Posts Tagged ‘dark modern fantasy’

I love to leave references in my work, Easter eggs, as it were.  Some of them are much less obvious than others.  The name of one of my protagonists, Lilja Perhonen, is one, a big one.  I also leave clues that are sort of homages to writers that have had a large impact on me.

Take this excerpt from my second book, Sword of the Butterfly:

“Wilbraham?” came the inevitable summons, the professor moving his head around as though in search of whom this may be, though nearly all of the small body of the class had by now been announced.

“Here, sir,” he finally spoke, his voice an odd mixture of deep, gruff, but with a scratch of break, as though of pubescence or merely suffering from some chronic allergy.

“That is a good, old name from England,” Professor Edwards remarked with utmost sincerity, then consulting his list, looking back up, “Pothos? That’s your first name?”

Pothos nodded, slowly, almost laboriously.

“Your parents must also be students of mythology to give you a great name like that,” the instructor carried on, letting his dark, bushy eyebrows rise as though throwing a question mark onto the supposition.

That alludes to what becomes a huge Easter egg.  It also references an experience I had back in college, but I wouldn’t expect anyone to figure that out.  The layers do begin to get a little complicated, and sometimes I forget why I crafted things the way I did.  Still, I think it adds to the journey, and I hope there are those who discover these things and feel the same.

If you’ve read my work and think you have some guessed, please leave a comment.  If you have not, then grab a book and begin the hunt!

My Amazon Author Page

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“So, in Finland, witches are not automatically treated as bad?”

“No.” She shakes her head once, more of a slowly shifting movement. “Witchcraft is a very big part of Finnish history, culture, and religion. Though we had good witches, and black magic was not allowed.”

“Where is Mount Kyöpeli?” asks another, not waiting to be called upon but pitching the question in the ensuing silence.

She turns her eyes in that direction, still meandering as she talks, the images on the large screen changing in a series of slow dissolves, giving backdrop to her words.

“You can only get there by flying and magic. It is said to be located in a secret place, close to the border of Tuonela, the Finnish land of dead.’

“It is also said that it is actually possible physically, or even mentally, to travel in Tuonela and go have a chat with your dead friends and relatives and other people,” she carries on, a curve to her lips. “There are tales that witches and sages have traveled there to learn long lost lore and spells. Only problem is that it’s very hard to get back from there. There are many guardians. Cats are but one example in our own world.”


I draw from many sources and lore in my book, Dance of the Butterfly.  It was important to me to show varying perspectives.  This is also part of why I chose to set it in a very cosmopolitan city.  There are many subtle (and not so subtle) references that weave into the overall puzzle of the story.

Please visit my Amazon Author Page for both books in the series.  Thank you.

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I am going to begin making posts here on my blog for #fridayfeyday.  This was begun by fellow author  Cynthia Morgan, and I thank her for letting me use the concept.  The concept is to make a post that somehow invokes this sense of ‘fey’.  Let’s begin, shall we?


She sees Ryan, held in bondage. He is restrained by something that looks organic, as though one of the very beasts has wrapped itself about him, lengths of its form attached by toothed suckers, the tendrils flexing obscenely, one of them partially covers his face, going over his left eye, fluid leaks, staining him, a dark red, some even black. He is obviously in anguish.

The Bride, the Bride

She turns about, looking, wondering how she hears this rustling of odd speech, this sense of confusion and excitement coming from the denizens.

“… Iris …?”

And this is Ryan, and her eyes find him, noting his struggles, his tension and pain, the seething burn and fear so obvious upon his restrained form. She merely stands there, saying nothing, as several of the monsters move to her, getting in close, more observant than ready to touch her.

“How are you … alive?”


This is from Sword of the Butterfly, the second book in my urban fantasy series.  Please be sure to get your own copy, give it a read, and drop me a review.  Comments and feedback are greatly desired.  Thank you!

Sword of the Butterfly – print edition
Sword of the Butterfly – kindle edition

There are things out there we don’t understand.  There are things in the darkness that hiss and whisper and gnaw at us.  We have our doubts and our fears.  There are behaviors we don’t understand.  Why are some people so horrible to others?  Why are some people convinced of living by hate and greed?  Mysteries abound within this existence.  We’d be arrogant to think we know everything.

There are those who have experienced things, and through the frailty of their own imperfect interpretation, they have attempted to relate these things.  There are books of strange knowledge, and there are those who would search through these for what kernel of truth may lie within.  There are those who protect such treasures, for even if they are not fully aware of the contents, they shall not let them be abused by others.

Three such rare and valuable books of power are out there.  Two have been found, but one still eludes.  There are two powerful families, one ruled by arrogance, the other tempered by responsibility.  Both could be very wrong in everything they do, and we might be headed to disaster no matter the efforts.  We might be headed to disaster if one or both succeed.

How does one stop the demons of men, even when those demons threaten to take on a life of their own?

Find out in my book, Dance of the Butterfly, the first in a series.

“This story has, action, romance and sex, …, intrigue, crime, and the occult, literally something for everyone. Give it a read. You’ll find it well worth the time.”

“The characters are rich and fully developed and the story reads like a great mystery film. Each piece of information is a puzzle piece – all leading down a dark road that the reader must travel to get to the revealing end.”

Click to buy the print version.
Click to buy the digital version.

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Book Two in my series has already been written.  It needs editing, polish, and all of that before it is truly ready for publication.  It is somewhat longer than the first, and I have been told it is quite darker.  So, without further ado, here is a “teaser” from Book Two.


“Why did you leave Finland, Lilja?  Did something bad happen?”

A dark miasma envelopes her, though she feels it like a haze, like something on the edges of perception.  There is a solidity here, a convincing measure, even through the dim.

“Did you let someone die like you let those kids die?”

Tension roils, like sutures bleeding into her, too tight, the rough thread pulling through tender flesh, the slow creep of binding pain.

Doubt scratches at her, has done so for many years.  Yet now, it is worse.  It leaves more than marks.  It gets deeper, peeling at scars, pushing at new places, and cracks form.  They feel this like a lure, and they will use it.  They know she is out there.  They know of this new force that defies them, and they want to consume it.  She has eluded them until now, but they have her.


I do hope this has whet some appetites.  As always, please do feel free to leave comments.  And if you have not bought and read the first book in the series, you may find it through my Amazon Author Page.

Thank you.

The print version of my debut novel, Dance of the Butterfly, is now available through Amazon.  This is very exciting for me, and I hope you decide to get a copy, read it, and leave a review.  Not only do the reviews help with the way Amazon decides to display its multitude of books, but I really like feedback.  It’s very nice to get a comment from a reader.  I’d love to know what you liked, what you didn’t, how you felt.  Those are all treasures to me.  I decided to publish this story with the intent to share it, and I do hope that comes full circle in my getting to hear from you.

You have my thanks.

Dance of the Butterfly – print version

Dance of the Butterfly – Kindle edition

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Thanks again.

“Christmas came early for you guys. What’s to complain about?” says one of the men in the coffee room, looking over from pouring some of the dark, settling ichor into a plastic cup.

“Yeah, well, don’t tell the press, or we’ll look like idiots.”

A few sips of coffee, some chuckles, but not everyone is so joyous.

“And now we have some self-righteous vigilante to chase. Yeah, Christmas,” asserts a grumbler.

“We sure were doing a great job,” sarcastically adds another cynical, displeased person, “That warehouse operating right under our noses, and you know they weren’t just using it for human trafficking.”

Looks are exchanged, one in particular taking close note of the conversation. The most recent speaker continues into the sudden silence.

“We should be glad for the help. How can that place have been there without us knowing it?” and accusatory eyes are angled out at the impromptu gathering.

“Since when did you get a warrant to go into any place you want?”

“You can excuse it anyway you like-”

“You better watch what you’re implying,” comes the challenge, this cop getting right up to the other, despite her being a woman.

“Hey, calm it down,” orders a gruff, forceful voice, “We’re all on the same side here, and that vigilante is breaking the law, just like those people using the warehouse. It’s a good bust for us, but this goes beyond a ‘helpful’ citizen.”

“Don’t expect me to arrest this ‘helpful’ citizen,” says one, and a few laugh.

“Shut that shit up,” growls out the forceful one, “You especially don’t want the lieutenant hearing that kind of talk.”

Silence greets this, but the one who spoke about not arresting merely shrugs.

“What do you think, Alec?” one asks, up-nodding to the officer seated at a table by himself, having a snack of a pastry.

He raises his eyes, wide, noting all attention suddenly on him. Laughter results.

“Alec is busy,” says one, and the raucous increases, and Alec scowls, generating more chuckles.

“Come on, Alec, join the conversation.”

The big man shrugs, pursing out a lower lip, “Eh, I’ll take the help, but I guess if I have no other choice, I’ll have to arrest the guy, but if he’s as good as he seems, I’d rather just wait until he’s gone, right?” he says with a big grin.

And this gets more chuckles in response from most, while some scoff and others look potentially offended.

“A lot of help you are!” calls out one.

“Hey, hey, I know my civic duty. I’ll volunteer to help when I’m not busy.”

“Oh yeah, right,” come various and myriad responses of disbelief.

Alec stands, smirking, squaring his ample shoulders.

“I’m serious. If I can help, I’ll help.”

“Yeah, yeah, well go talk to Kenneth, then, if you’re serious. The lieutenant gave him that Task Squad.”

“I will,” Alec announces, mostly to teasing disbelief expressed on the part of his coworkers, but he, of course, means it.

*****

He studies the open book, looking over the finely printed text, leaned over and somewhat close as if proximity may aid in plumbing the secrets hidden within the words. His laptop is on the table, near the book, and he occasionally consults it, looking over images, quickly tapping on the keyboard to keep track of his own notes. After a time, he sits back in the chair, evincing fatigue, perhaps even frustration, in his posture.

“Do you speak Latin?” she asks, not too far away, occupied with some of her own work.

He looks over, smiling lightly, “Yes, though I don’t often seem to find myself in situations requiring it.”

She returns the grin, though it drops for a more inquisitive gaze as his own has disappeared as he looks away. “Is everything alright?” she asks.

“Oh, yes, thank you.” He returns his eyes to hers, the polite curve returning to his lips, “Just trying to unravel the mystery, but the threads are not being terribly cooperative.”

She nods, returning to her own chores, so he gets back to his work after taking a sip of the strong coffee she has so generously made available to him during his visits of the past few days.

“May I confess something to you?” her voice then breaks the shortly resuming silence.

He looks up, naught but open sincerity with a coloring touch of guarded stupefaction on his face, “Of course.”

She takes a few tentative steps closer, looking also quite serious. “Your being here to examine the book is really quite curious, especially coming back and spending so much time with it, so I decided to do a little investigating myself.”

He merely nods to this, the gesture slow, deliberate-seeming.

“Did you know this book is mentioned in Nicholas Rémy’s Daemonolatreiae libri tres?”

He blinks, just studying her. She shirks the barest bit under the scrutiny, her head moving a few degrees to the right and down, and her hands, yet held together in that same arrangement they seem so wont to show, display the subtle movement of fingers.

“Are you familiar with it?” she asks in the encroaching quiet.

“I am,” he nods once, though he is not inclined to tell her why.

“Ah, then I’ve not told you anything you do not already know. I’m sorry for interrupting.”

