Into The Mundane
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Chapter 3: Into The Mundane

The encyclopedia wing was one of the nicer parts of the Library when it came to the decor. This is partly because only one Librarian was in charge of it, so little compromise was had. The lights, which were either lanterns or candles, were dim, so as to not hurt the eyes, but bright enough to make it easy to read. The dark green walls, arched entryways, and soft disembodied melodies created a pleasant environment that wasn’t too distracting. The chairs were big and comfortable, lined with a dark red fabric that served the same purpose as the walls. This was the only wing that allowed drink, specifically tea. Indeed, this wing was handcrafted for academics to research and discuss the findings of various fields. And it was crafted perfectly, judging by the books and scrolls spread out over the tables and the scholars that leered over them. Cedar might have considered them their peers, long ago.

Ben shoved his hands into his pockets and looked up at the Page as it searched for the requested book. He turned to Cedar, who was leaning against a table, “Are you even sure he gave you his real name?”

Cedar shrugged. Based on the slight New Yorker accent the professor had had and Cedar vaguely remembering the university’s name beginning with a ‘C’, the two were gambling on a Professor McElroy at Columbia University. But it seemed slim at best to Ben.

“Great,” He sighed, “You didn’t even think to do some kind of background check or something? How have you made it this far?”

“What can I say? I try to see the best in people,” Cedar said sarcastically. The humor seemed to be lost on Ben, however, as he returned a cold glare. “Look, I’m pretty good at reading people. The guy might have had a genius-level IQ, but he wasn’t street-smart. He wouldn’t have thought to lie about something like that,” Cedar explained.

Ben’s stare didn’t change in the slightest, “And yet you didn’t ‘read’ that he was going to betray you.”

The was a long moment of silence as the two stared at each other with contempt. Their attempts to kill each other with their minds were interrupted when the Page finally returned with an encyclopedia, “Here you are, this the only book that had anything about Columbia University. It seems that it only exists in one universe.”

“That’s to be expected,” Ben explained as he grabbed the book, “It’s a mundane school.”

“Ah, that explains it.”

“Thanks, Cato. We’ll call for you if we need anything else,” Cedar said to the Page, whom they had become familiar with.

“Of course, Cedar. Happy to help,” Cato said cheerfully as it used its six arms to crawl back up the bookshelf. Ben put the book on the table and began flipping through it until he found a list of the many professors of Columbia University. The list contained every professor that had ever taught at the school, but as Ben traced his finger over each name, one, in particular, was missing.

“Well, it looks like you’re not as good at reading people as you thought. He’s not in he-” Ben stopped himself as a name caught his eye, “He can’t be that stupid.”

At the bottom of the list was the title of one Professor Henry Elroy. Cedar laughed through their nose, “People can surprise you. Does it say anything else about him?”

Ben flipped through a couple of the pages for a while, “No, dammit. It only says he started teaching there last year. Guess the Library hasn’t had enough time to collect more information.”

“Well,” Cedar pushed themself away from the table and stumbled a bit, “Ah. Well, I guess we’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way.” Ben looked at them with a confused expression. “We go to the university and ask them where he is.”

“You sure that’s not a little too direct?” Ben asked.

“Maybe, but it’s not like we have time to kill,” Cedar said before limping towards the exit of the encyclopedia wing.


The two walked down a long aisle of the Library as Cedar tried their best to hide the fact that they were favoring a leg. They glanced at the map of Ways they had gotten from the help desk. They looked up at the books, carefully reading each spine until they got to, ‘A Brief History of New York’s Occult Origins.’ Cedar kissed their fingers and pressed them against the spine of the book. Within seconds, the bookshelf shifted open, revealing the library of Columbia University. Cedar and Ben walked through.

Even though the library was relatively small, especially when compared to the one they had just come from, no one in it seemed to notice the two figures emerging from the bookshelf. They swiftly exited the library before anyone could take note of their presence. Cedar’s limp came and went. At one point they nearly fell because of it. Ben finally got tired of ignoring it, “Why the hell are you walking like that?”

