With A Little Help From...A Perfect Stranger?!

October 01, 2017:

Intent to return a due library book in the mystical archives beneath Studio 54, Zatanna Zatara finds herself in hot water with one of the establishment's ancient Librarians, only to be helped out by a mysterious green-eyed stranger named after the Norse God of Mischief.

Studio 54 - New York City

The huge magic library under Studio 54.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: John Constantine

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

New York City, to this day, remains one of the biggest bastions of magic on Earth, though only those in the select community know it, and even fewer within said community that know the extent and breadth of it. While most of its landmarks are not as old as certain parts of the world, they are steeped in it - sites of old murders, monuments, buildings such as the Public Library, they're all scattered across the city, points of interest that can't help but emanate their own mystical energies.

Zatanna Zatara is presently in one of these; it isn't as if she has gone looking for trouble, but as often as the case is with the young magician, it often finds her.

Those in the know would remember the vast magical archives situated under Studio 54, an institution built under another institution - a public library and clearinghouse for reference materials and mystical artifacts headed by a mysterious Board of Directors and with possibly the most frightening Librarians known to Man, Beast and Other under its employ; one of the greatest feats of magic ever devised and performed in the city, and perhaps the world, reminiscent of modern Swiss Banks with its segmented rooms and mystical glass - and much like such establishments, absolute privacy is paramount here. It isn't like Hogwarts in J.K. Rowlings' famous universe where enthusiasts would get a Howler or two screaming at those who didn't return its property promptly; the consequences of not doing so are infinitely more severe than that - the loss of certain bodily functions such as sight for a few days, several hours from a mortal lifespan, and living half a year as a creature of the furious librarian's choosing are just some of the fees she has heard of in the past.

So she can't be blamed, really, for looking nervous as one of the ancient librarians squints at the old-fashioned check-out card in her hand, a battered old notebook resting on the desk - that which belonged to the greatest occultist her world has ever known, pulled directly from the Library's Akashic Records.

"I still have a day," she says, pointing to the log book opened in front of the two of them, finding her name and magical thumbprint. "See?"

Silence.

"Except that…well, once I check it in, I have to check it out again. I'm really sorry, but I'm in the middle of a project and I desperately need to keep this for a few months more— "

Another bout of silence. The Librarian's wizened face reflects nothing but the slight thinning of her lips to suggest displeasure that nobody else can ever know the extent of, save for the young woman herself. She cringes at what she hears inside her head.

"I understand that but— no, I'm not trying to be inconsiderate, I know there's probably many out there who want to read Aleister Crowley's manifesto on Da'at, but— "

The Librarian's eyes narrow. The young magician starts visibly sweating.

"There's really no need for that and I wouldn't be petitioning for an exception if it wasn't important…"

More silence.

"N- no, I don't think that just because I'm his daughter, I— "

It would be strange to anyone, hearing just one side of an argument, but it isn't as if those who frequent the Library aren't accustomed to such things; this probably happens very often.

And worse, given the charred black mark on the otherwise very expensive carpet - a cautionary tale for any patron who even so much as thinks of perpetrating violent antagonism in these hallowed halls.

—-

He remembers the Halls of All-Knowing. The library of the gods. Book shelves that stretched higher than the Tower of Babel itself, dotting endless halls amidst the swirl of a universal nexus point that strove to contain all the knowledge contained by every pantheon in creation. He remembers it well. Fondly, even, if someone like him could be said to remember things in such a way and be believed. And a custodian possessed of the boundless, irate surliness that only a God of Librarians could possess.

This? This is not the Halls of All-Knowing.

But for what he needs right now, it suits his purposes just fine.

And if this place tugs the cords of nostalgia in his heart strings, well…

I know there's probably many out there who want to read Aleister Crowley's manifesto on Da'at, but—

"And oh, what a funny coincidence! I happen to be one of those very people."

… he's really too busy being hard at work to think about it anyway.

He's there, when just a minute ago he wasn't; dressed in a black coat and a three piece suit, his tie a shade of vibrant green that matches the hue of his flighty stare, a man in his mid-twenties with short black hair speaks up with a light and airy tone from where he stands just behind Zatanna, where once was empty air. He doesn't seem to see fit to explain his sudden appearance, and frankly, in this place — such things should be far from unusual, really.

No — no explanations. He just takes a step forward, a hand pressed against his chest and head dipping in a polite little bow of greeting that also coincidentally lets him share a conspiratorial wink with Zatanna Zatara, sight unseen.

