Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language.
The temple librarian was annoying as shit. He hovered constantly, peeking over Sera’s shoulder to make sure she was focusing on her research, and he kept poking at her notes with a stick that was probably meant to open the window blinds. Every time Sera got up to find a new book or to go pee, he’d squint and scuttle after her, his footsteps quiet on the carpeted floor. Once, when she had gone to the cartography room to cross check the maps with a geography text, she had spotted the librarian peering at her over the top of an upside-down atlas, halfway hidden behind a ceiling-high shelf of books.
When the noon bell rang, Sera slumped over in relief. She could finally escape this dusty hell.
Not that her normal morning haunt, the training ground, was any less dusty. But at least there were no hovering librarians, and she got to beat people up. Maybe she should have done a few bicep curls with the heavier tomes while she was reading.
Regardless, it was lunch time now. Sera stood from her table, careful not to let her chair scrape along the floor, and glanced over her shoulder. The librarian was still watching, of course.
She tucked her notes into her open reference books and piled up all her materials on the side of the table, just so they wouldn't be all over the place while she left, then looked around again. The librarian stood closer now, hunched over in the newspaper archive stacks with his round, nerdy glasses peeking out over the cover of a volume of old articles.
Sera considered punching him and running, but that would be a grossly inappropriate use of force. He was just such a helicopter cleric.
She finally decided that her books were at the correct level of not-messy, and pushed her chair back under the table. Then, just before she left, she pulled a blank sheet of paper from her notes and scribbled "DON'T TOUCH MY SHIT - SERAPHINA" in letters so large that they filled up the page and turned sideways and tiny at the end.
Satisfied, Sera turned around, ready to skip through the library doors toward her freedom, and found herself at eye level with a large set of pecs.
She tilted her head up. "Kyle."
"Sera, my dude," Kyle said, louder than he needed to be in the extremely silent, extremely echoey library. He strained his neck to look over Sera’s head and into the stacks. "You missed morning training for nerd shit?"
"You're missing lunch to come irritate me?"
Kyle grinned, and Sera immediately knew there was going to be a problem. Kyle's hands were behind his back, in full view of the librarian standing off to the side, and the poor librarian's face grew paler and paler with every passing second.
"Chill brah," Kyle soothed, still too loud. "I brought lunch.” And then, because things could not get worse than bringing lunch into the library, he removed his hands from his back to reveal two dripping, oily burritos.
"You brought lunch into the library," Sera said, “where it does not belong.” Suddenly, she wished the librarian would hover harder.
"Big deal," Kyle said, gesturing with one burrito. He brought the other to his mouth and took a bite so large he might have just eaten a small child. "Kali eats all the time when she's doing her, you know. Whatever she does."
This was why librarians hovered. Taking a deep breath, Sera steepled her fingers and tried not to look at the oil pooling in Kyle’s palms. "Kali owns her books," she explained. "And she knows that sweepy spell."
"Brah, aren’t you magic too?"
Librata above, Kyle was impossible. "Let's just, you know, go back to the dining hall? And eat there?"
But Kyle had already moved on. He leaned forward, craning his neck to look past Sera and bringing his bitten burrito dangerously close to her nose. It smelled glorious with all that cumin and lime and pork fat, but it had Kyle's nasty mouth germs on it, and it was, point of fact, still a burrito in a library.
"Dude, why do you have a book about Timberheight?"
Sera blinked. Why shouldn't she have a book about Timberheight? "Because I'm doing research on trees and Timberheight is literally named for its trees. Why are you looking at my stuff?"
Rather than answer, Kyle leveled her with a disappointed frown. He clutched the uneaten burrito to his chest as though Sera had lost lunch privileges. "Sera. You skipped training to study up on Avon beef?"
"What now?" It was Sera's turn to be loud. "Just. Hold on. First of all? There is no Avon beef!” Well, there could be, but the day was yet to come where Avon would turn themselves into a cow and let Sera butcher them.
Kyle still looked disappointed.
"Second, I am not looking into Timberheight because of Avon." Sera threw her hands wide, as if this would help prove her point. "I'm looking into it because Librata herself descended upon me to deliver an incomprehensible vision in a forest with the most massive fucking trees I've ever seen. And Timberheight happens to be one of the few places nearby with massive. Fucking. Trees."
Kyle, because he was an absolute barbarian, narrowed his eyes at Sera and took another bite of his burrito. Then he twisted around to look at her notes. He stared at them, oil slowly dripping down the length of his forearm, and read the titles of her other books to check if there were any about places other than Timberheight. He hemmed and hawed, and when he decided that yes, Sera was telling the truth, he took another bite of his burrito, and a big, fat wad of beans slipped from the tortilla and plopped onto the cover of a book.
Sera froze. Kyle kept chewing. The poor, beleaguered librarian choked.
"Oh no," Sera muttered into the silence. "Kyle, what have you done?"
