In this WEP challenge – Dark Places – Tasya’s story proceeds to its #5 installment. The previous episodes are:
Thanks, Yolanda and Denise from the WEP website, for inspiring me to keep up with this project.
Tasya hung her coat on a hook on the door of the janitor closet and happily surveyed her domain – the research librarian’s basement chamber. She loved her job: the books, the silence, interrupted only by the faint trickle of conversations from upstairs, and the quirky demands for research. Right now, she had two: a request about Mongolian traditional footwear and another one about butterflies of Africa. Seeking information and writing reports on such elusive subjects was almost as exciting as working magic.
Her hand stole to her breast, where a medallion reinforced with her magic resided under her blouse. It was the last one she had – a small bronze book with an enamel insert. She liked it and wore it every day since she came back to work from her maternity leave. She yearned to keep it for herself for good but knew she couldn’t. None of the medallions had been destined for her. Someone else would need it and soon to escape the NKVD persecutions.
Already missing the charming little trinket, Tasya settled at her desk, put on her librarian gloves of thin white cotton, and carefully opened her first source of the day – a yellowed hundred-year-old traveler’s journal. Engrossed in her work, she didn’t pay attention to the heightened noise from upstairs, until her boss, Margarita the Magnificent, burst through the door.
Nobody liked Margarita. An arrogant perfectionist, the director of the library dressed impeccably and carried herself like the Snow Queen from the Andersen’s tale. She knew almost every book in the catalog and could answer the most arcane questions without consulting a reference, which didn’t endear her to her subordinates.
She didn’t resemble the Snow Queen now. Panic settled around her like a cloak, suffocating the woman, making her white and shaking.
Tasya started, but she didn’t ask any questions. She knew the answer. NKVD. Now that she surfaced from her Mongolian journal, she could hear their yells – an incongruous sound inside any library – echoing from upstairs. The medallion beneath Tasya’s clothing throbbed in tune with Margarita’s ragged breathing. It had found its mistress.
Without a word, Margarita headed towards the fire door at the end of the hall.
“No!” Tasya called. “Not outside. They will chase you out there.” She jumped up from her desk and opened the janitor closet’s door. “Get in. You’ll be safe.”
Margarita stopped, turned. “It doesn’t have a lock.”
“I promise, nobody will find you here.” Tasya hurriedly took off the medallion and thrust it into Margarita’s trembling hands. “Put it on. It’ll protect you. Trust me. Hurry.”
Margarita scuttled inside the tiny closet, her eyes frantic. “It’s dark inside, no light bulb.”
“Better than jail. Keep quiet.” Tasya closed the door. Already military boots thumped heavily on the stairs. She slapped a thick layer of magic at the closet. The No Notice spell repelled even her own eyes, demanding she looked elsewhere.
Tasya darted back to her desk. She was in the process of sitting down, when two men in uniform rushed in.
“Where is the director?” the older one shouted.
Tasya pointed towards the fire escape.
“Check here,” the commander ordered his younger underling and ran towards the exit.
The young officer glared at Tasya. “You should’ve stopped her,” he growled. The fire door slammed shut behind his superior.
“She is my boss,” Tasya said faintly.
“Not for long,” the officer snarled and marched between two rows of the tall bookshelves. He didn’t even glance at the janitor closet.
Later, long after he departed, the conversation Tasya had had with him repeated almost verbatim with Margarita’s deputy Yuri. “I’ll be your boss from now on, and you’d better remember that.” Yuri stomped back towards the stairs. Like the officer before him, he didn’t seem to notice the janitor closet, even though he knew it was there. “Tomorrow morning, I expect a full report on what you’re working on.”
“Of course,” Tasya murmured to his back. She had always liked the man before, but his glee at Margarita’s misfortune was chilling.
When she was sure she was alone, she forced herself to open the closet door. It was hard even to touch the door handle. Her magic was getting stronger.
Margarita sat on the floor, hugging herself and swaying from side to side. She looked much older now than her forty-plus years. She squinted at the light. “You think I can go?” She sounded like a forlorn child.
“Not yet. They are still searching upstairs. Wait until the library closes. Soon.”
Margarita sighed. “I know why.”
“They don’t need a why,” Tasya shot back.
Margarita didn’t seem to hear her. “I had a memo to destroy all the publications with articles by Trotsky and his cohorts but I didn’t. I don’t care about Trotsky but I couldn’t destroy books. Magazines.” She talked to herself more than to Tasya and she shivered constantly. “I hid them. Yuri would never find them. The rat!” She stared past Tasya at the bookshelves.
“I’ll get your coat and purse from your office.” Tasya shook her head at Margarita’s shocked state. “Stay put.” She closed the door, made sure the spell was still active, and climbed the stairs to the office floor.
To pass Yuri’s office with its open door, she doused herself with the same No Notice spell. It worked beautifully. He didn’t notice her, and most everyone else was already gone.
Luckily, Tasya found Margarita’s purse and coat untouched. She also discovered something amazing, something that put her in shock almost equal to her boss’s. In Margarita’s desk, she found an old grimoire.
An illusion veiled the ancient book, camouflaging it as an old herbarium, but inside its faded, leather-bound cover, spells shimmered, calling to her.
Even back downstairs, Tasya couldn’t take her eyes from her new treasure. She wanted to open it but didn’t dare, not in the library, not without all sorts of magical precautions.
“I think almost everybody have left. Come out. Where did you find this book, Margarita?”
Margarita shuffled out, keeping a hand in front of her eyes after hours in the darkness. “I found a floor safe. This old herbarium was there.” She shrugged. “I don’t know why. It’s not even cataloged. I hid all the Trotskyist literature in the safe. You must catalog the herbarium tomorrow morning.” She shrugged on her coat and grabbed Tasya’s hands. “Thank you.”
After Margarita slipped out the fire exit, Tasya stuffed the grimoire into her bag. She wouldn’t catalog it, of course. She would take it home and study it. Only a witch could use a grimoire, and she might be the only active witch in Moscow. It seemed she had exchanged one tiny bronze book, the medallion, for this big magic one. Not a bad exchange rate for a librarian.