Dear Not Cunning Witch - Chapter 8.2
An unprecedented heat wave was passing over Wokingham. Diana, who had grown up in the Jiles manor where it was chilly all year long, found it difficult to bear.
And so, she had braced herself and decided that she would pay a visit to the Magic Association. She had, surprisingly, gotten up at dawn and had left home early in the morning, but the scorching sun was high up in the sky by the time she finished her business and walked out of the building around noon. It was so unbearably hot that even Diana, whom Chesterty had called a miser so many times that the word was practically nailed to Diana’s ears, decided to take a carriage home.
She immediately made her way to the café on the first floor once she had climbed down from the carriage. She didn’t know how, but the café was always as cool as autumn inside. This was the biggest reason why she had decided to stick with it despite the chatty server.
“Coffee again today?”
It was lunchtime, and there was a crowd of customers inside the café. Even the server who normally liked to talk to Diana for ten whole minutes at a time was busily only taken orders. Diana was glad for it, as her mind had gone blank after being inside the steamer that was the carriage for over half an hour.
Diana had visited the Magic Association to take on some requests. Her sister was currently in the middle of a long-term contract with the Nobellium Observatory, and Diana had calculated that their income would stop coming in soon. Hester had received a sizeable sum up front for the request, of course, and it looked like she planned to take up some short-term requests if they ran out of money, but she would likely be busy all day and night while trying to fulfil the observatory’s headache of a request.
‘In that case, I can just work instead.’
Diana had sworn her oath to the king, and she could now officially accept requests from Ingram’s Magic Association. She would have to take up every request that she could so she could gain experience now that she was officially recognized as a witch, and Diana was quite motivated to fulfil her very first one.
The request was quite humble and cheap, however.
Diana carefully studied the three contracts she had accepted today and sighed. The third request would take some time, but she could complete the other two this week. The problem was that the requests were easy and hadn’t come with down payments and that she wouldn’t make a lot of money even after she had completed them.
But there was no reason why a completely inexperienced witch would be asked to take on a difficult and expensive request. She might be able to earn more if she took on private requests from undisclosed individuals, but Hester had strongly insisted that she only take requests from the state. Diana had also agreed with the sentiment, for now at least, because she had heard so many bad things about private requests.
‘Maybe I should only take translation requests next time.’
Translating was tedious and boring work, but it paid much more than most low-grade work. Moreover, she didn’t need as much experience to take on translation requests, especially in comparison to how much time and effort went into them. If she could only take humble requests like these for the time being, then perhaps it would be better to only taken on translation requests.
Just then, someone she hadn’t been expecting tapped on her table.
The brightly smiling man before her was none other than Oliver Fenley. He sat down across from her as if it was the most natural thing in the world while Diana was taken by surprise.
“It’s been a while. Have you been well?”
“Of course I’ve been well.”
This was their first meeting after Oliver had last visited her in early summer. Suddenly, Diana squinted as she scrutinized his face.
“Your face is very red, Mr. Fenley.”
“It’s because it’s so hot outside. And here I’d thought it would have cooled down a bit by now.”
Oliver fanned himself with his hand as he ordered iced tea.
“Did you go somewhere?”
“I had to visit Batenbach a bit for work.”
“Huh? —isn’t Batenbach the capital of Banzè?”
“That it is.”
Diana had been surprised when she had asked, but the emotional quickly faded from her visage. Oliver was from Banzè. It was not all that strange for him to visit his homeland.
“Is it cooler there?”
“It’s much better than it is here. Oh, and this is a present for you, Miss.”
Oliver pulled out a small box from his pocket. Diana accepted it in the heat of the moment and gingerly opened the lid.
“……What is this? A clock?”
She squinted a little as she picked up her gift. The clock was about the size of a coin and had two leather straps attached on either side. She had never seen such a small clock before.
“You wear it on your wrist.”
Oliver helped Diana put her watch on. She wasn’t accustomed to the feeling, and she moved her wrist this way and that.
“It feels weird.”
“You’ll get used to it soon. It was invented by a clockmaker in Batenbach, and I’m sure it’ll be popular here in Ingram too pretty soon.”
“Hmmm. But in any case, thank you. I’ll use it well.”
Diana was not very interested in the trends of human society and, as per usual, was not very impressed. Oliver simply smiled. Diana might faint if she ever learned how much the watch had cost.
“Oh, and I heard that you were looking for me?”
“……To be precise, I was looking for Mr. Paul Liberman and not you, Mr. Fenley.”
Diana pretended to take a sip of coffee and look away as something that she didn’t quite want to remember became the topic of their conversation. Oliver studied her for a bit before he leisurely changed the topic again.
