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Chapter 8

            The vault was cold. It was cold, but not damp. Nestled safely underneath City Hall in Atlas Park, the protected vault of the Modern Arcane Guild of Investigation, or MAGI, held that which was ancient and mystical. From tomes, books, personal journals, and encyclopedias, the collected works of magic lay secluded from those who might use the lost knowledge for acts of evil. Cloaks, wands, staves, and other assorted artifacts created from time forgotten also shared residence. If it survived the ages and was too powerful to fall into wrong hands, MAGI held it securely. Well, that was their intent anyway.

            At the small of his back, Norman summoned a ball of heat. With the simplest of thought, it rolled up his spine chasing the slight chill forming at his extremities. The dry atmosphere required for the antiquities helped stave off the destructive property of moisture, but he was quite aware unleashing his fires now would destroy some of the greatest treasures surviving humanity. The ball of heat he manipulated helped keep his guise of the hero reborn, PhoenixHawk. The hero’s eyes grew a constant bright green and since Norman’s only did when he used his powers, he endeavored to keep the deception going.

            “Well?” Norman asked Ock, who had been studying the collected pages from the Malleus Mundi. While the book had been separated at some point in the past, it only existed now in an untold number of pages scattered throughout the world, if not other alternate Earths or known planes of existence.

            “Patience young one,” Ock replied sitting uncomfortably in a human-sized chair huddled over a desk.

            Their Freedom Corps escort had stepped away for a few minutes giving the duo a chance to relax their disguises, but each did not fearing a lax attitude would spoil the deception. Norman looked enough like PhoenixHawk as long as his powers were in use. Ock’s costume of his true-bred brother was a bit trickier to pull off. Occam’s Razar had robotic limbs installed by Crey Biotech. The right arm completely and the left below the elbow. When Crey grew Ock, he retained both limbs, with his metallic claws and cybernetics being imbedded and fused to his skeletal frame. From Norman’s secret apartment in Talos Island, he supplied the drake with a costumed metallic glove that could pass for Occam’s robotic left arm. The drake’s right arm was to be kept hidden under a shoulder cape. It was uncommon for Occam’s Razar to be seen wearing it, but not unusual. The hero considered it formal wear when the occasion arose.

            “We are spending too much time here,” Norman said glancing at his wristwatch. “We risk exposure.”

            “I thought you said there was a secret passage down here to the outside?”

            “There is. But I don’t know where it’s located.”

            “Azuria was completely fooled by our masquerade. Does your control over your power wane so?”

            Norman bit his lip, “I can maintain it indefinitely. It is nothing.”

            “Hmm,” Ock said suddenly his attention still drawn to the ancient documents. “Do you know your true name?”

            Norman’s brow furrowed, “You asked me that once. Do you think the answer has changed?”

            Ock put the documents down and stared directly into the glowing green eyes of Norman. “Yes, I had hoped you have been meditating on it.”

            “My name is Norman Salazar, I was born with it. That is my true name.”

            Occam shook his head, “That is your human name; your true name is a secret. My human name is Ockham, or Ock. A true names selection is something of an enigma.”

            “Shouldn’t yours be the same as your brother.”

            Our brother has his own name. We do not share it. Every living thing in the universe is different. We are the son’s of Grendel and are half-dragons. We are mystical beings and therefore were born with a true name.”

            “You were born that way, not I.”

            “The method of your birth is irrelevant. Your powers flow from your blood.”

            “Alright,” Norman said acquiescing. He did not want to argue the point to hide his failings in finding his true name. “I didn’t realize it was that important.”

            “Well, knowing it would have helped. We could take time and determine—”

            “No! We finish without it. I am too close to the truth.”

            “Very well,” Ock said picking up the documents he was studying. “I am onto something, but there are pages missing.”

            “Of course, it’s the collected works…”

            Ock actually growled at the insolent response.

            “Yah, what’d did you expect.” Norman spat back grabbing the sign-out clipboard. Looking down the list, he came upon several sheets that had been signed out earlier in the morning. “Here… some have been signed out. Are you sure they are necessary?”

            “I believe so,” Ock said gently stacking each parchment upon the next.

            With perfect timing, they heard the clicking of high heels on the tiled floor heading their way. Their guide had been a male, but recognizing the rhythm and the spacing of the footsteps, both easily guessed Azuria was approaching.

            “Hello gentlemen,” Azuria smiled beaming sincere happiness at the duo. Ock had told Norman she had a thing for Occam. By her attitude this morning when they bluffed their way into the vault and her current starry-eyed look he realized that might be true.

            Ock put on an equally heartfelt smile, stood up from the chair, and bowed low bringing his left hand over his chest. “Hello, my lady. I am happy that you have graced our sullen spirits with your inner radiance.”

