Chapter 12 (Books don’t help)
Kkaj climbed out of the carriage and stared up at the massive building in front of him. Are there really so many books to warrant a building of this size? He squeezed the bridge of his nose before climbing the stairs.
Roffor and Saffer followed. Both wore a sweet, fruity perfume that eased the sickness in his stomach. Then, the early morning light reflected off colored glass and drilled into his headache, distilling it into pure agony.
A fire burned in his chest, and the world lurched. Wind pulled through his hair, and his body felt weightless. Was he flying? No. Falling! He crashed into something soft.
A pair of feminine grunts preceded his body jerking to a halt. The fuzzy, spinning building solidified.
Bile caressed his tongue, and he gagged. He clenched his jaw.
Roffer patted his back. “Are you alright?”
“He shouldn’t even be out of bed.” Saffer wrapped her arms around his waist and helped him to the top of the stairs.
Kkaj took a deep breath and freed himself. “We don’t have time to waste. Knowing the king, there will be another meeting of the Empty Bottle Club to replace what we lost in the desolation.” He opened the door and stumbled into the library.
A large desk sat a few steps away from the entrance with two doors beside it. Both doors were cracked with the shadows of a stairwell visible. One up. The other down. Was this just a reception room? Click. The door behind him closed.
His hands reached out, and he braced on the reception desk to steady his legs. “Anyone here?”
Thud! From behind a curtain he just noticed, a long-haired woman scrambled up to the desk. Her loose scribe’s robe swished across the floor while a line of blood rolled from her forehead, down her masculine face. She scooped up the papers that covered the desk and turned them upside down as if she didn’t want Kkaj reading them. A glower drew her lips apart and made her pink eyes sparkle. “What do you want?” Her monotone voice sounded like a stirring vat. Not deep. Not high-pitched. Just flat.
Kkaj blinked. “I was under the impression this public library was open from sun up to the night bell.”
“It is, but no one comes in here until morning bell.”
“Because it’s too damn early!” Her ringing voice pierced his thoughts.
The headache crippled his thought, and he swooned.
“What’s wrong with him?” the librarian’s voice asked.
Where was he?
“He had a rough day yesterday,” Roffor’s voice said.
“And you think I haven’t? Last night, a little girl stayed well past the night bell. Then this morning, she showed up again. Before sunrise mind you. And she had so many stupid questions. Like, how did she not know about the Empty Bottle Cult? And —”
“Club.” Kkaj pushed himself up. He had been lying atop the desk. “It’s not a cult. It’s a royal-sanctioned association known as a club.”
The librarian scoffed. “Says the hungover fool.”
“Just tell us where the books about the wastes are.”
“Also hunting for the Lucidity distilleries, huh? You won’t find anything.”
Also? “Miss, if I wanted your opinion, I’d slap myself in the face with a stirring mallet.”
“Miss?” A snarl tugged on her lips, and a growl rumbled up from her throat. “My name is Jekor Ferinkk!”
“Okay?” He shrugged. “Which floor will we find books about the wastes, Jekor?”
“Seventh floor!” She spun on her heels and stormed into the back room.
Kkaj waved for Roffor and Saffer to follow him then moved up the stairs.
On the seventh floor, five long tables created a pentagon with gaps between them and ten chairs around each. A slender girl with short hair flipped through a book then set it atop a pile on her left while grabbing a book from the tower of books on her right.
She’s cute. Kkaj edged into the room and bumped into one of the countless bookshelves.
Thud. Several books hit the floor and the girl — No, young woman looked up and met his eyes with the onyx gemstones she called eyes. So beautiful. Scrapes and bruises marred her supple cheeks. Suit covered her neck and the upper part of her chest revealed by her singed clothing. Had she been caught in a fire?
After picking up the books, Kkaj sat down at the table closest to the door and rested his face in his hands. “Give me a minute.”
“We’ll start looking,” Roffor and Saffer said before their footsteps clicked off in different directions.
A groan climbed from his mouth. Hiccups rippled through his body, and the table rattled back and forth.
Something small and hard pressed into his back. The hiccups vanished.
Kkaj sat up.
The young woman shied back, her little fist jerking to her side. “Sorry. That was something my grandma taught me when I was younger.”
She grinned then stared at her feet. “What are you doing in here this early if you’re not feeling well?”
“I’m short on time, and I must learn how to navigate the wastes before it’s too late.”
“What will happen?”
“Terrible things.” Kkaj pulled his eyes away from hers.
Despite her slender body, her breasts were almost as large as Saffer’s. The young woman’s round hips swayed as she fidgeted from one foot to the other. “Like —” She swallowed.
“I heard you were looking up information on the Empty Bottle Club.”
She froze in place. Her lips quivered. “Club?”
“They’re not as bad as you’ve heard.”
“That’s true. They’re worse.”
“What?” He raised a finger. “They —”
Stomping sounds announced Saffer’s return to the center of the room. Thwap! She dropped a stack of books on the table beside him. A scowl contorted her beautiful lips, and she crossed her arms. “If you feel well enough to flirt, then you’re well enough to read.”
Kkaj sighed. “Fine.”
The slender woman shuffled back to her table.
Despite the throbbing hangover, he pulled a book in front of him and began flipping through the pages.
Next: Chapter 13