It was a long walk to the library that night, eighteen grueling blocks, and I was starting to go through withdrawals (I hadn’t used magic in hours), but thanks to a simple animation spell I’d learned from page 78 of “Expert Charms for Beginners” my bag walked itself on the ground behind me, saving my back from the ten pounds of books I was returning. The illusion I cast on it was a little difficult, but I made it work. As far as anyone was concerned I was being trailed by a black and white kitten named Kiki. It was some of my best work with illusion magic I have to admit, it meowed, and purred like the real thing, it was missing one of its eyes, and I even saw it attempt to murder a rat on the way, but little “Kiki” was too slow, and the rats were all too big. I always dreamt of making one of those massive rodents my familiar, but I never had any luck finding one that seemed to be a right fit.. That’s how I lost my pinky toe actually, but that’s a story for another time.
“Salem’s Stretch” as the locals called it, was always pretty much dead that time of night, none of the shops stayed open past nine o’clock. Damn near all of the tourists and even some of the residents of Fallhourn were too scared to venture there while the moon was out. I can’t say I really blamed them, people go missing all the time, and some rituals call for human hearts, they might as well walk through there with a pocket full of gold and a sign around their neck that reads: “Please kill me”... The only real activity was that of displaced magic users. Witches, warlocks, mages, sages, and sorcerers who all fled from their homelands for one reason or another (primarily societies’ collective disdain of magic and the supernatural), and found themselves living on the streets of a foreign land. It was a world of science, and they had no place in it, no need for it, and they lost their homes, but there in our small corner of the world, they found something more valuable, acceptance, and freedom.
To be honest the entire city owed quite a deal to the utilization of magic, there was no hunger thanks to the refugees, a group of them had brought in an endangered species of tree that grew bright-red baseball-sized eggs, the contents of which tasted like caviar, lobster, and mushrooms all rolled into one. However to be fair there was a downside, once they planted a couple it didn’t take long for the plant to spread throughout the whole city, and given the availability of the eggs, coupled with the fact that they were far superior to anything you might find in a five-star restaurant, dozens of people a week over-indulged, eating themselves into literal comas, most of them succumbing to miserably painful deaths as their stomachs tore open at the seams, the dam that was their belly button broke, letting loose a bloody wave of water and brimstone. I’m not sure who cleans up those hospital rooms, but I know they clean them more than once..
Without us witches it would also be damn near impossible to keep the city a secret from the rest of the world. Memory charms were useful, no tourist ever remembered a thing, until they inevitably returned, only then their memories of our city were restored, wiped again upon their departure, and the cycle continued. Those sorts of charms could also be quite devastating, and actually led to a series of laws passed in the city, pertaining, but not specifically limited to magic users, Memory Obliterating and/or tampering on a full-time resident was punishable by death, or if the guilty party opted for it, lifelong transfiguration into an object or animal of the victim’s choosing.
I witnessed that punishment firsthand, my uncle tried to save his second marriage by removing his seemingly countless acts of adultery from his wife’s mind, but one day it all came back to her… no charm is perfect after all... She couldn’t handle the input, the anger, the resentment, the shame… They were at the zoo when the spell broke, and she dove headfirst into the crocodile exhibit… My uncle chose transfiguration for life, and since his wife wasn’t around to decide what that fate would look like, the council chose themselves, they deemed a crocodile to be the best choice, “poetic justice”... He was thrilled, the idea of being an apex predator certainly didn’t seem like a punishment to him, to hide behind those powerful jaws, and those equally intimidating teeth, it was like a vacation from his mediocrity.
Those morons gave him a perfect out, a loophole, or so he thought. They had his teeth removed, along with his tail, and released him into the very enclosure his wife had thrown herself into… He didn’t make it through day one… Transfiguration spells weren’t perfect either, animals could always smell the stench of humanity, we could trick each other, we could trick ourselves, but never nature. The practice had always been flawed from the beginning and they knew it, but why change it? Afterall it was death, or death by unwelcoming beasts, either way, in the eyes of the council, justice was served. I guess that’s why most people chose to be turned into objects, even if you hate the person they were, the teapot they became could still be useful, maybe you wouldn’t throw them against a wall, their glass shattering against brick like a shower of musical notes… But that depended on how much self control you possessed, and more so, how useful the object was… I guess what I’m trying to say is, magic can be a gift, unless you’re a piece of shit… but that’s why I had to keep studying, I had to be better, we all did..
Halfway down the stretch I could see it tucked away in the fog, the library, the source of some of the most powerful information in the world, books that nobody knew existed, written by people who were long gone, or maybe just forgotten. It didn’t look like a typical library, more like a gothic manor. Jet-black like it was painted with motor oil. The door’s red paint was peeling, or maybe it was scratched off.. I could never seem to get a clear answer to that question.. It had dozens of windows, and more often than not if you watched for just a couple minutes you would see shadows pass by, as if there were dozens of people inside trying to get their steps in for the day.