"My goodness though, what are the odds of that? Here I am, crestfallen to hear that I may not be able to indulge in my deep and abiding love for the whimsy of Western esotericism, when what should appear?" And here, his right hand reaches out. A long index finger taps once, twice, on the aged and worn-down cover of that notebook. "The selfsame tome that I was seeking! What a red letter day for me, eh? The odds on that must be…"

He makes a good show of trying to count off those odds on his free hand before he just gives up with an easy, indolent shrug.

"Oh well. I'm not what one would call a 'math guy.' I much prefer a good story. The point being— "

Book picked up. Book held out to the librarian. That smile is far too brilliant in its charm, especially when presented to a custodian whose glower seems as depressing as the Black Sun.

"Since the young lady, alas, seems to have no cause for an extension, I'd like to stake my claim lest she somehow manage to persuade an individual of dauntless and" a pause here, if you would, to linger for an appropriate length of time upon the librarian's legendarily cantankerous character, "delightful disposition such as yours. If you'd please."

The book waggles.

"First come first serve, and all that."

—-

There aren't many who have ever said no to her, once she's put all of her charming weight into the work of persuading the other to see her own way. She's pretty enough, wide-eyed enough, genuine and sweet enough to be able to generate positive responses from those around her. But the Librarian is beyond human emotions; the young woman knows this, and while she debates with herself as to whether to induct the Librarian within the circle of those who know just precisely what she is working on, someone behind her decides to try and claim the book.

There is no advance warning, he suddenly appears as if by magic. Not at all unusual, especially in a place rife with people who can wield it in some fashion, but the fact that he has managed to slip past her ever-active radar is unusual.

Zatanna draws with a start, wide blue eyes staring incredulously at the appearance of the well-dressed man who walks up and professes in an eloquent, if not somewhat flowery way (reminded, briefly, of well-spoken Shakespearean actors that dominate some of Broadway's stages) that he, too, is a fan of Aleister Crowley's and is looking to borrow this specific book. Her lips part to protest. But the surreptitious wink flashed in her general direction leaves her momentarily wordless. Confusion settles on her features. Just what was he—

But it looks like he's serious about checking out the notebook. "But I'm not— "

She falls silent as the fathomless depths of the Librarian's pitiless eyes fall on Loki, the God of Mischief. She says nothing, namely because it's a library and noise is demanded to be kept at a minimum; employees are supposed to set an example. But the teenaged magician doesn't need to be part of the telepathic chain to read the neutral expression on the old woman's features. Whoever this other person is, the Librarian seems to know him.

And so, the log book is presented to him, along with a stylus. A gnarled finger extends to tap at the space in which he is supposed to sign his name, where his magical thumbprint is supposed to go; a collateral fragment of his ephemeral signature to go with his physical one.

"Wait!" The slight rise of her tone prompts a withering glare from the Librarian, and the young woman claps both of her hands over her mouth. But with the transaction concluded, and the book left in Loki's care, the Librarian turns away in a dismissive fashion to both, to proceed with the next person in line - an ostentatiously dressed gentleman with a ridiculous golden helmet. One who clearly intends to open his mouth and speak in absurdly loud speech bubbles.

The Librarian seems to know him too, and gives him a slap hard enough to send the golden helmet spinning to prevent this from happening.

The raven-haired magician dips her head to hide the lower half of her face into her scarf, slipping past the man with the golden helmet - she looks like she recognizes him - in order to follow the green-eyed man who's just made off with Aleister Crowley's notebook. He looks about the same age as John, if not a couple of years younger. It's a library, she can't call out, but she dogs his steps with her typical bullish tenacity, expression determined.

She really needs that book.

—-

But I'm not—

"What a dear," says Loki, God of Lies, as Zatanna Zatara's voice cuts short and the log book slides forward; the green-eyed man is otherwise less talkative than he might otherwise be as he snatches up that pen. But from the way his eyes seem to dance, it's obvious that -some- conversation is going on beyond the bounds of the voice. A telepathic conversation for two, and Zatanna the odd woman out.

It doesn't stop him, however, from signing his name. The flowing, eloquent text is etched in ink that seems to shimmer with effervescent eddies of green before settling into a more comfortably standard black. That name reads many ways to many eyes, but for anyone spying of the Western persuasion, it says quite simply:

'Loki Odinson'

The thumb print left behind smokes green as the trickster clad in black slides the log book forward anew, brows lofting upward as he finds his voice once more. "I must say, you really are one of my favorite people stuck in this place. Maybe I should arrange a little get together for you and the Lord Librarian. I think you would do that poor old man some good!" And with this, he tucks that gnarled notebook against the crook of his arm, giving a little bow of his head for the Librarian before making his way off.