            Norman rolled his eyes hidden behind their green glow. He swore Azuria just swooned; Ock was almost too good at portraying his brother.

            “Oh,” she responded bring her hand up to her mouth and blushing.

            “Alas, your welcomed company cannot not allay our quandary,” Ock said.

            The sudden expression on her face completely changed like the sun suddenly was snuffed out. Norman was beginning to believe she would allow them to walk out with what remained of the Malleus Mundi if Ock asked.

            “Oh, no,” she gasped looking very concerned. “Anything I can help with?”

            “Alas, pages are missing from the collected documents. Our endeavors seem to have been for naught.”

            “Well, let me see here,” she said picking up the clipboard. “Ah, you must need the pages that were checked out this morning. One of the Freedom Corps agents checked them out… uh, Ex Libris.”

            “Excellent, good Madam the hour may stand well and hold us fairly.”

            Norman had to look away. Ock was really laying it on thick. His brother, Occam had learned perfect English and could not grasp the subtleties of the language. His proper speech pattern was pretty much the original drake’s trademark. In addition, Norman began feeling a twinge of guilt, a feeling quite unfamiliar to him under the current situation. He could not possibly feel bad about conducting espionage on these people. Wrestling with the shadow of this faint emotion, he tried to remember to manipulate the ball of heat at his back and under his cape. They still had to get out of the vault.

            “Well,” Azuria twirling a lock of her black hair trying to think of a solution, “Ex Libris was to meet with a private collector to verify the authenticity of some newly uncovered documents. I suppose it would be okay to meet her. You do not need to borrow them do you?”

            “Nay, good Lady, we only request to view that which has been written. I would be honored to share my research with you when our quest is complete.”

            “Well, I guess that’s okay then,” Azuria said feeling young and energetic from speaking to the half-dragon. She even shifted her weight to her toes momentarily her arms linked behind her. Ock had completely enraptured her and she looked like a giddy schoolgirl.

            “Wonderful,” Ock said smiling his amber eyes returning the exuberance Azuria was feeling. “Where may we find this Lady From the Books, Ex Libris?”

            “She is at the University in Croatoa”

            “Thank you,” Ock said bowing very low to compensate for the height difference and grasping her hand. He bowed low ensuring his yellow horns did not impale their new friend and gently placed a kiss upon the back of her hand.

            It was too late. Norman only then saw Ock’s mistake. He had reached out with his undisguised right hand, the one hidden underneath the shoulder cape. Norman watched the enraptured Azuria recognize that the hand Ock held hers with was not mechanical. Her eyes quickly glanced at half-dragon’s left arm and she pulled her hand back realizing she had been deceived. For the first time in Norman’s memory did he see Ock, the fast thinking quick-moving drake, actually pause.

             Azuria stepped back aghast, “What is going on here?”

            Ock was also caught at the rare moment of not knowing what to say.

            “Security!” Azuria yelled depressing a button on a beeper she carried on her belt.

            Norman immediately responded familiar to the fast thinking required in the grand art of deception. With guilt already seeded in his conscious, he was not sure if he had the stomach for what he knew he must do.

 

*****

 

            The library in the basement of the University building in Croatoa was bustling, but quiet. It bustled with the numerous scents of ancient inks written on aged parchments. The odor of antiquity never smelled so good. Memories thickened the air from great swashbuckling adventures or the thrill and romance of true love. Plots to poison kings and plans to avenge wrongs lurked around every bookcase finding breath on every page. Chronicles of world events recorded for posterity and solutions to the fundamental questions all living beings asked lay buried in the cellulose chests of leather and parchment.

            Here Isabelle Dubois was home among the rows of bookcases, like silent sentinels of history forgotten. The shelves captured the words spoken long ago by royalty, prophets, philosophers, wizards, and the gods themselves. Once polished shiny brass signs dulled with age and engraved with cryptic numbers of the Dewey Decimal System served like a global positioning system. Nothing in the world smelled better and comforted Izzy more than the various scents. Leather bound covers colored in antique tones of brown, yellow, green, and deep reds and accented with gold, black, and white inks were the walls of her chambers offering sanctuary from the outside world, the real world. For her though, this was the real world.  It was from here where the source of her alter egos true powers flowed. Here was the hero known as Ex Libris.

            Yawning deeply, Izzy stood up and stretched. Her chair scrapped against the black linoleum tiled floor sending echoes reverberating throughout the basement. It only proved she was down here by herself. Not really though, for the heavy contingent of Longbow accompanying her, because the pages she carried, were stationed throughout the campus. One her bodyguards was stationed in the basement with her, but he kept silent and out of sight. He could have been napping for all she knew. Whatever he was doing, if he kept silent that was fine.