“And here I’d thought that you wanted to see me, Miss.”
“Why would I have business with you?”
“You can visit someone without having business with them, you know. Like if you missed me, for example.”
“You mean like how you’re visiting me right now?”
Oliver chuckled out loud.
“Well, I suppose I am technically here to see you too……. Is Hester asleep right now?”
Diana startled and turned back around. Oliver nonchalantly continued,
“I heard she’s been busy observing the night sky. Is she still asleep?”
“Yes, she is…….”
“Then, can you give this to her in my stead? It’s the same present as yours.”
Oliver handed her an identical box. Diana accepted it in the confusion of the moment as she stared blankly back at him.
“But why are you giving her a present, Mr. Fenley?”
“I thought you broke up with her.”
Oliver’s expression crumbled a little. He regained his composure quickly enough, as befitting of a seasoned businessman, but Diana was sitting directly in front of him and did not miss the change. She continued,
“……What are you two?”
She was frowning ever so slightly. Oliver was uncharacteristically perplexed, and his answer was slightly delayed.
“Hester hasn’t told you yet.”
Diana discretely grabbed a fistful of her skirt. She recalled how bewildered she had been when Oliver had said that he was her sister’s boyfriend, and subsequently that he had used to be her sister’s boyfriend, on the train.
“That’s fine. I’ll just ask my sister.”
But things were different now. Her sister had been far away back then, but she was right beside her now. She could ask her sister for the truth at once and rid herself of these horrid feelings.
Diana promptly stood up from her seat. Oliver’s gaze lingered over her, but she did not care as she coldly walked past him.
Their home was quiet. Diana was walking quietly, lest she accidentally woke up her sister who had only fallen asleep at dawn, when she suddenly stopped in her tracks. She didn’t know when her sister had gotten up, but she could see Hester’s profile sitting at the table.
The afternoon sun filtered in through the small window and illuminated the kitchen brightly. It didn’t seem like Hester had been awake for long, as her hair was only done up in a simple bun and she was wearing a simple dress. Diana couldn’t see what expression Hester was wearing because Hester had a hand over her forehead, but she could tell that the piece of paper in Hester’s other hand was most likely a letter.
‘I wonder what my sister’s thinking about right now?’
Diana was a bit melancholy as she pondered. Her sister was always smiling for her. Her sister only ever said kind and lovely words to her. But her sister always seemed so weary when she was alone. Diana would likely never know what that letter was or what it was about its contents that made her sister look so serious. Hester never told Diana about anything she found exhausting unless Diana noticed things first, but Diana had a good instinct for these things.
Perhaps her sister was only showing her her good and gentle side, just like Diana was. Hester Sol was only letting tiny fragments of herself show because she had secrets she never wanted to disclose, even to her one and only younger sister. Diana was anxious —she had always wanted to be as a refuge for her sister, but it was entirely possible that she was simply being conceited. Perhaps she, too, was one of the many harsh realities that Hester had to put up with.
Diana flinched as she thought this. It wasn’t as if she could simply ask her sister why she didn’t trust her, why she didn’t tell her everything. After all, Diana had been hiding things from her sister for a long time too. Diana had only been playing the part of a gentle younger sister because she was afraid that Hester might be disappointed in her otherwise, but she had no way of knowing Hester’s heart. Was Hester suppressing her feelings because she, too, was afraid of what her one and only younger sister might think, or was it simply that she couldn’t trust Diana?
Hester suddenly spotted Diana as she lingered by the doorway and hesitantly stood up. She continued,
“I was worried because you weren’t home when I woke up……. Where did you go?”
“I visited the Magic Association for a bit.”
“You should’ve woken me. I said I’d accompany you on your first visit.”
Hester’s expression was a little clouded, as if she was hurt. Diana quickly waved her hands.
“No, it’s okay. I made sure to get good requests too. And I turned down all private requests, just like you told me to.”
“That’s good. Have you eaten yet?”
“I wasn’t hungry yet…….”
“You should still eat when you’re supposed to. Did you eat breakfast?”
Reluctantly, Diana shook her head no. Hester’s eyes immediately slanted inward as she continued,
“Diana. You know that this is the one thing I always nag you about.”
“Then, shall we eat together?”
Diana was still reluctant as she nodded back. The stern look finally left Hester’s visage as she quickly made her way to the kitchen. Diana stared distantly at her sister’s retreating figure for a moment before she abruptly said,
“I saw Mr. Fenley just now.”
“Mr. Fenley? You mean Oliver?”
