Irish Coffee
rating: +22+x

"I want a coffee."

"What kind of coffee, sir?"

"A normal coffee, please."

She raised an eyebrow.

"Sir, we're a coffee shop, you're going to have be a little bit more specific."

He sighed.

"I just want a normal coffee. Water, coffee. No mocha-frappe-shit. Don't put sprinkles or ice cream or caramel ejaculate on my goddamn coffee, please."

They stared at each other for a moment over the counter. Marsh could hear the patron behind him, something with one eye and less patience, tapping its scaled foot impatiently.

"… Whatever you say, sir. That'll be-"

A crack sounded through the ceiling. All the experienced patrons ducked or kissed the floor, while the fresh faces flipped their heads from side to side like goldfish at a tennis match. Marsh squatted on the tiled floor of the coffee shop, fishing in his coat for something. The cyclops behind him in line was agape at the sudden black hole in the ceiling until Marsh grabbed its fur overcoat and pulled the fellow to the floor.

"What is this, your first time? Come on."

A split second later a red-and-brown blur came flying through the new hole in the wooden ceiling. The patrons who had been dumb enough to look at the ceiling were knocked on their asses by the sudden gust of wind in the hole-in-the-wall coffee shop. The blur froze and straightened itself out, a hundred little hands all dusting off the spherical segments they were attached to.

Everything was silent for a moment. Everyone was staring at the insectoid daisy-chain dangling from the hole in the ceiling. Everyone except Marsh, who was trying futilely to light a cigarette.

The part of the centipede creature extruding from the ceiling ended in a larger sphere, bug-eyes and mandibles. Mandibles that were now clicking together, producing a soft skittering noise that, if one listened closely, could be heard to say-

"It's on me, Bronna. Oh, and could I get one of those, the cups with the whipped cream and the chocolate? I forget the name."

"… Sure, Archivist."

The head of the Rounderpede turned to face the lean man in the black trenchcoat desperately trying to conjur a flame for his cigarette.

"It won't work, Mr. Marsh. This whole wing is a fire hazard so the Library simply suppresses any fire made, magic or otherwise. It's quite beautiful, really."

"It's quite a pain in the ass."

"That stuff is poison anyway, we're doing you a favor."

"Yeah…"

Marsh tousled his rat's nest of black hair. At seeing the creature's familiarity with the clerk, most of the other patrons had either walked out into the Stacks or tentatively returned to their drinks, shooting furtive glances at the pair and whispering.

Bronna returned to the counter. Her employees had never even stopped working - the Rounderpede liked to take advantage of the perks afforded to him by his position, and the easiest way to do that was to stop by during his rounds to pick up a scone or two.

She slid two cups at them across the counter - one tall and filled with a steaming liquid darker than Marsh's coat, and the other a dainty little thing containing a whipped cream sundae drizzled with chocolate. Marsh grabbed his, and the Rounderpede swung forward to grab his in a loose claw.

"Where are we sitting?"

"Over here."

Marsh weaved between the tightly-packed chairs and tables, most empty at this time of day. That was a misnomer - there were no actual day-night cycles in the Library, but the lights seemed to dim in a regular pattern, and is the hour system really the thing you want to split hairs over in an infinite Library? Knowing the average Wanderer, a thousand treatises had probably already been written on the matter, all of them increasingly verbose ways to say "I have no idea, but here's what I think!"

"I'm sensing some pent-up resentment there, Morgan."

"Oh. Did I say that out loud?" he said, setting his cup down in the booth table. Overhead, the Rounderpede sidled out of the hole in the ceiling and twirled and wrapped through the coffee shop, mostly sticking to the ceiling, until he came down at the booth. It didn't look like he was any closer to revealing the rest of his body.

"How long are you, even?"

"Gosh, Morgan. You can't just ask people how long they are!"

"Shut up."

A fast-gravelly skittering noise erupted from the Rounderpede's mandibles. Marsh, sliding into his seat, froze to stare at the bug-faced creature in front of him for a second before realizing he was… laughing. He snorted and reached into his overcoat, pulling out a metal flask.

"Morgan…"

"Hey, relax, it's just to take the edge off."

He dumped the entire flask into the coffee cup, smiling as the concoction popped and sizzled before turning a pleasant orange-brown.

"Elrichian Fire-whiskey. Fancy."

Marsh raised an eyebrow.

"How'd you know that?"

The two foremost arms shrugged.

"I know things, Morgan. It's my job. And you've got a thing on your face."

"Where? Here?"

"No, it's kind of-"

The Rounderpede used an arm to rub the area beneath its eyes and surrounding its mouth.

"Kind of dark and furry?"

Marsh raised the other eyebrow.

"My beard?"

"Oh, is that what it's called? Fun."

Marsh sipped from his brew, which had settled down to idle bubbling.

"So, bugbrain. How you been?"

Rounderpede took a lick using the small pink spoon.

"Oh, you know, same shit different day. Wrangling the Pages and Docents, hashing it out with Malaise. The Scavenger Hunt tuckered me out - I didn't even know I could get tired! Had to nest up for a week after that."

"Yeah, it's been kind of a mess up at Planasthai too. Editor, bless him, wants us to start preparing for the Bookworm awards already."