“No, no,” he says, surprising himself with the tone of urgency, sitting up further in the chair, bringing himself more attentive to her place in the room. “That is not an easy clue to come by.”

“Oh, well,” she exhales a single, audible breath into a short smile, “I do have … some experience with this sort of thing.”

He perks his eyebrows. “A curator is not necessarily a book detective,” he says with a warm grin, “I’d not turn away assistance, if you know of anything else regarding this.”

“I don’t really know much more than the usual information and listings, but it is intriguing that the book is mentioned in one of the most famous treatises on capital witch trials, doesn’t it?”

“Well, I suppose it depends on how one views witchcraft and witches,” he replies, pushing away from the table, opening more toward her, inviting her to also sit with a very subtle gesture of his head toward the nearby chair, and she sets herself in, facing him.

“How do you mean?”

“Well, I think you’d find that most people do not believe in witchcraft in a literal, supernatural sense, which means that the persecution these people suffered was largely socio-political and religious. If that is the case, then it may not be odd at all to find any number of texts in the possession of these people that purports to convey knowledge prohibited by the Church.”

She blinks, brow furrowing, “This book was so restricted?” she asks, her blue eyes looking darker as they cast quickly to the folio then back up to him.

“It did not figure as prominently on any list of banned books, but the information contained in some parts was not looked upon kindly by the Church.”

She nods, glancing back down at the text as though ready to spot some heresy on the open page, then again looking back at him.

“I’m not that familiar with its contents.”

“I don’t expect it’s on too many peoples’ lists of recommended books, either. It is really quite unknown, and you are aware of its rarity,” he offers, smiling gently.

She nods, glancing again from the open book then to him, letting a very light smile trace her lips.

“What is it about?”

He looks at her, that barest of a curl on the edges of his mouth, just gazing. She meets his eyes openly, not shirking in the exchange. He notes that she returns the subtly hinting smile, and then she blinks, adjusting a stray lock of her vibrant hair which has fallen over the left side of her face.

“May I tell you tonight over dinner?” he invites.

Her smile grows in size and warmth, though still coquettish, and only a brief moment passes before she answers, “Yes, that would be nice.”

*****

The two men walk into the dingy bar, the afternoon sun pouring in through the door to announce their arrival. A few muted groans and some not so reduced scowls greet the arrival of the contrasting pair. The various people in here, the vast majority of which are male, engage in what one may expect in this sort of establishment – drinking, talking, playing billiards, darts.

The place is mainly composed of a treated wood, disguised as darker and higher quality by the glossy finish which is smudged, worn, and chipped, giving hints to the brittle skeleton beneath. The general lack of décor also indicates the no-nonsense and very masculine nature of the business. The only places that deviate from the dark, earthy palette of chamber and customers being the rolling balls on the green felt and the eye-catching labels of bottles behind the bar.

The two men are greeted with a nod from the bartender, the stubbled head atop the thick neck offering a single dip of some measure of respect.

“What can I get you?” he offers, setting aside an opened bottle of beer and placing both hands atop the bar, palms pressing in the edge near him.

“Vodka,” says the larger, paler man.

The barkeep nods once more, curt, then his eyes settle on the other.

“Nothing,” the leaner, darker man says, dismissively, then turns to look about the place.

A short glance is spared back to the other, a non-verbal commentary compressed into that one look, then the man turns, fetching a tumbler, into which he pours a generous amount of Russian vodka. The customer raises it, taking in a decent swallow, then nods approvingly. The bartender goes back to whatever occupies his time when not needed, and the drinking man turns to casually look out over the occupants of the bar. He raises the glass to have another sip, eyes shifting to his partner, then in the direction the other man observes. He takes that drink, then follows his comrade as he walks away.

The man stops at a distant table, one somewhat obscured by the varying levels of darkness in the dimly-lit place. The three men sitting there, drinking, look up, none too pleased with the potential interruption.

“We just got out, Quain. What do you want?” one of them asks, his voice carrying a deep undertone, like muddy water gurgling over stubborn rocks.

“You didn’t just get out,” the man replies, looking the three over, no sign of being intimidated at all showing on him.

The other of the duo steps over, pulling out the unoccupied fourth chair with a loud scrape and sitting his bulk in it. He gives a good look to the three, bringing up his drink for another sip, not leaving much after this most recent taste.

“We need to talk to you guys before too much time passes and you rot your memories with drink or drugs,” he unceremoniously declares.

The three look at him, one baring of a somewhat vacant, rheumy gaze, the other two evincing more disgust, even challenge.

“What do you want?” the original speaker demands.

“Haven’t you heard?” Quain asks. “Alec and I are assisting the Task Force that’s hunting that vigilante.”

“Yes,” Alec says, “The one that handed you your asses,” and he emits a low chuckle, then downs the remnants of his vodka.

“And before you get all bent out of shape,” Quain says, leaning onto the table, arms outstretched within his black leather coat, palms on the wood, “Gnegon sent us.”

The man lights up a cigarette, the paper giving forth a sickly, yellowed look. He squints his eyes at both, exhaling a thick plume after a lengthy inhale.

“You leashed dogs do good tricks,” he observes.

“What the fuck did you say?” Alec sits up in his chair, brow furrowing, jaw flexing from clenched teeth as he brings up his right arm, elbow bent, chunky fingers curled into a tight fist.

Quain looks right, placing a hand on his partner’s shoulder, encouraging him to calm down. He holds it there for a moment, his mocha skin a contrast to the dingy gray of Alec’s blazer, until the large man settles back down. He then turns to the smoker, who wears a self-satisfied smirk, and Quain lashes out with sudden speed, striking the guy in the mouth, crushing the cigarette in the process.

He looks at the other two, only one of whom reacts in any real manner, the rheumy-eyed one looking barely startled for a passing moment. He does not bother with gauging the responses of anyone else in the bar, just sets his eyes back on the smoker, who now holds his bleeding lip with one hand.

“We all have our leashes. You’re right,” he says, calmly, nodding, contemplatively, “My collar has a badge on it, too. You want to go back into a cell?”

The man just peers at him, eyes slit, anger evident.

“Hey, asshole,” Alec chimes in, a huge smirk now on his lips, “My partner asked you a question.”

The man just shakes his head.

“Good,” Quain assesses. “Now, we’re going to ask you some more questions. We know you didn’t give much to the officers who interrogated you when you were arrested.”

“Nothing at all, really,” Alec expands, speaking in an aside manner, and Quain nods.

“But this is different, so you need to answer us. Okay?”

The gangster who has lately stopped smoking just looks at Quain, still seeming incapable of doing much more than squinting, head tilted to the right, almost as though he gains more sight from his left eye.

“Okay?” Quain tries again, leaning toward the man, perking his eyebrows.

“Okay,” the man grumbles.

“Great,” Quain grins, and he slides a chair over from a nearby table, settling into it, “Let’s get started.”

*****

They meet at Yami at eight in the evening, perhaps late for some, but her work schedule had dictated the time of their rendezvous. Skothiam had offered, of course, to pick her up, but she had insisted on meeting at the eatery. He understands the caution.

He had arrived earlier, wanting to be there first and have a moment to evaluate the restaurant. The warm illumination and tones please him, the décor a pristine, modern take on traditional Asian styles. The place is somewhat busy, but not overly so, and he manages to procure a corner table in a more romantic section, the walls a mahogany hue, the carpet a more obvious red dispersed with black patterns.

Lilja arrives not long after, and he sees her across the way, her striking hair drawing the eye. He notices that she has changed since work, opting for a somewhat darker arrangement of clothing with her button-down blouse, skirt at mid-thigh, and black pumps. It all even further accentuates the contrast of her vivid red locks tumbling down past her shoulders. He watches as she speaks to the hostess, then looks about. Her sparkling eyes finally find him, and he gives a signaling wave with the gentle raise of his right hand, standing as she walks over to the table, a light smile on her lips.

She notices that he also has opted for something different for this evening out, indeed continuing the similarity in having gone for tones of a darker hue, the thin, barely perceptible, vertical stripes of his shirt serving as the only hindrance to a uniform blackness. The sleeves are French style, folded back and secured with cuff links of what appears silver and black onyx. He does not sport a jacket, though, and the shirt is open at the collar.

“Please,” he says, gesturing to the other chair, reaching the short distance and aiding in pulling it out.

“Thank you,” she replies, slipping into it, accepting his assistance at settling in.

He gazes upon her for a moment, long enough to take in the sight but not so much a duration as to cause awkwardness. Her lips are very well formed, lush, but not overly so, the top shaped delicately, demure, the bottom fuller. A subtle splash of freckling accents both sides of her face from below each temple to down over her cheeks, the bones beneath giving a high, smooth appearance to them. Her nose is subtly aquiline, the tip soft. Her chin provides a graceful curve, showing some prominence, the width a bit more than that of her bottom lip.

Her pale skin is smooth, soft-looking, alabaster, and her almond eyes look fully upon him, seeming to sparkle, giving forth shades of such a frosty blue as to appear white, darkening toward the edges of the iris, some parts even gray. Her lashes are long, thick, brought forth even more by the touch of her make-up.

“You look very nice,” he comments, after he has reseated himself, giving her a pleasant smile.

“Thank you,” she smiles in return, “So do you.”

He grins further at this, dipping his head once, “Thank you.”

He cannot quite figure her out, though that would be expected at this juncture, but she holds an interesting mix of bold and bashful. She notes the strength in his forwardness, even as much as it is carried in culture and gentility, though one could presume a touch of impatience in such things.

A moment of silence passes. He looks upon her, noting that she casts her eyes about. She eventually looks back, noting his observation, and the barest touch of a flush touches her cheeks.

“Are you familiar with this place?” he asks.

“No,” she shakes her head very lightly, “Are you?”

He emits a short, soft chuckle, “No. I enjoy Japanese food, but I am not that familiar with the city, so I just looked up a place that might be suitable. I do hope you like it.”

“Is it your favorite?” she asks, moving in the chair, making herself more comfortable.

“Japanese food?” he replies, a smile on his lips beneath the blink of his eyes, a touch befuddled by the question.

She nods, then raises her chin at the end of the motion, peering into his eyes, eager for the answer.

“Well, I had not much thought on it,” he says, still smiling, indecisive as well as perhaps wilting the barest bit under her scrutiny. “Hmmm, well, I suppose it is, though I much prefer sushi over the other options.”

She nods slowly, absorbing this information as carefully as she might do the same in her profession. Her attention shifting as she does, looking more right, outward, as though to again casually study her surroundings. He watches this, even glancing briefly in the direction of her gaze.

Their waiter arrives, but he is quickly dismissed after they place a drink order.

“And yours?” he says, looking at her.

She returns her focus to him, blinking, her face looking open, fresh, somewhat unlike the more generally studied, polite, if not even subtly guarded expression to which he has grown used.

“My …?” she leads.

“-Favorite food,” he elaborates, still showing that pleasant smile, though the right side tries to edge up further.

“Oh,” she nods, looking down, her lips coming together.

He notices a movement at the lower edges of her jaw as she ponders. A few minutes pass. Their drinks are delivered amidst quietly murmured thanks, and then she finally speaks.

“I’m not really sure what is my favorite food. It changes. I like many foods, if they are prepared well. I like a good steak, I really enjoy well-made pasta, I like smoked and raw salmon. I like sushi. I like reindeer. I like soups. I like good food, and I really can’t name one absolute favorite. I’m also open to try different foods.”