Hester replied casually as she picked out two eggs from the shelf. She continued,
“How did you end up meeting him?”
“He just sat down at my table while I was at the café downstairs.”
“……Oliver came all the way here?”
It was only then that Hester stopped cooking and turned around. Honestly, Diana replied,
“He said he was actually here to see you, but he didn’t want to disturb you at home because you might be asleep. So he asked me to give this to you in his stead.”
Diana placed Oliver’s present on the table. She stepped back hesitantly as Hester opened the box with a strange look on her face. Hester looked curious about the wristwatch too —she had never seen one before either—, but she closed the box again without much of a reaction otherwise.
“I thought he said he wouldn’t be back until next week……,”
Hester muttered under the breath. Diana had been about to head back inside her room to change, perhaps because she was embarrassed, but then suddenly looked up at her sister. She saw Hester’s back as she lit the stove to fry the eggs.
On pure impulse, Diana asked,
“What’s your relationship with Mr. Fenley?”
The shelf rattled as Hester fished out the frypan. She hadn’t heard what Diana had asked because of the racket, so she asked back,
“Did you say something just now?”
The kitchen, which hadn’t been touched by human hands in quite some time, was cacophonous. Diana gently bit down at her lip. Her heart was just as dizzy as were her ears.
“Are you dating Mr. Fenley again?”
Hester paused and turned around to look back at Diana. Diana grew nervous despite herself and twinned her fingers together as she timidly continued,
“I heard that you used to date him before. I knew about that.”
“How did you……? Did Oliver tell you?”
“Yeah. While we were on the train.”
I see. Hester nodded candidly. Her voice was so composed that it made Diana confused.
The only reason why Diana hadn’t asked Hester about Oliver until now was because they had already broken up. They had broken up and had little reason to see each other again, so Diana had thought that there was no need to reopen her sister’s old wounds.
But, what if they started dating again? What if her sister regained her past affections for Oliver?
Even the mere thought of it was enough to make Diana’s vision grow dark. Her sister had always been an absolute existence in her life, and she had never once doubted that her sister felt the same way about her. They had only had each other after their mother’ funeral, and Diana had been certain that no one could ever pry their way between them.
But now, her sister had a lover who was eager to do just that. Diana had been relieved to know that they had broken up long ago, but now they were growing closer again. She had only learned about this now even though she and her sister weren’t living far apart from each other anymore like they had been in the past. She had gotten so carried away in her bliss now that she could finally live together with her sister that she had been blind to the fact that Hester was drifting away.
“I was planning to tell you later. Were you surprised?”
Her tone was careful, as if she was knocking at a door. But her answer still shocked Diana nonetheless. The two sisters had completely different opinions regarding how serious this matter was.
“Then, are you going to start dating him again?”
Diana asked with a tremble in her voice as the blood drained from her face.
“Do you dislike Oliver?”
“That’s not the issue here.”
“Then what is the issue?”
Hester asked innocently. Diana felt her breath catch for a moment.
“The issue……? Didn’t you break up with him before? I heard that he did something terrible to you.”
“It’s okay now.”
“But what if he does it again? How well do you even know him? How can you be so sure that you can trust him?”
“I think he’s someone I can trust……. But I suppose I’ll be really sad if something like that ever happens again.”
Hester’s expression clouded over ever so slightly. She continued,
“But I don’t really want to think about that. In any case, we’re doing just fine now, so there’s nothing for you to worry about.”
Hester smiled and walked up to the stove. It looked like she intended to resume cooking, judging by how the dishes were rattling on the shelf. Diana was on the brink of tears as she slowly said,
“Don’t date him, Sister. What if he hurts you again? He might love you now, but what if he falls out of love with you someday? These things never last very long.”
The noise from the kitchen had stopped completely at some point. Diana dropped her head and continued stammering,
“My teacher was like that too. She’d completely ignore Cedric, me, and Chesterty whenever she fell in love and she focused all her attention only on her lover. She always put her lover first, and she always did anything they asked her to. She always loved them like her life depended on it, but her relationships never lasted very long. She never once looked back at her lovers even if they clung to her feet and begged, no matter how much she’d loved them before, and then she’d become cold and cruel, as if her love had only been just a momentary dream.”
Hester let out a sigh as she looked up at the clock on the wall.
“What if that happens to you too? Or, what if that happens to Mr. Fenley? You never know if he might suddenly change his mind one day and fall out of love with you. Are you going to cling to him and beg pitifully like my teacher’s lovers used to?”
“I don’t want that to happen. I don’t want to see you clinging to anyone like that, and I don’t want you to get hurt either. Why should you need to? You’ll always have me by your…….”
