Questions and Directions…

“Strikes you, doesn’t it?” A rich, slightly accented voice spoke up from my right.

“Who are they?” I looked over at the man who stood directly beside me. He was slightly taller than me and stocky with neatly combed red hair, trimmed red beard, and freckled skin.

“All of them are children who have gone missing in the city within the last week.” He examined the photos papering the wall with arms folded across his chest.

I followed his gaze back to the cherub faces that stared out of snapshots and family photos that covered the wall twice as high as me and along the entire interior cubicle wall. There were over a hundred children pictured, with names, dates, and places last seen typed neatly under every picture. As we stood there, a young woman tacked another picture with a neatly typed card at the far right end of the wall. They were running out of space.

“This isn’t normal.” I stated. Something in the back of my mind was screaming at me, but the sound was muffled and I couldn’t make out the thought. Deep in my heart a sense of horrified familiarity had planted a seed. I had seen this before, somewhere, but a logical trace through my memories couldn’t dredge up where.

“Children go missing all the time.” Now the man turned to me and fixed me with eyes so dark they were nearly black. His ears, which I had not noticed earlier, were slightly pointed. The air around him shimmered and I knew he was using a massive amount of glamour. He wanted me to know it too. Moreover, I could feel him looking past my human shell, the part of me that needed no glamour, and into the very essence of my blood, my fairy line. In the busy central office of the Baltimore City police station two people now stared at each other and knew without any doubt in their mind that the other was just as supernatural as they were.

“Not like this.” I shook my head at the cherubs smiling out at us. “They’re too young to be runaways.”

“Someone is taking them.” He nodded. I could see through the shimmer in the air around him, he was drawing his glamour back around himself to hide from the humans.

“Who?”

“Please, come into my office.” He gestured behind us and I followed him through a glass door into a separated fishbowl of an office located at the edge of the cubicled central office. However, once he closed the door, all sounds from the outside were completely blocked. I sat in the chair across the desk from him and read his nameplate: James O’Donnell.

“My name is Eirnin. My people came here from what is now the Breton region of France seven hundred years ago.” He settled back into the creaking high-backed desk chair and folded his hands together under his chin.

“Seven hundred years?”

“We were escaping the covens that controlled Europe. America had not yet been discovered by the majority of the Western world. It seemed a safe place to come to at the time.” His accent was more pronounced now. He fixed me with dark eyes, “So, tell me, how does a descendant of Mercy Elizabeth Tate come to be escorted into my police station by a werewolf who states you single handedly defeated a sanguisage?”

“What?”

“Would you like me to repeat it?”

“No, I heard you. It’s just that I learned a lot in that question than I think I have to tell you in an answer.”

“I doubt it. You answer my question, then I will answer yours.”

“Detective blackwolf came to the branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library where I work, in Mt. Vernon, looking for historical information for a case. I helped him out, and saw he had a picture of a door with runes on it. Protective runes that were extremely powerful. The doors they kept shut were at either end of a slave smuggling tunnel that Detective Blackwolf seemed to think a drug suspect was using to evade police.”

“You didn’t think so. So you found the entrance he hadnt found yet.”

“Only he met us there.”

“Us being?”

“Myself and my cousin Amy.”

“The young lady Detective Blackwolf is talking to now?”

“Yes.”

“Go on.”

“The door was broken outward and smeared with rotting blood when we got there. Detective blackwolf was in the process of telling us to leave when we were attacked by that thing.”

“The sanquisage.”

“Yes, that. What was it?”

“It’s a weapon created by mashing together human body parts and marinating them in a soup of vampire blood, among other things, until they develop a life of their own.”

“I think Detective Blackwolfs suspect was part of it.”

“Why do you think that?”

“I just know. I could feel it. When I killed it.”

“Destroyed it, you mean.” I gave him a quizzical look and he smiled, “You can’t kill what is already dead.”

“You said it was created by marinating it in vampire blood. Does that mean that there was a vampire killed too?”

“Did you feel one?”

“Yes, but it didn’t feel the same as the people who the body parts came from.”

“That’s because the vampire is what created it.” He sat back in his chair again, the joints complaining loudly, “Vampires have many weapons in their arsonal. Some of them more terrible than others.”

“That one must have been the worst.”

“not necessarily.” He looked out of the office window at the board of photographs.

“Children? What can a vampire do with children? They’re just infants, they can barely walk.” I could feel my brow curling and a flat denial rising in my heart, but that niggling seed of familiar horror seemed to be growing as I looked once again at the wall of cherubs.

“You said you work at the Mt. Vernon branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. The one that was originally a church?” I nodded. “When you go to work next, I want you to look up two things, terminology that I want you to become extremely knowledgable about. The first, are Natali Nosferatu, and how to destroy them. The second, and this might be more difficult to find, is to look up any and all references you can find on Nightmare Children. Both are related to the weaponry used by Vampires during the Dark Ages, to give you a good starting point.”

Advertisements

Witches

Sunshine filtered through the windows of Amy’s shop, revealing all of the dust and dirty prints that adorned them. I fought the urge to leave the counter and step up onto the display with a bottle of window cleaner and a rag to wash the windows. There were a group of teenagers milling around the love charms and fortune telling books and I had to keep an eye on them.

I probably could have left my post, but Amy was strict and this store was her baby. I was just the babysitter and the only reason I had that post was because I was practically the baby’s aunt. I sighed and thrummed my fingers on the worn wooden counter, watching the girls in catholic school uniforms as they giggled and flipped through a book on love charms.

Oh, to be sixteen again.  I thought with more than a little sarcasm. I would never go back to that period of my life with all the ackwardness and scape goating, not to mention the inescapable fact that I was materially different from everyone else in my school whether I wanted to be or not. Being nearly thirty wasn’t exactly sitting well with me, being unmarried and childless, but compared to my teenage years this period of my life was just fine with me.

Finally, the girls left the store and I could leave the counter to straighten the mess they left. I was getting the window cleaner and a rag when Amy returned, throwing her bag behind the counter with an annoyed sigh. I didn’t bother to ask, I knew why she was so irritated. She had been called to the home of a woman who wanted heavy magic used to separate the woman’s lover from his wife. Amy hated doing magic like that, she hated meddling in the twisted love lives of people. They never really knew what they wanted until they made the wrong choices and lived to regret them.

“How was it?” she asked as I climbed into the front display and started to clean the windows.

“Quiet. Just the usual.” I didn’t look at her and focused on wiping away the dusty marks from the top to the bottom.

“Why are women like that? Why are they such slaves to men?” she sighed, and I could hear her removing her supplies and putting them away in the cupboards behind the counter. “You never see men in here leafing through the love charms, calling me up at all hours of the day to ask for a love spell, weeping and crying when I tell them I refuse to do it for free. Why is it always women? Why do they choose to suffer?”

“That’s the eternal question, Amy, why are we so stupid about men?” I turned and looked at her, “I bet you could go on Oprah if you answered that question.”

She laughed and I could see her relax. She folded her bag and slid it under the counter, smiling at me, “You’re never going to fall in love, are you?”