"You've got month-"

"Yeah, I know. It'd be better to focus on the Wallwalking Tourney next week, but you know how he feels about sports."

"No? I don't?"

"Oh. Well, he thinks if someone's not being beaten to death or beating someone else to death, it's a waste of time."

"Bit of a narrow worldview. You know, I went to a world once, Salyrium. Sports are literally the religion du jour there, referees-"

"Please, I don't want to be bored to death. I have a family."

"No, you don't. But I digress."

Another sip, followed by another bite. A small child sitting a couple tables away stared at the pair, wide-eyed. Rounderpede waved a few arms at him, and Marsh lightened his glower for a moment.

"You're not very good with kids, Morgan, are you?"

"I work for a fallen celestial and eat demons for power. I could bend the bones of anyone in here-"

"I have an exoskeleton."

"- any person in here into a balloon animal."

"Aw. So why are you afraid of them?"

"I'm not, I just… y'know."

Rounderpede cocked his head.

"It's weird, the idea."

"The idea of children."

"Yeah. Little people all running around, being shaped by their circumstances."

"I suppose it is a bit strange, isn't it?"

"You're lying to make me feel better, bug. I know you."

Rounderpede threw up its arms in mock surrender, nearly spilling Marsh's drink.

"Nothing is strange to me anymore, Morgan, but I can see where you're coming from. I feel much the same way sometimes."

"Yeah? Can't say I've ever seen any baby 'pedes running around the Stacks. Seems like the kind of thing I'd remember."

"Well, maybe not exactly… but there is much to be said about the Library taking that role for me?"

Marsh drew another flask from inside his jacket, and starting dumping it into his half-finished coffee.

"You know next time you should just get them to put two shots of espresso in your beer to save time."

"This is top… mid-shelf whiskey, excuse you. But keep talking."

A gurgle of air escaped from the centipede's chitinous jaws as he gestured around him, to the couples and Wanderers enjoying their drinks. Through the facade, outside, countless more Wanderers could be seen in the Main Hall and in the Stacks beyond. All selecting, picking, reading their books.

"Oh, you know… things weren't always this lively, you know."

"I have a hard time imagining that."

"Yes, I'm sure. But me and Malaise were there all the way back when most of the wings had fallen into disrepair. Collapsed shelves, ruined books, empty atriums and halls. Sad state of affairs. Took a truly stupid amount of time and effort to get it here."

"Yeah, I know, you tell everyone you know for more than 5 minutes."

"The Planasthai was little more than an empty office block, half the Ways had gone defunct. It was on life support. And now look at it!"

He pointed a clawed hand at the grand crowd outside.

"And it's still not where I'd like it."

"You have a distinct vision for the Library?"

"Yes. Many! Some that conflict, even, but that's how it is. It's my job to get it there."

"Dunno, chief. You've got a lot of shoulders but I don't think they can hold the weight of the world."

"Well, I didn't choose the Library, the Library chose me. It's not like I have much of a choice."

"Oh, come on. 'You always have a choice. Sometimes the choice is do or die, but even that's a choice.'"

"Don't quote me to myself, that's classless."

"Yet correct."

"… Maybe."

"Oh, don't get wistful on me, you overgrown cockroach. You've got a lot to look forward to. Hell of a lot more than most mortals do, at least."

An antenna on his head twitched.

"Just how old are you, Morgan?"

"That's not important," the mage replied sheepishly. "We've had some crazy times, but even I don't know a way to turn back the clock. No way to go but forward."

"Still, never hurts to remember where you came from. Like how I dragged you out of that Jailor ambush-"

"- or how I taught you the hexes to get rid of the bookrot infestations."

The red scales of the Rounderpede lightened to a pink, drifting out from his head.

"Point taken. But I still can't help and worry. I used to know the names of every Wanderer that came in!"

"What, you're worried the most important work you've ever done is paying off?" Marsh blew on his coffee.

"No, I just-"

"I know, bugbrain. You're an infinitely long eldritch creature of unknown origin who knows more than any other single sapient in here. You're too smart to be acting this dumb. Don't be scared things are changing; be glad they're changing for the better. A pretty smart Librarian told me that once."

"Yeah, yeah. Classless. But thank you, friend."

"Naturally." Marsh smirked and picked up his whiskey-coffee, giving it an experimental sniff before turning it up and placing it in front of him. He raised his hands and chanted for a moment before slamming his fist on the cup and through to the table. The cup was gone.

"Saving it for later?"

"Yep. Have a meeting with Greene to get to."

"Who's Greene?"

"New partner. She's a knight."

Rounderpede's eyes narrowed.

"She?"

"Shut up. You better finish that up too, no way you don't have some dumb menial crap to be doing."

Rounderpede grumbled but picked up the paper cup, still floating a mix of whipped cream, and tossed it straight down the gullet, spoon and all.

"Wow, that was disgusting."

"Thank you. It was nice catching up, Morgan. I'll see you around, yes?"

"Yeah, sure…"

"Wait. What's in your pocket?"

"What? Oh, nothing… important."

"Morgan? Is that… a notepad? Dammit Marsh, were you interviewing me?!"

Marsh paused at the exit to the coffee shop.

"Man's gotta eat. Later, bug!"

"Morgan! If I see this in tomorrow's Planasthai I'll eat you, I swear! Morgan!"

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