            She removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes with one hand. She had been examining the authentic pages of Malleus Mundi for a few hours now and felt the pangs of lunch approaching. The documents in question lay neatly piled on a long wooden desk set up against the furthermost location in the back of the basement. No windows to the outside world were visible from her location surrounded by bookcases. Security was paramount in the transportation of MAGI’s documents and the chance to determine the authenticity of newfound lost pages was exciting. The owner of the documents was still a mystery. The person had arrived in a limousine escorted by members of the Hero Corps. The mercenaries proved to be worth every dime allowing only the driver to bring a briefcase containing the pages. There was more security in the immediate vicinity of the campus it rather seemed like Fort Knox.

            The soft yellow light from a small lamp on the table flickered briefly. Izzy grabbed the stiff wooden chair that reminded her of the schoolroom chairs of her youth. She forced herself to sit down, her lower back muscles complaining. Beside the documents in question lay a large magnifying glass imbedded with a LED light. The script of the written pages was as fascinating as to whatever mystical information the documents may actually contain. It could have been the recipe for a nice egg salad sandwich. It did not really matter. The Malleus Mundi had been written in several different languages, while much of it had been deciphered, there were several pages that were not.

            Grabbing her pen containing the purple ink she took notes with, she once again reviewed her findings. She easily deciphered her script written precariously on the yellow legal pad. The parchment she studied itself was well made even by today’s standards. Excellent grade cotton mixed with what she thought was wood cellulose, but it could have been any plant material. There was also evidence of clay to improve clarity and readability. She was even sure rosin had been added for waterproofing. There still seemed to be other materials, but she had yet to identify the compounds.

            The ancient handwriting itself was written in an ink that contained unidentified oils that lent itself to its durability. A couple of the pages even appeared to have been printed mechanically because of the perfect lettering. She doubted whether it could be true and gave credit to one of the many unknown authors whose original ideas made it into the final book. She knew there were several ways to make ink especially thousands of years ago and just about any medium could have been used from blood, soot, or even animal gelatin. The Malleus Mundi was truly an ancient marvel excluding any of the mystical trappings.

            Izzy dove into the lettering, which consisted of rich and bold curves. She lost herself in the excitement of potential new discoveries. Holding the magnifying lens against one of the private collector’s pages, she recognized the same type of handwriting. If it were a forgery, then it of itself would be a work of art and valuable. The paper seemed to consist of similar materials and she carefully removed a strip of molecular bonding tape to remove a sample from one of the corners of the document. Setting the sample into a glass tube she produced from the pocket of her blue suit, she noticed someone had scribbled notes in the margins.

            Time passed before she thought she heard something sliding to the floor with a thump. Reflexively she glanced down at the backpack resting against the leg of the table. It had not fallen. It was too late before should caught the footfalls behind her to the left.

            “Pardon us, Lady From the Books.”

            Izzy nearly jumped out of the chair. She instantly turned around and noticed not one, but two visitors. “Oh, you startled me.”

            “My colleague and I apologize and beg your forgiveness,” Ock said bowing low.

            Norman rolled his eyes again. He hoped Ock would not over do it again.

            “That’s okay,” Izzy said rising to her feet surprised someone knew the origin of her alter ego’s name. She immediately recognized the tall yellow horned person as Occam’s Razar. His exploits were well known to the citizens of Paragon. A half-dragon returned to life after being frozen at the Arctic Circle.

            Ock kept his right arm hidden safely underneath the shoulder cape and kept his gloved hand crossing over his chest. “I am…”

            “The son of Grendel,” Izzy piped up. She was fascinated about the drake’s history, specifically how it related to the tale of Beowulf. Apparently, the tale was about Occam’s Razar’s dragon father, originating some tens of thousands of years ago or more. The story had been passed down through the oral traditions of the earliest of humans. The first known written account found it circa 1000 AD. How it would have changed through all the oral narrations would explain a lot about the story’s perceived origin. Only in her dreams could she hope to run into the ancient hero to talk about his history. This plain dull Saturday was really shaping up to be quite a day. First, she was able to study ancient parchments, and then meet someone probably even older than the words written on the very same documents.

            “Ah, my reputation precedes me then. Allow me to introduce PhoenixHawk.”

            Norman tiring of the charade that already had the Freedom Corps hot on their tail just nodded without saying a word.

            Izzy curtsied not sure about the formalities being exchanged, “I am Ex Libris.”

            Ock smiled friendly and Izzy reflected the smile back sincerely. “It is with great pleasure that we find you. Azuria informed us you were here.”

            “Oh,” Izzy said, “You saw her this morning?”

            “Yes,” Norman said, “She’s fine.”

            Fine? Izzy thought. What an odd response. Why wouldn’t she be fine?

            “We require the documents you signed out of the vault,” Ock said getting to the point.

            “Well… I can’t just give them too you.”