“Haven’t yet and I’m beginning to think I might never will. I can’t find a man I can trust enough.” I jumped down from the display and went to the front door, spraying it down and wiping with more gusto than was perhaps necessary.

“That’s true. Neither of us is going to find anyone we can trust.” Amy sighed.

“Don’t tellCharlottethat.” I could see the form of a willowy teenager walking down the street to my right. She had the graceful step of a dancer and the ethereal beauty of a fairy princess. Her plaid skirt stopped just barely above her knees, where the manditory white socks started. She was walking with her head down and her dark hair covering the sides of her face and I could tell from the set of her mouth that today had been yet another bad day at school. I turned away from the door so she wouldn’t see me watching her,“Although I don’t think we will have to.”

“Oh no, not again.” Amy sighed and furrowed her brow. “Those girls are terrible. I thought switching schools would stop this.”

“I told you sending her to an all girls school was a mistake.” I put the window cleaner and rag back in the cupboard behind the counter and leaned on the counter edge, crossing my arms and watching the door, “It’s not the boys that cause the problems, Amy, it’s us. Normal women can sense we’re different and they don’t like us.”

“But there is no reason for it. We never harm them, and when  they need us they have no qualms about weeping on our doorstep for a potion or charm.” Amy’s furrowed brow became an all out scowl.

“True, WE are not a threat to them, but don’t forget about our ancestors. You know, the ones who stole husbands and left bastard children running around.” I laughed at her as I watchedCharlotteapproach through my spanking clean windows, “Remember that the next time we get threatened with a good burning at the stake.”

Amy laughed at me, but the conversation stopped there asCharlottestrode glumly through the door. She barely smiled at Amy when she was asked how her day went. It was all too obvious on her face that she just wanted to be left alone, at least for a little while.

Life had been tough from the very beginning for poorCharlotte. Her mother, my mother’s younger sister, had accidentally gotten pregnant before her wedding and, using the pregnancy as an excuse, her fiance left her for another woman. Despite the heartbreak, Theresa had done just fine after she gave birth to littleCharlotte. She had already become a well established editor for a small women’s magazine inSeattle, so having a baby had not put much of a financial burden on her and she had been able to switch to working mostly at home duringCharlotte’s first few years. Sadly, Theresa had died in a terrible car accident while Christmas shopping with a friend whenCharlottewas five. My mother and father, while certainly devestated by the event, were already too burdened by taking care of my elderly grandfather to takeCharlottein. Amy’s parents, also my aunt and uncle, were a no-go for taking the child since Amy had developed serious concerns with the effect of their alternate hippy life style on the young child. Amy, therefore, had takenCharlottein and became her sole guardian.

For the past eleven years Amy had stayed settled in Baltimore, close enough to her own parents that she could see them fairly often, but far enough away that they couldn’t drop by on a daily basis. This last part was the most important. Reason being? Amy, along with Charlotte, Amy’s sister Alana, and myself, was a witch.

Witches are, for the most part, fairly harmless. Of course, you do have the people who use the craft for personal gain and power, etc., but those people don’t often last long. Someone kills them off eventually, or they get themselves killed trying something really dumb like cursing people or opening doorways that really should stay firmly shut and locked. The majority of witches are just silly women who sit around lighting incense and reciting incantations to commune with the natural world. As I said before, they’re actually fairly harmless as they rarely are able to tap into the real power that’s out there.

The witches in our family, however, are the kind of witch you don’t want to mess around with. We’re the real kind, the kind born with the natural ability to tap into the powerful forces that bind our world together. When we recite incantations, things really do happen, sometimes they’re scary things, but they really happen. Our every day lives are nothing close to those of ordinary women. We see the world within the world you live in, the ebb and flow of the energy that binds all living things.

Witch families like ours are rare, it takes some pretty powerful bloodlines and, more often than not, the addition of a supernatural bloodline like fairy or elven to create a human family of witches. In our case, it came from my mothers side of the family, Amy’s father, andCharlotte’s mother. They were the children of a woman named Eleanor Catherine Tate, who was the single child of a woman named Mercy Tate, an Irish immigrant to theWest Virginiacoal mining region ofAppalachia. Who she was before she came toAmerica, no one knows, her family history literally starts inAmerica. No record of where she came from inIreland, who her parents were, and what part ofIrelandshe came from exists. It’s just assumed she was Irish, as the area was being flooded by Irish immigrants at the time she showed up and it makes the most sense.

When she got to Appalachia, Mercy married a prominent Native American involved with the business of negotiating the coal mining and his people’s land, a man with the given name of Thomas Redfox. It’s not known if it was her choice of a Native American over a white irishman, or the inevitable attractiveness that the women in our family are prone to that got her killed, but less than three years after being married to Thomas, Mercy’s body was found in a creek not far from their home. Our grandmother, Eleanor, was immediately sent to live with a man who Mercy claimed was her brother many miles away in Virginia. According to records,the man my grandmother was raised by, James Tate, only had brothers and no surviving sisters. However, he took Eleanor in and raised her with his own three children, two girls and a boy.

What happened to Thomas after he lost Mercy is as unknown as what Mercy’s real past was. He just dropped off of the map after her death, abandoning the house he shared with her and disappearing. Rumors, according to local newspapers, ran rampant claiming that Thomas had taken revenge on the men responsible for Mercy’s death before disappearing into the wilderness, never to be seen again. This, Amy and I knew, was not true as newspaper stories from months later indicated that eight men were tried and found guilty of Mercy’s murder. Thomas’ whereabouts, however, still remained a mystery.

I know this sounds all mysterious and full of unknowns, but our family history, at least on that side, is pretty typical. Most witching families have unknown bloodlines at some point, or missing relatives, or changeling children. It’s actually really common among our kind. Sometimes family secrets are learned but, for the most part, it’s best to leave those particular secrets buried in the past. It’s often for the best as most pure blood fairy lines don’t like to mention any human relatives. Reason being, those human relatives are often the result of adulterous unions and bastard children. Real fairies don’t like crossing bloodlines as they consider it dilution of the pure blood.

It takes a little while for powers to develop in witching families, so it was no surprise that the abilities mostly skipped our parents generation. Our grandmother, the daughter of Mercy who we knew was the wellspring of our abilities, was a very capable witch, but what Eleanor possessed did not get immediately passed on to the next generation. Instead, first Amy, then I, followed by Alana, and finally Charlotte emerged around the ages of six or seven and our grandmother had the difficult task of training granddaughters to be responsible witches while hiding that particular fact from our parents.  With Alana and Charlotte our grandmother had very little problem, mostly because Amy was Alana’s older sister and by the time Charlotte had emerged, Amy was her guardian and already a well established witch. Myself and Amy were the challenge, as the first two to emerge and separated from our grandmother on either side of her by two states. She had worked very hard through phone calls and insisting we visit her at her family home in Virginia every summer from the time we were six. We spent every summer going to ‘witch school’ as she used to call it, cramming every piece of information she could about ourselves, our family history, and how to use our ‘gifts’ for the benefit of society. She sent us home at the end of every summer with ‘homework’ that we were to update her with over the fall and winter holidays.

