An Afternoon at the Library

From the Story Arc: Green and Red: A Christmas Story

Previous Story in the Arc: A Fire and Brimstone Christmas by Carpathia (Sunday, December 12, 2004)

Next Story in the Arc: Christmas at Carpathia's by Carpathia (Friday, December 24, 2004)

(posted Tuesday, December 21, 2004)

Zach found himself in a echoing, ominous chamber. In the corners of the room he could see huddled figures, scurrying about on there arcane and indecipherable tasks. Indecipherable tomes lined the walls, and the slightest sound reverberated along the halls.

Zach leaned in close to Kostyak, who had accompanied him there. “Hey Kost, are you sure about…..", he was unable to finish his thought before one of the huddled figures leaped at him. “SHHHHHHHH!!!!!! This is a library!", the middle-aged woman in spectacles hissed at Zach. Seeing Zach’s stunned expression, she retreated back to her desk, a satisfied look upon her face.

“You’ll be fine," Kost said with a smirk, “imagine that it’s a Circle of Thorns hideout."

“Yeah sure, its just like Oranbega," Zach said, “only without the homey charm."

Zach had gone to Kostyak days before for some advice on buying a Christmas gift for Carpathia Peregrim, the Czech ball of Fire that had smitten the green-tinted hero. Zach had been afraid to talk to Kost about it, mainly because there was some history between the two of them that Zach really did not want to know about. But, as with all things, Kostyak had been refreshingly guileless about it, and acted as though Zach were foolish for even thinking that he had a problem with him. Come to think of it, Zach felt pretty stupid about his worries. Kost had been dating Zach’s good friend Cass from his Mutant Liberation Front days for quite a while now. And they were clearly happy, in that syrupy sweet, delirious manner that makes people want to vomit when you are around them.

Although Zach was happy to clear the air with Kost, who he looked up to almost as a brother would, Kostyak hadn’t been of much help. “You should take her on a trip," the mystic had suggested, “that’s what Cass and I are doing." The thought of doing the same thing as Kost made Zach cringe a bit. He wasn’t exactly sure what the nature of Kost’s relationship with Carpathia had been, but he certainly didn’t want to do anything that would remind the girl of a previous relationship. No, Zach was going to have to come up with something original.

His attempts to find her a present from Bloomingdales had fizzled, as Zach quickly came to realize that most department stores didn’t stock clothes in 8 foot tall superheroine sizes. Zach had successfully obtained a cream-colored cashmere scarf while he was there, which he prayed was long enough to be of use. Of course, what a girl who could burst into flames at will needed with a scarf was anyone’s guess. Carpathia didn’t seem like she was in danger of catching cold anytime soon.

Kostyak had pulled some strings for Zach via an acquaintance who taught at Paragon University, gaining Zach research privileges in the library for a day. Zach intended to learn all he could about Czech Christmas celebrations, in the hope that it would spark a gift idea in his mind.

By hour number three, it was clearly not going well. Zach had been relatively well educated, but via tutors and teachers at the institute, not by going to a major university like Paragon U. The library’s catalogue was a mystery to him, and after the scolding he got from the librarian he was afraid to ask her for help. The first hour had left Zach stumbling through a variety of volumes which, although they may have been very useful, were written in Czech or German. Since Zach didn’t speak either, it really didn’t matter which one.

Hour number two bore slightly more fruit, although mainly he was reading through recipes for Czech delicacies than finding suitable gift ideas. If Zach had been in New York, he could have looked for a Czech bakery specializing in such treats, but Zach figured his chances of finding one in Paragon were slim at best. And making these himself was out of the question. A recipe for something called “Hoska bread" contained more ingredients then Zach had ever purchased during a single shopping trip, and Zach had never baked anything more complicated than Pop Tarts.

Hour three was slightly more helpful, as Zach began to learn some more about Czech Christmas traditions, such as the Bear festival. But Zach certainly couldn’t get Carpathia a bear-cub for Christmas, so that wasn’t helping him at all. Zach decided to take a break from his reading, and started walking around the library. He noticed a young man seated at the desk next to him, holding what appeared to be a sketchpad. Casually walking behind him, he noticed that the student was doing a remarkably good sketch of the angry librarian that Zach had angered earlier. He captured every detail, from her perfectly pinned bun of hair, to the creases on her forehead as she scowled at prospective talkers in the library.

“That’s pretty damn good," Zach said in a hushed tone, seeking to avoid the wrath of the librarian. The sketch artist looked up at him.

“Thanks, dude, it really took off once you pissed her off. Angry or passionate faces make for much better sketches. You just checking out art or are you studying for something?" The sketch artist went back to his work while he talked to Zach.

“I guess I’m studying, but its not for a class. I’m trying to figure out a good gift to get a homesick Czech farm girl." The artist, stopped for a second and rubbed his chin, “Czech you say, its funny that you should mention that…."

The young artist didn’t get to finish his sentence. A loud humming sound began to throb in Zach’s head, causing him to hold his temples in pain. Despite his rapidly tearing eyes, Zach could see that all of the other people in the room were similarly wracked with pain, many writhing on the floor in agony. He felt as though his brain was going to explode, and it was all he could to keep his eyes open.

An explosion of fire erupted on ceiling, blasting open a hole in the Romanesque dome which covered the library. Down through the cupola floated four figures in ornate flowing robes, wearing elaborate ritual caps. The one in the center held his hands above his head, chanting an incantation of power. Zach had faced the dreaded Agony Mages before, and he recognized now the source of the intense pain he and all of the others were feeling.

When the group finally reached the ground, a very tall mage barked out orders. “Fetch me the Codex! Swiftly!" The two remaining robed figures, their hands still emitting the flames that had burned the hole in the roof, ran down one of the aisles. Clearly they knew what they were looking for, as they returned quickly, one of them clutching a heavy leather-bound book. “We go now….take some of these creatures for the master."

Suddenly, the young sketch artist began floating up in the air, along with the four mages and three other patrons of the library. With the pounding his brain, and the sickness in his stomach, all Zach could do was watch them float up through the now-ruined dome. Finally, the buzzing sound and pain in Zach’s head subsided, and he quickly tried to assess what had happened.

The Circle of Thorns had come to Paragon U, and only three days before Christmas no less! Gathering himself, Zach launched himself into the air, through the hole in the roof. Standing on the roof, he could see the four Thorns and their captives floating to the East. He activated his communications console, and sent out a message to all members of CCCP and the Red Brigade, “Zach here, serious trouble, all available members, report!"

After a few moments of silence, a soft, feminine voice responded. “Zach, I am so happy is being you! I have been missing your fuzzy little ears…" Her voice purred like a contented housecat, and despite the adrenaline rush of the action, Zach felt a chill run up his spine. “I’ve missed you too, Red, but I need your help now in a big way."

Carpathia sounded bothered. “I am just now being working on preparing Amerikanski Christmas meal with Mrs. Murphey from next door. Are you sure I am being needed?"

Zach didn’t have time to beg her to come, as the Thorns were rapidly fleeing towards the horizon. He decided that flattery might accomplish what urgency could not. “You know, I would make up a story just to see you, but I’m dealing with an actual emergency this time. The Circle of Thorns are doing there best to ruin Christmas, and I’ve got a hot date on Christmas Eve that I don’t want to miss."

The satisfied sigh Zach heard on the other end told him that his words had hit home. “Bah! Am covered in flour! Put on your homing beacon, I am to be meeting you on the way….." Carpathia acted angry, but the tone of her voice said that she was play acting. Zach allowed himself a smile, and began leaping from rooftop to rooftop in pursuit.