Cold steamy air blew in through two open windows, bringing with it half a dozen times a minute the Alcatraz foghorn’s dull moaning. A tinny alarm-clock, insecurely mounted on a corner of Duke’s Celebrated Criminal Cases of America – face down on the table—held its hands at five minutes past two.
Spade’s thick fingers made a cigarette with deliberate care…
“M’rag!” a nasally voice bellowed—an effect rather attenuated by the intervening shelves between the main stack entrance and the sector Q, subsector 7, tertiary zone 3, room 7 alcove in which M’rag had secreted himself.
M’rag sighed. It was amazing what washed up from distant inter dimensional shores. To think that a being such a Lord T’lluvin could be instrumental in such a treasure as the “Maltese Falcon” making its way to the Cirin archives. Perhaps even more amazing that someone with such a colorful and parsimonious reputation as Ayrkin could be convinced to part with it. Did the fool have no idea of the value of what he had found?!
“M’rag! Now!” The bellow moved closer. Wincing, he stood, straightened his waistcoat, and surreptiously hid his treasure beneath his leather satchel.
“Yes, preceptor?” M’rag inquired, radiating innocence.
The preceptor was tall and skeletally thin with a rapidly disappearing tonsure of hair being quickly outraced by the tufts growing out his ears and imposing nose. M’rag eyed the preceptor’s purpling face with academic interest. Taking out a notepad he began recording a note using a taxonomy of his own devising. Hmmm…should I cross reference this with the archive’s work on palsy to reflect the preceptor’s other symptomology or are they independent phenomenon?
The notepad was abruptly ripped from his hands. M’rag stared up in wide-eyed astonishment.
“Attend to me!”
“Yes, preceptor?” M’rag repeated calmly.
“Do you have any idea of how this sacrilege occurred?!?”
The preceptor gently unrolled a scroll detailing an account of a battle in the Bellum Deorum between a schismatic faction of Ver’l and a prelate of Tarim. At several points details had been neatly crossed out and new text inserted above and to the side.
“Are you responsible for this blasphemy?!!?”
“Why, no, preceptor, that would be wrong, wouldn’t it? I mean, it would be wrong even if the way it was rewritten made the story a good deal more dashing and exciting, right? Even if that’s how the story should have gone…..?” M’rag looked up anxiously.
The preceptor loomed dangerously. “Not only would have it be ‘wrong’ it would be an affront to Cirin and everything that Cirin stands for. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if an adherent of Cirin who would do such a thing might not find himself executed.” His face broke out in a saturnine smile, "You do remember what happened to the Jaydhenian heretics don’t you? The fate of the miscreant who did this will be ten times worse."
M’rag paled and swallowed convulsively. His voice broke. “It’s a darn good thing I had nothing to do with it then! I vow that I won’t rest until I track down the dastard who did!”
M’rag stalked away dramatically until he turned the corner and then ran as fast as his little hobbit feet could carry him. Perhaps Emirikel was looking for some new members…..