By the time my grandmother passed away when I was twenty, she had started all four of us on the path to becoming powerful and highly responsible witches. The problem was, as is always the problem with those who teach us, she could not prepare us for what the outside world would throw in our paths. Like jealousy, and fear, and loathing from other women who could sense our difference or the men who liked us up to the point we lifted teacups into the cupboard without touching them or turned someone into a toad and then they ran screaming. Life, as a general rule, is difficult but for a witch trying to live with one foot in the normal world, it’s practically impossible. Unless, of course, you have someone to rely on. Much better is having a couple of someones to rely on when the going is extremely tough. Of all the things our grandmother taught us, the most important thing she gave us was the relationship we had with our cousins, women exactly like us with some idea of how tough our lives really were, being loved one minute and loathed the next.

Well, maybe not exactly alike.

The phone rang and Amy gave me a pained look. Nothing beats witch sense at knowing who is calling before the phone rings, not even electronic caller ID.

“I work tonight.” I gave her an apologetic shrug.

“I have a report due tomorrow that I have to finish.” Charlotte said before disappearing up the back stairs to the apartment above.

“Damn.” Amy sighed, and picked up the receiver, “Alana.”

I didn’t need to hear the conversation to know why Alana was calling. She had met a new man, or was going out with ‘The Girls’ and wanted Amy to watch her kids. If Charlotte was the Outcast, I was the Scapegoat, and Amy was the Den Mother in our little coven, Alana was the Social Butterfly. She never had the problems with other women that the rest of us had, but that was due to no little amount of glamour use. As she liked to put it; “Why have it when you can’t use it? It’s not like being a witch means we should suffer socially our whole lives.”

Not that Alana didn’t have her fair share of problems. His name had been Dean Abernathy and he had loved her right up the the moment their second child, a girl, set fire to the Christmas tree when she was still in the womb. He had left right then and there and Alana had not seen him since.

Alana came to Baltimore after the birth of her daughter, Isabella. At first, Alana lived with Amy, Charlotte, and I above Amy’s shop in Mt. Vernon. Let me tell you, four witches, a three year old boy and a newborn baby in a two floor, three bedroom glorified apartment was more than I could handle. One month after Alana moved in with her brood, I moved out into a little apartment about a block away. It was small, but it was all mine and I didn’t have to remove oodles of baby toys from the bathtub before I could take a shower. I even got myself a cat, a little gray thing that appeared on the front stoop one rainy October afternoon. I named him Gremlin, because he had a strange resemblance to one the afternoon I brought him in, and he has since grown into a fine, fat cat with a taste for tuna and any bugs brave (or stupid) enough to venture into my apartment.

Things apparently were going well, for the first six months Alana and her kids were with Amy and Charlotte. Then the first Man happened and that was the beginning of the end. Alana basically treated Amy and Charlotte like live in nannies and would disappear for nights at a time, leaving Amy and Charlotte to take care of the babies. That lasted about two weeks, exactly, before Amy kicked Alana out on her own. Now, Alana had to call and make arrangements with one of us first before dropping the kids off. If she couldn’t get us to watch the kids for free, well, then she was just plum out of luck for that night. Alana swore she hated paying someone to watch her kids, especially after they had been at the university day care all day where Alana worked as a receptionist. Even now that Eddie was in the first grade and at school all day, Alana had him dropped off at the day care so that she could work overtime. Granted, we didn’t complain, it meant that the kids were being cared for and she had the financial means to provide for them, but then she liked to just dump them off whenever.

Fortunately for me, I worked as a night librarian at the Mt. Vernon branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. I was effectively off of the babysitting list most nights of the week, except Tuesday nights, when I had off once a week. The rest of the time I was unavailable to watch the children. That left Amy and Charlotte, but Amy wasn’t about to allow Alana free reign to drop her kids off any time she pleased. She had to pay Charlotte to babysit, and Amy refused to watch the children on weeknights because she spent the time stocking her store and doing book keeping. In the end, Alana was mostly forced to be a working mother, whether she liked it or not. Not that she ever let on if it displeased her, she was constantly perfecting her ‘fresh as a spring breeze’ persona, practicing it on us as if we didn’t know it was all Glamour and magic.

Tonight, however, was Friday night and Alana apparently had plans, this time with ‘The Girls’ to go out drinking and dancing. Amy rolled her eyes as she put the phone back on the hook and returned to her duties at the counter. Alana was bringing the kids over at seven, after the store closed, and after they had been fed dinner. Amy would watch the kids overnight so that Alana was free to go do what she wanted, but she had to be over to pick the kids up at 8am sharp. Amy opened the store on Saturday’s at 9am and didn’t like having the kids hanging around in the shop. Charlotte usually spent her day helping Amy in the morning downstairs and doing homework (or spellwork) in the afternoons, so she wasn’t exactly free to watch the kids either.

I waved at Amy and slipped out of the front door while Amy continued to tidy up the shop, preparing for close at 6pm. Charlotte would be fixing dinner now, as it was nearly 4:30 and Amy liked to eat as soon as the locks on the front door were thrown and the metal grates drawn down. I needed to get home and change my clothes before going in to work. I also needed to feed Gremlin before I left for work.

My apartment was a little one bedroom on the front of one of the many victorian mansions in Mt. Vernon. It consisted of a main room with a bow window, a small nook of a kitchen in the right wall, bathroom just beyond with clawfoot tub and small window, and a little side room through glass french doors that held my bed at one end and make-shift closet at the other. There was a ridiculously large marble fireplace in the ante-room that served as my bedroom with a mirror above it. The walls were painted a pristine white and the woodwork had been meticulously restored by my landlord’s son.

I had decorated my little space with items I picked up in antique stores mixed with Ikea and Pier One finds. Overall, the effect was a mish-mash of old, new and quirky with lace and floral pictures. It was comfortable and just perfect.

There were seven other apartments in the building, six other tenants and my landlord, Florence.  Florence had bought the building after her husband died as a source of income during her retirement. Her son, a gangly young man of about twenty, managed the building for her in between his job as a barista and college classes. For the most part, I never needed to call him, but that wasn’t without a judicious use of magic to make sure nothing ever went wrong or fell apart. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Florence’s son, I just didn’t exactly trust his handyman skills anymore than I trusted my own.

Of all the tenants in the building, not counting Florence, I was the only one who wasn’t what you would call a “young professional” with flashy suits and an even more flashy car. I walked everywhere and I didn’t have the kind of job that required wearing an expensively tailored suit to work every day.

I had worked as the night librarian for the Mt. Vernon branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library for five years. Most people don’t realize it even exists, hidden away in an old church converted to library over fifteen years ago. Before then, it had been a Mason’s hall, or belonged to some similar organization. The large nave of the church held the main collection, with the upper balconies devoted to the childrens sections, and the reference sections.