His grin has grown throughout her response, and when she stops, she blinks at him, her head tilting to the left. He notices as her own smile changes, lips parting, then she looks down as her cheeks become more prominent from the increasing grin.

“And I thought we had to pick one,” he comments, and they share a brief chuckle.

“Sorry,” she finally says, shoulders coming up a bit as her eyes shift to him, then away.

“It’s fine. Really.”

They continue the exchange of light-seeming, though subtly insightful banter throughout the meal, taking their time. He has ordered a bottle of Rikyubai sake, served chilled, which they finish off over the course of the evening. Once they have completed the meal, she asks the waiter to bring them a pot of sencha green tea.

It takes but a moment to arrive, but the short time has been spent in quiet, the two looking at each other, occasional glances given to their surroundings, but the main focus still shared betwixt the pair. The ceramic pot is set down on the table, somewhat ornate, but not overly so, accompanied by two matching drinking bowls. She politely dismisses the waiter then raises the small lid of the pot to peer inside, leaning over for an inhale through her nose. He watches her closely, baring of a respectful amusement, and she nods to him, agreeable to what she has discerned.

She then pours a decent amount of the steaming, green liquid into a cup, and he is surprised when she turns the vessel, then dips her head to him and offers him the drink. He blinks in confusion but manages to return the gesture, taking the bowl.

“Thank you.”

She smiles at him, pleasantly, then after it is obvious he is waiting, she bids of him, “Drink.”

“Aren’t you going to join me?”

“Just drink,” she invites again.

He then raises the cup, sipping from it under her keenly watchful eye.

“Is it good?”

“Oh, yes,” he says.

She smiles at this then holds out her hands, a light motion of the first two fingers of her right hand indicating to him that she wants the bowl. He decides not to question and gives it back to her. She smiles again, giving another dip of her head, which he returns, and then she turns the object, partaking of its contents.

“Mmmm, yes,” she says whilst nodding, swallowing, “It is very good.”

She then pours some tea into the other bowl, handing this one to him. He looks at her with some confusion but takes this, sipping of it as she continues with the other. A moment passes as they quietly enjoy the beverage.

“Was that a sort of tea ceremony?” he finally asks.

She offers him a gentle smile, “Not quite. They do have a nice enough flower arrangement there,” she points behind him, and he turns to see that indeed there is an unobtrusive arrangement of white flowers in a tall, narrow vase, standing atop a pedestal there in the corner, back-lit, “But many of the crucial elements are missing, and you really ought to prepare the tea yourself for the ceremony. I just wanted to do something similar.”

“Thank you,” he smiles, and she returns it. “That has made it very special,” he adds, and this causes a very light flush to take her pale flesh, but she does not look away.

*****

“The research is coming along well,” he says, having taken the time to change into a pair of black, silk pajamas and pour a small measure of brandy.

“I hope so,” speaks the person on the monitor.

He glances over from his casual wanderings in the room, noting the image of his mother. She had left him a message, wanting to know how things were going, asking him to call tonight, no matter the hour. He knows she is something of a night owl, but he also knows that regardless of how old they get, she will always be the worrying mother.

She also does not look her age, which is just shy of seventy. Her full, straight hair is out, the silver coloring a luster, where it had once been a rich sable. She also appears to have already made herself ready for bed, perhaps reading or some such until he had called.

He prepares to speak again, but she presses on.

“You’ve been at it for a full week now. Have you learned anything?”

“Yes,” he says, sipping from the brandy, letting the warmth have its way with him, “But you know as well as I do that the Three Books comprise a mystery of their own. They do not easily reveal the secret. It is another of the reasons we do not fully understand them. Were they written as a safeguard or as a weapon of annihilation?”

She sighs, and he pauses in his sudden drift into musing, his eyes blinking back to her crisp image. He knows his own is being relayed to her, the small, state-of-the-art camera even set to track his movement.

“You and your father are much better at this than I am,” she remarks, and he nods. “Though I did have an interesting talk with Nicole.”

“Oh?” he leads, eyebrows perking, and he slips into the fine, cushioned leather chair.

“You were out late tonight,” she observes, “And you sound a bit anxious. Is everything alright?”

“Yes, everything is fine,” he says, giving a very slight curl to his lips.

“Anything on Denman?” she shifts gears again, mentioning the Malkuth who had recently come on staff at the university.

“Nothing out of the ordinary. I am sparing some surveillance to that end, but I’d think that less attention from us would be the better method.”

“Yes, well, if we’re to assume he does not know you are there. He’s very subtle and tricky.”

“Yes,” he nods slowly, deeply, “I know,” exhaling at length through his nose, as he looks away, pondering. “I might risk more general observation.”

“Has he been to see the Book?” she asks. “If he is there, they obviously suspect, and the first place he’d look would be the library’s collection.”

“That is quite an assumption,” he replies, eyes back to hers, and he notes the narrowing. “Not of which I am aware,” he tries to placate by answering her question, “I have been spending a good portion of the days there, and he has not stopped by when I’ve been there. I can’t exactly ask the librarian if he has been by. That would arouse too much suspicion.”

“We just need to get that book out of the collection.”

“I am working on that, but it seems the university is not in any mood to part with it. They have money, so offering an endowment may be less attractive than the prestige of having the book itself.”

“Then offer them more.”

He exhales, pausing in his response to sip of his brandy, “The negotiations are underway. It has only been a week. I cannot appear too eager. I am sure the Malkuths would be watching for something of that sort, just as are we.”

“If we’re to assume they know the book is in the collection at all,” she hurls a barb at him, a self-satisfied smirk to her lips.

He grins, a forced exhalation of breath though his nostrils, “Yes, Mother.”

They both share a short chuckle at that.

“Oh, I spoke with Charleston,” she brings up, and he raises his chin, eyes widening to a more open, neutral gaze. “He’s found a few decent choices. He’ll need your input, of course, but I helped to eliminate some more obvious options.”

“Thank you,” he gives a warm smile, “I’ll contact him tomorrow.”

She nods, also smiling, “Nicole may also call you tomorrow. She has some ideas on how to assess and protect the situation.”

“Alright,” he acquiesces, for there is little reason to object, and he senses it would result in an argument.

His sister has quite different methods than his own, her attunement to certain ways far out-stripping anything in recent history. It sometimes worries him, to be honest, as though her mind had evolved beyond typical human expectation. She can be very useful with particular things, but he worries she’d compromise the subtlety required here. She is certainly not that reckless, but the very uniqueness of her presence and methods may be a beacon.

“I’ll let you go, then,” she offers another warm smile, “Good night, Skot. I love you.”

“Good night, Mom. I love you, too,” and the call is ended.

He sits for a moment, in the silence, computer powered down, as he ponders his evening’s activities – going out on the date, seeming to be pushing toward establishing something romantic with Lilja. He is taken by it and quite obviously by her. He had not expected something like this at all, but he is also not inclined to ignore such attraction. He knows she is also experiencing it.

He had let the thought pass his mind of telling his mother, but he would not have anticipated the most positive of responses. He has been single for many years now, and though he knows she’d like him to find someone, she worries of his being hurt as he was before. She’d also likely be displeased with the age disparity between himself and the young curator-librarian, warning him that a young lady would be more apt to want children. He smirks to himself at that thought, as if she’d not want more grandchildren.

It is always a precarious thing when bringing someone new into the family, though such thoughts regarding that are obviously premature. He still ponders them, though, for he knows this is not some casual attempt at dating and pleasurable distraction while he is at work here. There is something about her which pulls at him deeply, a particular quality that he finds nigh undeniable. He shall continue.

©2016 Scott Carruba

“Yes, the accommodations are very nice,” speaks the voice, and were it not for the small device in his ear with the tiny, blue light, it may seem he talks to no one.

He spares a moment for the screen of his laptop, the machine ensconced in a dark, metal traveling case, open now for his use as he sits in the expansive, very posh hotel room.

“I’ve thought about that quite a lot, even had some analyses of various kinds run on it,” he continues speaking after listening for a moment, “Yes, it appears most likely they were behind the attack. It’s just too overt, too lethal to have been the Malkuths,” and he pauses, nodding his head a bit, even as he listens and continues interfacing with his computer.

He gives a further moment to the monitor, eyes following the action on the screen. Then he rises, heading to the bar, dropping two ice cubes into a fine glass before adding even finer scotch into it.

“They could not have known it was one of the Three. They’d not risk destroying it. We all want them,” he says, swirling the glass, then taking a generous sip of the cooling liquid. A light perk of his eyebrows is all the commentary he gives to the taste.

“The trap is rather eloquent if you think about it.” Another pause as he listens, nodding, then, “They had to have known something unusual had been added to the library but not what it was, so they set the trap to lie in wait in case it was ever found, thus destroying the item and whomsoever else may have been unlucky enough to be caught in the fire,” then in a musing tone that implies compliment, “Like a very patient fisherman.’

“Well, I don’t know,” he adds after another pause, “If they had just blown up the library, they may not have gotten anyone in the blast. This way, they know at least one person is there. I do not know exactly how they think, Mother, but they do love to kill us if given the chance.”

“Yes, it is worrisome that they were able to set the trap at all, but the house is gutted, and it seems a poor idea to rebuild. Charleston is working to find us a suitable replacement. Just stay with Nicole until then. I’m sure you two will love to have more time together,” he says in a somewhat teasing tone, and the expression drops after a moment of listening, traded for something very serious, laden with emotion.

“It was him, Mother. I don’t know how to explain it, but it was him. Somehow, he was triggered to appear, but it … felt like Dad,” he explains, more emotion trickling into his voice. “He was eager to show me the book. I don’t know when or how or where he found it, but it had been in the library all this time. I suppose he was waiting until the right moment to tell me.”

“Well, I’m not sure,” after further waiting for his mother to talk, “You know him better than I do. You tell me why he did it,” and more time passes as she speaks, “I suppose it may well be related to the breakthrough regarding the second book. We’ll know more tomorrow after my appointment.”

He listens more, going back to the computer, more tastes taken of the liquid in the glass, and he pulls up files, looking at a photograph along with textual information.

“I do not believe in coincidence,” he says, “They must know, too, or they highly suspect. Still, this seems too careful, too … slow for them, so I figure their intelligence lags behind ours. If they knew the book was in the collection, they’d probably just steal it.’

“Well, yes, I suppose they know it is there and have discerned the security is too much for them to risk,” he speaks, a subtle cast of sarcasm to his voice, but it is easily detected by one who knows him so well. “Yes, Mother,” he says, exhaling, a short roll of his blue eyes, “I know the school is very wealthy and prestigious, so they may indeed have rather strong protection in place for their collection of rare books,” though his tone suggests he is humoring her.

“I’ll get as close as I am able tomorrow, and if it turns out it is one of the Three, then I will inquire through the proper channels, make an offer or try to buy or extensively borrow the book or some such,” then a pause as he listens, “Of course that is not normal, but if it is one of the Three, then we must do whatever is within our power. I’ll offer to give the school an endowment if I have to.’