The librarian finally decided hovering was not enough. He overcame his twiggy, nervous stature to rush between Kyle and the books, and flapped his long, billowy sleeves. "Get out!" he hissed. "Both of you take your food and get out!"
"I wasn't even"-
Sera and Kyle got out. They stood in the hallway as the library doors thudded behind them, and Sera wondered if she would be allowed back in at any point in time. Maybe she was banned for life. Seemingly unaffected, Kyle finished his burrito and licked the drippings from his arm.
"This is all your fault," Sera said, as she extricated her burrito from Kyle's hands. It was a little squished, and the tortilla had gotten mushy, but it was still mostly in tact. She took a bite and grimaced at the half-congealed, cooling pork fat.
Kyle let her chew in peace for a few minutes as they began walking, but he stewed in those minutes, constantly taking the kinds of quick, deep breaths that people took before they started talking.
“Librata save me, Kyle,” Sera eventually said, licking her fingers to clean up the burrito grease. “Just spit it out.”
His face pinched like he was taking a bad shit, and then he took Sera’s mostly clean hand and dragged her off. They twisted through the halls, Sera double-stepping to keep up, before winding up in Kyle’s haphazardly arranged room, the door closed behind them.
“Tell me about your freaky vision thing?” Kyle asked, suddenly earnest. He glanced at the net-stick leaning against his desk and gulped.
Ugh, why did everyone care so much about the vision? Sera almost didn’t want to tell him, since she was so incensed at the fuss this was causing, but she reconsidered. Kyle would be involved at some point anyway. Better to have his brain on board now. He listened to her describe the forest and the magical writing, then slumped his shoulders and fell onto his bed.
“What?” Sera said, crossing her arms. “Not what you wanted to hear? So sorry my incredibly busy and important goddess doesn’t have the answers to all your problems.” She nudged a dirty tunic with her foot, then kicked it into a larger pile of dirty clothes on the floor. Thank Librata that Kyle left a window open to air out his stench.
“No, no! It’s not- I thought your dream would be related to something else, but it’s chill that it’s not. It’s all good.” But even as Kyle said that, he kept staring off to the side, avoiding Sera’s eyes. Obviously this was not chill.
Rolling her eyes, Sera trudged through the layer of filth on Kyle’s floor and sat next to him on the bed. “You’re still making a face,” she said, putting a hand on his cheek to turn him towards her. “Librata may not deign to fix all our problems herself, but you know I would make myself available, right? We are partners, even if I harp on you. A lot.”
Kyle bit his lip. “Your dream isn’t about my stuff,” he said quietly, “but there’s a chance it could be in Timberheight, right?”
“Where Kali and Avon are doing that gongshow monster hunting job?”
Sera wanted to seethe at the mere mention of those two and their stupid, ambitious job, but she held it in. Kyle was being vulnerable. She had to respect that. “Yes,” she bit out.
Kyle fumbled for something hidden in his bedsheets, but couldn’t find it and settled on worrying his duvet in his large, calloused hands instead. He rolled his shoulders and cracked a few joints in his neck, stalling for time. When he finally spoke again, it was a whisper.
“Don’t laugh, okay?”
“I won’t,” Sera promised.
“Seven-hundred gold is like, par for a four or five person group at our level.” He looked at Sera finally and grimaced. “Don’t give me that face; I can read a gig posting.”
“I am not making a face.” She was definitely making a face. Sera could smell where this was going, and she didn’t like it one bit. Her leg started to shake with annoyance.
Kyle huffed in an unconvinced laugh, but squeezed his blanket even tighter. The veins at his wrists bulged with the effort, and a drop of sweat glistened on his temple. “Kali’s the biggest nerd we know. She can read basically anything, and she’s magic. If anyone can help with your dream thingy, it’s her. So. I… I think we should go to Timberheight.”
Sera looked to the pile of dumbbells on Kyle’s desk. Her research in the library, before she’d been rudely interrupted, led her to believe that Timberheight was the closest, though not the only forest matching her vision. Even if she had done more research, she likely would have checked there first. The temple would pay for this trip, even if she and Kyle didn’t follow Kali and Avon on their bullshit job. The only risk was disappointment, and the chance of getting their asses kicked by this seven-hundred gold monster, and Kali probably already had a contingency plan for that.
“Seriously, Sera,” Kyle said, mistaking her silence for refusal. “I really think we should go. I just- we could score on so much. We could score info, we could score a seven-hundred gold monster reward, and maybe we can take care of your whole vision thingy together. It’d be the sickest hatty. And my abs are telling me”-
“Oh my god, your abs,” Sera interrupted, chuckling despite herself. She placed a hand on Kyle’s arm and swallowed her chuckles. He finally let go of his duvet. “Kyle. I hear you. Let’s go to Timberheight.”
If Kyle’s abs were any indication, this could be a sick hat trick indeed.