I spent most of my nights re-organizing the sections and putting returns back on the shelves. It didn’t take very long, especially after the regular staff left and just the guard, a grizzled old man named Lenny, and I were left in the building. I could use magic then, to help sort the books and return them. Other than doing a round every two hours, Lenny pretty much slept the night away at his desk in his office, located somewhere in the back of the church. I spent the rest of the night curled up behind the main desk, reading.

The thing with the Mt. Vernon branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library is this: It doesn’t exactly exist in the system. If you look for it on the website that lists all of the branches around Baltimore, it isn’t there. It’s not listed anywhere for the general public to find. Even the sign on the building that identifies the building as being a library is a wee-little plaque to the right of the large doors, nearly six feet from the entrance doors that were carved out of the massive old church doors millenia ago, when the building stopped being a church.

The reason is that the library, while certainly having the regular selection of normal books on the main floor, is almost completely devoted to the supernatural. Not the human studies on the supernatural, but books and tomes and accounts recorded over the centuries by supernaturals. Most of the collection are copies of original pieces handed down over the millenia by supernaturals from all over the world. I haven’t gotten to it yet, but there’s even a section on American supernatural history, which starts back almost to the point where the first humans crossed the land bridge and came to the Americas. I’ve only just finished reading the section on European supernatural history, but the American history section is next on my list.

When I get to work Abigail, the main daytime librarian , usually goes over the list of returns and minor amounts of clerical work she needs me to complete during my over night shift. Today, however, she had one more thing to tell me before she slipped out of the side door.

“There is a city detective, Detective Blackwolf, who got special permission to work late this evening. The letter is on the main desk. He’s somewhere up in the map rooms, researching old underground sewer systems or something for a case. Keep an eye on him?” Abigail smiled at me before she left, wrapping her scarf artfully around her neck.

I’m not sure what she meant by “keep an eye on him”, Abigail is part of the normal human population who doesn’t exactly know that the larger portion of the library collection is actually hidden well below the main floors. I just assumed she meant to check on him often to make sure he had everything he needed. I just smiled and promised her I would while internally hoping I could slip away downstairs without him noticing.

The one main rule behind my special position as night librarian is to make sure that members of the supernatural population are the ONLY people allowed into the collection and that the normal human population knows nothing about it. The best way to insure that is to offer night hours to the exclusive supernatural population. Although they are rarely utilized by the supernatural population, as the majority of the collection tends to be historical records and accounts of supernatural happenings, I do have the occasional night visitor. It was rare to have a normal human stay after hours. I wondered if that was actually allowed, but didn’t exactly know who to ask about that. I just decided that I would have to be careful tonight. Maybe I would just pick a normal classic, like Jane Austen, to content myself with while the detective was in the library.

Lenny started locking up and doing his first round when I got to the front desk.

“Good evening!” was his normal greeting, called in a hushed and gravelly voice from across the main floor. Although it was usually just the two of us overnight in the library, he always insisted on talking in a hushed and respectful voice, even when he called to me from across the room.

“Good evening, Lenny.” I smiled as I watched the elderly guard make his way down the main floor and stop at the desk, sliding his hat back on his balding head and scratching at what hair remained there. “I hear we’re not alone this evening.”

“No ma’am. But don’tcha worry. He’s a policeman. Up in the map rooms, got the whole table covered.” Lenny gave me a wink, “I think he might need your help.”

“Lenny, the man is working. Stop that.” I blushed. Lenny was always teasing me about boyfriends and when was I going to settle down with a nice man and have babies. Oh, if he only knew the truth. I shook my head at him and smiled, “I’ll go up and check on him before I get started down here with the returns.”

“You do that.” Lenny couldn’t hide the feisty smile that twitched at the edges of his mouth, “Even Mrs. Reed couldn’t keep herself from offering her help. He’s a real looker and a cop too, so a good man all around.”

“Lenny, stop it. I’m not looking for a man.” My blush deepened, only making Lenny grin wider as he sauntered off. I liked Lenny, but sometimes it was like having a feisty uncle around more than I wanted.

I waited for the heat to dissipate from my cheeks before I left the front desk and ventured upstairs to the map section. The map section is located behind the front desk and over the administrative offices, where the alter of the old church used to be located. The stained glass windows that loomed over the old alter now dominated the west wall of the map section, illuminating the large wooden tables placed there for easy perusal of the city maps. The balcony that overlooked the main floor was enclosed with a beautiful  laticework divide which was moved from a lower section of the church at the request of a former attendee to the church when it was converted into a library. Two iron sets of spiral stairs on either side of the main desk provided access to the upper levels. It was up one of these that I now softly stepped, hoping to not disturb the man who was working above.

The late afternoon sun was just filtering through the stained glass windows in the west wall, bathing the map section in bright reds, blues, and yellows. A man sat at the far end of the first set of tables, leaning over a large map that covered the entire end of the table, a notebook set beside him. I could see he wore business slacks and a button down oxford shirt with sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and a leather holster around his shoulders. I couldn’t see the gun, but I knew it was there, and it made me nervous as I approached him.

“Excuse me, detective?” I stopped a few feet from the man, gently drawing his attention.

“Yes?” he lifted his head from his hand and looked up at me. He had dark hair in a crew cut that needed a trim, the front stuck up a little wildly from where his fingers had been running through it. He had dark eyes and the copper skin tone of a native american. “I have permission to stay after closing hours.”

“Yes, I know. I just wanted to let you know that Abigail left and I will be taking over for the night, if you need anything. I’ll be just down at the main desk.” I smiled and started to turn away. He sounded grumpy and I decided not to try any further conversation, so I started to slip back to the stairway in the hopes that I could find a book and be back at the desk before he really did need me.

“Excuse me, miss?” I stopped and turned, surprised that he had spoken to me. He had slid back the chair he was sitting in and turned to look at me.

“Yes?”

“There aren’t any maps of the sewer system older than this one in the library, are there?” he gave the map he had been looking at a very tired, and slightly annoyed, look.

“Not that I know of. I assume you’ve tried the city archives?” I bit my lip.

“They sent me here.” He laughed and rubbed his face with both hands, clearly tired.

“What are you looking for, if I might ask?” I watched him, not expecting an answer, “or would it ruin your case?”

“I’m looking for an underground connection between the harbor and some abandoned warehouses north of Patterson Park. I have a suspect that is using some kind of connection between these buildings and the harbor, but we can’t find an above ground route of escape.” He stretched his arms upward, cracking the bones of his shoulders, and looked at me.

“Sewer maps won’t help, then.” I walked over to the opposite side of the room, where the older maps were kept. “You want the slave tunnel maps.”

“What slave tunnels?” I heard the scrape of his chair as he stood up and followed me, his footsteps surprisingly quiet on the polished wood floor.

“During the Civil War, tunnels were dug all through the city connecting parts of the sewer system to create an escape route and place to hide for freed slaves trying to reach the north, into Pennsylvania. This map isn’t exactly complete, as it was drawn based on the accounts of former slaves long after the Civil War was over, but it might help.” I pulled out the laminated copy and lay it on the table nearby.