“Hmmm,” he ponders after further listening, “That’s not a bad idea. Let me examine the book first, then if needed, Nicole can come here, but you know that means you’d have to take care of the grandchildren. I am sure you’d hate that,” and now the sarcasm is more evident, along with the teasing, and were anyone else in the room, they’d hear the laughter from his mother emerging through the device, only to dissolve into a normal tone of voice, as he gives ear. “Oh, he’s fine,” then in something of an aside aspect, “I wish he were enrolled at this school, but yes, well, we’ll see about motivating him to not wastes his gifts some other time, or you feel free to give him a call.”

He chuckles at his mother’s response.

“Yes, Mom, you sleep well, alright? Give my greetings to Nicole and everyone else. Yes, you, too. I love you, too. Good night.”

He ends the call, going back to studying information on his screen, drinking more deeply of the dwindling contents in the glass. He pulls up a photograph of the Curator of the library’s rare book collection, reading the dossier attached. He is surprised at the bright red coloring of her long hair, not having expected something so unconventional. Judging from the information about her, they have someone very serious about such tomes in charge, but he has no clue as to any security measures. Still, he is more curious to keep others out. He does not plan to skirt the law in this, so long as he is able.

*****

The black Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R follows the semi-trailer truck at a decent distance along the gently curving roads here outside the city. It is night, and no normally discernable lights emit from the motorcycle, for it is in stealth mode. The customized resonator muffler gives forth little more than a minimal purring as the bike pursues in the wake of the large truck. Its driver’s goggles allow enhanced modes of vision that dispel the usual impediment of driving in the dark without the benefit of conventional illumination. The twin headlamps at the fore of the vehicle are there, but it is obvious they have also been customized. A small device beneath the trailer emits an electronic signal in case sight of the truck is lost.

The tailing proves easy enough as they finally enter the city. The driver dares to follow closer, though the size of the semi-trailer keeps it from making any sudden turns, even if it were engaged in pro-active efforts of evasion. From what has been discerned prior to this transport trip, little caution has been employed.

The truck eventually makes it way to the warehouse, still here on the outskirts of the metropolis, driving through the entrance. The metal gates slide closed once the carrier is through, rolling and jiggling, ending in a loud report of the locking mechanism activating.

“Do you see anything?” emerges a voice over a comlink.

Two men hold position atop the main building, garbed in dark clothing, looking out over the direction from which the semi-trailer has arrived. One holds a pair of large binoculars, the other peers through a sophisticated scope attached to a suppressed sniper rifle. “Nothing,” replies the man with the binoculars after taking a moment to scan and looking at his comrade for verification, “Anything from the cameras?”

“Negative,” replies the voice, “We’re monitoring. If anything comes up, we’ll sound the alarm.”

“So will we. Out,” answers the spotter, then mumbling to the sniper, “Do they think we’re stupid?”

“Shut up.”

The motorcycle that had lately been in pursuit of the transport stands now quietly on the other side of a block of buildings across from the warehouse, its theft-deterrent measures engaged. The rider is atop a three story structure, moving low and slow, nearing the edge. Once there, observation is made through quite small binoculars, different modes of view engaged with the touch of a button. Cameras are noticed. They have been seen before, but their increased numbers are evident. The team atop the building is also made, despite being somewhat well hidden. The spotter is too eager, rising up and sweeping with the reflective binoculars too openly. They must be anticipating an arrival.

An alternate plan is quickly devised, along with considering abandoning the mission. There is doubt that this is merely increased security measures for its own sake. They have finally figured out they are being targeted, despite their time of success and the continued bribes to local law enforcement.

A frontal assault had also been considered – take out the sniper team and a few cameras, then scale the gate and engage. There is worry, though, for the safety of those inside who are innocent. The risk is too great.

The motorcycle is left where it is, the rider moving back along the ground, keeping to shadows, though it seems no one is about. The jika-tabi make very little sound on the concrete as the driver sprints across an area of potential exposure, continuing obliquely from the warehouse, moving along the street to gain a different angle of approach.

It appears that the occupants of the warehouse have placed their expectation on an approach from the front. The number of cameras from this angle is fewer, the wall about the rear transitioning from metal to concrete, visually estimated at around four meters high. Some time is spared for surveillance, taking note that the team on top of the building appears content to only observe a limited field from the forward vantage.

The rider moves toward the wall with an even, medium speed stride, having chosen an approach that holds in a generous blind spot of the cameras. The left foot finds high purchase, the other coming up as well from the momentum, propulsion carrying as hands work in tandem until they find the top of the wall.  The figure crouches low, holding still and quiet, observing for any sign that presence has been detected.

And there is the semi-trailer, backed into an open bay, its cargo already emptied. Bright lights illuminate that area, even as the large, rolling garage door remains open. A person is spied outside, smoking, a Vz. 61 Skorpion strapped over his right shoulder. The infiltrator atop the wall does not move, merely watching as further drags are taken on the cigarette by the sentry. The man’s eyes scan about somewhat, even coming close to peering at the intruder until the smoke break is done, and with a toss of the butt, he turns and heads back inside through the docking bay, ignoring the adjacent door. Voices are heard from within, and then the cacophony of metal erupts onto the night quiet as the garage door is closed.

Time to move.

The figure scurries atop the wall, keeping low, then shifts left with an effortless smoothness, dropping to the inside of the wall, landing upon bent knees, rocking forward a bit to balance with hands, holding place now in an area of shadow. There are other lights here, but they are not as radiant, and a quick scan shows one method of ingress along the warehouse’s brick back wall – a single door positioned in the center, above which hangs a lamp and a camera.

The FN P90 submachine gun strapped tight to the figure’s torso is taken in both gloved hands, aimed at the camera, the red dot and infrared sight clearly showing the way. A coughing sound is produced by the subsonic ammunition fired through a suppressor, and the camera is rendered ineffective.

The reaction is somewhat quick, though it does belie the level of readiness and training on the part of the defense here. The team atop the building rushes over, making far too much noise, peering down over the rear of the building, both looking near and far for any sign of an intruder. They see nothing, for the shooter has moved back, staying close to the wall, returning to the loading dock area.

Two doors then open in quick unison. The rear spills forth two guards, both armed with Skorpions, and one must assume the team on the roof has given some sort of a clear sign to them from their observation above. The two men swing their barrels about, searching somewhat erratically, seeming little concerned with protecting one another or even themselves and blindly hopeful of spotting an intruder.

The door leading into the garage area gives passage to the one who had just been outside on smoke break, but before he may do much searching, he is surprised from behind by an expert choke hold applied along with full body weight upon his back. He instinctively reaches, hands clasping at the arm about his throat, releasing his hold on the SMG. It dangles there by its shoulder strap. His reactionary struggles are miniscule, ineffective, and within seconds, he is unconscious. Zip-ties are quickly applied to his wrists and ankles just as the other guards begin to realize something is going on.

Tactical lights shine over the supine body of the guard, moving about as the two on the ground rush over to investigate even as the sniper team atop the building adds their own bright spotlight to the scene. No one else is there.

“Yuri’s down, tied up,” the spotter speaks into his comlink, “Someone’s on the premises.”

“We’re going into lockdown, sounding the alarm,” replies the voice on the other end. “Get the intruder, alive if possible.”

And then a noise permeates the area, not too loud, but loud enough to effectively do its job. Lights also snap on where most of the building had been held in darkness, but there are still areas where one may remain hidden. The two men on the ground rush inside the open door leading to the bay, while those on the roof claim duty over the outside area. They pause once inside, angling weapons up to the noise of approaching footsteps, though it proves to be another guard coming in on the second floor, looking down from a catwalk. They trade rudimentary acknowledgement and hand signals, then get back to business.

It takes a moment for the one to realize he is alone, and he begins another sort of search here in the large area.

“Clay?” he calls out, looking around, jerking the barrel of his gun about. “Clay!” he tries more insistently, and then he sees something back in the dark distance, behind a long, tall shelf baring of various items and boxes.

The form moves, moaning.

“Clay?”

He flicks on his tactical beam, shining it to see the his colleague, held at the wrists and ankles by zip-ties, obvious signs of having just regained consciousness and experiencing trouble grasping it.

“Shit!” comes the adequate assessment, and he turns just as his ears pick up the sounds of approaching feet.

His finger goes to the trigger of his weapon, and then the gun is knocked from his hands, flying free and scraping across the concrete floor. He barely registers the black-garbed figure, moving so quickly. He tries to strike out, and his attempt is easily dodged. He turns in the direction the blurry intruder has moved only to feel a sharp pain in his side, followed all too quickly by a bloom of pain in his sternum, then his left knee. He crumbles, and the hit to his temple helps him complete his journey to the ground. He is quickly tied and left.

He cries out, a mixture of pain, frustration, and anger, but no one responds.

A couple of guards later, and the intruder creeps slowly down a hallway on the second floor. There are openings to either side, no doors, and within most of the cramped rooms are girls and women of various ages, though none look to be older than their twenties, despite the condition of their appearance, and many seem frighteningly young. Some of them lull in the apparent stupor of drugs, others are alert, eyes open wide, watchful, fearful, but all of them are bound in one way or another.

The infiltrator holds a black-gloved finger over the place where a mouth would be behind the obscuring mask, an easily understood sign. There is no real noise from the women, other than the whimpering cries of some. None of these are probably the recently unloaded “cargo”.

The space at the end of the hallway turns out to be some sort of break room, with the worn drip coffee maker, Styrofoam cups, small television, and other such common accoutrements for killing time. The unarmed man in here looks as though he is probably the driver of the truck. Once his threat potential has been assessed, the intruder moves into view, looking about.

The driver cries out, startled, then pushes back against a countertop, trying to increase the distance between himself and the other. He then pulls a knife from a set nearby, brandishing the piece of cutlery. The intruder looks at him briefly, the distance far too great for the man to do any real damage with the impromptu weapon, even had he the training. The man stares, head tilting, brow furrow beneath the cap on his head.

“You …” he speaks, gesturing with the knife, “You … you’re … what the-?”

And a black object is suddenly in the intruder’s hands, aimed, a button pressed and the prongs shoot out on wires, delivering a debilitating shock. The man is taut, held like a bow string, teeth and jaw clenched as the other walks nearer. The button is released, and he slumps, incapacitated. The zip-ties are quickly applied, prongs removed, and the stunner reset.

A few more minutes pass before it seems all that may be left is the sniper team and those behind the locked door. A door which presumably leads to the command center of the warehouse. Cameras have been disabled along the way, just like the tied up guards.

“Who is it!” a voice from within demands to the gentle rapping on the door.

Yes, someone is indeed inside, and moments later, a loud crack of noise indicates the locking mechanism being breached, the controlled force of which thrusts the door open. Gunfire responds almost immediately, and a small object is slid inside the room, exploding with a loud flash of blinding light. The intruder then rolls on the ground from the perpendicular hallway some three meters distant, firing the suppressed P90, wounding the two men in the legs.

They cry out, falling, still randomly firing their SMG’s, but the attacker has rolled back out of view, simply waiting until they have quickly expended their magazines.

“He’s here!” a pained voice speaks, “Control room … gaaah,” more outbursts of pain, coupled with the cluttering noise of rushed panic as at least one of the men tries to reload.

The steady sound of jika-tabi announces the arrival of the intruder, and the one trying to reload sucks in a breath through parted lips and gritted teeth, reeling back as much as he is able until he is struck with the butt of the gun, lapsing into unconsciousness. The SMG is quickly aimed at the other, who greets this with hands raised.