"A meet cute for the ages, indeed."

And so he walks off, fingers of his free hand waggling a little wave of farewell for Zatanna as he goes. He doesn't even look behind him as that gold-helmed man approaches. He just counts down under his breath, a soft "Three… two… one…"

SMACK

"They never do know how one properly wears a helm. More's a pity."

And with that, he makes his way towards the doors just beyond, seemingly oblivious to Zatanna's dogged approach. The doors open, and shut behind him. And should Zatanna continue that pursuit —

— she'll find nothing but empty air in her wake as she steps through that door.

"You know, I'm given to understand that stalking is what is considered a 'class A misdemeanor.'"

Above. The voice comes from above.

And there sits Loki, perched upon the archway of the library entrance, idly thumbing through pages of Crowley's book as he speaks.

"Now, of course, I don't rightly care to know what that means, but it certainly sounds like a threatening assemblage of technical terms, doesn't it?"

—-

She doesn't catch a glimpse of the name; more's the pity, otherwise she would know precisely who she's about to deal with, but she is so engrossed in following that it doesn't even occur to her to check, as always so quick to throw herself face first in a situation in spite of what it could mean. She manages to miss the scene behind her, and is absolutely unaware that it has happened often enough that the man with the green tie knows precisely what is about to happen even before that loud smack echoes through the otherwise silent halls of the archives.

Booted feet make quick work of the marble floors, once she's off the stained carpet, leaping over the silhouette of a magician that has paid the price of attempting to snuff out a rival in a place like this. Not like it's a story that hasn't happened hundreds and millions of times in the Universe's history; since time immemorial, magicians have always been an irrepressibly egotistical lot. But it simply doesn't feel right to her to step on someone's remains - besides, she knows very well that there are some traditions out there that consider it bad luck.

The double doors of the Library part in a thunderous clap, and her quickened steps slow considerably when she looks around only for the well-dressed notebook pilferer to have vanished. "Ah, shit," she mutters, planting her hands on her hips and surveying the building's front veranda with a frown. "God damn it, it— "

Someone accuses her of being a stalker. Ice-blue eyes roll upwards to the source of the voice.

There's a bit of a showman in him, clearly, posed as he is in such a way to imply that he had been waiting for her to run after him. That would be curious on its own, but the fact that he professes not to know what a Class A Misdemeanor is trumps everything else. Modern-day society is what it is, given its love of police procedurals that any show, no matter how terrible, would be guaranteed massive viewership, but that does entail that there are many who would know what a misdemeanor is and the fact that he doesn't know suggests…

…well. She shouldn't assume.

Legs move, to climb up towards his level as if there were a flight of stairs made of air, stopping until she's just on eye-level with him.

"I don't mean to be a stalker," Zatanna tells him simply. "And I'm really sorry, but I meant what I said earlier - I'm not done with Aleister Crowley's notebook. That specific notebook. It's not…I really don't mean to be rude, or pushy. I've met the author in person and I'm working on something really important that requires a few other dealings with him, and it would really help me out a lot to have it as a reference." She presses her palms together, her expression downright imploring.

"So please? If it helps, I can go back and tell the Librarian to switch it back to my name so you won't have to carry the late fees or anything."

—-

I've met the author in person, Zatanna says in the midst of her simple plea, and the green-eyed man's right brow twitches up exactly one fraction of an inch as he turns the next page. She lifts up on air, forging an invisible staircase of nothing, and his eyes remain glued to the pages beneath his fingers.

"My, but people have some funny opinions about trees of life," he murmurs, half to himself before applying tongue to thumb in preparation to skip ahead yet more.

So please?

"Mm?" And so pauses the man, looking up with those curious green eyes. "Oh. I think you've gotten the wrong impression, here. I've already read this, quite thoroughly, a while ago." He flips the page regardless, green eyes still perusing through diagrams and notes.

"So while the heartfelt pleas are very moving, I feel like I'm obliged to inform you — I was already planning on giving this to you."

And with that, that tome snaps shut with the slap of musky paper, a heralding trumpet for Loki the Trickster's friendly smile.