You’ll always have me by your side. I’ll love you forever.
The pathetic words she could not bring herself to utter lingered at the tip of her tongue. Diana clenched her jaw. She had no idea how she was supposed to go about persuading her sister out of this.
A warm touch wrapped around her arm just then. Diana startled and looked up. Hester had walked up to her at some point and was looking back at her with concern in her eyes.
“I know what you’re so worried about.”
Diana stared back at Hester in a daze. But just as Hester was hesitantly about to speak up, the quiet clock on the wall rang loudly to announce the time.
The clock’s hands were pointing to two o’clock. The sister’s, who had naturally turned toward the clock when they heard the sound, slowly returned their gazes. The clock had swallowed its noise, and silence resumed. Hester’s lips moved ever so slightly as she smiled.
“I’d wanted to eat with you…….”
“Let’s talk again later.”
Hester pressed a letter in Diana’s hands. Then, the warmth that had been embracing Diana’s small hands broke away. Diana stared quietly as her sister retreated to the bathroom before she looked down at the letter.
Miss Hester Sol,
I am reaching out to you again regarding the ‘Tragedy of Penzas’ last May. While your previous testimony was most helpful to the investigation, I request for your cooperation with the investigation again, this time in person, as I do not believe it is proper to discuss these matters over letters. You are obligated to comply under Section 1 <The Duties of a Witch of Ingram> of your oath, and failure to comply will result in a penalty as underlined in your oath. Please report to the site of the incident by 3 p.m. on August 14, or you will be found in breach of your oath.
The Ingram Central Police Magic Crimes Investigation Department
Superintendent Veronica Terrance
* * *
Black darkness filled her vision.
The world was dark regardless of whether her eyes were open or not. All she could here in this endlessly lonely place was the sound of her own breathing. She couldn’t see or hear anything, as if she had gouged out her eyes and cut off her ears. And that was how she could vaguely tell.
I’m all alone.
She wracked through her memories, but she could not recall how long she had been alone or where she even was. Her vision was blurry, and she could not feel anything below the abdomen. Her body was freezing cold, as if she was steadily losing blood, and she didn’t even have the strength to move a finger. She wondered if this was how she died. All alone, in this lonely place.
But her loneliness and solitude did not make her sad. Perhaps she had forgotten how to feel those emotions, just like how she had forgotten everything else. She was not sad because she had forgotten how to be sad. Still, she did hope that someone would be sad once she died. She hoped someone would remember her. The thought that she might be completely forgotten, as if she had never existed in the world to begin with, made her a little melancholy.
And just then, her vision distorted.
The darkness lifted, and small sounds began trickling into her ears. Her once-numb abdomen was now in agony, as if someone was stabbing her with a knife. It hurt so much that she could hardly breathe.
Someone grabbed her by the ankle. His touch was as cold as a corpse and made her hair stand at end.
“This is where you escaped to?”
His voice was chilling, like the sound of metal grating on metal. He was a dead man who had torn through the veil of darkness and crawled up to her. His bizarrely twisted limbs were hideous, like the legs of a spider, and it hurt her just to look at his face, contorted horribly by the torture he had suffered. But the dead man was delighted and full of laughter. The cruel light of his crimson eyes was burning bright with madness.
But she wasn’t afraid of him. There was something else she was afraid of.
The dark shadow approaching quietly from behind the dead man who had caught hold of his prey. The mysterious creature who smelled strongly of sulfur, a scent unique to the underworld, as he came closer.
Tears poured down her face. Fear sewed her mouth shut tight. Terror dominated her mind.
I don’t want to kill you.
Slowly, Diana opened her eyes. A familiar darkness was spread out before her. She stared blankly into space for a while before she staggered and sat up, and she wiped away the tears on her cheeks with familiar movements.
It was a dimly lit dawn. The nightmares had become a part of her daily routine.
There were dark shadows under Diana’s eyes are she got ready to go out. She walked into the kitchen because she remembered her sister telling her to eat breakfast even if she was alone, but she did not want to start her day all alone at home in such a lonely manner. She would much rather listen to the café server gossip on end.
And so, she enjoyed an early breakfast at the café and immediately headed into the city on a carriage. The carriage slowed down the deeper she went into the city because so many people were headed to work. It was still just as humid as ever —it even seemed like there would be a downpour any minute now—, and people were intently fanning themselves as they walked along the streets.
Hester had gone to Penzas the other day. She had simply said that they would talk again once she was back, and Diana hadn’t been able to find it in herself to stop her sister. Her sister had vanished in the blink of an eye, and all she could do was miss her in her heart. The house was dreadfully quiet now that she was left inside it alone. Diana abhorred the sudden solitude that had found her.