“I surrender! I surrender!”

“Turn around; hands behind your back,” emerges a powerful command from behind the mask, the words clear, strong, and confident, delivered from deep within the chest.

The man nods, feebly, but he displays some confusion. His hands are jerked down sharply, and he grunts in pain as his wrists are tied. A cell phone is retrieved from one of many pockets on the infiltrator’s black, non-reflective suit, buttons pressed, then it is set down on the counter near the man.

“The police are on their way,” comes the whispered announcement, the man cringing, for the assailant has leaned near, no doubt to also transmit this to the sniper team.

The intruder stays crouched somewhat low, looking out over the impressive windows to the north and east side of the command room. One can view a good portion of the large warehouse from here, but not all of it. Of course, the cameras were meant to make up for that.

Is the sniper team waiting, approaching, or did they flee? Exfiltration must occur before the arrival of law enforcement. They would not treat the intruder kindly, for vigilantism is against the law.

Once outside, it seems the sniper team did make their escape. They were not so stupid after all. The finely tuned engine of the motorcycle fires up, and the rider is off. Mission accomplished.

*****

He has deliberately arrived early for the appointment, but he does not announce himself. It may be seen nearly as rude to show up premature as to cause undue delay beyond an expected time, and besides, he wishes to take advantage of this for some reconnaissance. He drew some notice from the young man behind the counter when he entered, a bit of a study of him within a sidelong look cast briefly from whatever reading material took his attention. He takes it that this young man feels somewhat comfortable with his knowledge of people here at this small, acclaimed private school, and the visitor certainly shows age beyond that of a standard student and is not a member of the faculty.

If the attendant feels so inclined to question him or raise any alarm, that moment passes as he confidently walks further into the building. He has learned that appearance and attitude may shirk suspicion, and his finely tailored suit and smooth stride seem to have allayed any doubt that may be kindling in the young man.

He wanders about, eventually moving up the stairs to the second floor. There are four to this building, and what he hopes to see resides on the lower one, below ground. He bides his time, examining the books, glancing over spines for hints of tales to be told. There is a decent-sized bank of computers on the uppermost story available for the use of students. He has heard that the machines are quite top notch, though he suspects most of the members of the learning body here have arrived with their own expensive, sleek laptops. It is not easy to get into this school, and though they do offer scholarships and grants, most of those attending come from money.

He loses his thoughts again to wondering why his own son is not a student here, but he shan’t give himself over to too much regret. There are many avenues to excellence, and sometimes a formal education of this caliber may have no place in that journey.

He glances at the dark gray face of his Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Contemporaine watch, noting that the time shows near enough that he may make his presence known without seeming untoward. He returns to the young man at the front, doing just that, heading over to wait in one of the comfortable leather chairs here in the foyer as the attendant uses the phone.

He has picked up a pamphlet in his short explorations, something about the collections of books and art held by the university, and he is perusing its slim contents when he hears the approach of heels.

“Mr. Felcraft?”

He looks up, smiling warmly, and he is greeted with a vision. He had, of course, seen her staff photograph before coming here, and though it had proved rather complimentary, it was still a work picture. She is not wearing the glasses from the image, and her hair is out, natural and long, that vibrant red catching his eye. He notes that her clothes are rather smart and well fitted, even if nowhere in the league of cost of his own. Still, price tags only determine one form of worth, and they may not always be very precise at that. He rises smoothly, extending his hand to meet her own. A firm shake is given, though warm in the greeting, much less guarded. “Ms. Perhonen, is it?” he replies, pronouncing the name with a short, slipped roll of the ‘r’.

She gives a slight, surprised, but pleased smile at hearing the enunciation. “I hope you’ve not been waiting too long,” she speaks, her accent rather unexpected and refined. “Marcel mentioned you’d been here a while.”

“Marcel?” he asks, brow furrowing, face moving a touch to the right in the inquisitive expression.

“Oh, the volunteer there at the front desk,” she informs, turning and indicating with a relaxed gesture of her hand, and she finally smiles, emitting a short, nearly silent chuckle as though a bit embarrassed to have imparted the information this way.

He finds it utterly charming.

“Ahhh, did he now?” he plays along, smiling further, then gives a glance over, dipping his head once when he notices Marcel watching them. “I arrived early for our engagement, so I killed some time. Your library is quite remarkable.”

She smiles further, “Thank you, but it’s not mine.”

Ah, is she teasing, making a joke?

“Of course not,” he adds, “But it may seem as much the property of those who care for it as those who pay for it … if not more so. Spending money may be easier than taking the time to embrace real responsibility over something.”

He notes the shadow of a smirk on her lips, though the expression does not fully resolve.

“Well, then, follow me, if you please,” she invites, and with a smoothly murmured, ‘thank you’, he does just that.

“I know of you, Mr. Felcraft,” she speaks into the short silence as they make their way to the separate staircase that leads to the lower level.

“You do?”

She nods, “Your family’s collection is well known amongst those like me.”

“And what might that be?” he pitches the question with a touch of playfulness.

She pauses at a locked set of double doors, peering back at him, one hand poised near the keypad, a card held in the embrace of slender digits tipped with a daring red polish.

“Librarians,” she answers flatly, then slides her card, punching in a code with the quick ease of familiarity, causing the lock to disengage, and they enter.

He follows her ingress, though his attention is temporarily taken with the environ, glancing about at the bookcases, most of which are fronted with locked, glass doors. A few books lie open on pedestals, which he suspects is not normal and may perhaps have even been done on his account. This room may act as a museum but it is more often controlled, secure storage.

She moves in further, not bothering to give him any sort of introductory spiel about the collection. He is here for a specific reason, and she knows it. He moves in her wake, eyes still casting about, until they reach a rear area. An imposing wood and glass cabinet holds a half dozen books in two rows, each displayed forward, each behind their own glass window. She retrieves an electronic key from a small collection on her person and places the tip against the unobtrusive receptacle at one portal. A light shifts position, a small click is heard, and she opens the window, retrieving the book.

She presents it to him in both hands, and he bends forward a touch from the waist, peering at it. He moves his eyes from the cover to hers, noting the piercing gaze, and he brings his hands forward, fingers extended in a relaxed fashion.

“May I?”

“Yes,” she says, a curl just touching the edge of her lips, “I am sure you noticed the tables and chairs in here. Feel free to use them as you wish to examine the book, but it mustn’t leave this room.”

“Of course,” he moves his head forward once in acquiescence, “I presume you’ll be remaining in here to chaperone me.”

She gives a polite smile, nodding her head. He then takes the tome, but he does not move. He allows himself to experience its heft. It is a decent sized one, roughly six by ten inches, most closely to octavo, adhering to the golden mean ratio, somewhat thick, baring of approximately six hundred pages. He looks at the spine, delicately running his fingers down it, feeling the five ridges. It is bound in dark, Moroccan leather, the gilding silver. He opens it, flipping to the back, examining the colophon, noting the information presented as well as the small sigil. The names and dates match the first book. Everything seems in order. He tries to remain calm, as though he were examining a common rare book of immense value and not one that may hold secrets capable of protecting or destroying this planet’s very way of life.

He glances up at her after losing himself to this scrutiny. She is merely watching him, standing quite patiently.

“What do you think?” she asks.

“Exquisite,” he replies, then gives her a brief moment of his smile before heading over to the large, circular wooden table near the entrance.

He takes a seat in one of the chairs, the fine upholstery offering comfort as well as aesthetic. He sets the book down with some delicacy, though the fortitude is evident in the robust and pristine appearance at its age. He flips it open to a random page, looking over the words, not really reading, just drifting, moving to another leaf, then another, noting the impressive woodcut images, the sophistication and artistry quite breathtaking.

“I’m surprised you did not bring anything on which to take notes. I could fetch a pad and pen, if you like,” she offers.

“Oh,” he looks up, smiling, “No, thank you. Frankly, I was not sure if this was the book I am seeking. I had planned to just make a cursory examination.”

“Ah,” she nods, her hands held before herself, at her lower belly, her right hand lightly grasping the index finger of her left, “I can assure you of its authenticity.”

He notices she wears no rings of any kind. “I do not doubt you at all, Ms. Perhonen,” he says. “I am seeking a particular book, very rare, and I was not sure this would be the one, but it seems to be.”

She tilts her head a bit, pale brow knitting, and she moves a half-step closer. “That is … curious. I cannot say I’ve ever known of that sort of motivation for visiting our collection.”

He glances back at her, offering a short smile, one that could be placating or even awkward, but its intent is not entirely clear. His attention returns to the book, and he holds his hands over the open pages.

“Mr. Felcraft? Are you alright?” she asks, moving closer, concern taking her features.

“Oh, yes,” another smile emerges, this one more controlled, “It is just rather monumental for me to have found it.”

Some more time passes as he looks at the book, and she spends that time observing him.

“I am sure, in your line of work, you may appreciate rare, important things, and as you have chosen the Library Sciences, I presume you are aware of the power of knowledge. We have so many ways now to share information, but older times were not so fortunate,” he slowly flips through a few more pages as he speaks in this musing tone, hands occasionally moving the paper in a delicate stroke, as though he were imbibing the information through his fingertips.

She watches silently, noting the slender length of his digits, the obvious manicure, the nails longer than may be conventionally expected on a man.

“One may posit that due to the cost and limitations on books, especially prior to the sixteenth century, the knowledge placed in them was carefully chosen. This could be political, religious, academic, and that may say something in and of itself. Books may well be the purveyors of secrets.” He closes the tome, looking up at her, “How much do you know of this one, Ms. Perhonen?”

She blinks, perhaps having been lost in her observation and his speech. Her eyes widen a bit, eyebrows rising, the blue catching light like shards of ice. “I was not very much involved in its identification and authentication. I am just a curator.”

He turns to fully face her, catching her eyes, “Is that so?”

“Yes,” she nods.

“You are the Lead Curator and Archivist for a rather special collection, well on your way to becoming Director of the entire library, and at your age,” he continues, still wearing that pleasant smile on his lips, “You are obviously accomplished, and I suspect you care for the books here, even as such may be a reflection of your professional performance. We learn in many ways, do we not, Ms. Perhonen?”

She blinks, eyes still on him, but she does not move further or nearer to where he sits. “You seem to have done some checking up on me before coming here,” she finally speaks, “Is there a particular reason for this?”

“I care about books,” he replies, pushing back a tad from the table, turning his chair toward her as he does, folding his hands in his lap, “And not just about books, but many things which may be considered art or treasure, and I do not just mean in the literal sense, for what is ‘treasure’ but that upon which we ascribe some subjective value? I suspect you know this, and that you have done some checking up of your own.’ “This book,” he slowly reaches out his right hand, placing it atop the cover of said treatise, “is one of particular importance to me, and if it were possible, I would acquire it for my private collection. In the stead of that, I’d feel more comfortable if I knew it were secure and well cared for.”

“With all due respect, Mr. Felcraft, and I do appreciate your status as a collector, but I work for the university, and though we obviously afford some opportunities to those outside the school, my primary duty is to the institution, not to you.”

“I’d have thought your primary duty might be to the books,” he retorts, the gentle smile on his lips blunting any potential edge to the words.

And there it is again, that shadow of a smirk trying to have its way with her lips.

“What good is a book without someone to read it?” she pitches.