"I suppose that was all a bit of a light punking, but I -did- wink. Isn't that meant to be a universal symbol of jacknapery?"

And somehow, someway, the black-haired man manages to say both 'punking' and 'jacknapery' in the same breath as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Still, that book is held firmly in hand as the sharp-dressed man leans back upon his precarious perch without so much as a care in the world, not yet offered up to Zatanna despite her words. Not yet. "Still, I hate to criticize from the armchair, but I think you were taking the wrong tack there. After all, I believe we both are well-acquainted with the riveting story of 'The Librarian and the Man Whose Blood She Turned to Lava For Being Too Hotheaded,'" quotation marks go… here, "so I think we both know where being too pushy for my sake will get you. Blood, suffering, possibly something with flesh-eating maggots, the eternal quiet of the library that is now your resting place, etcetera." His left hand swivels through the air, demonstratively, before he leans forward. Knees bend upwards, elbows rest upon them, and chin settles on his one, upraised palm as he considers the girl before her.

"So. You don't have to worry about that. That burden will be mine to bear; I rather think it was a dead end for you, anyway." Because maggots, torment, and so on. "You can just have the book. It was my intention from the start, after all. You seem like a clever sort, despite rather bald-facedly tempting fate. I like that." And so, that book is extended outward. In offering.

"So how about this, instead. You may have the book, and in exchange, you tell me what you want from dealing with Mister Crowley. Information for information. A simple trade. Deal?"

—-

There are a few in the magic world that know that Aleister Crowley is still around….in a fashion. The circumstances as to how, however, remain a mystery, even to herself. Perhaps John would know the precise mechanisms, but magicians are notoriously guarded when it comes to their secrets; chances are he wouldn't know the absolute methodology as to just how the master occultist has survived all these years despite his well-known death eons past.

He mentions the trees of life; there are different versions, so by the very mention, she doesn't know the precise ones he is speaking about, but the revelation does cause that lingering confusion to grow, manifesting on that pale expressive face. Not just the fact that he has already read Aleister Crowley's notebook on Da'at, but rather the fact that he was trying to do her a good turn. She did not expect that, and it shows plainly. "….you were…?"

And she doesn't even ask why, so easily predisposed in believing in the kindness of others. And could she be blamed? She's surrounded by them; even Bucky Barnes, scourge of a thousand nations, could be kind.

He did wink, and a sheepish expression crosses over her features, following the wake of a smile that reflects it. "I saw it, I just didn't want to assume," she tells him. "For all I know, you were just being cheeky. Not to mean any offense, you just kind of look the sort." He does have a face that quickly leans to jacknapery, though the term once again reminds her of men with feathered caps onstage.

She was, perhaps, using the wrong method. She is accustomed to deception, misdirection - these are talents that have served her well, on stage. But the life she leads in the limelight is markedly different from the one she engages in outside of it. Her tricks are for work, for performance, but for dealings with the every day - not to mention she does not want to infuriate an ancient entity that already suspects her of flaunting her father's good name to get what she wants - she limits that underhandedness. Whoever he is, he doesn't seem to be all concerned of the fact, flesh-eating maggots and all.

But she does grin at him. "You're going to be in so much trouble if she finds out," she tells him; it's a tease, though it's plain that if the Librarian does manage to figure out his scam, it wouldn't come from her. It had been for her behalf, after all.

He seems set on it. Her expression softens, the utterance of her next words genuinely meant: "Thank you…" she says, reaching out to close her fingers around the book, though she doesn't pull it towards her yet. "I mean it, you saved me from a bit of a bind, there. You're a lifesaver, Mr…?"

A simple trade.

She hesitates. Trading in information is not so simple - magicians and their secrets. If he was from the community, he would know that.

But she does answer his question, in the end: "It's a lesson. I'm still learning," she tells him. "One of my teachers put a bit of a puzzle in front of me, kind of like how it is in Biology classes. You know, when you have to dissect a frog? Except that the frog is months old and it's not decomposing, so it still looks alive. Anyway, the secret to unlocking the mystery lies with something Mr. Crowley either has or figured out, so I'm basically studying everything I could get my hands on that he wrote to give me direction. This is the last one of his works that I haven't finished, but…it's also the most complex one to parse, so it's taking me more time than usual to digest it."

—-

No suspicion. No questions. Not even the simplest, and most pressing of all:

Why?

Zatanna Zatara just accepts his words at face value as if they were nothing but the purest truth, and that, in and of itself, is a telling thing. It's an expectation.

