolytes up in Tucson managed to call up a dark figure answering to Akkash’s description. Seems one of them ended up being a people-skin rug.”
“Rug?” Morena sat up on the couch, her eyes wide.
“Rug,” the librarian nodded. “And it gets better.” He scrolled the screen down as he spoke, “A few years later, six kids in Chicago got the same dark figure. According to their accounts, he told them that since they had seen the most beautiful creature in the world, he would grant them a favour. He blinded them. Sliced their eyeballs right out of their heads from the sounds of it.”
“Holy sh—“ Morena hissed under her breath.
“And, last but not least,” the librarian punched the page down key with a flourish, making the text shimmer and jump madly on the screen. “Three young men in Atlanta. They invented some interesting sort of ceremony for calling up the dark god Akkash, and they evidently dialed the right number. One of the kids’ moms heard a scream, and when she got to the boys, well,” he tapped the keys, “one was in pieces around the room – looked like he’d been torn to pieces by wild animals; one had every bone in his body broken; and the third one didn’t have a mark on him, he was just very, very dead.”
Morena leaned slowly back against the cushions. “Son of a ring-tail bitch kitty.”
“You could say that.” The librarian rummaged at the back of the desk for a moment, emerging with a half-empty glass of dark liquid bearing the telltale creamy foam of Guinness. “I hope you’re not planning on inviting him to a garden party or some such.”
Morena snorted in derision, “That wasn’t the plan. But,” she managed a wan smile, “he’s probably the kind who holds grudges if you don’t invite him.”
The librarian shook his head, his eyes once again skimming the text that shimmered on the screen at his elbow. “How did you hear about this fellow?”
“That,” Morena shrugged, is a long story. “I’ll tell you sometime later. But” she plunged on, noting a spark of suspicion brighten the flicker of curiosity in the librarian’s eyes, “there is something else I wanted to ask you about before I have to get going.”
The librarian nodded slightly, sipping at his Guinness, and eyeing her suspiciously.
“I figured you might know something about the doorbell.”
“Mm-hmm.” Morena nodded. “The Tamson House doorbell. You know it’s missing…”
The librarian nodded again, “Of course. Every fey creature in the place has been fussing about it for the past 24 hours. And things are starting to get chaotic around here. You can never be certain where any particular doorway is going to drop you, and what’s worse, I’ve lost several bookcases and an armchair to God knows where.”
Morena struggled to suppress a smile. “Well then, maybe you can tell me something about the doorbell.” The librarian raised an eyebrow. “I’m trying to find it. Joe, the old ghost in the garden, told me it was missing, and I’ve been trying to track it down ever since. But I don’t know that much about it, so I can’t even tell where to look.”
“Well,” with a sigh, the librarian returned his glass to the papery depths of the desk. “The doorbell, as you know, is an anchor of sorts. It’s a mathemagical construct designed to emit the magical equivalent of gravity. When you put it on top of a crossing of ley lines like we have here, it creates a convergence of times and spaces, and provides a central point for them to organise themselves – rather like the gravitational pull of the planets allows --” he broke off, shaking his head, “But I’m not the one to be telling you this. You need to ask the doormouse.”
With a deep and heartfelt groan, Morena dropped her head onto the couch arm behind her. “Not him again.”
“So you’ve been to see him?”
“Unfortunately.” Morena opened one eye, “He was highly alliterative, highly obscure, and more than a little moody. And,” she sighed, closing her eye, “the pink palazzo pants just seemed a little much.”
“I have to agree with you on all counts.” The librarian laughed. “But it does make him interesting, doesn’t it? And, more importantly, he’s the one who knows the most about the doorbell, and about mathemagic in general. You’d best just go visit.”
“All right,” Morena slowly disengaged herself from the couch and pulled herself to her feet. “You know more about this than I do, I guess. I’ll go visit the little guy again. Thanks.”
“Certainly,” the librarian smiled up at her, then paused his brow wrinkling, “what did you say the ghost’s name was?
“Ghost? You mean the one who told me about the doorbell?”
The librarian nodded.
“Joe. His name was Joe. He was an older guy in a worn suit. Spoke with an Irish accent.”
“Odd,” the librarian shook his head, “I’ve met most of the ghosts around here, but I’ve never met one like the fellow you describe. Ah well,” he shrugged, “probably just a newcomer. Good luck to you, you whippersnapper.”
“Thanks.” Stretching her arms over her head in an attempt to crack her back, Morena picked her way across the floor toward the doorway. As she reached the edge of one of the bookcases that served as a marginal doorway, she had a thought. “One last thing,” she turned, “I was talking to Owen last night, and he mentioned a box. He said it looked like a soapbox crafted of bone.”
The librarian swivelled to face her so rapidly that several sheets of paper drifted to the floor unheeded behind him. “A bone soapbox?”
“That’s the way he described it.”
“Where,” the librarian rose to his feet, “is it?”
Morena blinked rapidly, confused. “I, uh,” she fumbled,” I’m not exactly sure. Owen told me about it, but I haven’t seen him since. I never even saw the thing.”
The librarian’s eyes narrowed, “where did he find it?”
“He told me he found it in a room in the attic. Actually, his friend found it. Why, is it important?”
“Oh no,” the librarian sat down and crossed his legs with an apparent show of nonchalance. “It’s just a bit of a legend of the house. It’s called the guardian box. Now if you see Owen, tell him I’d like to see his little discovery.”
“Yes,” Morena backed carefully out the door, feeling behind her with
one hand to avoid any close encounters with the bookcases, “yes Sir, I