Jeanette had been here before, but that didn’t make it any less frightening. She was also all too aware that she wasn’t wearing her embroidered dress that would call the one person who might be able to save her, but was instead wearing a stylish black dress in order to make a good impression.
But there was no sense standing and blaming the dress. She was lost in the Infinite Library and that was bad. It didn’t seem fair, since she was just following directions to go to the Reference Librarian, but there was no sense complaining about that either. Could she get out of it with what she had?
It really wasn’t fair, though. What had she done wrong? The woman at the frond desk had been nice enough (except for bad-mouthing the idea of saving the world), and it was like two turns to the Librarian. Could it be that she had started looking at the books on the shelves?How could she not to that? And now they’d all be waiting outside the building, and what would happen if she didn’t come back?
She had the necklace. She also had the ability to pull weapons out from beyond the sixth wall, but shooting up books was something she never wanted to do in her life, even if it would do any good, which it wouldn’t. Nothing she’d used the necklace for seemed relevant either--except that there were stone on the necklace she hadn’t used yet.
The Pilgrims had told her what the names for all the jewels were on the necklace, since was made by them, and she had said to herself that she should memorize the last three. So what had she done? She’d written them down and left the list in her backpack, was what she’d done. Oh but come on! They were important! Couldn’t she remember what those last three were?
Well, what she could definitely remember was that they sounded kind of inoffensive. Like Wisdom and Understanding? Yeah, that may have been it. She remembered that they didn’t sound like they’d be much good in fighting monsters. The last one was Culmination, which she didn’t know what that could possibly be, so it was 8 and 9. And considering that she had no idea what the difference between Wisdom and Understanding, she decided to press them both.
Nothing happened. That was disappointing--maybe a few notches higher than that. She started to pace up and down. How could this Library--a wonderful thing--be a trap, especially to her? She loved books! Why was this a trap?
What occurred to her then (and maybe that was the button-press) was that if she could find the titles that had distracted her, at least she could find her way out again. They sounded like exactly the things she was looking for: the Decision Tree, the Chorus, and that phrase With One Hand Raised High In The Dark--would she like to read them! So she started looking at titles.
That didn’t work either. She was really beginning to get scared now, not just frustrated. But she looked and looked for those topics, and nothing. She felt like she was going deeper and deeper into the stacks.
She saw a title: THE RED ROSE AND THE BRIAR. That made her think of the wonderful world they had spent time in, right after being in Hell. The subtitle almost made her put it back: Iconography and Tradition. But as long as she had the time, she’d take a look.
It didn’t look promising: thick slabs of small type, not even any poetry and definitely no pictures. What was worse, the Roman numerals at the front went up to including l in them. She remembered her friend Celia on Earth saying that if there were too many roman numeral pages, then you should drop the book and run away.
Nonetheless, she started to read. It was all about a poem that was made into a folk song, or maybe the other way around. It wasn’t about magic or universes: just about old books and just how old they were.
When she looked up from the book a page later, she was in an office.
All four walls were book cases floor to ceiling, but there was a big wood desk with papers strewn on it, and a box that had some doughnuts peeking out from it. And standing behind the desk, holding a ceramic coffee cup, was a middle-aged man in what looked like a bathrobe and a T-shirt. His hair was kind of bed-head-y, and his beard was straggly. He had on slippers.
“The mistake you made, Ms. Ransom, was not pulling down the books that interested you. That proved you to be less than a pure researcher, but a little to much goal-driven. My name is Witold Phase-Bowen, and I’m the person you’re supposed to meet.”
Somehow she didn’t think of curtsying to a man in a bathrobe, but she did say “Pleased to meet you.” He looked at her closely, and said “You seem to have been touched by Change: that undoubtedly made things more difficult for you. Have a seat.”
She sat, and so did he. He materialized another ceramic cup out of nowhere, and offered it to her, but it smelled like coffee, so she shook her head. Something in her was brazen enough to say “I would like one of those doughnuts, though.”
“Of course,” Witold said, and picked up a doughnut in a piece of paper. He handed it to her, making sure she gripped it properly. It was coated in powdered sugar and had a red jewel of raspberry filling poking out, which made it dangerous indeed to have around books. She therefore ate it quickly.
“I understand your desire to find out where your fellow toons, if that’s what you are, are gathering to fight Deep Chaos, but that’s not the kind of information we have here: we specialize in the out-of-date--in many directions, I hasten to add. And all sorts of energy surrounds you and, I’m sure, yours. That all interferes with Pure Research.”
Jeanette said, a bit depressed, “Then isn’t there any thing you can do for us? I was hoping…”
Witold said, “Any hard and fast facts I could give you would be hopelessly misleading--and the more accurate they were, the worse they’d be. Similarly, enigmatic oracular advice--”the wind is in the buffalo,” for example--would be useless.”
“I see,” she said, and strangely, she did.
“But I can give you these,” he said. He put three books on the desks. They had beautiful embossed fronts, and they said THE DECISION TREE--CHORUS SONGS--AND ONE HAND RAISED HIGH IN THE DARK. She looked at them eagerly--but skeptically, because they were quite thin.
“Yes, they’re books of poetry, and not the instruction manuals I know you’d prefer. But read them. They’re quite good.”
She picked them up and looked inside. Sure enough, they had the open short lines of type.
“Thank you,” she said sincerely.
“Come back and visit when you’re not so intent on saving the world,” he said.
It was easy to get back to the front desk, as she knew it would be. She waved to the young woman--”Sorry I came during your lunch hour,” she said, and the young woman just waved.
She left the Library and was back in Storisende. “I didn’t have much luck,” she said sadly.
The Queen of Herts leaned over her and brushed off the powdered sugar around her mouth. She touched up elsewhere--including sugar on the jewels of the necklace.
Jeanette looked up then, a light in her eyes. “But I know where we are supposed to go next,” she said.