It smelt like every other library, though it was certainly different after dark. The perfume from the books was stronger at night, sweeter and more pungent, made all the more noticeable by the lingering whiff of coffee.
Mila stumbled behind the others, torch in hand. Andrik led their little group through the shelves,all the while whispering in Tao’s ear. Tao let out a muffled laugh and Mila scoffed; her brother wasn’t that funny.
Loretta Lynch spends her mornings grinding bones and it’s not to make her bread. She’s not a giant, or a witch, or any other of those silly creatures you might have read about in your fairy tales.
Loretta Lynch is an alchemist, and she knows how to live forever.
It hadn’t been easy, finding the recipe. A life time of work, quite literally. She’d poisoned herself once or twice and quit much more often. But just days before her fifty-third birthday, Loretta tried one last formula. She clutched the phial to her chest and said a prayer to the nameless gods.
Down her throat it went.
That was many years ago now. I was but a boy then, you see. And you were likely not even born.
Yes, you can buy her panacea, if she happens to like your face. But visit her store with care, good child: she charges more than coin.
Selina had a habit of drawing pentagrams on the soles of her shoes. A habit that started as an edgy facade and soon became an obsession.
‘Aces high,’ Deb exclaimed, turning out her hand to reveal a three-of-a-kind windfall.
Jack threw his kings at the couch.
‘Sssh,’ Selina barked; she was getting nervous. The tip of the Sharpie bore deep grooves in the soles of her turquoise Connies where she traced the five-pointed star over and over again. Now her teeth bored grooves in her lower lip, too.
‘Chill out, Sel,’ Deb shrugged. She reached for a bag of marshmallows buried amongst the pile of junk food they’d assembled for the sleep over. ‘Nothing’s going to happen at midnight.’
‘Why midnight anyways?’ Jack crunched a mouthful of Pringles.
‘Because that’s what he told me,’ Selina muttered through clenched teeth. Told being spelt-out on the crude, hand-drawn Ouija board last weekend. ’12. 12. 12 — 12 o’clock on December 12.’
Gunfire and smoke — that was all there was. Laynee sheltered her head with her arms and shook. There was hay up her nostrils, in her mouth, her ears; diving into the haystack wasn’t the brightest idea she’d ever had but it’d kept her safe and out of the hitman’s sight.
There’d never been a hit in her village. Noelyn Downs was the smallest township in the whole fiefdom and they rarely drew the interest of the high lords much less their ire. They were farmers, after all. They spent their days breeding horses and baking bread without the slightest concern for the happenings in the capital.
And yet … someone had ordered old Len Tomlin dead.
Laynee poked a tunnel through the hay, just wide enough to catch a glimpse of the hitman in his long black coat. A wisp of smoke snaked from the barrel of the flintlock cocked over his arm.
Len Tomlin was at his feet. He bent down and searched for something inside the collar of the old farmer’s shirt. With a tug he pulled the necklace free, stepped over the corpse and carried on his way.