He grins more openly, a quiet chuckle passing through his throat. He then raises the index finger of his right hand. “Exactly,” he agrees.

“So,” she looks more serious after sharing a brief smile, eyes moving to the valuable folio, “What is so special about this book, then?”

“Ah, yes, well,” he replies, eyebrows perking for a moment as his own gaze travels to the item in question, “It … hmmm …”

And her eyes glide back to his in that moment of hesitation, and she shifts more toward him in a barely discernable manner.

“This book is under some of our tightest security, and it receives the utmost care. Such is warranted for one of this value. It would be welcome to know more of it. I would welcome it,” she says.

And he looks up to see a pleasant smile on her lips. He may have more experience, but neither of them are without some skill at diplomacy. “Perhaps it would be better if I completed some study of it first,” he offers, turning it into the suggestion of a question at the end, “I should be certain.”

She looks at him, obviously evaluating his words, but she dips her head once, “Of course. How much time would you like? I can get you materials you may need, even refreshments?”

“Thank you, you are very kind and accommodating. Is there a way to set up an extended loan of the book?”

Her brow furrows, “I am afraid the book is not allowed to leave this room except for under the most special of circumstances, and that would not include examination and study by a private collector, no matter how reputable or prestigious that person may be.”

He smiles at this offering, nodding slowly, “I completely understand,” and he slides his chair back, rising, “I was not sure if this would be the book, so I fear I did not allot enough time on my schedule. I am still not one hundred percent certain, but this initial check gives me reason to warrant further examination, if you do not mind, of course?”

She smiles politely in return, “Of course not. You will not mind if I am here during that time, will you?”

“I’d prefer no other chaperone,” he is quick to say, and they both share a similar twist to their grins and short, quiet chuckle at his words.

“I am not the security, Mr. Felcraft, but perhaps I may aid you in your study, if you need it.”

Something in the way she says this gives him a brief pause, and he moves his head ever-so-slightly to the left, peering. The moment passes quickly enough to not intrude on the conversation. He extends his hand, which she takes.

“Thank you, Ms. Perhonen, I do appreciate it. If it is not too much trouble, I’d like to return tomorrow, and I’d also like to bring some of my materials.”

“Of course, though I’ll need to look over them before they are used.”

“I do understand. Thank you again. I can see that this collection is in very capable hands. Good day to you.”

“Good day to you, Mr. Felcraft.”

This handshake does not last through all of their talking, but it did hold a bit longer than the introductory one.

He turns to leave, walking out calmly, his mind not only preoccupied with the book. He knows it is the second of the Three, but further study is warranted. Still, he’d prefer to have it in his collection. He does not expect that to happen easily, and the more difficult it would prove, the more others may take notice. He thinks more on the curator, Lilja Perhonen, mulling over many options involving her.

*****

“Mind if I join you?”

She looks up from the book held in her lap, taking some time here in the school’s Commons for a snack and some coffee before heading back to work. Her initial default mode of polite, yet firm refusal dissolves instantly when she sees who it is.

“Oh, Billy,” she offers a little smile, “Sure,” she nods toward the open chairs at the table, and the campus security guard sits at the one across from her, setting down his tray which holds a full meal.

“Hi, Miss Perhonen,” he grins somewhat bashfully, trying to get comfortable in the metal chair, “How are you doing?”

“I’m fine, thanks, and you can call me Lilja,” she offers, her smile becoming warmer.

She’d have preferred to not be interrupted, but at least this is someone she sort of knows. She ought to make efforts to be more sociable, at least according to the indelicate reminders from her mother.

“Uh, right,” he shifts his eyes to her then back to his food, “Lilja … right,” then shoves a forkful into his mouth, chewing and talking, “So, you’re okay since the attack?”

“Yes,” she grins, showing her nice teeth, “I think he fared worse than I did.”

He laughs more openly, following with a slurp of his tea, as he resolves into a short cough, swallowing, “You got that right. Poor guy is expelled and facing criminal charges … what am I saying ‘poor guy’?” he glances at her, his expression changed to one of concern, “Sorry about that. He deserves what he gets. No telling what he planned to do to you.”

She gives another conciliatory grin, lips pressed together, “It’s okay, Billy. I’m glad he is in custody, and that he didn’t choose a less prepared target.”

“Yeah, how was he supposed to know you are a ninja in training?” he beams a grin at her, chewing more of his food.

She gives a good-natured roll of her eyes, “I study karate and jujutsu. I am not a ninja.”

“Heheh,” he offers an awkward chuckle, “I know, just teasing. Don’t knock me out!”

She shakes her head a bit, having more of her strong coffee.

“So, what’re you reading?” he asks, motioning his head up to indicate the material in her lap, slipping another fork-load into his mouth.

“Oh, something riveting,” and she holds up the magazine, which appears to be a publication on book collecting.

He narrows his eyes, leaning forward to peer at it, then he smirks, shrugging, “Not my sort of thing.” Then he has more of his food, chewing exuberantly, setting back in the chair as he drinks of his tea, eyes on Lilja even as she goes back to the article which before held her attention.

“It’s yours, though, yeah,” he says, and she glances over at him, looking over the thin metal frames of her somewhat narrow glasses. “Why doesn’t a pretty lady like you date?” he bluntly asks, wiping his mouth with his napkin.

She is somewhat aghast at the question, but she says nothing. He even asked her out once some time ago, and he seems to have taken her negative reply in good enough stride.

“I’m married to my work,” she offers a shrug, deciding to not take offense and just answer the question as plainly as she will.

“Yeah, I figured,” he nods, making this statement with no judgment, going back to his quite rapidly disappearing meal, “You do a good job, though, I know that, and you still have time to learn how to drop a ninety-five kilo guy like he’s nothing.”

“I can’t say as I’ve had the best luck with relationships, anyway,” she says, and she immediately wonders why she has offered this.

“Oh, yeah? Well, if some guy hurt you in the past, then he was an idiot. A lady like you deserves to be treated right.”

She gives a genuine smile, “Thanks, Billy.”

“You’re welcome.” He smiles back, scraping up the remnants of his food, following it with the rest of his tea. “I’ve gotta run. We don’t get long for our breaks. I’ll see you around.”

He gets up, holding his tray, offering a departing smile and little wave. She waves back, watching as he leaves, getting lost in her own thoughts.

It has been a few years since she’s been involved, having tried one date with one person after the unpleasant ending of the only serious relationship in which she has ever been. Now it just seems that the idea of a romantic relationship never enters her mind. She certainly garners her share of attention, but it just doesn’t seem an option. She doesn’t want to be hurt, and she doesn’t want others to get hurt.

She glances back at the open magazine, the one she pulled from storage at the library. It is over two years old, and it will need to be digitized and disposed of soon. She wanted it for the article on noted collectors, having a little read-up on Mr. Skothiam Felcraft.

©2016 Scott Carruba

He glances down at the tracks, peering over them for a moment, the collection of depressions heavy in this copse, depicting a recent scurry due to some excitement. He stays there, crouched, thick legs bent at the knee, then he inhales. He catches the scent of their spore nearby. The air is crisp, cool, eager to carry smell and sound. He raises his rifle, a custom modified FN FAL, but he does not bring it up to aim, still peering out into the distance over the land. Trees block his view in many directions, growing thicker further out.

His eyes move quickly, narrowing. It is apparent, sudden, and he easily identifies it as the sound of many feet running toward him. He hears the panting not long after, but he does not yet smell the beasts. They are approaching downwind of his own position.

He turns, booted feet shifting in place, then raises the weapon, his knee dropping to the ground as he tucks the butt of the rifle into his right shoulder, left elbow resting on his other leg. His movements display a smooth, practiced ease. He peers through the small scope, waiting, breath flowing calmly.

The pack of wolves comes into view about fifty meters away, healthy beasts running tightly together, the alpha in the lead. They lope easily up the gentle incline toward his position. These are the ones he has been tracking, and they have found him.

He continues looking through the scope, the green shade to its lenses helping to bring greater focus. Both eyes remain open, increasing his field of view, indicating his lack of focus on a specific target. The barrel of the firearm moves, sweeping, seeking prey. The wolf pack continues its approach, quickly covering the ground.

Just before they reach him, he lowers the weapon, and they move in, their posture not one of aggression, and they move up close, seeking attention.

“Nothing out there, hmm?” he speaks, his voice a mid-range bass.

He pats the alpha on his left side as the animal presses into him a moment. They display excitement. He finally looks down, a light smile taking his lips.

“Alright then. Work’s done. Go … hunt,” he emphasizes the command, and the pack emits a few eager sounds and heads out.

He stands, moving his bulk to this upright posture with an ease that suggests a good deal of muscle. He lets his eyes follow the direction of the beasts as they disappear into the trees. He glances about again, exhaling slowly, scanning the area before he finally turns to head back to the house.

The Victorian mansion holds place like a sentinel in the clearing. The expanse of property on which it stands covers many acres, most of which gives way to trees, the forest becoming denser as one moves further from the estate. Hints of gothic and baroque show themselves in the detailing and columns. The front entrance beckons, but he does not approach that way, coming in from the west side and heading for the rear entrance. The ground slopes downward, giving a suggestion of the hidden, though the secrets within the home are much better occluded than this door. He passes through easily enough, the sophisticated security systems having already identified him.

He removes the dark watchman’s cap, then adds his gloves to the small pile he creates on the countertop space in the workroom. Casting and reloading mechanisms tell of the gunsmithing that occurs here, but they are ignored as he unslings his rifle, setting it in a cabinet amidst others.

He walks through, heading into other areas of the manor, the rooms taking on a more artistic, polished flair. He passes near a small team of people going about their own business. They barely take notice of him, the senior woman giving direction to the others as they work at cataloging various items. He moves up the large, curving staircase, each step broad, the impressive structure composed of dark, rich wood.

He finally finds him, Skothiam, the Head of the House, busy at work amidst old books that lie open, baring their contents in stark contrast to the small bank of slim monitors and other electronic equipment. As though to add to the potentially confusing ambience, candles and incense leak their leavings into the air.

“Everything alright out there, Jericho?” the man speaks, not looking up from peering over a thick tome, studying the page with a magnifying lens.

“Yes.”

“What about the wolves?”

“I told them to go hunt.”

A moment passes, and it might seem that this last has gone unheard, but these two have known each other for decades, and they need not always communicate in obvious words. The other finally looks up from the book’s page, setting the glass aside.

“Good, good,” he says, nodding, then exhales. “Seems neither of us found anything, though that’s not a positive result for me.”

The taller one merely observes, for just as the outside, the hunt, are his elements, this sanctum is somewhat alien to him in its role to the other.

“Doesn’t matter, really,” Skothiam speaks after a short pause, then he picks up what appears to be a small, thin, plastic window of sorts, its right side showing advanced gadgetry of electronic equipment and indicator lights.

He presses on some of the icons in the graphical interface then sets the device over the page of the book.  A rendering of that same page quickly resolves, a duplicate suspended above itself, given life from the translucent window.

“Maybe the analysis program will find something that I- ahh, Sharon,” Skot pauses, smiling warmly as the woman enters the room.

She wears a uniform that bespeaks of her role as a maid or attendant, her garments pressed and professional, mingling modern utilitarian with an antiquated aesthetic. She holds up a tray on which are balanced two tall glasses bearing blue-grayish, thick contents.