“Like what?” Cedar asked, feigning ignorance.

“Don’t be funny, you’re limping.”

“I’m fine,” Cedar said, “Just- Just have a cramp in my leg is all.”

Wandering through the halls, they eventually found the administration office. Cedar walked up to the desk where a kind-looking secretary sat while Ben stayed by the door. Cedar put on their most charming face, “Hello, miss.”

The girl looked up from the computer, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t notice you. How may I help?”

Cedar leaned against the desk, “I’m looking for Professor Henry Elroy. Does he work here?”

“One moment,” The secretary began to tap away on her keyboard. After a few seconds, she read the monitor and turned back to Cedar, “Uhm, Yes, he works here, but it doesn’t look like he came in today. Would you like to leave a message for him?”

Cedar shook their head, “No, no. Would you be able to give me his address, maybe?”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” She said as politely as possible, “We’re not allowed to give out that kind of information about faculty.”

“Well, thank you anyway,” Cedar backed away from the desk and left the office, Ben followed behind them.

They both stood in the hall. Cedar looked down the corridors, there were only a handful of people in them.

“So, what’s your plan now?” Ben asked.

Cedar turned back to him, “You’re gonna cause a distraction.”

“A distraction? How?” Ben was quickly becoming frustrated.

“I don’t know, pull the fire alarm for all I care. We just need to get her away from that desk.”

Ben sighed. He looked down the hall before walking in the opposite direction of the office. Cedar leaned against the wall next to the office door and waited. Almost five minutes passed, and Cedar began to wonder if they should go and find him.

BOOM

The sound of a small explosion echoed down the hall. The secretary came out of the office and peered down the hall for a moment before jogging down it. As soon as she left, Cedar sprung into action. They walked back into the office and vaulted over the desk, then they almost screamed when they landed on their injured leg wrong. Barely keeping their composure, they went to the computer and found Elroy’s file.

“Two-thirty-four, East eighty-ninth street, apartment seven,” They repeated to themself. Suddenly, they felt eyes on their back. Cedar turned around to see a man dressed in a golf shirt and khakis looking down at them. A lanyard dangled from his neck.

“Excuse me, what do you think you think you’re doing?” He said with the confidence that only someone with a mild amount of authority could have. Cedar slowly rose to their feet.

“Hey, I know this looks bad, but it’s alright. Johnny gave me permission,” Cedar came up with the lie as it left their mouth.

The man crossed his arms, “Johnny who?”

“Johnny Bravo,” Cedar shot a sucker punch directly into his eye. He was out cold. Cedar quickly made their exit, “Don’t cross your arms next time.”

Ben was walking back down the hall as Cedar came out of the office. He wiped a glob of white foam off of his chest, “Great, that’s gonna stain my suit.”

“What happened?” Cedar asked, stifling a chuckle.

“I’ll explain later. Did you get an address?”

“Yeah. We should probably go before the guy I knocked out wakes up,” Cedar rushed to the exit, leaving no time for Ben to question what they just said. The two of them weaved through students as they ran through the campus. Even with their limp, Cedar managed to keep up a good speed. They ran out into the street and narrowly dodged a cab. Another one was hurtling towards Cedar with its brakes screaming when Ben gripped their collar and yanked them back onto the sidewalk. Cedar put their hands on their knees and caught their breath, “Fuck, I forgot they made mundane cities for cars. Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” Ben replied dryly, “The address.”

Cedar gave Ben the address. Lacking any US currency for a taxi, the two made their way on foot. Cedar's leg was getting worse. They started using lampposts and newspaper boxes to support themselves whenever they could.

“So, what’d you blow up?” Cedar asked as they walked, hoping it'd distract Ben from their degenerating stride.

“A fire extinguisher,” Ben answered.

“You wanna tell me how exactly?”

Ben looked around to make sure no one was in earshot, “I have a gift. Telekinetic combustion,” Ben explained, “It only works on metal, and it tends to weaken me when I use it. I’m a little light-headed right now, in fact.”