She should’ve just eaten lunch with Hester before she left. Why had she upset the both of them by saying things that she didn’t have to say?
But no matter how much Diana regretted it, it would still be at least ten days before Hester returned. Diana needed to live well until then so that her sister wouldn’t worry. She had to be sure that she ate every day, and she had to complete the requests she had received a few days ago. She had to be a good little sister so Hester wouldn’t be worried upon her return.
“We have arrived.”
The carriage slid to a stop. Diana stepped out into the sidewalk once she had paid the driver. Then, she leaned her head back and looked up as she took in a breath of the air, which was so muggy that she wondered if it was about to rain.
The tall walls protected fiercely by the Royal Guard. The various buildings behind it were Diana’s destination for the day.
The Crumpton Royal Library.
It was both the greatest and the most eccentric library in the world, and it had been built over the course of several long centuries. It was a holy land where all sorts of books rested regardless of genre, and it was a place of importance in Ingram where one could see the past 300 years of Ingram’s architectural styles at once because the annexes had been built without much prior planning. Diana had heard much of the Crumpton Royal Library’s renown, but today was her first time visiting it in person.
She took in the view of the library for a moment before she readjusted her hat and boldly set forth. A well-maintained garden spread out before her like a carpet as soon as she had walked through the front gates, but it didn’t really impress Diana because she had had lived in countless Jiles manors previously and seen many such gardens. She passed by a fountain gushing up toward the heavens without much emotion as she made her way to a tidy building in front of her.
The main building was quieter than she had expected. Diana looked around the unfamiliar place for a while before she gingerly walked up to the information desk. She was greeted by an elderly gentleman wearing a navy uniform.
“What brings you here today?”
“I’m looking for the Millennium Rose Hall.”
Kindly, the man pointed and said,
“Go up to the second floor and take the third door to your left. Would you like me to take you there?”
“No thank you.”
Diana climbed up to the second floor just like the man had told her. Then, the path split three ways —left, right, and straight. She turned left, and the first door she found was made of mahogany.
Diana wasn’t entirely certain, but she surmised that this led to an annex that was filled with books pertaining to music. She walked past the first door.
She walked for some time before she found the second door, which was painted white.
She could tell that this annex had to do with the Church of Santigma, which obsessed over the color white, just by looking at the door. Diana wasn’t on friendly terms with the Church, so she quickly walked away with a bitter look on her face.
She arrived at the third door shortly thereafter. Diana quickly made her way toward it. The door was dark red, and there were roses and vines twinned around its nameplate.
[Millennium Rose Hall]
Diana opened the door without a moment’s hesitation. The scent of old books and the brilliant sunlight flooded over her.
But she could not step through the doorway immediately. There was a grave look on her face as she shielded her eyes and peered inside. It was because the view inside did not match the corridor outside at all.
The sunlight was unhindered as it poured down through the glass ceiling, and she could only see a few desks. It was so uncontrollably bright inside that it did not suit the world of magic, which preferred the shadows. More importantly, Diana assumed that the Millennium Rose Hall was a tower, judging by how it was circular on the inside, but she had seen that the main building had only been three stories tall from the outside. She hadn’t been anywhere close to a tower like this one.
Diana furrowed her brows and pondered before she realized what she was doing, and she found her answer before long. She was certain that there was considerable distance between the main building and the Millennium Rose Hall, and the two were simply connected by magic. This particular annex had been built for witches, but she had not expected that magic would be applied to a building of human construct.
Finally, Diana walked inside the Millennium Rose Hall with lighter footsteps. This was the one and only library in Ingram that any witch or wizard could frequent freely. She could hardly believe a place like this truly existed, especially considering that the world of magic was generally so exclusive that each household and each individual witch or wizard owned their own collection of books and rarely shared with others.
There was an extremely simply reason as for why such a special library existed in Ingram. The Millennium Rose Hall was an annex that had originally been built to commemorate the end of the Millennium War between the world of magic and the Church of Santigma, but it had been a library in name only for a while initially because witches considered books as precious treasures and had no reason to donate them. It had only been thanks to Trisha Knockbridge that the once-empty Millennium Rose Hall was now brimming with books.
Trisha Knockbridge was a witch who had passed away 120 years ago and had been a descendant of a humble house that wasn’t very well known in the world of magic. She hadn’t achieved very much in the ninety-eight years of her life, but she had been extraordinarily obsessed with books and had collected over 9,000 volumes in her lifetime. The problem, however, was that she had no heir.