The expectation of someone who has seen so much of the best in people.

It is information tucked away for due consideration as he commits the bulk of his attention span upon Zatanna and her words, and the way her emotions wear themselves upon her expression with open pride. "I have been called cheeky before. I much prefer the term adorably audacious," says the God of Lies, tapping an errant finger against his chin. "Something about the facial region, I suspect. But, when you know what people think of you, it is much easier to use it to one's advantage, I've always found!" The raven-haired man pauses here, as if in consideration of his own words.

"… I suppose, though, that does my reputation for adorable audacity no favors either."

A weary sigh chases at the heels of this damning realization.

But if he is forlorn, he recovers easily enough, and it certainly never makes it to the twinkle in those green eyes as he tilts himself backward, lounging more comfortably on his arch with the plant of a palm against its surface to prop him with. If he is concerned about the possible repercussions, it is true that he hardly even seems to show it. Maybe he knows something she doesn't. Maybe he's just that reckless. It's hard to really say. No; he just smiles, and lifts a finger to his lips in response to her teasing words, a pantomimed hush as if echoing the sentiment espoused by the Librarian.

"It is a good thing, then, that silence is so treasured in libraries. Don't you think?"

Their little secret.

But he offers the book. And despite his request, it is still held out, as if Zatanna could snatch it from him at any time. Just take it, and never answer a thing from him. As if it were a gesture of trust. Good faith. Generosity. All of those things that shouldn't describe the God of Mischief.

So perhaps it's just to see what she'll do. Or perhaps it's genuine. Either way, the answer to her name searching seems forthcoming, as if perhaps he didn't hear her — or, perhaps, because he's tabling it for something much more personally interesting. Information for information. Secrets are of great value in the world of magic. But often they only hold so much power as you're willing to give them.

A secret told — that has just as much value in the telling as in the secret itself. Sometimes, even moreso.

"Dissections are always quite the chore without adding magic to the mix," muses the man, one leg leisurely crossing over the other. "So, you're taking something apart to try to put something together. A dissection to complete a puzzle."

But, even as he speaks, he tilts that book Zatanna's way. Hers to take. Whenever she might want.

"Curiosity duly sated, and appreciation at an all time high," he announces, with such a light, glib tone. "You have my eternal gratitude, miss. And my loaner. Do try to take care of it." Green eyes tilt upward to peer curiously at blue, one brow lifted.

"I'm rather surprised to hear you're having trouble with it, however! Perhaps, if I might, a word of advice to help you upon your way - doubtless you might have heard it before - but it's not a matter of complexity of the words. No matter the format, you are reading a story. What story might Aleister Crowley dare to weave into the tapestry of the universe?"

A fingertip taps upon that spine, as the book is offered.

"Let LeVar Burton be the animal of your spirit and you will surely find your answer."

Because of course he knows who the master storyteller of the Reading Rainbow is.

—-

"Adorably audacious?" Zatanna repeats, good humor sparking from her pale gaze as she tilts her head towards the chatty stranger, with pouring out in spades the longer he engages her in conversation. Laughter is present, a touch wry, but given they are in a library, she doesn't give much voice to it, more implied by her tone than anything else. "I'm guessing then this wouldn't be the first time you've conned the Librarian here, huh? She seems to know you, but then, rumors have it that she has an extremely long memory. Doesn't forget a damn thing."

Probably also the reason why her punishments are always so very thorough.

But he does make a good point about secrets and silence; for a magical archive of this magnitude, such are even more important and at the mischievous look directed at her, she smiles more openly, visibly charmed by the man's irreverent treatment of the rules. "Your secrets's safe with me," she vows wholeheartedly, lifting a pinky finger to draw an 'X' over where her heart beats, at the lefthand side of her chest. "Promise. Besides, if it got out, I'd be in trouble too, anyway. We're just going to have to stick this one out together."

With that, and his curiosity appeased, she takes the book, and tucks it within the protective inner pocket of her jacket. While she notices that he didn't give his name, she doesn't press for it either. True names hold power, after all, and for all he knows, he could be a demon from some other mythology that's come to Earth for a visit and were he actually infernal, she'd be able to smell it already and recognize the strains - she did spend two months in Hell after all. "Exactly that," she says, sliding her hands in her pockets. "There's a lot I have to learn, still. A lot of my early education have been spent exploring what my limits actually are…" And to no avail, she has never abutted such boundaries, but restraint is the very first thing her father had decided to teach her. "…so I'm spending my time trying to catch up exploring the things I can actually do."