“Huh, I remember a project that Prometheus was working on. They wanted to make some kind of microchip that would give people something similar to your ability,” Cedar stopped when they noticed Ben glaring at them. They tilted their head as pieces started to fit together in it, “Were you a test subject for it?”

“No,” Ben answered honestly, turning his head back in the direction he was walking as he did.

Cedar stared at Ben. It was clear they had gotten off on the wrong foot. Something Cedar didn’t find surprising, but Ben’s vitriol towards them was still odd, like he already hated them before their meeting in Cafe R’lyeh. Other than him being a lab rat for Cedar’s former employer, they had no clue why. And with that hypothesis proven false, something else became clear. Ben was almost overly cautious. He looked over his shoulder constantly, to the point that it started drawing attention to himself and he had a nervousness about him combined with a flavor of self-righteous altruism that was unusual even for the Hand. Cedar looked him up and down again, “You’re green, aren’t you?”

A hint of red appeared on Ben’s cheeks, “What?”

“You are!” Cedar said as they started to smile.

“No, I-” Ben hung his head and took a breath, accepting that he’d been discovered, “I’ve been in the field before, just not without Kane.”

“Oh,” Cedar said, nodding, “So, is this some kind of test for you?”

“Something like that.”

“Hmm, they must care a lot about this dead cat then,” Cedar said sarcastically.

“It’s not like that,” Ben started to explain.

Cedar stopped him, “I’m sure it is.”

An hour passed and the two were at the doorstep of 234 East 89th Street. They ascended the small staircase. Ben tried to open the door. It was locked. They both looked at the buzzer, remembering how apartment buildings in New York City functioned. Cedar started pressing each buzzer.

“What are you doing?” Ben asked.

“Someone has to be expecting someone,” Cedar said just before a click came from the door. Someone was expecting someone. Cedar held the door open and gestured for Ben to go before them. Ben reached apartment seven's door before Cedar, who was still pulling themself up the stairs. The two of them found themselves in front of yet another locked door.

“Hold on,” Ben said, “I’ll take this one.”

He focussed hard on the lock.

PINK

The door’s lock exploded, leaving a hole where it once was. Ben grabbed his head in pain, “Shit, migraine.”

Cedar made sure no one was coming to investigate the sound before pushing the door open. They both walked inside. The first thing that hit them was the smell. It was hard to miss, second only to the body of Professor Henry Elroy that was hung by the neck with a belt from the ceiling fan. The professor stared at the two figures with a bulbous expression, looking almost surprised to see them. The rest of the apartment was just as filthy as the body. The floor was littered with trash and clothes, there was a single futon that looked like it was found on the street, and the coffee table in front of it had an open pizza box on it with a cold pizza inside. The T.V. was tuned to static. Truly, this was the dwelling of an academic. Ben was still holding his head, “Great.”

While Ben walked into the kitchen area to get a glass of water, Cedar stepped closer to the late professor. It looked like he had been dead for two or three days. His hands caught their eye. His knuckles were bruised and his fingernails were chipped. Cedar looked at his neck. Bits of leather on the belt were torn off. He was clawing at it, “He died fighting.”

Ben stopped chugging water over the kitchen sink, “I don’t suppose his killers politely laid out the chronicle?”

“Yeah, they even highlighted the part that tells us where to find The Original,” Cedar answered Ben’s question with an equal amount of sarcasm. They couldn’t help but notice Ben’s snigger as he went back to drinking. There was a small writing desk in the corner of the room that Cedar had started using as a crutch. They looked over it. Other than a few papers strewn about, it was clean, which stood in stark contrast to the rest of the apartment. They slid one of its drawers open, it was empty. The professor didn’t seem the type to keep his desk tidy while the rest of his place looked like a rave just ended. The desk had to have been cleaned out.

Ben rubbed the bridge of his nose as he stepped out of the kitchen, “Alright, my head’s feeling better. Time to start looking for where this asshole put the book.”

“Don’t bother,” Cedar said, pushing the drawer closed. They tried to move away from the desk and stand on their own, “They already took it. Along with any notes he took on it.”

