This piece is dedicated to Aradia (@Writer_Princess), a lovely writer who may or may not have promised me a ride on one of her pet dragons in exchange for this piece 😉 Thank you so much, Aradia!
-5° Fahrenheit with a wind-chill of -20 and it was just past midday. With the setting of the sun, for now glowing clear and bright in the sky in flagrant mockery of the freezing creatures below, it would get even colder.
Margo was curled up in her usual corner of the reference section, coats draped over her like blankets, her ratty knapsack supporting her lower back as she read. She’d been coming to the Harold Washington Library for years, practically since she began roughing it on the streets of Chicago. The librarians were kind, never sending her out until they had to, the library quiet, and it was filled to the brim with her favorite things: books.
With the price of dope and food being what it was, Margo doubted she’d ever be able to afford books of her own. But when she nestled herself in between the Tribune periodicals and the census statistics, she liked to imagine that the whole of the library’s collection belonged to her alone.
Her calloused fingers turned the page of her latest sword-and-sorcery novel as she stifled a yawn. Her hand flitted over the bruise on her cheek, her cracked ribs aching as she shifted against her bag. Margo devoured fantasy stories with a bottomless hunger. They were books that championed power; mental, magical, or muscle. Few characters in these tomes were bereft of it, and those who were could always find a powerful protector to keep them safe.
Outside, the wind howled like a beaten dog. The light grew dim and Margo’s eyelids grew heavy. The pain had made it difficult to sleep last night, as if the constant pawing of her shelter bedfellow hadn’t been bad enough. But now she was warm and safe and her body couldn’t fight off the exhaustion creeping over her. Her finger slid from the page she was reading; her mind left the ruined catacombs of Dranin behind and descended into a dreamless sleep.
Margo was awoken by a distant growling. She kept her eyes shut, grimacing as she readjusted herself on her knapsack, which felt as hard as a stone. Someone must have brought a service dog into the library.
A cold draft of air blew down her back. She shivered, wondering silently why someone would open a window in this weather. She leaned her head back in an attempt to escape the source of the breeze and banged her skull against something decidedly harder than the plywood shelves of the library.
Margo jolted fully awake with a curse, grabbing her sore crown with both hands. Soon though, the pain was utterly forgotten. For a panicked moment, Margo thought she’d gone blind. Her eyes were open, she was certain, but only blackness surrounded her.
She threw out her hands, trying to grip the shelves and heave herself up. But her hands only slid against moss-slickened stone. A cry ripped through her throat. It reverberated off the high, vaulted ceiling that should not have been there.
Something was very wrong indeed.
Very slowly, Margo’s eyes adjusted to the darkness. The room was not bereft of light, as Margo had first concluded, but it was lined with dimly glowing lanterns, the green fire behind their cracked glass doors like no flame Margo had ever seen before.
She caught sight of what surrounded her and clamped her hand tight over her mouth to keep herself from screaming again. The room in which she stood was filled with deep shelves, hewn from the craggy rock, upon which rested browning skeletons covered with shreds of cloth. The shelves stretched up from the floor into the pitch black above her.
She had to be dreaming. The book had given her nightmares. She was asleep. She was asleep.
A growl, deep and raspy, like the sound of crunching gravel, echoed through the room once more. Margo’s heart stopped beating.
The growl sounded much closer now than it had before.
Her pale green eyes swung towards the doorway across from her.
Please let this be a dream.
As if someone had flipped a switch, three pairs of glassy yellow eyes, stacked one on top of the other, glowed in the darkness of the passageway. Margo scrambled to her feet, boots heavy as she stumbled across the uneven stone floor to the farthest corner of the room. Her mind reeled, terror only partially dulled by sheer disbelief that what was happening was actually happening.
The creature advancing on her from the tunnel was a Likcanid, looking just like she had imagined it would. She was standing in the middle of the Dranin Catacombs. The Likcanid would devour her, even her bones. She knew this. But she could not believe it.
The Likcanid skittered closer, its eight long legs almost filling the room. Its slender body shivered with each growl it released from its fanged mouth, matted black mane falling back around its wolf like face, razor-sharp teeth dripping with poison. It rose up onto its hind legs, hissing so loudly Margo’s ears began to ring.
While Margo’s mind might have been slow to accept the reality in which it now found itself, her body acted on instinct alone. She threw her hands out to shield herself from the first blow of the Likcanid’s massive leg, and, with a sharp ache in her chest and a cry, a burst of fire, blue hot, shot from her palms and went straight through the Likcanid’s head.
The beast collapsed to the floor with a sticky thud. Margo, mouth hanging open, stared at its carcass. She lowered her arms. Had she done that?
She examined her hands. They were undamaged, though she couldn’t say the same for her gloves, the palms of which had disintegrated, leaving her with a collection of cloth finger coverings and little else.
She had done that.
Margo closed her eyes, trying to control her excitement. She took in a deep breath and held her hands out in front of her as if she was leaning against a large boulder. She dug deep, felt the aching in her chest, and pushed outwards. A line of flame smote the stone wall opposite her.
Margo smiled, her teeth shining in the weird, green light. She didn’t care if this was a dream or some kind of drug-induced psychosis. She was never going back. No one was ever going to hurt her again.
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