            “No, no, I just need to view them for some research I am doing. It really won’t take much time at all.”

            “Ah,” Izzy responded. For a moment, she started worry. Something just felt wrong about this encounter. Grabbing the chair, she motioned to the drake allowing him access. If he tried to make a run for it, she was not sure what exactly she would do.

            Ock shifted his eyesight to that of the mystical realms and began deciphering the multidimensional pages of the Malleus Mundi. The information he was looking for was here. Finally, the fragments could be assembled into a workable invocation.

            Norman hung back from the pair sizing up Ex Libris. He could tell she seemed suspicious. If he had his mystic helmet he would know for sure, but he had plenty of experience and training to recognize the physical signs. She seemed to wear a well-tailored dark blue suit for a uniform. Her footwear was tennis shoes though, practical if not fashionable. The outfit amused him. She wore glasses and had her hair pulled back and seemed to be better clothed for a librarian or bookworm than a super hero. Norman of all people knew nothing was what it seemed. Such a humbly dressed person was sure to be dangerous, especially one who devoted their life to the study of literature, books, and items from antiquity. He could appreciate that, probably because his own studies about his Mu heritage gave him an interesting perspective on the value of ancient knowledge.

            Izzy noticed Ock’s vision and began querying him on the documents. He even went as far as to confirm the pages in question were indeed from the original book. Norman began growing annoyed with is brother’s sociable behavior. Norman’s thoughts about him made him concerned. There were definite personality differences between Ockham and Occam. They also seemed to be enough similarities too. Norman was not sure what that meant for his own future. What was he to become?

            “Fascinating,” Izzy exclaimed drawing a hearty laugh from Ock sounding much like mythical Santa Claus.

            It seemed to Norman she was relaxing a bit, letting down her guard. He felt adrenalin coursing through his veins quickening his pulse. Being so close to answers he long sought pushed his calming demeanor to its limits. Thinking once again of the lovely Thauma he realized PhoenixHawk’s return from the grave bothered him. He did not know the man personally, though they shared the same blood. Their powers differed, but the dragon blood explained that, even his inexplicable love at first sight.

            How cliché, he thought, true love at first sight.

            The sounds of footsteps racing across the floor above them were heard. Shouting soon followed snapping Norman from his revelry.

            “Damn, time to go Ock,” Norman said stepping forward grabbing the drake by his left shoulder.

            “Ah ha,” Izzy exclaimed snapping her hand forward knocking Ock’s shoulder cape aside revealing a non-robotic arm. “You’re not Occam’s Razar!”

            “Close enough,” Ock said getting to his feet.

            Norman’s body temperature rose fifty degrees preparing to unleash his powers. He was not sure what abilities she might have had and braced himself.

            “I do apologize for the deception,” Ock said remaining calm. “It is the utmost importance I can assure you.”

            “What is this about?” Izzy asked directing her question to Ock who seemed more open. “I won’t let you take the documents.”

            “Ock, time to go,” Norman said.

            “I can’t allow you to leave,” Izzy ordered.

            Norman’s eyes blazed a brighter green measuring the distance to his target. A fight would only delay them and risk being caught. While the idea was laughable, he had waited long enough to uncover his lost memories to fall short. Against better judgment, he dropped his concentration on his powers revealing his heterochromatic eyes of brown and blue.

            “Please,” he said, “I don’t really want to hurt you. I am trying to recover lost memories. It is very important to me, and I guarantee, we will not be taken captive.”

            Izzy had been summoning her mind control powers, but relaxed. She did know about vague lost memories herself. The nightmares that sprang from that unknown void were terrible and she could sympathize with this… villain. She did not know who they were, but she would find out.

            Norman decided to take a gamble, reached into a hidden pocket of his copy of PhoenixHawk’s uniform, and produced a business card. “Take this. Tell the person PhoenixHawk sent you for the Mu books.”

            “Mu books?” Izzy questioned her interest piqued. She could not be bribed, could she? The card was tempting; hanging like it was in the villains out stretched hand. Taking a bribe was wrong, making her culpable. Wasn’t it? Reaching out to take the card, it slipped from her grasp.

            “I can’t--” the two villains were gone. She had not even heard them move. The card and simple Arial font and said:

Out Source Incorporated

Have Thugs. Will Travel.

1-800-555-1212

            “By the way Bookworm,” she heard Norman’s voice down the hall, “Azuria his resting in a janitor’s closest on the second floor. Along with a couple of Longbow.”

            Bookworm indeed, Izzy thought running from out of the rows of bookshelves. The pair was already racing up the stairs. She heard more shouts and the breaking of glass.

            “Best I go free, Azuria then,” she said to herself. The walk up the stairs had her facing the dilemma of whether or not she just took a bribe.

TO CHAPTER 9 >






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