You have my eternal gratitude, miss.

"Zee," she supplies; she can at least give him that. "It's very nice to meet you. I won't forget this." She pats the notebook tucked within her jacket, it might as well be a solemn vow.

He has more to impart; a lesson, in a way, or another way of looking at a problem. What story? Her lips purse, furrowing her brows a little bit as she tries to think of it.

"I've been told…I mean, he was pretty egocentric in life," she tells him. "By all accounting." John's version had been illustrated a little more colorfully. "Whatever part of the Universe's tapestry he wanted to weave himself into, it'd probably be in the middle….and take up a very huge portion." A hand lifts to rub her fingers against her chin.

The LeVar Burton reference breaks her out of her reverie quickly, though, staring at him openly. A broad grin parts her lips. "I haven't thought of Reading Rainbow in a while," she confesses. "Now the themesong of the show is going to get stuck in my head for the rest of the afternoon, so thanks a lot."

She doesn't wear a watch, but the ticking of the clock and the shift of its gears denoting the hour has her lifting her stare up over Loki's head, to affix on the antiquated face of it - a complicated mechanism made of bronze, telling not just time but the position of the stars. Still, it does remind her that she has places to be, and she takes a step down from her invisible staircase.

"I'll keep that in mind, though. Thanks so much again. If you hang around here often, I'll probably see you around, yeah?" She lifts her hand in a wave, before taking th last few steps down, unless stopped or called to, booted feet landing on the marble tiles below.

—-

I'm guessing then this wouldn't be the first time you've conned the Librarian here, huh? She seems to know you…

"Oh, she can't not know me. But, I think, that's a story for another time. Believe me, it is certainly a doozy, and a doozy best not uttered within the risks of unwanted earshots."

Said with all due gravity, of course, because a storyteller knows when to build a sense of anticipation for mysteries yet untold. Imagination, after all, is key.

"Well then! I suppose we're both bound by the fickle flourish of fate, or at the very least the ever-looming threat of late fees," announces the erstwhile prince as that book is passed on and he lurches back onto his feet to that full, impressive height of his. Coat and jacket straightened, tie carefully tended to, the green-eyed trickster listens to Zatanna's vague and curious words almost absently. Trying to discover her limits. And by the sound of her voice, it would seem she has yet to discover them.

"An admirable effort," he declares, roundly, as his attention turns from his attire back to his blue-eyed companion. "None of us ever get anywhere by shying away from the limits of what we are capable of, after all. No — it requires a good push, to walk along yonder razor's edge!" His tongue clucks. He looks distant, for a long moment.

"Just remember: do not look down — just keep your head. Or you will assuredly be finished."

Truly.

Words of wisdom.

Zee, she supplies, and there is a smile at his lips. "Zee it shall be, then. Believe it or not, the pleasure is all mine. The conversation in this place can be rather scant and uninspired, if you can believe that." In a library. A magical library, with magically reinforced rules.

"It beggars belief!"

But, he seems content, for now, to leave Zatanna to her musings. He offers no further advice, no agreement or denial of her opinions — as if, perhaps, showing the confidence of an instructor providing a lesson to a pupil they know will take to it. Or perhaps something else entirely. Instead, as the sometimes-stage magician descends, so too does the sometimes-trickster, puddles of green light rippling underneath his feet as he mirrors her downward descent.

Now the themesong of that song is going to get stuck in my head for the rest of the afternoon, so thanks a lot.

"Then you have ever-more reason to shower me with gratitude, because that particular favor is gratis. Treasure it duly, Lady Zee."

She makes her offer. Offers a wave of parting. "Oh, we'll surely meet again. After all, the damocles sword of a tiny librarian's wrath has bound us together," is his answer, his own hand lifting in a glib, parting wave.

"And, of course, if you require any assistance in your travails, I'm just a text away."

But the context of those parting words doesn't come immediately. No explanations are offered, not even as a portal of burning emerald splits the veil of reality before him like a curtain with little but a gesture.

"Aleister Crowley has some delightful ideas, but he still somehow manages to be a slight slog of a storyteller sometimes. Very disappointing."

Not until she opens that book, and finds a little, white card nestled away between the pages like a bookmark to pertinent passages. With a phone number of all things on it. And a name:

'L o k i'

"Godspeed, Lady Zee."

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