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This was a strange place. That much is certain.

Sancho’s first hour in the library had been as much, with the fish tank he had jumped into dumping him out of a bookshelf, and that was before the gargantuan creature with a lantern for a hand ambushed him and his newfound… friend? He didn’t really know. The skull on top of their head had a pair of antlers that arched like the limbs of a great tree and glinted in the faint light as they led Sancho out of the frigid halls.

Never had he thought that he would meet another person that was like him, someone who was truly unique. An anomaly. And yet… they were taking him to a coffee shop. In the middle of a library with seemingly endless hallways, there's a coffee shop. Something so normal, if you didn't consider the context.

He gulped, still slightly shaken from the creature coming around the corner so suddenly earlier. "So, uh, Norim. You said that there's food around here?"

The person looked back, barely a hint of a smile on their face underneath that skull. "You'd be surprised. We've got nearly everything you can think of here, as long as you know how to look for it. You're new here, so I may as well show you around." They waved their hand over their shoulder. "Come on, we're almost there."

Finally, a break in the shelves. The snow that covered the earlier books had long since disappeared, leaving novels filling every crevice. Following close behind Norim, Sancho turned the corner to a sight much more appealing than the unending books.

A great hall, filled with liveliness and chatter, stood in front of the two. The ceiling was just barely visible far above, with a stained glass roof letting in light from whatever lay beyond. A short building lay in the center, with unnecessarily ornate tracery creating beautiful patterns on the cobbled walls. The roof came up just a story, with a single attic window visible. The door lay open, with the mixed smells of baked goods and sweets invitingly awaiting.

The two of them entered the building, carefully making their way around the crowded seats and tables. A display case at the back held everything one could ever want from a bakery; rolls, muffins, doughnuts, and even some full cakes. Sancho could feel his mouth watering already.

"Peppermint mocha, if you please, Sive." That was Norim, talking to the woman behind the counter.

With the largest smile that Sancho had ever seen, the woman floated upwards from leaning on the counter, revealing a pair of translucent shimmering wings as she grabbed all of the ingredients. "Comin' right up, sweetie! And what should I get for your cute friend here?"

"Uh. I'll have a…" Sancho froze as he searched desperately for something to stare at other than the woman's wings. "A hot chocolate and a muffin. Thank you."

"It's not a problem at all. Hope you enjoy!"

On the counter, a small flash erupted, leaving behind a mug on a saucer with a large spoon sticking out of the delicious chocolate inside, and a muffin right beside it.

"Have a good day, Sive!" said Norim, with their giant mug in hand as they paid. Turning around, they mused to themself "Now to find somewhere to sit. This is the hard part."

After a while, the two of them found a pair of overstuffed armchairs away from the bustling crowds. Sancho sunk deep into his chair, slowly nibbling at his muffin while staring around him.

"Big day for you, huh?" Norim asked. They were cradling their mug close, a lazy smile across their face.

"I-" Sancho started. "Yeah. It sure has been. I thought that working for the Foundation would've included the wildest things I'd ever seen, but this is far beyond that."

A small laugh came up in his throat. "I mean, look at this place. Everyone here can be themself, and there's no reason to hide it.

"Just last week, I was transformed into, well, this." He gestured at himself, octopus head and all. "I thought that the Foundation was going to lock me up and monitor me like one of their other anomalies, but they let me keep my job. Nobody looked at me the same, though."

Norim stayed silent, the top of their head and horns peeking over their mug.

"I mean, they're all about following rules and keeping shit contained, and who cares if something happens? It's just another anomaly to lock up. So what did I do? I left. You'd be amazed at how much access a janitor has, even if it's just to clean up other people's messes. I snuck in, grabbed some random documents, and found somebody who could help. Camila. She got me out, and I don't even know how the hell she did it. Magic, I guess? That exists?"

He took a break to breathe, sipping at his hot chocolate.

Finally speaking up, Norim asked, "You're running from the Jailors, then?"

Sancho nodded.

"So are a lot of people here. A lot of people call this a safe place, a haven for all those persecuted and who seek knowledge. There are no 'anomalies' here, only people who wish to live their lives.

"And as for magic…" Norim raised an open hand, a small bundle of light flaring from within. "Yes, it's real. It's complicated, but very real."

They leaned forward towards Sancho as they extinguished the light. "I could teach you about it, if you wanted."

Sancho's breath caught in his throat, and he rushed to say something, anything.

Miraculously, he didn't need to, as a blur of orange and white hopped into his lap out of nowhere. A cat. It stared at him quizically before sniffing his hand and licking it.

He made the executive decision to pet the cat, still trying to distract himself from the person in front of him. "What's your name, kitty?"

The cat had no collar, but Norim spoke up. "That's George. He lives around here."

The cat reached up to play with the orange tentacles sprouting out from Sancho's head, as he said "I guess there is some normalcy around here."

Norim grinned and gulped down the rest of his drink, leaning back in the chair. "Normal isn't something we do around here very often. Now George, stop playing with his tentacles. You know those claws can hurt."

Just as fast as it appeared in his lap, the cat hopped off, stopping only to delicately pick up a small paper to-go cup filled with coffee in its mouth before walking off.

"Wha- okay, I guess. The cat likes coffee. What else is new?" Sancho chuckled as he watched his friend stand from their chair and offer a hand.

A wide grin came across Norim's face as Sancho took the hand and let them pull him up from the armchair. "If you want to see what else is new, I'd be glad to show you around." They took out that ragged scarf again, wrapping it around their neck.

"There are so many places that you'll love here, Sancho."

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