The Calling of The Serpent
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Chapter 2: The Calling of The Serpent

Cedar’s apartment was one of the few examples of permanent housing in the Library. It was small and cramped and if Cedar stood in the bathroom and spread their arms, they’d touch the opposite sides of it. Calling it an apartment was an overstatement. It was a nook.
But they were just glad to have indoor plumbing, and that they didn’t have to share it with anyone. They’d heard horror stories of four people living in apartments smaller than this one.

Maybe it had been days, maybe it had been weeks. All Cedar knew is that time seemed to slow down between jobs, especially after the last one was such a failure. It’s one thing to have your client leave you for dead, it’s another to cause an entire section to collapse into the void. Half of Cedar expected a visit from the Librarians to discuss mandatory employment, but the other half-remembered that it was an abandoned section. But laying in bed all day wouldn’t do anything to improve Cedar’s mood. They were starving and their back was getting sore.

Every joint in Cedar’s body seemed to pop as they rose from the bed. They stretched and turned to the entrance of the apartment. Cedar used to have to pat down every part of the wall before they found the spot where their hand passed through, but now it was practically second nature. They simply angled their body with the geometry and walked straight through it.

A scruffy-looking Cedar slipped out of (or into depending on how you look at it) a corner in the common area. The crowd was just beginning to set in at this time of day. People were sitting down with their books or grouping up to gossip and discuss current academic ventures. Cedar caught a couple of people glancing at them. News in the Library traveled fast. Just how many people knew about the botched job?

Lowering their hat to avoid eye contact with anyone, Cedar hastily made their way to the food court. Cafe R’lyeh was Cedar’s favorite joint in the Library. It was far from the most popular, however. Many were put off by the slimy, non-Euclidian decor of the place, but they could cook a mean steak and eggs, and Cedar found the wait staff lovely. They walked into the Cafe and took their usual seat at a booth that was somehow both indoor and outdoor seating. Soon after, the waitress came over, Susie, or at least, that was the closest thing to her real name the Cedar’s human tongue could pronounce. She had the head of an octopus and the body of a humanoid. Her deep purple skin almost glowed.

“Hey, Cedar,” Susie said cheerfully, “Haven’t seen you in a while.”

“Yeah, I’ve had a rough couple of days,” Cedar replied, forcing a smile.

Susie giggled, “So I heard. Is the leg doing ok?”

“Hmm? Oh, yeah. It was nothing some rubbing alcohol and a bandage couldn't fix.”

“Good,” Susie nodded, “Glad to hear it. The usual?”

“No, not this time,” Cedar said, rubbing their hand against the table, “Gimme a big plate of pancakes. And a coffee.”

“Cream and sugar?”

“I don’t want to taste the coffee.”

“You got it,” Susie gave a thumbs up as she walked away. Cedar’s gaze lingered on her as she left. They’d never admit it, mostly because they knew they weren’t her type, but they had developed something of a crush on the girl.

The rest of the Cafe was filled with its other regulars. A few waved at Cedar politely, while the ones that weren’t as fond of humans silently grimaced. Cedar took off their hat and ran a hand through their hair. It was greasy and dampened with sweat. It suddenly occurred to Cedar that they had not showered before leaving their apartment. It seemed that their need for food trumped their need for hygiene. Cedar stared at their sweat-covered hand in disgust for a moment before wiping it on their black tank top and putting their hat back on.

Cedar’s mood quickly turned around, however, as Susie came back and set the pancakes and coffee on the table, "There you go, Cedar. Enjoy."

Cedar smiled, "I always do."

Chef Ogtor’s pancakes could make a monk reach Nirvana. Cedar happily chewed on a piece of pancake before taking a long sip of coffee. It was less than great, but it did its job. A fuller stomach put Cedar’s mind at ease. It wasn’t like they were the first to screw up a job and there was always the next one.

Cedar was about to take another steaming bite of pancake when two men appeared next to their booth. One wore a brown cloak with a hood covering most of his face. Cedar could see a barely kempt white beard poking out from underneath it. Underneath the cloak, the man had a green tunic with a familiar symbol of a snake with five tails painted on it. The second man was dressed much less like a wizard, he had short, red hair and was wearing a brown suit and pants. He had the same symbol pinned to his lapel.

The one in the cloak spoke, “Mx. Bardot?”

“Nope,” Cedar said swiftly and harshly before shoveling another slice of pancake into their mouth.

“You sure look like them,” The redhead said, crossing his arms.

“Yeah, I get that a lot,” Cedar replied with food still in their mouth.

The cloaked man began sitting down across from Cedar, “There’s no need to be rude, we simply want to-”

“Talk, yeah, I’m sure,” Cedar interrupted, “The problem is you’re Serpent’s Hand, so I don’t want any part of it.”