In Ingram law, any property that wasn’t descended to an heir was completely vested in the state. And, as Trisha Knockbridge was a witch who had sworn her oath to the king of Ingram, she was obligated to obey Ingram law as per Section 1 <The Duties of a Witch of Ingram>.
Trisha Knockbridge had neither children, disciples, nor even any relatives, so she had been left with no other choice but to turn over her treasures to the state. She had desperately tried to skirt her oath because she hadn’t wanted the state to rob her of her treasures, but her oath had been executed on Walpurgis Night, and she therefore had no way of renouncing it unilaterally. It had been an unfortunate outcome for Trisha Knockbridge as an individual, but it had worked out well for everyone else because poorer witches and wizards of Ingram now had easy access to magical texts.
Diana had heard that, nowadays, the Millennium Rose Hall expanded its collections by legally extorting more books from witches and wizards who had no heirs. To Diana, who did not have the money to obtain magical texts —much less have a household library she had access to—, the library was nothing short of a blessing.
She was excited as she made her way up to the information desk. She had intended to immediately ask the librarian where the books she was looking were located, but…
The bowed head of curly brown hair did not budge despite her repeated calls. Diana scrutinized the librarian. She realized that he was asleep.
“Excuse me. Could you please wake up?”
She carefully poked at him with her finger. He didn’t stir the first few times she poked, but then he suddenly jumped up and cried,
“I-I’m so sorry, Director!”
Diana was startled and opened her eyes wide. The librarian was still half-asleep, and it took some time before his hazy eyes finally made their way down and spotted Diana’s crimson hair. Dumbfoundedly, he said,
“Oh, you’re not the director.”
“Hey. I’m just—”
What in the world? Diana’s eyes narrowed sharply.
“No, nothing. You’re not Lady Hester……. But you look a whole lot like her,”
the librarian said as his meek eyes opened wide. Diana knew that her sister frequented the library, so she figured that the librarian must know of Hester.
Astringently, Diana quipped back,
“I’m looking for some books.”
“What? Oh, books.”
“Um, you are the librarian here, right?”
“Of course. I even have my ID right here,”
the librarian said as he pointed at the ID hanging around his neck. Rupert Walsh. That was his name. He continued,
“Which books are you looking for?”
“Anything that has to do with Grieg Fromm. You have foreign books here too, right?”
Diana had been reading [The Legacy of Greig Fromm: The Wizard Who Dreamt of Living Forever, the Legacy of Eternal Life, and the Study of an Immortal Life that Cannot be Descended] and had come across a chapter she could not quite understand. She could analyze the language itself, but she could not translate its meaning properly without fully understanding its implicit meanings first.
“You’re looking for books from Banzè if you’re looking for Grieg Fromm’s books. Are there any books of his that you’re looking for in particular?”
“His storybooks. I’ve heard that he wrote a storybook in his twilight years…….”
“Oh, you’re looking for [Jallomo and the Wizard of the Swamp],”
the librarian, Rupert, replied clearly. Apparently, he wasn’t only a librarian for show. He continued,
“There are so many editions of that book that you might need to time to figure out which one you want. Let me show you where they are.”
Diana turned toward where Rupert was pointing. But then she startled as she found someone whom she hadn’t been expected to see here.
“Sir Cedric Jiles!”
She heard Rupert calling out in welcome behind her. Cedric was dressed as neatly as he always did as he gently nodded back. Then, he calmly turned around to look at Diana.
All Diana could do was nod back, unable to hide her bewilderment. Why’s he here, of all places? Her head was filled with a question she could not answer.
“What brings you here today?”
Rupert was smiling brightly as he walked up to them. Cedric handed him a book. Rupert continued,
“Wow, you finished this already? It might look thin, but it’s a very difficult book —you’re remarkable. Are you here for another book?”
“I’m looking for a storybook called Jallomo and the Wizard of the Swamp.”
“That’s weirdly popular these days. Right?”
Rupert turned to Diana in hopes of getting her to agree. But Diana was in no state to reply at the moment. She was so bewildered that her mouth had been glued shut.
‘Why are you here?’
Cedric, of course, had no way of knowing what she was thinking and could only tilt his head to the side in confusion.
On a narrow stairway that could barely fit two people standing side-by-side.
The three of them descended steadily as their dissonant footsteps echoed around them. Diana thought they had been walking for quite some time now, but the candle on the wall in front of them illuminated with every step they took forward and the candle on the wall behind them extinguished, so there was no way for her to tell exactly how far they had come.