He set his pad of paper down beside the map on the table and I stepped aside so that he could see it more clearly. Standing so close, I realized how big this man really was. He was probably taller than me by at least a foot and a half and I wouldn’t be lying if I said he was wider than me by the same. If you could describe someone as a monster of a person, it was this man. It was clearly not dead weight, either. The muscles of his upper arms flexed under his skin, leaving no room for extraneous fat. I was secretly relieved this man was on the good side of the law, I would not want to meet up with the wrong side of him even on a bright sunlit day.

“That’s it, right there.” He laughed, running large fingers down a series of lines on the map indicating the tunnels. He smiled over at me, the chiseled lines of his face melting into the warmest expression I had ever seen. “Thanks. This is great.”

I reflexively smiled back at him. “You’re welcome.”

“I’m surprised that the other librarian didn’t recommend this, as many times as she was up here trying to be helpful.” He wrote something down in his notebook, and then turned to lean on the back of a chair and smile at me.

“Most people don’t know these tunnels exist. I think some historian wrote about them years ago, but the book was buried somewhere in the American history section and completely forgotten. It’s really interesting, if you have the time to read it.” I blushed, stepping back.

“Guess you have the most time to read out of anyone.” He looked around, indicating the library.

“Yeah, I have a lot of time to read.” I smiled, and straightened up. “Was there anything else you needed?”

“I need to make a copy of this map, if that can be done, so I’ll need reference information.” He motioned to the map. “Other than that, I think I’m done here. I’ll just put those other maps away for you?”

“Sure, I’ll need to get the information you need at the front desk.” I noted the map before slipping it back into the flat file.

I slipped downstairs as soon as I knew that Detective Blackwolf had a handle on putting the maps away and focused on pulling the information he needed up on the computer. I had just hit the print button when the detective came down from the map section, a dark blazer pulled on over his shirt and a briefcase slung over one shoulder. He smiled as he approached the desk and I handed him the still warm printout over the top of the desk.

“I didn’t catch your name?” he smiled over at me as he slipped the paper into his briefcase and clipped it shut.

“Oh, I’m Eleanor, Ellie for short.” I picked up the walkie talkie to call Lenny, but I could already see the guard strolling towards us down one of the rows of books. He must have been lurking around, waiting.

“That’s an old fashioned name.” he remarked as he adjusted his bag and the collar of his jacket.

“It’s my grandmothers name, my mother named me after her.” I nodded at Lenny as he approached the desk, nodding at the Detective.

“Do you always work nights here?” he smiled at Lenny, but turned back to me, “In case I need more information?”

“Yes, I’m usually here by seven in the evening, sometimes a little earlier. Just make sure you’re here before closing if you need anything.” I smiled at him, trying to ignore Lenny’s knowing smirk. “Have a good night.”

“You too, and, thanks for the map.” He gave me a short wave and turned to follow Lenny to the front door.

I ignored the grin Lenny gave me after he locked the front door behind the detective and decided to return to the map section. Although I was sure the detective had put everything back where it belonged, it was always a good idea to double check. I slipped upstairs as soon as Lenny disappeared into the stacks on his way back to his office.

Detective Blackwolf had done a very good job, every map he had out was put back exactly where it belonged. I just needed to straighten the chair he had used and turn out the light, and the map section was officially closed for the night. I moved the chair back into position and was about to lean over the table to switch off the lamp when a piece of paper on the floor under where the chair had been caught my eye. I bent down to pick it up and realized it was an enlarged black and white photo, probably from the detectives file. I switched off the lamp and hurried downstairs, unlocking the front door and looking out onto the darkening street.

“Detective Blackwolf?” I called out, seeing a large male frame standing on the corner. He turned, looking back at me. “You left this.”

I held up the photograph and he started back towards me. Inadvertently, I looked down at the photo in my hands, and stopped cold. Slowly, I turned it into the light to see better and felt chills run up my arms, down my spine, and into the pit of my stomach. The photograph was of a door in a brick wall, clearly barred and spiked closed. The door and the frame around the door were virtually covered in symbols, carved into the stones and clearly molded into the metal door itself.

“Some kind of voodoo symbols, we think. I can’t find anyone who can translate them.” Detective Blackwolf’s voice startled me, I had been so absorbed in the picture I hadn’t seen him get close. He took the photo from my hand, but didn’t put it away immediately.

“Is this where you think your suspect is getting away?” I looked up at him, trying to sound more curious than concerned. I knew exactly what those symbols meant, they meant stay away, and they meant it good.

“There aren’t any other doors or exits so this was the only way he could have gone, but we can’t see how he moved the door. We haven’t been able to budge it ourselves.” He was watching my face and I realized I would have to be careful.

“He didn’t. There is no way he could have gone through here. These symbols, they’re keeping the door shut more than the bars.” I pointed to the symbols on the door, “You would do well to stay away from this door too. He isn’t going through here. Those runes, they aren’t voodoo, they’re older than that. They aren’t there to keep you out; they’re there to keep something in. It’s not going to just open.”

“Now how would you know that?” he turned to face me, scrutinizing me.

“I read. A lot.” I shrugged. It’s never a good idea to let law enforcement know that you’re a witch, it tends to destroy much trust they have in you. I realized I had said too much and hoped I could at least throw him off pretending to be an avid bookworm, which wasn’t exactly a lie. I did work overnights at a library with only an elderly security guard for company. Being an avid reader was a logical thing to be in such cases.

“These frighten you.” He lifted the photograph.

“Yes, and, technically, they should frighten you too. They’re spells to keep something terrible trapped there, behind that door. Only…” I chewed my lip, turning to look at the runes on the photograph again.

“Only?”

“Any time I’ve ever read references to runes like these, they’re in Europe, somewhere in the east of Europe, in those places where the modern world took a while to reach.” I smiled, a little shaky and trying to sound light about it, “You know the places where people still believe in vampires and werewolves.”

“So why is this in Baltimore? At the head of a slave tunnel?” he furrowed his brow.

“I don’t know that. I’ve never read anything about it in Baltimore before.” I smiled sheepishly, “I haven’t started on American history yet. Maybe the tunnel was just a convenient place at the time.”

“Convenient for what?” I could only shrug my continued ignorance. His grumpy scowl returned. “This doesn’t help me much.”

“I’m sorry.” I chewed my lip again, and then something occurred to me, “If it is capping the tunnel, there has to be another door on the other side, just like this one. If he did manage to go through here, you just need to find the door at the other end to know which tunnel he used to exit from.”

“You don’t think he went this way, though.” He sounded skeptical of me.

“From what I’ve read, no, he wouldn’t be able to get the door open.” I shrugged and looked back up at him, “If you really believe in that stuff, anyway.”

“I’ll keep an open mind.” He slipped the photograph back into his briefcase. “Have a good night.”

“You, too.” I watched him turn into the slowly darkening twilight, and called after him, “Be careful anyway. Those tunnels are really old, if they even still exist.”

“I’ll keep it in mind.” He waved at me before starting back down the street.