“Gentlemen?” she offers.

“Thanks, Sharon,” Jericho says, taking a glass, and then she moves to the other who does the same, offering his thanks with a dip of his head.

“Anything else?” she asks, stepping back.

“Nothing else, Sharon. Thank you,” Skothiam says, continuing to offer the same warm expression, lips curved within the thinly trimmed goatee, blue eyes crinkled a bit at their sides. “You seem capable of sensing our needs prior to our even asking, anyway.”

She smiles, taking the compliment, then gives a tiny bow before exiting. Both men then sip of their blended drinks, swallowing, then looking at each other, nodding. A short chuckle is shared between them.

“It’s good,” Jericho comments.

“It is.”

“So, what are you working on?” the guardsman peers at the advanced contraption at work over the open book, then glides his eyes to the monitors, the depictions on their screens also obvious signs of work going on within the powerful computer.

“More of the same.”

Jericho gives a nod, vague hints of dissatisfaction taking his expression as he does. He glances about, giving cursory observance to the various analyses taking place.

“It’s a never-ending battle,” he offers.

“I suppose they calls those ‘wars’, hmm?” comes the retort, tempered with a light smile and perk of eyebrows.

He is greeted with a serious stare. His friend is not bereft of humor, his boisterous laugh well known, but he may just as easily, if not more so, resolve into this quiet intensity. The sudden, rising tension is interrupted by a beep from the electronic device analyzing the open book, and Skothiam blinks, turning thankfully to it, but his expression changes dramatically once he sees what is there.

A figure resolves, rising from the device or the book just as easily as it appears to be emerging from nothing. It suggests one of the three dimensional images which may be rendered by the advanced tool, but some of it is hazy, indistinct, and it continues to increase in size. It has a definite anthropomorphic shape, looking like a person rising from some depths.

The two observers do not move. They merely watch, held in awesome silence. Jericho is not as familiar with this device, but even he knows this is very much out of the ordinary for its function. He is aware that the gadget is connected to the house’s elaborate and powerful network, just as with most every other electronic appliance on the grounds, but he can also tell from the other man’s reaction that this is very unexpected.

“What in the Nine Hells?” Skothiam breathes, looking upon the form as it takes on a finer definition, his expression morphing from bewilderment to a more focused study. “Father?” he finally dares to ask.

The apparition smiles, moving its head in affirmation. The man’s father was not known for being overly exuberant in his expression of emotions, but this is most definitely the very image of the well-respected man, dead now these past four years.

“Dad?” he tries again, hope painting his voice like daring whispers, “Is that really you? What … what’s going on? How did you get here?” he asks, looking down again at the experimental device still in place over the book as it dutifully, if not blindly, continues its work.

The apparition nods again, still giving that characteristic light, pleasant grin. It rises further, taking on more distinction, even as it shows no more coloring than might a sepia-toned photograph.

“Can you not speak?” he asks of it, for the illness that claimed his father took his ability to speak before taking him.

The ghostly image shakes its head, and he nods in understanding fashion.

“Why are you here?” he finally asks.

The color-starved specter gives a piercing look, though it is still pleasant, like the smile, closing toward him. He dares not move. Then the apparition turns and heads away, passing through the unopened door in slow, hovering locomotion, the two corporeal beings in quick pursuit.

“Is that really your father?” Jericho asks, speaking in an urgent whisper as the two head down the large staircase.

“I don’t know,” is the honest response, “But it feels like him. I don’t know how else to explain it, but … regardless, I am left wondering how this is happening at all, much less who or why.”

Jericho takes this in with no outward response, merely following, ever-watchful. They tail the moving apparition into the impressive library. They see as the entity stops, then turns to them. Is it waiting? Has it come to its intended place? No answer seems forthcoming as it moves no further, just looking at what may be its son, a kind, calm expression to its appearance.

The man looks at the books, noting them well. He moves his eyes back, but gets nothing more from the apparition. He again looks over the books nearby, scanning over them with rapid, greedy movements of his eyes.

“I don’t understand,” he finally admits, looking back at the ghost, “Is this … I know of these books, but … what is it you are trying to tell me?”

And then he experiences a dawning, as though a chemical recomposition caused by the slow spread of heat from a focal point, and that point is the apparition, staring at him, into him. His eyes widen, his form stiffening, and then a hand is placed on his left arm, close to his shoulder.

“Are you alright, Skot?” comes the voice of his friend and companion.

Skothiam pulls in a breath through his nose, turning to look at the larger man.

“I just … felt something.  As if he spoke to me.”

Jericho tilts his head, brow furrowing, “What?”

“It’s one of the Three Books!” he exclaims. “He says he found it and hid it here in the library.” And then Skothiam moves quickly, going to nearby shelves, searching, running fingers rapidly over spines, pushing books aside, seeking for some hidden treasure.

“What!” the other tries again.

“One of the Three,” Skothiam speaks from the other side of the shelf, “I don’t know how I know. I don’t know how he is even here, but I feel certain. He found it before he became ill, then he hid it in here in the library. We must find it!”

The other man shakes his head, a mute commentary contained in the economic gesture. He then proceeds to try to help, going about in search amongst the crammed, tall, numerous shelves.

“How will I even know if I find it?” he calls out.

“You’ll know,” comes the reply from some ways away in the expansive room.

“That’s not my specialty, Skot. You know that. Hell, if anything, I may be resistant to any-”

“Resistant does not mean deaf. Let’s just keep looking. Even if you just see something that seems out of the ordinary …”

He gives forth a huff accompanied by a roll of the eyes but continues the search.

The sudden, sharp intrusion of the alarm interrupts their activity. Both stand up straight, startled by the noise. They consult small, electronic devices – Skot pulling forth a slim cell phone, the larger man looking at an item buckled about his wrist. They move to each other.

“Fire,” they say in near unison.

“We have to get out of here,” Jericho declares.

“Dammit!” Skothiam curses, a pleading look given to his friend, “But the book.”

“Don’t make me carry you.”

“This can’t be a coincidence.”

“Don’t … make me … carry you,” and this time it is delivered with more insistent tinges of threat.

Skot’s eyes snap back up to the tall guardsman.  “The fire’s on the first floor, front east side. It may even be contained before it gets here.”

“Good, then it won’t damage the books, and you can continue the search after we know everything is safe, now … don’t make me ca-,” and the words are cut off by the sound of a loud explosion.

He sits outside, a safe distance from the burning house. It will take some time for the fire department to arrive, even though they have been alerted and are on their way. He can even hear the sirens, but the estate is located on the outskirts of town, tucked away within the large expanse of privately-held land.

He does not know when he finally allowed himself to sit, just plopped here on the grass, watching as his home burns. His eyes are glassy, the moist sheen reflecting the chaotic dance of the flames, but he does not cry. His thoughts move from the many valuables inside to the good fortune that so few people were here at all. Sometimes, the mansion is filled, but his mother has been spending time with his sister, and his son is off with friends.

He glances over as Mary nears him, the elder woman acting as Chief of Staff. He sees the comforting, careful expression. He offers a meager smile.

“They’ll be here soon. It won’t be a total loss,” she tries.

He nods, then glances back at the house. Her assessment is correct, but the fire is already licking and lapping hungrily through the library. Despite the immense value of the possessions in the house, they are insured or backed-up, but the main thing that is irreplaceable haunts him.

One of the Three Books

With the life he has led, he rarely gives credence to coincidence, and he does not now. The trigger for the fire and explosion relates to the appearance of the apparition and realization of that immensely important book having been hid away in the library for no telling how long. The book that is now ash.

He hears a question off a ways, and it taps at his awareness like an annoying nibble. He blinks back into focus, turning to where most of the others are gathered. Not everyone is here. He moves closer to them, eyes searching about, then he turns, peering in the distance at various angles, then back at the house.

“Jericho? he calls out, his practiced voice evincing a sudden, controlled boom of volume and power, but despite this, there is no reply, so after a time, he tries again, calling the name of his old friend, “Jericho!”

“There!” someone else calls out, and he jerks his head over to see them point.

He follows the angle of that indication, and he sees the unmistakable, hulking figure of Jericho lumbering toward them, moving quite quickly, the form enshrouded by flame and smoke. It appears the guardsman is coming from behind the house, perhaps being forced to evacuate from the rear once he had made sure everyone inside was safe, an invaluable friend.

Skothiam smiles more openly, relieved, “Good to see you-.”

“Here’s your book,” comes the flat interruption, and an object having been carefully cradled by the large man is extended toward him.

His eyes gape, disbelief held there even as he reaches to take the proffered item. He holds the rare and valuable tome now in his own hands, looking it over. He gently brushes his right hand over its cover, then turns it, looking at the spine, before exhaling in evident relief.

It is true. It is the book – one of the Three.

*****

She doesn’t often reshelf books, but she doesn’t mind helping. There is an entire staff here, and though she is not Head Librarian, she is high enough up the chain that she does not need to engage in such mundane activities. Still, she sometimes craves the common, and there is something calming, perhaps even oddly meditative in putting the books back in their place.

It is quiet at least, and even though this is a library, not all areas of it prove so peaceful.

The continued, exponential growth of the information age has given rise to a much greater presence of computers and electronics and digital options here, perhaps more seeming than hard copies of traditional books. Archaic, some may say, even outdated or obsolete. Still, she appreciates the physical look and feel of a book, and though the demands on putting them back on the shelves may be much lesser than what some of the more senior employees here recall, there is still this occasional need.

Four books left on the dolly, and she takes her time.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche. She casually wonders why someone had this one checked out and what they may have thought of it, even as she moves upon her lithe legs in the direction of where the book shall repose until called again. She is passingly familiar with the work, and she recalls a portion speaking of joy wanting eternity. What a lovely, romantic thought. Still, practicality, if not cynicism, may tend otherwise.

She has worked here for a few years, having moved up in the ranks quite quickly, demonstrating an acumen that landed her the coveted spot she now holds. It demands its own degree of responsibility that some would never wish to embrace, but she thrives on it. And really, once all the ducks are in a row, being a curator to rarities is not that terribly demanding.

She finds the place for the book, moving her glasses down to double check the numbers, though she knows she is in the correct locale, then slipping the tome into its place by its brethren. Three books left, and she wanders away toward where the others call home, the heels of her sensible, yet attractive shoes clicking on the tiled floor.

Some might even find the footwear a bit much for her position, but she possesses an athleticism and poise that does not allow her to be hindered by these four inch heels. If one were inclined to pay attention, one may note the flex of her developed calves as she walks, her smart skirt stopping just at her knees.

She does catch the eye of the occasional student, more than occasional really, and also the sometime member of faculty. These go unnoticed by her, and her appearance and attitude may give others to think of her as aloof, arrogant, cold. She is none of these, but she does not feel compelled to correct misconceptions, even if she were aware of them.

She finally finishes the chore, setting the cart back in its proper place. There are few people at this late hour, the library’s accessibility running through most of the day in order to give the students the convenience of visitation. She glances at her watch, the slim black leather band giving over to the steel face.

“Marcel, I’m going to head out,” she says to the student who is one of the sparse staff at this final shift of the night.

“Okay, Lilja.” He casually raises a hand, bending it up from the wrist, as most of his focus is on a small tablet, studying its contents.