Diana kept her eyes glued on Rupert in front of her as she walked. Rupert had engaged them in pleasant conversation while he led them downstairs at first, but he began focusing on climbing after almost missing his step a few times. It was better to endure the silence than to watch a fully grown man trip and fall down a set of stone stairs, but Diana could not help but grow uncomfortable whenever she recalled the fact that Cedric was followingly quietly behind her.
‘It seemed like my father’s been researching Grieg Fromm lately.’
That was what Cedric had said when Diana had asked him why he was looking for the storybook. Diana hadn’t pried any further because she knew just how much Cedric respected his father, whom he had been separated from as a young child, but that didn’t change the fact that she was still uncomfortable to be with him. She wanted to retrieve the book as quickly as possible so she could get away from him even a second faster.
The problem was that Grieg Fromm’s storybooks slept deep down in the basement.
“Books that are borrowed often are kept in closer floors. Greig Fromm is not only a foreigner but is hardly ever the topic of anyone’s research, so it’s only natural that his books are kept deep down in the basement. The only reason why the Millennium Rose Hall even has copies of [Jallomo and the Wizard of the Swamp] is because it’s relatively popular. There are a lot of foreign books that we don’t have any copies of yet, but did you know that we have over ten different editions of that one?”
Diana had nothing to say so long as she could borrow the book for free. Who cared that it was kept deep underground or that Cedric was accompanying her there? The frugal Diana was powerless against anything that was free.
“Just five more floors to go! You’re both still okay, right……? M-Miss Diana, you mustn’t touch that!”
Rupert shouted in a hurry as he smiled and looked back. Diana, who had been about to grab the wall because she couldn’t see very well in the dim candlelight, startled and drew her hand back.
“I told you earlier that you mustn’t touch anything carelessly. I haven’t been a librarian here for very long, so I don’t know what kind of magic traps were installed around the stairs. I’ve barely ever been this far down either……,”
Rupert mumbled in his distress. Diana felt her blood curl and quietly took a step away from the wall.
“Is this place really that dangerous?”
“Of course. It has to stop both invaders from the outside and the prisoners from the inside.”
“The prisoners from the inside?”
“The books —I’m referring to the books,”
Rupert replied as if it was only natural. He continued,
“There’d be big trouble if something went wrong and any dangerous books accidentally escaped the library.”
“Who could say? There are so many different types of books in here that I can’t really explain. Some books can suck blood out of living people, and some of them even eat people. There are a lot of scary stories about books, you know?”
The blood drained from Diana’s face. But Rupert had no idea as he innocently continued,
“To be honest, I’m only ever at the information desk because I’m not an expert librarian yet. I’m a bit nervous because it’s been a while since I last came this deep down inside the library.”
You shouldn’t be nervous. But Diana held herself from snapping back.
“Don’t worry too much. Sir Cedric’s here with us, so I doubt anything too bad will happen,”
Rupert added with a cheery smile. Diana was envious of his optimism but also started wanting to punch him in the face for some reason.
It didn’t take much longer before they finally reached the floor where Grieg Fromm’s books were kept. Diana felt a little satisfied as they finally left the tedious stairs behind them. But her satisfaction disappeared without a trace as soon as she stepped inside the shadowed library.
Rupert handed out some candles before he began searching for the books in earnest. The candles were hardly enough to stave away the darkness of the basement, and the feeble lights were the only things that declared their presence.
Quietly, Rupert whispered,
“There are a lot of dangerous books in the basement. So please stay right behind me without making any loud noises.”
Diana and Cedric quietly nodded back. Then, the three of them began walking through the bookshelves as one.
The library was filled with a musky scent, as befitting of a library deep underground. The bookshelves they walked past were filled with books not only in the Abado tongue and the central dialect but also the northern and southern dialects and even unfamiliar letters they could not read. Some of the books were so old and dangerous that they looked like they had never been touched ever since they had been first placed here. It felt like the centuries the books had lived were pressing down upon their shoulders.
Thankfully, Rupert did not roam about for long.
“The works of Josephine Fromm are on this bookshelf here……. So Greig Fromm’s books are the next shelf over.”
But Rupert, who had been just about to walk over to the next bookshelf, suddenly leaned over. It was fortunate that Diana and Cedric quickly grabbed hold of him, as something terrible could have happened had they been even a second slower.
“Hey. Be careful……!”
“Why is this here?”
Rupert abruptly began peering through the bookshelf to their left. His brown eyes were uncharacteristically sharp as he carefully combed through the bookshelf. He continued,
“Dorothy Fromm is a witch from the 700s —so why are these here? And, isn’t this Milfree Gwintir’s work?”
“Um, is something wrong?”
