Mecketty smiled lightly and opened his eyes only halfway as he calmly strode an aisle in the reference section at his workplace and home, an underground library. Each footstep on the marble echoed throughout the mighty chamber, though the effect was a bit muted due to the thousands of tomes that stood with the patience of eons upon the shelves. With his single candle lighting the way, Mecketty passed many shelves before abruptly coming to a halt and snatching one book to his left. He then checked its dull black cover, and its silvered title, under the candlelight:
The book certainly looked ancient enough to the casual viewer--at least, the cover did. It had all the markings of a volume that had withstood ages of wear and had long been neglected. To Mecketty, though, something seemed out of place... which was why it caught his attention, even from the corner of his half-closed eyes.
It took him only a few seconds to figure it out: the inner pages were not yellow enough. He set the candle upright on the floor and did not need a holder. Then he sat and opened the book. His smile vanished.
The pages were blank.
A closer look at the inside of the cover showed where a cut had been made to remove the original pages from the binding.
Mecketty let out a slow growl that carried farther in this room than it would have almost anywhere else in the city.
Mecketty had worked at that library for longer than even he could remember. He knew intimately where every single book was placed, even if he had yet to read some of them. As other Librarians came and went, Mecketty gradually climbed to the role of manager and, eventually, owner of the library. As time continued to pass, eventually all of the other Librarians left for other jobs, and no new helping hands showed up. Yet running the entire library by himself was not a difficult job, normally, in large part because so few people still actually read books.
Mecketty loved books, though, which is why he stayed. His ideal day was one in which he could be a true hermit and monk simultaneously--avoiding direct human contact and simply reading by candlelight all day. He knew enough spells to avoid having to get food and water, naturally, so for years he had had no reason to leave the building. Had there not been the occasional walk-in customer (about one person per month, typically), Mecketty might have forgotten how to speak.
His eyes were certainly the oddest part about him: huge pupils--well adjusted to his very low-light setting--which did not contain any appearance of an iris around them. No customer in the past decade ever really had a good look at his other features, save his average height and weight (as determined by his candle-produced silhouette on the wall when one met him in the library). The eyes, though... not a single person who had seen them could forget. And one could not help but see them; his pupils were the only objects in the room that were darker than the room itself.
They were also another reason why he stayed in the library: if he stepped outside in the daylight, he would almost certainly go blind. By night, his odds would be better, but he could never so much as look directly into a street lamp.
Tonight, though, he would have to go out; a book had been stolen. And because there had only been one customer in the past four weeks, it was not hard to guess by whom. Reference section books could never be checked out of the library, and this customer had been searching among them. He must have been a Pirate, Mecketty now thought to himself, to have stolen the contents so cleanly away without my noticing. Had he been smart enough at least to fill the covers with an older, yellowed paper, I might have found out too late.
He stood up, placed the book back on the shelf, and retrieved his candle from the floor. Then he checked the rest of the aisle. None of the other books seemed out of place. He then walked, still at his usual pace, though perhaps not as casually, across the chamber to the area formerly known as the library's offices--today, only one was still an office; of the others, one was now a bedroom, and the rest were simply abandoned.
In the still-an-office, an old gray raincoat was draped over an old brown reading chair. Mecketty snatched the coat as swiftly and firmly as he had done to the book moments ago. He then set the candle in a holder bolted to the wall so he could put the jacket on. He had long since forgotten what season it was, let alone date, so if it should turn out to be cold, this would be of some help.
Mecketty then reached to the inner pocket and pulled out a pair of wraparound sunglasses. These would be absolutely crucial during his trip, even at night, so he put them on. A wall clock read 21:40, so chances were that it was dark enough outside for him to go. He grabbed his wallet and keys, placed these in the outer pockets, carefully took up the candle once more, and left the office.
The hall still echoed with the sound of his steps as he crossed it, but now there was a slight urgency in the noise. Mecketty reached the front checkout desk, exited through the front door, and then locked up. He turned around and silently sighed at the two-hundred-sixteen steps (he had counted) on the stairway needed to reach the surface.
Candle still in hand, he slowly began his ascent and mulled in his mind how best to find this Pirate. Two methods stuck out to him: he could go to the Authorities for help, or he could go to the criminal circles and see what information he could gather. After very little thought on the matter, he decided that the criminal circles would be better. This was not because Mecketty feared the Authorities--far from it--but Pirates specialized in, among other things, evading the Authorities every day. So if this was indeed a Pirate that stole the book's pages, information and help were both more likely to be found among the unlawful.
It took him almost ten minutes to reach the top of the stairs, at which point another door granted access to the outside world. Even with his sunglasses on, Mecketty squinted before opening the door. Then he blew out his candle and turned the doorknob...