She is the senior person here on the actual paid roster, but it is quite normal to leave the student volunteers to finish up the last shift. She trusts Marcel, anyway, and he is not the only one here. He is a fifth year senior student, working toward three degrees, and he has proven very responsible. Lilja shrugs into her light, red coat, heading out.

She sees the janitors getting out of their white van, preparing to go in and begin cleaning in advance of the closing hour. They trade a friendly wave and greeting, and she begins the short walk home, one that generally takes her less than a half hour. This one will take much longer.

Lilja would not recognize him even if he were not hiding in the narrow alleyway here on the campus grounds. He is a student of the prestigious university, but even with their exclusivity, they do not psychologically evaluate when deciding to admit students. He has been spending a lot of time of late in the library, watching her, germinating fantasies in his mind, developing an emotional attachment that he feels should be reciprocated. He has even watched her go home a few times, not following her, just observing, and he has noticed she does not usually drive a car, and when on foot, this is her normal route. He has waited long enough, simmering in his need and desire for her. She will walk by here soon. He hears the telltale click of her steady approach. He waits just inside the shadows, the darkness helping to hide his bulk. Tonight is the night.

As she moves by the mouth of the passageway, he lunges, ambushing her in an instant, his thick arms spread out, his coat giving him the semblance of a bird of prey. It may be quite alarming how fast a human being may move, and before Lilja has time to register it, he has her in a strong bear hug, pulling her petite frame back into the alleyway, away from prying eyes.

His left arm is about her chest, working to pin her arms, the right hand is up and over her mouth, hoping to thwart screams. He does not even register the lack of protests or screams. His large legs move rapidly, muscle residing there beneath the layers of fat, pulling her further into that throat of darkness betwixt the two buildings.

And in a blinking instance, Lilja stomps down with her right foot, the heel of her shoe digging in, and he cries out with the sudden pain. She does not stop there, moving with a fluid ease, dropping down into a quick squat to loosen the hold, lowering her central gravity and raising her arms out, getting free of him. She shoots back with her right arm, using her hips to add to the force, elbowing, and he feels a sharp pain. What he does not know is that Lilja has delivered a liver strike to him, and he reels momentarily from the sudden, shocking report. That is all the time needed, and moving with the quick speed of regular practice, she uses his own energy against him, gripping his right hand and wrist with both of her hands, twisting and pulling, using her entire body as leverage to bring him down in a bungling crash, both legs going over him in a much different manner than he may have fantasized. Her left leg presses over his neck, and as he reaches desperately with his left arm, Lilja catches it, locking her ankles, holding him, his right arm hyperextended within the cross armlock.

He yelps out in pain, frustration, and as he struggles, his violent need trying to regain the surface, she exerts pressure. He cries out again.

“Let me … go … Aaaahh!” His efforts are again greeted with a pull that lets him feel the full pain of the possibility of a dislocation or break in several areas.

She waits a moment, then uses her left hand to reach for her phone, which she keeps on her, not in her purse, and quickly gets a hold of the campus security service, calmly explaining the situation. It does not take them long to get there, but Lilja has to apply the extra force once more to compel her attacker. By the time they do arrive, the student has completely given up, tears leaking from his eyes as he hitches and sobs.

After a time, the situation has turned to one of which the assailant likely did not fantasize.

“Wow, Miss Perhonen, you ought to join security, though you’d make us all look bad,” the young security guard says, grinning somewhat awkwardly, eyes moving from where the perpetrator is being led, handcuffed, into the back of a squad car, to return to the short, petite redhead.

Lilja smiles good-naturedly, not responding to the comment. They offered her a blanket and a coffee, both of which she declined, merely offering what limited information seems needed for Officer Shermont to fill out his report as they wait for the police to arrive. She knows him, though she has not interacted with him very often, and she answers his few remaining questions. He takes the information, interfacing somewhat inelegantly with the electronic tablet.

After she is done giving similar information to the local authorities, she has to decline Shermont’s offer for a ride home several times, reiterating that she’ll be fine, as if the very scenario that brought them out here were not proof enough. The young man finally gives in, reminding her to call if she needs help. And again, she smiles, thinking she just sufficiently demonstrated she is prepared to do just that.

She spends the time walking home to ponder, thinking of what this will entail. She wonders if the student has a well-connected or well-off family, and if this situation may turn out to work negatively toward her. She passes these concerns quite quickly, letting other thoughts that she considers more important to take her mind.

She is not very tired when she gets home, so she decides to burn off some steam with some exercises. It doesn’t take long for her to settle, and eventually, sleep is found, something that often eludes her.

*****

The three men sit about the table, the remnants of a meal holding place in front of only one of them, though all three have glasses from which they occasionally sip. They show few shades in their individual palettes, wearing mostly black, other tones earthier, reduced. The man finishing the meal also shows intricate tattoos atop his hands, even his fingers, though his dark suit does not show much more of him than that. His eyes are narrow, a deep brown, and he focuses them beneath his thinning, graying hair upon the other two, a forkful of food being reduced to a goop by the steady motion of his jaw.

“Is there some secret program within the police for more covert, special operations type of work against organized crime?”

The other two share a look, one of them in the middle of a drink, which he finishes, setting down the stout glass.

“If it was secret, how would we know?” he throws out.

The other slits his already narrow eyes, staring, then after a moment, he takes up fork and knife, slicing the meat, slipping it in his mouth for more of his determined chewing.

“Then why do I pay you two? Hmm?” eyebrows raised, still masticating the flesh in his mouth, “You are supposed to be my eyes and ears inside, yes?”

“Hey, we’ve helped you plenty,” the one speaks again, the more senior of the two by a small amount, also the larger of the two by much more, judging from his somewhat overweight appearance.

His head shows some lack where his body does not, thinning, dark hair about a bald spot which he doesn’t hide, but he shows intent at hanging onto what hair he has left in contrast to the suited man, whose remaining locks are shorn quite short. The drinker never takes his hand away from the glass, holding it now at rest atop the table as he returns the steely gaze of the eater.

“Why are you asking, Gnegon?” speaks the third, a slightly younger, much more fit man of darker coloring.

His clothing might mark him more as one of the ‘street’, but he cares much more about his appearance than his partner. The man at the meal looks at him, nodding slowly, finally swallowing his food.

“Now that is a good question.” He dips his head with more emphasis, then turns, indicating with his fork to the other, “You ought to be less defensive and more insightful, like Quain,” he indicates back again with a tilt of his head to the right, then proceeds to cutting another piece of meat.

The other furrows his brow but seems to think better of a further response, merely bringing his glass up for more drink, draining the contents. Gnegon leans back in his chair, chewing. His eyes note the empty glass, and he snaps his fingers. A person emerges from the surroundings, the area occupied by many men of various appearances, none directly involved in this discussion, though several are paying attention. There are also women here, but their appearance suggests other intents. The empty glass is refilled from a bottle of bourbon.

“I am being harassed,” he begins after wiping his mouth with a cloth napkin.

“Hey, look,” the larger one begins quickly, his glass held up.

“I don’t mean you, Alec” he says, impatience coloring the tone, jaw flexing. “Someone is bothering my operation,” he continues, sitting back, resolving to his usual posture. “It took some work to figure it out. I thought it was isolated events. These things happen in the engagement of risky business, no? A shipment lost here, some men attacked there. Sometimes we even let the police get an arrest to appease your masters,” he adds, giving purposeful looks to both men. “But then we picked up on the hacking, and we noticed larger … intrusions were taking place.”

“What are you talking about?” Alec asks, leaning over the table on his elbows.

“Someone’s poking at you,” Quain assesses, “Testing your defenses, your reactions, and they must be doing a good job. You said you just realized they were related, and you asked if we knew of any covert operation in the force. Well, I don’t, for what that’s worth. Maybe it’s not local. What’ve you got? What ties it together?”

Gnegon looks at the other detective, eyebrows raised, moving his head as though asking a question. Alec rolls his eyes, deciding to have more of his drink. The host smirks, looking back over.

“We started to suspect we might be under more focus than we realized, so we put some counter-measures in place. We’ve managed to get a few surveillance images, and it seems there is some similar signature to the electronic infiltrations. Not enough to trace anything, I am told, but enough to know it is the same person,” he explains, then nods in a particular direction, and a man steps forward, handing over a small, thick paper stock folder.

He hands it to Quain who opens it immediately, looking at the prints inside, giving a cursory examine before sliding them to his partner. The small pictures show blurry, distorted shots of an obvious human figure, garbed in dark clothing, quite often blending in with the background, sometimes in motion.

“What the hell?” he asks, “You’ve got a ninja problem?” he chuckles, an action that is not joined by anyone else.

“Looks like spec ops to me,” Quain says.

“So, what do you want us to do about it?”

Gnegon just looks at the portly man for a moment, studying him, then he finally speaks, “Maybe you could find out if there is any sort of classified effort like this coming from the local police. If not, then maybe you could find out if it is being done by other police in your city, hmm? And maybe, just maybe, you could wipe your own ass from time to time.”

Alec shoots up to his feet, the chair sliding back loudly on the floor.

“You better be careful how you talk to me,” he threatens, anger evident over his form, clenched fingers, slightly bared teeth.

“Fuck you, Detective,” Gnegon replies.

“Now, hold on, fellas,” Quain says, raising his hands, placatingly.

Gnegon continues to smirk, leaning back in his chair, looking between the two men.

“Your partner is much smarter than you are, Alec,” he says, “You are armed. If you are so angry, draw your weapon. See what happens, hmm? Why do you think I let you remain armed in my presence?”

Alec seethes, bulky torso moving with his increasing breath, his dully colored shirt showing more within his open blazer. He points a thick finger at their host.

“You …,” he draws out through gritted teeth.

“I … what?” Gnegon again perks the meager eyebrows over his narrow eyes, “We do not have to like each other, and we will both endure some amount of disrespect, but I will get something for my money, or you are a waste.”

Alec just stands there, his large body moving in the continued respiration of his anger.

“We got you, Gnegon,” says the younger one, “We’re on it. Mind if I take these pics?”

“Of course not,” Gnegon says, motioning with his right hand, graciously, “That is why I had them made,” he adds, then throws in a somewhat patronizing smile, chin raised as he does so.

“Thanks,” Quain says, snatching up the photographs and their folder, then he grabs his partner’s arm, encouraging him to leave, “Let’s go.”

Alec spares more of a needling look for their patron in corruption, then turns, following the other’s exit.

©2016 Scott Carruba

The process continues.  Edits, edits, and more edits.  I am thankful to the beta readers for their feedback as well as to my publisher/editor.  This has been a wonderful learning experience.  I enjoy refining my writing and every further bit of polish is also welcome.  I’ll be uploading new sample chapters once the editing is complete, as things have changed enough to warrant it.

I have learned that I am a skeptical writer.  Due to my own background, I approach things with an aspect that there is so much out there we do not know.  We especially don’t know what is going on in someone else’s mind.  There really is no third person omniscient in the real world.  I let this color my narrative too much, alluding to things more often than just outright stating them.  In a work of fiction, there is the potential for third person omniscient, so I have given that a lot of attention in these scrubs.

The cover is also nearing completion.  Many thanks to the artist, Jeffrey Kosh.  Have a look:

DotB Cover - Front

As usual, keep watching here or on my Facebook Author Page for further updates.  Feel free to also ask me any questions or leave any comments.  Thanks!