Cedar could feel their leg wobble beneath them. Ben sighed, “Well, there goes our lead. Thanks for nothing. I’ll report back to Kane and tell him this was a dead-end-” Before he could get the last word out of his mouth, Cedar collapsed. They had finally exhausted their wounded leg’s support. Ben rushed over to them as they grabbed their leg, “Jesus! What the hell’s the matter?”

“My- Shit. My goddamn leg,” Cedar stammered out as they rolled up their pant leg. The gash in their leg was barely dressed, with a thin layer of gaze they clearly hadn't been changed in days wrapped around it rather than any actual bandage. Ben looked at the wound and then at Cedar.

“Some cramp. That’s gonna get infected. Don’t move, maybe this guy has a first aid kit,” Ben said before walking into the bathroom.

“I put rubbing alcohol on it,” Cedar said, lightly touching the wound.

“Rubbing alcohol alone is great for small cuts, that’s a gash,” Ben shouted from the other room.

Cedar looked up at the professor’s body. They had almost forgotten that they had traveled through the Library with the man for days. Cedar had little sympathy for him, but it was still a little sad. A death that looked just enough like a suicide so the cops wouldn’t look further into it. Who killed him? It didn’t look like any normal burglary, and the GOC wouldn’t just off civilians so carelessly. Ben came back with a Tupperware container of medical supplies. He kneeled next to Cedar and started unwrapping the medical tape.

“I have to ask,” Cedar started, “Do you hate me for any tangible reason, or is it just principle?”

Ben finished taking the tape off, “I won’t deny that I’m not very fond of you, but hate seems like a strong word.”

“Call it whatever you like,” Cedar said, waving their hand dismissively.

“You worked for a company that built weapons that ended countless lives. Your research likely led to those deaths,” Ben doused a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol, “Maybe they’re not your fault directly, but you still had a hand in them. I’d say that’s tangible enough.”

Ben dabbed the wound with the swab, causing Cedar to let out a pained groan, “Ow. Fair, but that doesn’t seem dogmatic to you?”

“No,” Ben said pulling a thread and needle from the container, “Try not to move.”

Cedar had cultivated a healthy pain threshold throughout the years, but the constant feeling of the needle puncturing their skin became quite an uncomfortable annoyance. Wanting a distraction from the feeling, they turned their head to look under the futon. There was an open envelope lying under the futon. It was just within arm’s reach. Cedar could see a letter partially sticking out of it. Even if it was just a tax return, it’d be something to hopefully take Cedar’s mind off of the gash. Cedar pulled the letter out of the envelope and started reading. It wasn’t a tax return. With each sentence that they read, Cedar’s eyes grew wider.

Ben finished sewing Cedar’s wound, “Alright, that’s pretty good. Might want to get your hands on some painkillers. And some antibiotics,” Ben threw the medical supplies back into the container and stood up, “Let’s go find a Way.”

“Let’s not,” Cedar said, climbing to their feet. They handed Ben the letter, “My luck hasn’t run out just yet.”

Ben examined the letter in his hand. A purple logo with the letters MC&D was printed at the top of the page.

Professor Henry Elroy,

We are glad you received our last letter, and that your interest in the Daevas is as great as we thought it was. We know of a book that contains most of the Daevas’ history. While we do not have it in our possession, we would happily give you its location, provided that you agree to share your findings with us.

The book's location is one that we are sure will be extremely alien to you, so we would like to arrange a meeting at your earliest possible convenience to discuss the intricacies of your journey to the book and our agreement.

Marshall, Carter and Dark Ltd.

“They have a headquarters here in New York, right?” Cedar asked, rolling down their pant leg.

“Yeah, but I’m not sure where to find it,” Ben replied as he put the letter in his jacket.

Cedar reached back under the couch and grabbed the envelope. They read the return address and turned it to Ben. Printed in the top left corner were the words Manhattan Shipping Co.

“Must be a front,” Cedar said.

Ben took the envelope and squinted at the address, “It’s a start.”

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