Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.
Cold rain drizzled against the window, seeping from the dull grey sky. My window frame rattled quietly and intermittently against the weak gusts of wind. Gazing at the dirty glass, my hazel eyes reflected back at me, heavily lidded with sleep. Beyond the smudged pane, I saw a merchant setting up her stall of fortune-telling trinkets on the street below. A handwritten sign proclaimed, "Gaze into the evasive future and be befuddled no more!"
The calming rhythm of raindrops against the roof eased my anxious thoughts and lessened my angst, lulling me into a hazy stupor. My eyes were pulling themselves closed of their own accord, willing me to go back to bed.
I shook myself out of my senseless daze and left my spot at the window, making my way across the small bedroom. I quickly stuffed my blue woollen sweater over my head and then grabbed a decrepit black umbrella leaning against the wall. I stepped out into the narrow hall, pausing. The old wallpaper was faded, stained, and peeling, a reflection of the state of the apartment. I shared the top floor of a building with two roommates; below us was a store selling secondhand wands. Only criminals and the homeless and a few other odd sorts bought used wands, so as a result you never knew what sketchy characters might be just a floor beneath you.
Noticing the door to Petra's room was closed, I knocked and peeked in without waiting for a response. "Petra?" She was sitting on her bed, carving something from a small block of wood. Locks of wavy black hair fell onto her face. Carving was her way of coping with stress and anger; when someone had pissed her off or offended her, she always shut herself in her room and chiselled away at whatever she was creating. It seemed a little early in the morning for her already to have gotten into an argument with someone, and I was tempted to ask what was wrong. But knowing Petra, that only ever made things worse.
Looking up from her carving of a sailboat, she smiled tightly at me. "Hey. Are you off to work now? Crappy weather, isn't it."
"Well, don't let me hold you up. Have fun shelving books in a language you don't even understand!" She smirked at me.
"I will just to baffle you," I said, playfulness creeping into my voice. "Have fun sulking and carving a ship destined to sink!"
"Aw, shut up, you idiot. You're free to go."
I clambered down the steep stairway with a smile on my mouth. Thank Arapalia I was roommates with Petra, and not some other obnoxious jerk. Well, Petra was an obnoxious jerk, but at least she was a lovable one.
Reaching the entry and opening the door, I stepped out onto the cracked, cobblestone street. Despite the gloomy weather and inhumanely early hour, it was still crowded with vendors, buyers, and people rushing to work. Across the street from where I stood, Egbert's Eclectic Eccentricities was already open and customers were trickling in. His wooden sign, that he had repainted only yesterday, was dripping and smudging in the rain. The ornate blue letters and embellished 'E's were barely legible.
I breathed in the smell of fresh rain, early morning air, and newly baked bread put out for morning customers. Sure, this part of Jover wasn't the tidiest, nicest, or safest, but there was no other city in Jadeland where you could see people riding camels through the streets, or vendors selling little Pygmy Enano dragons that could fit in the palm of your hand. And it was a place where I finally felt independent from my family, and my past and reputation. Here, people didn't stare at me and whisper, "oh, she's the girl that wants to join the army! Weirdo", or retain a tasteful distance from me when I went to the market.
I cleared my mind and ambled down the street, looking for any stalls that peaked my interest. My roommate Albin's birthday was soon, and I wanted to get him something thoughtful. He was finishing an Advanced Degree of Academia in magickal herbs and potions, and living in our hell hole of an apartment to save money. When I reached a vendor claiming to sell "potent herbs and ingredients to create incredibly effective potions," I stopped to look at his wares.
"Ah, miss, are you interested in some fresh farndicke leaves to create a beautifying concoction?" he grinned at me cheekily.
"I wouldn't know why I should need one," I retorted with a shake of my head. "But I would be interested in some pallvry roots, if you have any?"
"Ah, that's far too sophisticated for my little endeavour, missy. But we do have extremely potent costerbel seeds, just as effective in the removal of warts--"
I wandered away, disinterested by his scam. Reaching the main avenue, I waved down a carriage for hire. When the driver pulled to a stop, I gave her directions to the library where I worked. As I got settled in the back, she asked me, "What're you to do at the library, miss?"
I strained a polite smile. "A matter of work." I knew it was an innocent inquiry, to pass the time, but I wasn't in the mood to sustain a boring conversation about the joys of shelving books.
"An interesting job, I'm sure," she said uncertainly. Thanks be to the spirits, she didn't pursue the matter further. Probably couldn't care less about what went on behind closed doors in a building designed to store books.
When we pulled to a stop in front of the library, I gave the driver her change and stepped out, unfolding my umbrella to shield me from the drizzle. I stood for a moment, admiring the library. No matter how many times I stood before it, I was always impressed by the stately yet unimposing architecture. The whole front of the building was stained glass, depicting beautifully designed scenes from many famous works of Jadian literature. Each story was separated from the rest by beams of richly coloured wood. The doors were twice as tall as a person, and made from the same beautiful, exotic wood. They too were carved, with runes, to protect the premises from malevolent intentions. As I took in the magnificent building, I quickly rearranged my messy bob of curly hair and straightened my shoulders.
I mounted the steps, entering the library. The familiar, musty smell of old books greeted me, taunting me with adventures hidden in their pages that I could never experience. Tall shelves loomed upwards, filled and overflowing with books on every subject. Wanting to raise a unicorn? Needing instructions on love spells that didn't create "false lust" in your desired lover? Attempting to master the Mambrian dialect? A wealth of miscellaneous information, just a ladder's climb away. I padded on the muffling red carpet, following the winding rows of shelves to the back of the library, where teetering stacks of unshelved books tottered precariously.
Approaching my mentor who was standing anxiously in front of his desk, I greeted him. "M. Ilviny! Good morning."
"Oh, Ms. Aflister, hello," he rasped out, clearly uncomfortable about something. Not only that, it was odd for him to call me by my surname. He always called me Frieda.
His grey hair fell across his face, so I couldn't read his expression. What had upset him, I wondered. Had one of his friends died? He was getting rather old, so it wouldn't have surprised me.
"What's on the agenda for today?" I inquired, trying to keep a lighter mood.
"Well, about that...there's a bit of a problem, you see..." He squinted his eyes sadly.
"Nothing I can't fix?"
"Well no, I don't think you can fix this one m'dear. It's just..." Clearly unwilling to say whatever it was, he paused.
"It can't be so bad," I assured him.
Gathering his courage, he blurted: "I'm afraid I've been instructed to fire you."