I retreated into the library and locked the front door with a troubled mind. It was one thing for him not to believe in the power those runes had over that door, he and the police force probably wouldn’t be able to open that door, not with all the dynamite on earth. That was what those runes were put there for. It was the fact that the door was even there, that there might be another door at the other end of the tunnel with the same warnings and spells on it in a language so old human memory had forgotten it. Something really bad was in there, and needed to stay there.

I went back to the front desk and tapped my fingers on the counter nervously, trying to decide what to do next. I knew I should talk to Amy about this, but she had the kids tonight and would be too busy to deal with it right away. Besides, she would want my help and probably Alana’s too if it was something that needed some real investigation. I also didn’t think that with the police watching over the doorway anyone was going to try to get in, from that end anyway.

Finally, I decided that the best I could do right away was to do some research. I made sure all of the returns were put back and all of the clerical things Abigail wanted me to finish were done before I slipped through the doors at the back of the desk. The doors to the rest of the collection, the Supernatural Collection, were a pair of old oak doors kept firmly shut at the back of the administrative offices behind the front desk. I slipped down the short aisle of desks and lay my right hand flat on the handle of the doors. A tingle of magic ran through my palm as the doors recognized me, and swung gently open. I stepped through and they shut silently behind me. In the back of my mind, I kept an eye on Lenny who was already snoozing away at his desk.

The Supernatural Collection is actually stored in a magical space created behind the portal of the doors. If a normal human tried to get through, the doors would only open onto the little cemetery, now a courtyard, between the nave and the old rectory of the church. They would not see the endless hall of book stacks stretching out before them like I did.

Quietly, I asked the library to take me to the American history section, feeling the tingle and rush as I was moved from one end of the library to somewhere to my left and halfway down the room. Although this was not the first time I had used the search system in the supernatural collection, it was the first time I had searched for something so specific. I focused my mind and three books floated down from the shelves, stacking themselves neatly in the air in front of me. I reached out and took them, heading back to the front desk to do a little light reading over night.

The books were not particularly helpful, although the information they contained was extremely interesting. I learned a great deal about the founding of the supernatural society within Baltimore from the time the harbor city was founded to present day. For example, due to the fact that it is a harbor city and the traffic of immigrating supernatural’s is so great no official species territories are allowed to be set up. Therefore, while regions of settlement for specific species have been established, no one species is allowed to prevent another species from travelling through or settling in that region.

To help mediate this, the city government was established to give fair representation to all of the species living in Baltimore. The second book recommended by the library was a complete history of the establishment of the government and laws. Apparently the supernatural government in Baltimore was the first official supernatural government to be recognized in the United States.

Other forms of supernatural government existed within the Native American supernatural population; they were more regional to the United States and laws changed between tribal regions. Also, and this I didn’t know either, until settlement by Europeans, the Americas were dominated by werewolves who ran the whole continent according to pack territories, each governing their territory according to the laws of the wolves. The government in each territory was determined by the heirarchy of a primary alpha and their offspring, who were usually secondary alpha’s. Since alphas in werewolf packs are typically male, that heirarchy of primary and secondary alpha’s was patrilineal. According to these books at least, no strong female leaders had ever been established in the Americas until the founding of the government of Baltimore.

Baltimore was also a first with female leaders, as well as being the first established and democratic supernatural government. The first true council of Baltimore with fair representation was set up by a pair of sisters, witches with fairy bloodlines, who convened what sounded like an emergency meeting between all of the supernatural elements that lived in baltimore to combat a problem that had arisen.

That last part sounded promising, but further reading indicated that Baltimore had become suddenly over-run with what sounded like human gang activity exacerbated by recently turned vampires. The result was apparently whole gangs of vampires reigning terror down on the combined human and supernatural population of Baltimore. The result was that the supernatural population, unified by the un-named pair of fairy-witches, rose up en masse to vanquish the vampire threat. Although the account was very dry and short, with no detailed account of the actual battle, it sounded like the vampires were simply hunted down and killed by the only method known: beheading, dismemberment, and incineration. One section at the end of the account did catch my attention:

“And so, after the final vampire was slain and his body parts reduced to ash within the furnaces designated for that purpose, it was established by the leading members of the Supernatural Council that the laws existing in the America’s since human feet made their first marks on New World soil so many millennia ago should be upheld:

No vampire was allowed to feed upon the blood of a human, with or without consent of that human, while residing on New World soil. Should such a vampire be found feeding on human blood, supernatural or otherwise, they are to be executed immediately without trial. This land was established by those persecuted by the vile menace in Europe as a safe haven against such persecution and their safety is paramount to the lives of the Undead.

These laws were established by the wolf tribes on whose land we now reside, and without whom this victory could not have been achieved. It is the purpose of the established Supernatural Council to up hold this law, if no other, in order to maintain peace and order in the New World.”

I chewed my lip thoughtfully as I returned the books to the library, mulling over everything I had read. While I had found no mention whatsoever of the doors, or the entrapment of anything horrific enough to need to be sealed by runes and spells as well as metal doors in the history I had read, I did learn something that might be of use. There must still be a Supernatural Council in Baltimore, and maybe that was what the Library had wanted me to find. Maybe they would have some idea what was lurking behind the door detective Blackwolf found, and maybe they needed to know that the human population had found it. Then again, maybe they already knew. I decided this was what I had to talk with Amy about this evening before I came back to work.

Abigail arrived at six a.m. sharp and, after going over the tasks I had completed for her and making sure the Supernatural section was safely sealed shut for another day, I left to return home. I should have known that wasn’t going to happen exactly how I planned.

Detective Blackwolf was leaning against his car as I came down the front steps of the library. I walked directly up to him, as I had no reason to avoid him. He seemed surprised, but I supposed that was due to the fact that many of the people he usually spoke to were more inclined to avoid talking to the police.

“What can I do for you this morning, Detective?” I tried not to sound too tired. I had, after all, just come off of working an eleven hour overnight shift, even if I was used to it.

“You know what those runes mean. You could read them.” he held up a manila folder with papers in it.

“I know what they mean, yes.” I hoped he wasn’t going to ask me why.

“Well, I need you to translate them, if you can. I need to know exactly what they say, to the letter.” I sighed, and looked down. “Can’t you do that?”

“Runes don’t work like that, and I can’t tell you letter by letter what they mean.” I looked up at him, surprised not to see the scowl on his face. Instead, he was giving me a very interested look, so I continued, “the thing with runes is they are representative of the natural powers that exist in the world around us. Their exact translation changes from culture to culture, although the meaning stays the same. The order in which they are placed on the door indicates that the door is being held shut by the power the runes embody, but they won’t tell you anything about what is behind the door, who put it there, or what reason it was trapped there.”

“You can’t translate them, then?” he looked a little defeated.

“They were never a spoken language like ancient Egyptian or roman Latin. Their meaning has been passed down through history from a time long before those civilizations were conceived in the minds of the people who happened to settle there. They were never letters that make words, each symbol holds its own meaning like a Christian cross or Hebrew Star of David holds great meaning to us today. The meaning of each symbol was passed down over the thousands of years, but not the sound or word that might have been associated with it. They don’t form words on a page, they form a symbolic net of power keeping that door firmly shut and whatever is behind it trapped there.” I tried my best to explain, but I wasn’t sure that I got my point across with any accuracy.