The redhead leaned against the table with both hands, “I really think you should hear us out.”

“And I think you should take grandpa over there back to whatever Renaissance fair he crawled out of.”

The redhead’s face began to match his hair as he sneered at Cedar. He looked like he was about to yell, but his older companion started talking first, “So, you don’t like us. May I ask why?”

Cedar leaned back in the booth and stared at the man for a moment. Was the reason not obvious?

“You’ve pledged your lives to protect something that doesn’t need protecting,” Cedar explained, “Look around! This Library’s been here longer than the recorded history of any universe, and I reckon it’ll be here long after the last one has fizzled out. And you have the fucking gall to think it needs some knights in shining armor to stand and defend it? You walk around here like you’re a bunch of selfless heroes, but you’re just a gaggle of self-righteous douchbags with egos the size of Everest!”

The redhead was about to launch a retort when the cloaked man chuckled, “Colorful! Your reputation precedes you quite well, Mx. Bardot.”

Cedar glared at the two men as they slowly accepted that their breakfast would not be as peaceful as they had hoped. The cloaked man straightened himself and regained his professional demeanor, “Born and raised in Three Portlands, you were homeschooled by your parents before going to Deer College. There, you earned a master's degree in parahistory and was the Salutatorian of your class. Soon after, you were hired by Prometheus Labs, where you worked as a researcher of anomalous artifacts and parahistory until its closure. After that, you somehow found a Way into the Wanderer’s Library where you have remained ever since.”

“Wow, you found an encyclopedia article about me. Impressive,” Cedar said with thick sarcasm, “Look, would you just tell me what you want so I can tell you to fuck off and go back to enjoying my meal?”

“My name is Kane von Pike,” The cloaked man said before gesturing to the other man, “And this is Ben Keeley. We’d like to hire you.”

“To do what?”

“To find Marw,” Kane answered.

“Marw?” Cedar was getting confused, “The Library Cat that argues with me about my reading recommendations? She’s probably taking a nap in the commons right now.”

“No, jackass,” Ben said. He hadn’t talked in so long that Cedar almost forgot he was there, “Marw, The Original.”

“The Original’s gotta be worm food by now,” Cedar said dismissively, “What would you want with it?”

“First off, we have reason to believe that the Daevite experiments performed on it have stopped The Original’s corpse from decomposing,” Kane explained, “And second, we don’t want it. The problem is that the Bookburners do.”

“The Bookburners, huh? Now what would they want from-” Cedar stopped, suddenly knowing the answer to their own question, “You think they could reverse engineer the magic somehow?”

“Precisely,” Kane confirmed, “And regardless of your opinion of us, the Bookburners with Daevite magic would be dangerous for everyone. The Library may survive, yes, but there’s no denying that it’d be in a much worse state.”

Cedar tapped their finger on the table in contemplation. If the Global Occult Coalition could figure out how to use the magic of the Daeva, how far would they be from opening Ways without knocks, or just creating their own Ways altogether? They were agreeing wholeheartedly with the Hand. Something wasn’t adding up, “Why me?”

“Why you? Mx. Bardot, please don’t sell yourself short,” Kane started, “Salutatorian is not an easy thing to achieve. And if your academic prowess wasn’t enough, you’ve been shown to have exceptional quick thinking skills, that’s not to mention your lack of fear in the face of danger-”

“And I have a lead, right?” Cedar realized, “The chronicle, you must have heard about it, most everyone on this side of the Library has.”

Kane smiled, “Yes, and there is that. Still, we are asking you for help. You will be rewarded. Money, rare books, at the very least we could get you some very nice living quarters.”

Cedar thought of their small apartment, and how boring lying in bed had been for the past few days. Go searching around the Earth in a race against a bunch of U.N.-funded fascists for a magical dead cat, or wait for the next job, which would likely be helping some obsessed academic research a very niche piece of parahistory? The correct choice quickly became clear, “Fine, I’ll help.”

“Glad to hear it,” Kane said as he stood up, “You’ll be working with Ben.”

“What, I need a babysitter?” Cedar asked, irritated.

“It’s more like we’re babysitting each other,” Ben said as he took Kane’s seat, sharing Cedar’s annoyance for once.

“Call it whatever you like, but this will go much easier with two of you rather than one,” Kane exasperatedly explained before pulling four universal tokens from his cloak and tossing them on the table, “Enjoy your breakfast, Cedar.”

Kane walked behind a pillar and disappeared into the geometry of the cafe, leaving Ben and Cedar alone.

“Alright, where’s the chronicle?” Ben said impatiently.

“Shhhhh,” Cedar poured more syrup onto their stack of pancakes, “Eat first. Work later.”

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