The doorway stood in the recesses of a back alley. The swampy aroma of marijuana clung to every brick on the walls and ground below, and in between the cracks, a nameless but very much polluted fluid flowed toward a storm drain in the corner across from the library's entrance. Where the fluid originated was anyone's guess, but it was not Mecketty's concern, so he paid it no further attention.
Rather, his attention immediately focused to his right, where two teenagers leaned against the far wall and returned his gaze. Both boys were smoking joints, so Mecketty was not surprised when one of them called over to him and asked, "Hey you. You a cop?"
"No." It was a low, rumbling voice that, while quiet, could never be misunderstood. Years of speaking quietly in a library had reduced his vocal chords to this, but as long as people still comprehended him, there were no real problems with it.
"Whoa," said the same teen. "No need for the hostile tone, buddy. We're just hangin' out."
Mecketty, of course, could not do much to change his tone, so he shrugged and said, "Sorry."
After a pause and a drag, the second teen spoke up. "Hey what're you doin' in that old building? I ain't seen nobody go in there for weeks."
"I live there."
Another awkward pause passed. Mecketty decided it was his turn to ask questions.
"Most sorry to bother you, gentlemen. I came up here because I'm looking for a certain Pirate. It might take me quite a while to find him, since the last time he was here was weeks ago. Also, I don't know his name."
The first teen laughed. "Then how're you gonna find him?"
Mecketty gave this a brief consideration. The man stole Happiness. Now, how would a Pirate use that book? ...
"Because he will be selling something very peculiar," answered Mecketty at length. "Something that no other Pirate will be dealing in."
"Oh yeah? What's that?"
Said the second teen, "If you want a hooker, they got those three blocks down this street out here."
"Not that type of happiness."
"Drugs?" said the first.
"Nor that." Mecketty sighed.
"Well then what?"
"More like, peace of mind."
It was useless talking to these two; teenagers were far too young to appreciate true happiness, because they saw it as a temporary emotion and not a way of life.
"Don't worry about it," said Mecketty. "But could you point me in the direction of a nearby Pirate?"
"Pirates move around too much; we get new ones every week," said the second teen. "But if you ever want one, all you really need to do is go buy something illegal." He indicated his pot. "We got this from a guy five blocks down on the right."
The teenager pointed. "You'll see a man with huge sideburns wearing a black cap. Give him the normal password, and he should be good to you."
The teens both grinned, and said in unison, "I'm-not-a-cop."
Mecketty would have returned their grin, but his mind was focused on his mission. Still, he did feel he had made a successful first contact with a certain illegal element--albeit two pot-smoking teens.
"Thank you," said the Librarian. He then double-checked to see that the library door was locked, and after he had done this, he passed the two teens and walked out into the street.
The street had many lights, but Mecketty's sunglasses saved him. There were a few people walking around, and although most were in groups, Mecketty would not stand out too much on his own. The temperature was cool but not cold--he guessed correctly that it was autumn--and no police officers appeared to be on the beat here.
Three blocks down the street, Mecketty saw a pimp to his left, just as the teens had told him there would be. Two blocks later, in an alley to the right, a man in a black cap leaned against the bricks. His arms were folded, and his right foot crossed in front of the left at the ankle. His sideburns were long enough to fit the description.
Mecketty walked into the alley, but the man did not move. His eyes were completely hidden under the cap.
"I'm not a cop."
"Then I'm open for business," said the dealer with a smile.
"What I want, you don't have," said Mecketty. "But maybe you can point me to someone who does."
"Of course. Networking is one of our specialties."
Good, thought Mecketty. This is in fact a Pirate, then. "I'm looking for a very specific magic spell. It's a rare one. Let's see... how to describe it..." Mecketty thought of how he should word it. He could not just say, "Happiness," because if he said that, and this drug-selling Pirate made inquiries, word might get to the Pirate who stole Happiness that a certain dark man in a cloak and sunglasses was looking for him. Mecketty considered again what a Pirate would do with Happiness...
At last, Mecketty said, "It's a spell that changes one's state of mind, permanently, to that of being... content."
The Pirate appeared to think about this for a bit. "Never heard of it."
"But you can make an inquiry? Say that the request is made by someone who has 'never been happy a day of his life.' Use those exact words, if you please."
The Pirate considered this, too. "I charge a hundred for starting inquiries and demand three hundred on successful completion."
Mecketty put his hands behind his back, flicked a few signs, and mumbled something.
"What's that?" said the Pirate.
"Oh, nothing. Here's your hundred." Mecketty took the money from behind him and handed it over. "This spell means a lot to me, so if you come back successful, I'll make it a thousand."
"Very generous of you."
"In two days, I'll be back here."
The Pirate gave a nod and tipped his cap. Mecketty said nothing more, turned, and left the alley.