Adrian soon discovered that the Federal Department of the Unnatural had more twists and turns than he originally thought. Its system of corridors was like a maze, zigzagging and crisscrossing until he was thoroughly lost. People still bustled about, carrying their strange devices and important reports but no one gave him so much as a second glance. Some of the doors were propped open and Adrian saw that most of them were tame offices similar to Eugene Banks’. But the stairs to the third floor remained elusive and he began to wonder if there were any stairs at all in the building. It wouldn’t be the strangest thing he’d seen tonight.
Finally, he stumbled across a passageway that seemed to be particularly full of human traffic. Hoping this meant that there was a way to the other floors, Adrian followed the stream of people headed for a large, vaulted doorway at the end of the hall. But the corridor emptied into another room so massive that, at first, he thought he was back in the main lobby. But it didn’t take long for him to realize that this room was much bigger and that its walls were lined with volume upon volume of books. The room stretched back as far as the eye could see with hundreds of shelves reaching to the voluminous ceiling. It was the biggest library Adrian had ever seen, perhaps the biggest in the world.
For a moment he stood in the doorway, admiring the scene before him with awe. He’d never been much of a reader but there was something impressive about the amount of knowledge that must be contained in this room. He had barely stopped a few seconds when someone crashed into him, propelling him forward into the library. People zoomed around this room as well, although much more quietly than in the rest of the building. They carried books in and out of the library, sat reading at tables or scaled precarious looking ladders to look for books on higher shelves. Adrian couldn’t believe that there could be so much work that needed done at four in the morning.
He wandered over to one of the shelves and pulled a random book.The Amazing Lives of Grumplewormsthe title proclaimed in bold print. Underneath was a picture of a bright green worm with sharp fangs. There was no way for Adrian to tell how big the creature was but, at this point, he wouldn’t be surprised if the beast stood taller than him. He flipped it over, hoping the back would tell him what a grumpleworm was. It read:
Grumpleworms, the scourge of the Amazon! These sightless, legless monsters
are known to rise out of the ground and devour men whole. Feared in South
America for their vicious, flesh-tearing bite, the fascinating lives of these
creatures are finally revealed through the research of Ted Dalean.
Under the text was a picture of a man with big glasses and a mustache. Amazingly, this seemed to be a reference book about giant, man-eating worms. Adrian had to resist the urge to laugh out loud.
“Grumpleworms, eh?” A silky voice behind him hissed, “An excellent choice for an avid researcher but, let me be frank, you don’t seem the type. Perhaps something more exciting?”
Adrian spun around to face a creature unlike anything he’d ever seen yet. She had the torso and face of a woman but the body of an enormous spider. Her arms were extra long and her hands seemed to hang at the ends of her wrists like a pair of pinchers. Her torso was wrapped in a gray, opaque, cobweb-like substance that was only a few shades lighter than the color of her skin. Four pairs of eyes blinked at him curiously, all of them yellow from corner to corner. Short, neon red hair was slicked back on her head. Impatiently she waited for his answer, tapping one of her eight hairy spider’s legs on the ground.
“Well?” she asked when Adrian failed to respond, “Do you really want to read about grumpleworms? I don’t mean to insult you but the only people I’ve seen with that book are old men with hair growing out of their ears.”
“Oh. S-sorry,” Adrian finally stuttered out, “W-who are you?”
“I’m Sabra. The librarian.”
“The librarian?” he exclaimed, forgetting for a moment that he was supposed to be quiet. She brought one of her fingers to her lips to remind him. He noticed she had two large fangs in her mouth.
“Of course. Who better to care for all these books than someone who can climb walls?” His expression must have been a mixture of shock and horror because she went on to laugh at him and say: “You must be new here. Don’t worry. I’m not dangerous. Unless, of course, you happen to be a goat under there.”
“Not the last time I checked,” he said.
“Well then, don’t worry,” she told him as she carefully pulled the book about grumpleworms out of his hand and placed it back on the shelf.
“But, what- what are-“
“What am I? I’m an arachinaid. Half human, half spider.”
“Great combo,” Adrian said, still in surprised.
“Glad you think so,” she replied, “Most people find us terrifying. Although I never understood why your kind feared spiders so much to begin with. Even the smallest child could smash a spider. Horses on the other hand, they’re dangerous and yet you all love and admire them so much. Those centaurs have it so easy. People love them. And what about us? We have to hide in sewers just to survive. It’s unfair.”
“You have something against horses, I see,” Adrian observed, unable to think on anything else to say.
“They just take everything for granted. Just like most of you humans take it for granted that the world isn’t crawling with hideous monsters. They don’t realize the amount of work that goes into that. Day and night we slave away. It’s a thankless job but everyone takes something for granted.”
Adrian had no response to this speech. Especially because up until yesterday, he had been one of those humans taking the monster free world for granted.
“Oh!” Sabra said suddenly, “I’m sorry. You were looking for a book and now I’m distracting you. How rude. It’s just that, even here, people think I’m scary and they don’t come to talk to me very often.”
She sounded terribly inconsolable. And while Adrian harbored no desire to hang out with a creature that looked as if it could kill him and eat him for breakfast, he figured it wouldn’t hurt if to let her find him a book.
“No, not at all. I’m not actually looking for anything. In fact, if know something good to read, I’d love to hear about it,” he said.
She instantly brightened up. Her eyes seemed to glow and she split a smile that revealed all her dagger-like teeth.
“Well then come with me,” Sabra told him, crawling on to the wall in her excitement. She took off down an aisle; moving so fast Adrian had to run to keep up. She climbed up and down the shelves, mumbling to herself as she went. They headed to the back of the library where there were far fewer people. The volumes on these shelves seemed much older than the ones up front. They were bound in leather covers with gold print that had started to flake off over the years. Some were scrolls laid neatly into cubbyholes, marked with runes from a language Adrian couldn’t recognize. Sabra was particularly careful not tot touch any of the books on these shelves as she climbed and this slowed her down considerably.
“Here we are,” she declared from a few shelves above his head. In her hands was clasped an old book with no covers at all, just a naked binding. The first few pages were almost ripped off and the lettering was almost gone. It appeared to be a well-read book because it was covered in stains from water and grass and something that looked a lot like blood. Most of the pages were bent or torn and all of the corners were dog-eared. When she handed it to him the pages felt thin and frail beneath his fingers.
“What is this? It looks old.” Adrian asked.
“It’s not really that old, only a few hundred years. But it’s has been the companion of choice for many great men on dangerous expeditions. It’s a wonder it’s survived this long.”
“But what is it?”
“It’s a kind of guide. An anthology to all magical creatures, places, spells and traps. I think you may find it to be rather informative.”
“Wow. This will probably be really useful. Thank you,” he said earnestly, amazed that this spider monster had such a valuable gift to give.
“Don’t sound so surprise,” Sabra snorted, “I am the librarian. I know every book on these shelves and, if you ask me, there’s no book more useful for new recruits than the one in your hands. But, of course, no one ever asks me. Now it’s awfully late. You should head on up to your room and get some sleep.”
“Yeah, I will. Thanks again,” Adrian walked slowly back towards the entrance to the library, carefully turning the thin pages of the guide as he went. The print was small and difficult to read, boarder lining on impossible in the more damaged areas. He turned back to ask Sabra if she knew where the stairs were but when he got to the place they had been, she was already gone.
“Well, people sure are good at disappearing around here,” he said to himself as he headed out to find his own way upstairs.