That night was a windy one. I remember the creaking, and moaning of the library’s ancient frame. The decaying old balcony swayed in the breeze, it looked like it could’ve just snapped off at any moment, and fold over onto someone’s head as they entered the manor, but it didn’t.
As I approached I could feel the familiar gaze of the gargoyles that sat atop either side of the roof’s peak. Their large bat-like wings were always outstretched at night, when the sun was up they used them to cover their petrified stone faces. People tried to not think about such things flapping around in the night doing whatever it is that they did, eating whatever it is that they ate. The people of Fallhourn often blamed the gargoyles for murders, or missing people but it wasn’t true. I knew what they did, and I knew what they ate.. Nothing, and nothing.. They were fucking boring, glorified golems, animated chunks of stone set on a timer.. But they made good scapegoats, and the library’s owner never denied the claims, maybe to ensure security over her establishment, or maybe she was paid off by whoever was actually committing the murders, eiter way the gargoyles themselves, worthless, and the librarian, Madam Zeech, was loaded. She had to be, her library was home to over two thousand spellbooks, several dozen scrolls, hundreds of auto-biographies written by some of the world’s most famous, or infamous spellcasters, and the biggest movie collection you’ve ever seen (the movies weren’t magic, she was just a real cinephile.
The creatures flapped their wings as I seemingly phased through the iron bars that stood at the entrance to the property, another robotic mechanism of theirs, walking through the gate without hesitation was a trigger of sorts, and their flapping was a switch that opened the red door leading inside, such terrifying beasts, now but glorified doormen. I grabbed Kiki by the scruff of her neck, transforming her back into my ordinary purple leather backpack, I groaned as I swung it back across my shoulder, and I walked inside.
To anyone else entering, the place looked deserted, like the inside of the manor had been destroyed by a fire. Ash lingered in the air like dust, scorch marks trailed up the walls, some of the floorboards were broken and missing, you could look straight down into the cellar. But there was no cellar, no ash, no fire, not if you were wearing a pair of Madam Zeech’s glasses, and there weren’t many. She didn’t choose their owners, and they couldn’t be bought, you had to find them, or more accurately, they had to find you. They could be in a water fountain, a box of cereal, the side of the road, or they could just appear on your face one day like mine did. You didn’t have to be worthy, you didn’t have to want them, you didn’t even have to possess magical abilities to wield them, they just had to find you. It was just a simple bit of chaos magic, they teleported themselves all over until they found someone to wear them. It was a lottery, and nobody knew the odds, because nobody knew how many pairs of the glasses existed, and even if someone found a pair that wouldn’t necessarily mean they knew what they were meant for.
As far as I knew I was one of the only people in thirty years that was actually able to peruse the shelves, learn the ancient arts, delve into the well of knowledge that was my great-grandmother’s library. I had run-ins with visitors sometimes on occasion, most of them were already residents of Fallhourn (rumors always traveled fast in the city), and most of them didn’t possess any magical abilities. However, even with the glasses they could only see the books, they couldn’t actually interact with them, let alone take them home. “The librarian”, my great grandmother, had rendered every single object in the place intangible to regular people. I used to wonder why she didn’t just make the glasses find people who could actually benefit from them, but I guess chaos magic is just that, chaos, too hard to control and fine-tune.
As I entered the library I gazed adoringly (as I always did) at the pristine leather-bound books lined on the long oak shelves. All of them easily over a hundred years old, and none of them looked a day over yesterday. I’d read a couple dozen of them not including the ones I was returning, and it still wasn’t enough.
I learned valuable information from them, invaluable really. I could converse with birds, I could turn ordinary salt into a salve that had the capability of re-growing entire limbs (or melt them if I substituted a single ingredient). With a word I could make someone cry for so long that they would die from dehydration as their eyes bled, I only tried that once, on my old familiar Kiki, whose likeness I borrowed for my illusion spell. It only occured to me once I had uttered the word, that I didn’t have any idea how to stop it, and my curiosity literally killed the cat…
The list went on and on, but none of the things I learned, none of the abilities I acquired, got me any closer to my goal.. What I wanted from this library was the truth.. I needed to know who my birth mother was, at least that’s what I told myself.. if I’m being honest, I think my journey was more about finding out who I was, and I always got the feeling that it was a person my father never wanted me to be..
He always claimed he didn’t remember who my mother was, and I was inclined to believe him though I found that to be unlikely, but I played along, and I did my research. One thing did always confuse me; If they didn’t want me looking for answers, then why did they let me keep the glasses? I guess maybe they thought I deserved to know, they just wanted me to work for it, but then again maybe they reveled in the search, like I did… All I know for sure is that night, in the library, I didn’t get any closer to the truth.. But I did learn twenty one different ways to prepare shrimp.. Not from any book though, I got tired of reading, so the librarian and I watched Forrest Gump instead… always a classic..