“So what you told me last night, that these runes are a spell to keep something behind this door, is as accurate as you can be?” he waved the folder, which must contain the picture I had returned to him.

“Mostly, I would have to find a reference on runes and their order to see if I could be more specific, but the message is pretty clear from just the photograph.” I meant to say something else, but a yawn escaped first.

“I’m sorry, I know you need to get home to sleep. Do you work tonight?” He threw the folder through the open window of his car, hitting the passenger seat with surprising accuracy.

“Yes, I’ll be here around the same time. We can research it together, if you would like?” It was fairly obvious that he meant to meet me again tonight, so I just pre-empted his needing to insist on it. “Just go in and tell Abigail you’ll be meeting me and she can let you in before I get here.”

“Sure thing, see you tonight.” He smiled at me, that warm glow that softened his features, “And thanks for your help.”

“I don’t know exactly how helpful I am being. I seem to be stopping you every time you get started.” I smiled awkwardly at him, “but you’re welcome.”

I turned and walked down the street, bathed in the golden glow of the rising sunlight. I saw him walking up the stairs to the front door as I crossed the street. Strangely, I liked the idea of seeing him again that night, although I had to be very careful how I communicated to him. As I said before, it’s never a good idea to let law enforcement of any kind know that you’re a witch; you might end up on the suspect list.

I made a side trip to Amy’s place on my way home. I needed to at least leave her a note that I wanted to talk to her and what about. I didn’t think it was a good idea to get caught up in something like this without her knowing. She was my rock and surrogate older sister, she knew almost as much as I did without access to the extensive library and I relied on her common sense more often than was probably healthy.  Besides, something like a pair of doors blocking a tunnel and trapping something dangerous between them was extremely important for her to know about, especially if I was assisting with translating the runes for a human policeman.

To my surprise, I found Amy brooding over a steaming cup of tea in her kitchen when I came in. She gave me a very grumpy ‘hello’ as I placed my bag on the chair and retrieved a hot cup of tea from the pot for myself.

“Do I want to know?” I asked as I took my first sip of tea.

“Alana.” Was all she said, rolling her eyes and glaring out of her kitchen window. She laughed ruefully and looked back at me, “She has a new man, and he’s apparently a werewolf.”

I choked on my tea and had to set my mug down, wiping my mouth with a kitchen towel draped over the edge of the sink. I stared at her in disbelief.

“Eddie told me last night, after Alana dropped them off.” Amy shook her head.

“Is she fucking crazy?!?” I finally croaked out when my throat was mostly clear.

“That’s what I asked her when I called her last night.” Amy looked pissed.

“She knows better than that. She has the kids to think about!” I coughed a little to clear my throat, but another sip of tea was what did the trick.

“She came back last night when I called her. We fought and she took the kids home with her. I told her it was dangerous, and stupid, and she had to think about her kids first.” Amy gave me the rueful smile again, “Of course she didn’t listen to me.”

“What did she say?” I slipped into the chair beside her at the table.

“She said that I don’t know anything about werewolves. That he was not like the werewolves we’ve met before, he’s been great with the kids, steady job.” Amy gestured with her hand as she ticked off the list, “You know Alana, she had an argument against every reason I gave her.”

“She’ll find out soon enough. The moment his alpha calls him away. She’ll see where she rates on his list of important things.” I sighed and looked down into my cup of tea, “How are the kids with it?”

“The usual, Eddie is totally wary of him and Izzy is, well, she’s as in love with him as her mother is.” Amy thumped her hand flat on the table, “I just wish I could put a protection spell or something around them to keep them safe in case something happens.”

“Alana really would stop speaking to you then.” I gave her hand a squeeze. Alana was, technically, a grown woman and capable of taking care of herself. There wasn’t much that Amy or I could do to protect her from the trouble she got herself into, but her children were another matter entirely. They couldn’t protect themselves from the trouble their mother brought home. I was right, though, Alana would merrily murder both of us if she even suspected either Amy or I of putting protection spells over her children without her permission. We were left to worry and try to be subtle about listening in, our hands essentially tied behind our backs.

“Did you have a good night at work?” Amy changed the subject, as the current one was best left where it was. I bit my lip, trying to determine how to start, and Amy was immediately alert, “What happened?”

“Well, a city detective was researching underground tunnels for a case he has been working on and I helped him find the map he needed. When he left, he forgot to take one of his case photographs with him, and what it was of has me a little worried.” I wrapped my hands around my mug and looked over at her cautiously expectant face. I went on, “It was a picture of a metal door that was barred in place somewhere underground. The runes carved on and around the door indicated that it has a pretty powerful set of locking and protection spells on it. It’s sealing off one end of an old slave tunnel, so I’m pretty sure the other end of the tunnel must be sealed as well with the same kind of door. Amy, I don’t like the look of that door. It’s sealing something really bad in there and I’m worried that the police might have stumbled on something that could be extremely dangerous if we aren’t involved.”

“Where is this tunnel? We should probably take a look at those runes, get a feel for the site itself before we jump to any conclusions.” She sipped her tea, but her eyes glinted at me over the rim. She was taking this as seriously as I thought it should be, but her common sense was shining through as always.

“The end that the police know about is somewhere north east of Patterson Park, in the slums there, but the police probably have it under surveillance. The detective mentioned something about thinking a suspect must have used the doors to escape, but I don’t think anyone could open those doors without some serious magic. They are probably keeping too close an eye on it that we wouldn’t get caught sneaking a peek.” I sipped my tea as Amy waited, and then continued “The other end of the tunnel comes out somewhere near the harbor. I have a copy of the old map in the library, I am sure we could locate it from the other end.”

“Do that, we can take a look tomorrow afternoon. He’s coming again tonight?” She eyed me over the edge of her mug as she sipped.

“Yes, he wants me to try to translate what the runes mean. I’m going to do my best, but I think playing the amateur is the best way to keep him from figuring the rest out.” She nodded and stood up from the table.

“You hungry? I was going to make breakfast, if it isn’t too early for you.” She smiled at me.

“I’ll help. What did you want to make?” I slid back my chair and went to the cupboard. I could hear the sound of Charlotte stirring upstairs. It would be best to keep our conversation between us until Amy and I could determine how serious those doors might be.

“Waffles. I need something to cheer up my day.” Amy smiled as she pulled the electric griddle out.

 

I decided to arrive at the library an hour early. Abigail only gave me a slightly upraised eyebrow, but my early arrival was not totally abnormal. I didn’t pay for internet, not when I had the free internet from the library available to me. I sometimes showed up a little early and checked email on one of the computers in the back. Abigail would not bother me in the back unless I was late to relieve her.

I slipped back through the offices and to the main door of the supernatural collection. I wasted no time once inside in locating the most reliable book on runes before slipping back out of the collection and sitting at one of the available computers. Abigail stuck her head in about ten minutes later, as I was closing the browser and shouldering my work bag.