“Yes. Very. The entire bookshelf’s a right mess. Patricia was here with the librarians in training last week for practice, so they must have forgotten to clean up after themselves.”
It sounded like an unforgivable sin from a librarian’s point of view. No wonder the normally docile Rupert sounded so vexed. He continued,
“I’m sorry —could you please look for Grief Fromm’s books on the next bookshelf over? I’ll stay here and do what I can to reorganize this one,”
Rupert asked politely. Cedric nodded back at him without a word before he began walking ahead. Diana had no choice but to follow behind him on the verge of tears.
It was dark and quiet. Diana took one last look at the unfathomable darkness before she forced her feet to keep moving. Cedric arrived at the bookshelf first and brought his candle closer to the books as he scanned through them.
“Here’s Grieg Fromm’s books,”
he said with his eyes fixated on one corner of the bookshelf. Diana walked up to where he was looking and studied the books. Thankfully, most of the books were written in the Abado tongue, the language of magic, instead of the northern dialect, which she could not read.
The Third Law of Magical Epidemiology; Oil and Starlight; The Theory Behind Astrological Telescopes; The Weaknesses of the Galatrian Prayer……. Diana’s eyes passed persistently over a wide variety of loosely connected and diverse titles before she finally spotted a slender storybook.
[Jallomo and the Wizard of the Swamp]
Cedric, who had also spotted the storybook just then, pulled out one of its ten different editions and began flipping through it.
“We found it.”
Diana looked carefully at the different editions while Cedric skimmed through his copy. The titles varied slightly between each edition. Jallomo and the Wizard of the Swamp; Jallomo, the Hero, and the Wizard; Jallomo and the Wizard of Darkness. The only things they all had in common were ‘Jallomo’ and the ‘Wizard.’ She assumed that they were the main characters.
But it was still just a storybook. It was a short and simple story, so the different editions were unlikely to be too different. Besides, Diana wasn’t here to research Grieg Fromm in detail. It didn’t matter which edition she read.
She was just about to pick out one of the editions at random when a sudden strange feeling pulled at her fingers. Her visage stiffened as she lingered. Her fingers had stopped in front of the left-most edition before she knew it.
Cedric asked as he was perusing through Grieg Fromm’s other works. Diana quietly shook her head as she pulled out the book. She assumed that her nerves must be on edge from her nightmare last night, so she did her best to ignore the discomfort she felt.
But more strange things kept happening. Cedric, who had wandered a little away, walked back over to her. The blood drained from his face as soon as he looked at the book in Diana’s hands over her shoulder.
“Is that Jallomo and the Wizard of the Swamp?”
Diana carefully flipped through the pages. But they were all blank. There were neither any illustrations nor any words.
“This is weird.”
There were too many things that were suspicious about the book for it to be a simple misprint. She doubted that the Millennium Rose Hall would keep a book that was completely blank just because it had a proper cover, and more importantly, her sixth sense told her to be suspicious. It was foolish to ignore a witch’s senses.
Cedric, who stared at the unending blank pages for a bit longer, looked up and called for Rupert.
Rupert was still busy reorganizing the other bookshelf. His reply was a little delayed.
“Did you call for me?”
“There’s something strange about this book.”
“All the pages are blank.”
Rupert’s hands stopped moving in their tracks. A queer moment of silence passed before Rupert returned a reply.
“……The pages are blank?”
Then, they heard books falling down from afar. Diana and Cedric turned around instinctively. Rupert was as white as a sheet as he ran over to them.
Diana mumbled in her bewilderment. But just then, a magic circle appeared with Diana at its center.
“Close the book right now!”
Rupert shouted in a hurry. Diana tried to close the book in the confusion of the moment, but the book wouldn’t budge. It was almost like it had frozen stiff.
“W-why’s it like this?! Why won’t it close?!”
Even Cedric tried to help her close it, but to no avail. The faint magic circle had started glowing in the meanwhile. Words from archaic and dead languages danced into the air, and a black elk, which symbolized the renowned house from the north, appeared before them. The magic circle was already activated.
Someone urgently screamed,
“We have to interrupt the magic cir—”
A blinding light gushed out from the book. The bright light swallowed both Diana and Cedric, who were doing their best to close the book, and Rupert, who had come running over to them. Light had found its way to the darkness that had dominated the basement for centuries.
But it lasted for only a moment, and the flash of light coursed through the library like a wave before vanishing without a trace. All that it left behind were three candles, a snowball that connected to a dragon, and a storybook, all fallen on the floor. And the darkness rushed back in and put the commotion back to sleep as if nothing had ever happened.
Only silence prevailed in the basement devoid of human presences.