“hello,” the dark lord said, “i need a library card.”
“everyone needs a library card,” the librarian said brightly, sliding a form across the desk. “fill this out.”
the dark lord produced her own elaborately plumed quill from the depths of her robes and scrawled her name in handwriting that was completely illegible but seemed to whisper the secrets of the dark from the blinding white page. “yes, but i need mine in order to take over the tri-kingdom area.”
the librarian’s polite smile barely faltered. “funny, the last dark lord to try that didn’t bother with a card.”
“yes, and do you see that fool currently ruling our kingdom? no. of course not. utterly ridiculous, to attempt to take over any size country without a library card, much less an intermediate-sized one like this.” she accepted the thin plastic card with a gracious flourish of her gloved hand.
the librarian, adding the new card’s number to the database, privately agreed, but chose not to say anything.
the librarian balanced the pile of pulled books under one elbow and held the list of call numbers in their hand for easy consultation. “intermediate spell casting for grades three and four,” they murmured, running fingers along the peeling spines until they found it. “willing to bet that’s sorrel’s request.”
they fit the large, paperbound book under their elbow and moved on, checking the list again. “magical creatures encyclopedia, L through M. that’s jackaby trying to finish the entire set by midsummer.” they would get that one last to carry it around the shortest amount of time.
“next — the complete guide to raising the dead.” they paused in front of the row of shelves with the right call numbers. they could guess the requester of that one too, but knew better than to say it out loud.
the return slot thunked loudly as it swung open and closed, having swallowed the returned books with a wet gulp.
“good morning,” the dark lord said pleasantly as she looked up from sliding her books in — or as pleasantly as “good morning” could sound when it was uttered by a voice that sounded like gravel being chewed to pieces by the jaws of a large monster.
“it is, very,” the librarian said crisply, conjuring a clean handkerchief for the still-slobbering return slot.
the mouth just visible under the dark lord’s enormous cloak hood curved into a scythe’s blade smile, but she said nothing else.
“did you enjoy your books?” the librarian asked, since she wasn’t moving and there were no other people waiting (most likely because of the dark lord standing there).
the hood nodded up and down. “extremely. especially the taped lecture by doctor dramidius ardorius of the dark arts institute.”
“well, we have many more taped lectures. i especially recommend the one on the healing powers of tea.” they tilted their head in a now get out sign. the poor steam-powered self-checkout contraption would get overheated if people were too scared to check out at the front desk.
they didn’t really expect the dark lord to take the recommendation seriously, but the next day they noticed the cloaked, hooded specter glide out the door with the taped lecture on magic-infused herbal teas tucked between a CD of dark chants and a step-by-step art book on drawing occult symbols.
“you give good recommendations,” the dark lord said with a shrug when the librarian raised their eyes from the front desk’s computer to the shadows of her hood.
the librarian wasn’t sure what to say. “you seem to take up quite a lot of my time.”
“i’m only a simple library patron,” the dark lord replied in a saintly voice that resembled a dragon coughing up a partially digested house. “do you enjoy mermaid song?”
“yes. you can find the library’s collection in the CD section over there.” they looked pointedly back down at the computer.
“i hear there’s a concert on the shore tomorrow evening.”
“perhaps we’ll get a recording of it.”
the dark lord continued taking out books on various unsavory topics. the librarian continued suggesting books on healing, positive thinking, and community service. the dark lord seemed more amused with each visit. her smile was almost charming, once you got past the long, sharp teeth.
the librarian was trying to go about their usual morning ritual of pulling books that had been requested the night before, but the dark lord wouldn’t stop making faces at them from behind gaps in the shelves. she seemed to find it hilarious. the librarian hadn’t decided yet if they were amused or annoyed.
“ooh, look at this,” the dark lord said, pulling a sturdy but beaten up board book featuring a werewolf mid-transformation on the cover from the shelf. “this was my favorite when i was just a little menace.”
“somehow i’m not surprised.”
the dark lord tucked the book into the ridiculous basket made of a large skull that floated alongside her. “didn’t you have a favorite picture book when you were little?”
“Barker the Sentient Book End,” the librarian said promptly. “i screamed for it every night until someone read it to me, long after i’d already memorized each page.”
the dark lord cooed, sounding like a cross between an owl and something eating an owl. “adorable. i knew you had a little monster in you somewhere.”
the librarian crossly debated denying being a monster at all or pointing out they had actual kraken blood in them.
they should have guessed how close the dark lord was from how good her mood was, but it wasn’t until they arrived at work on monday that the librarian heard the news.
“the newest dark lord managed to overthrow the faeyrie monarchy last night. something about combining traditional herbal spells with a newfangled mental magic based on the power of willful thinking… or something. the news reporter mentioned the use of mermaid song in a mild kind of mind control, i think? i wasn’t listening. the good news is, our budget stays in place.”
the librarian contemplated hurling the can of bookmarks across the room, but concluded that it would be both unprofessional and unsatisfying. they settled for aggressively stamping returned, only slightly saliva-covered books with red ink.
the phone clicked loudly. “public library, how can i help you?”
“by taking my offer,” the dark lord said, slightly hesitant voice like a rock slide that wasn’t sure it was ready to slide. “the royal library in the capital needs a new head librarian.”
“why’s that?” the librarian spun in their new swivel chair, tangling the phone cord while they were at it, thinking they wouldn’t want to leave so soon after getting it.
there was a cough like the ocean spitting out a new island. “erm, hmm, last one got… eaten. tragic. these things happen when you’re very, very small, you know.”
“so i’ve heard.” the librarian stretched the phone cord and watched it bounce back. “well, i’m happy where i am.”
“well.” her voice was more disappointed than they’d expected. “it’s a very nice library, you know. large selection of mermaid song in the CD section.”
“the royal library is part of our system. i can request any materials from there that i want to be delivered here.”
a pause. the dark lord had not considered this. “well, maybe i’ll take the royal library out of the system.”
“you wouldn’t dare disrupt the workings of our very intricate library system set up at the dawn of time.”
“maybe i would!”
“fine. i wouldn’t.”
the librarian swiveled some more, wrapping the cord around with them until it ran out of give and spun them in the other direction. “would you like to grab a coffee sometime?”
“yes,” the dark lord said, voice too surprised to resemble anything in particular. “i can travel down meet you tomorrow morning.”
“don’t you have things to do?”
they could sense the shrug from the other end of the line. “i’ll move the capital to your town. i can do that, you know. i’m the supreme ruler of the tri-kingdom area.”
“yes,” the librarian agreed, un-spinning to return the phone to its cradle. “just don’t forget who gave you the library card.”