“Detective Blackwolf is waiting for you.” She smiled, but I could feel the pang of envy come off of her in my direction.

“I told him I would help him with some references to the maps he was researching last night.” I walked to the door with her, “He should have a copy request for one of the maps. Did he give it to you? I don’t know what needs to be done with it.”

“No, but I will take care of it before I go.” Abigail maintained her businesslike attitude.

The detective was perusing the books in one of the nearby stacks when I left the main desk to find him. He was wearing a different shirt and blazer, but looked nearly identical to when I last saw him. He turned from the stacks and smiled at me.

“Abigail told me you showed up early. Did you find anything?” He slipped his briefcase strap a little higher on his shoulder.

“I think so, but I haven’t had a chance to read through the books I found.” He approached and I had to crane my neck a little to look up at him. “Do you have the copy request for the map? Abigail needs to take care of that before she leaves. Why don’t you talk to her about it while I get started and we can talk after your done?”

“Sure thing.” He walked up to the front desk with me, where I indicated Abigail to him before slipping behind the desk and starting on my evening tasks.

It took a little while longer for Abigail to complete his request than it did for me to complete my list. I nodded at both of them and slipped back into the stacks, taking the book on runes with me. I hid at one of the side desks, flipping through the pages, until I found the chapter that I thought would be the most helpful. I was reading one particularly interesting passage when I felt someone standing behind me and looked up.

“Find something?” it was Detective Blackwolf. I blinked a few times, surprised that I had not heard his footsteps on the stone floor of the library.

“I might have, but I’m not sure. Information on runes is mostly speculative, as everything that has ever been written about them started thousands of years after they stopped being used.” I lifted the book, indicating the embellished page, “It was also written by ardent Christians who viewed runes as the devil’s language, so half of it you can’t believe.”

“But those doors aren’t as old as runes, so maybe the translation will still mean the same thing.” He slipped the photo from the folder in his briefcase. “Can we get started?”

“Is Abigail gone for the night? Lenny needs to lock the doors, and I can meet you at the front desk.” After a moments hesitation, I handed him the book, marking the page with my finger as I handed it over. “it will only take five minutes. I think that part is a good place to start, if you wanted to catch up.”

“Alright.”  He was peaking at the pages as he walked back to the main desk.

Lenny was already bolting the front door and gave me a conspiratorial wink as I checked on him. I just shook my head and walked up the main hall to the front desk. Detective Blackwolf had not sat down but was on the public side of the desk, hunched over the book as he read. I already knew he was having a hell of a time reading it.

“It’s in English, I swear.” I smiled as I opened the door behind the desk and indicated he should come in.

“Really? I can’t read it.” he followed me in and I pulled Abigail’s chair from the second computer over to the desk space for him to sit in.

“It’s an embellished reproduction, but it’s the only source I could find that wasn’t full of crap about witches and devil worship.” Mentally, I apologized to myself and my ancestors.

“What does it say?” he placed the book on the desk and I rolled my chair closer, turning on the desk lamp.

“Well, the beginning chapters all talk about the historical origins of runes and how their uses have changed. This part basically leads into a lexicon of runes and what they mean on their own. There’s a short section that mentions that the order of runes changes their meaning, or that the meaning of some runes becomes mute when coupled with other runes, like supporting information to the main rune.” I looked at his hopeful face, and dreaded dashing it, as I was about to fudge the truth in a major way “But it doesn’t go any more in depth than that and, to my knowledge, the library doesn’t have a better source that says anything like that. So, the best we can do tonight is translate each of the runes on the door, but I don’t know that it will be accurate.”

“You mean that this book says that runes on their own have a different meaning than when they are coupled with other runes?”

“I would assume that it does, but this book doesn’t go much more in depth than that. And I would also assume that the specific order of the runes indicates meaning as well, like how we place certain words in a sentence and give them vocal stresses to indicate emotion or multiple meanings. But that’s not what’s in here.” I bit my lip. “I think you might need to find an expert on that.”

“Well, we can still identify each rune and I can maybe research it somewhere else.” He pulled out the photograph and a legal pad and we got to work.

Identifying the runes was harder than I had anticipated. First of all, the picture, while fairly clear, did not do a very good job of indicating some of the more detailed parts of runes. To make matters worse, as I was holding a magnifying glass up to the photo to try and determine what one rune was, I noticed a second set of runes carved intricately within the edges of each of the main runes. They had literally been carved into the edges of the indentations that made up the first set of runes, making it clear that they were present but unclear as to what they were. The detective let out a frustrated sigh as I pointed it out to him.

“I hate to say it, but this would be easier if we had the door in front of us.” I did hate saying it, not just because I knew his answer already, but because the second set of runes adorning the edges of the main runes made my stomach flip twice. I had never heard of runes adorning runes, but I was sure it meant much more serious trouble lurked behind that door.

“I can’t, not that I don’t want to, but it’s part of an ongoing investigation. I can’t let you near it.” He sighed and ran his hand through his black hair, smiling ruefully at me, “Wish I could, though. You’re the first helpful person I’ve found.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. I don’t think I’m being all that helpful, considering that I just created another problem for you.” I chewed my lip. Part of me was bothered that I couldn’t help him more, but these were witch matters and he could get seriously hurt, or killed, if I told him too much and let him go at it. Amy would have told me that, and I knew I didn’t want to see anything bad happen to this man, so I had to keep my mouth shut and wait to talk this over with Amy.

“Well, at least I have a better starting point. Maybe I can hit up one of the universities in this town and find myself a rune expert.” He glanced down at his watch, “Wow, I didn’t realize it was after 10. I need to get going.”

I helped the detective get his papers cleaned up, as they had somehow managed to migrate over the whole desk. Most of them were legal pad paper covered with the different runes and the translation from the lexicon in my source. I closed the book and was laying it on the back desk when he stopped me.

“Can I get the title and author of that book? I’m probably going to need it later.” He pulled his nearly full pad out again.

“Sure. Um…Just don’t ask Abigail about it. It’s part of a private collection that we aren’t supposed to have access to.” I felt like kicking myself. I should have known he would ask and just stuck with the crap resources in the main collection.

“Whose?” his eyebrows raised interestingly as he finished writing down the title.

“I don’t really know. They’re just way more interesting than the books out here.” I shrugged as he handed me the book back.

“Forbidden fruit, huh?” he smiled at me, slipping the pad into his briefcase.

“Something like that.” I followed him out from behind the desk, the book clasped close to me.

“Well, tomorrow is Sunday, so I won’t be in, so maybe Monday I’ll be back, if I can’t get any better help.” He smiled at me as I unlocked the front doors.

“Monday works, only I hope you find better resources than me. I don’t have much else to help you out with.” I gave him a smile as he slipped through the front door.

“Have a good night.”

“You too.” I closed the door behind him and locked it.

I tried not to run up to the map section after I knew he was gone and Lenny was still sleeping. I needed to get a copy of that map, or at least a rough idea where the second entrance to that tunnel was so that Amy and I could find it tomorrow afternoon.