“…and that’s the end?!” Emi slammed the book shut and groaned loudly.
“Shhh!” someone replied.
Ugh. Five hundred and eighty-nine pages worth of sloppy writing printed on a bunch of pieces of paper. It’s an almost plotless, meandering piece of nonsense, and then it has the audacity to end on a cliffhanger?!
She wanted her money back, except this was a library book and she paid nothing for it. Libraries really were amazing, weren’t they? Still, she hated this book, probably the worst she’d ever read, and needed to rant about it immediately.
She stood up from her table and looked around for the nearest person she knew, and that happened to be Earl, who at the moment was up on a ladder rearranging books. Next to the ladder was a dolly filled with books recently returned by patrons or purchased by employees, at least a hundred of them.
“Hey, Earl,” Emi began without even checking to see if he was clear. “I finished the worst book I ever read and it’s making me really angry that I spent all that time reading something so bad, and I didn’t even feel fulfilled in the end. Did anyone even proofread that book? Did the writer even finish, or did she just give up? It’s completely ridiculous that I read all the way to the end of something that b–”
Earl interrupted Emi’s rant with a hearty laugh. He slid another book onto the top shelf and said, “Emi, I know how you’re feeling right now, but give me a second, okay?”
He climbed down the ladder and reached eye level with Emi. For a second there, Earl’s deep blue eyes made Emi’s heart swoon, just remembering that this man was fifty percent responsible for the continent’s most gorgeous woman.
“Okay, now, what were you on about? A bad book?” Earl asked.
“Yes! It’s horrible. We should burn this book, it’s so bad. Not literally burn it, because that would be very bad for the world to burn any book, but at least keep it under lock and key in a section called “please do not read this.”
He laughed again. “Emi, what book are you even talking about?”
“Oh, oh yeah.” Emi went back to her table and shoved the cover in his face. “This one! This stupid piece of Mammoth crap!”
“Ah, you finished The Resurrected Dragon God? I thought that one was pretty good, actually.” He grabbed a stack of books and climbed the ladder once more.
“Well, I thought it was garbage!”
“And yet, you read every single page,” he replied from half a story above.
“I had to see if it got better… I hate not finishing books,” Emi said. “This one just happened to be a very tough challenge to get all the way through.”
“And why’s that?”
“It was so ridiculously dumb! The whole thing is about this boy in some faraway continent who was hit by a speeding carriage, and then he is reborn, but as a God, and a dragon too for some reason? The first five chapters had nothing to do with the rest of the story because he was just reborn anyway! And he’s so powerful that that there’s no point to any of it. Stories about fictional Gods are interesting sometimes, but this one was just so confusing. If he was a God, what was the point in going down to the surface world and fighting everyone in sight?”
“It’s all a metaphor for the Gods keeping the harmony,” Earl replied.
“I don’t know about that,” Emi said. “It sure didn’t seem like harmony when this dragon God kid beat up pretty reasonable folk just for disagreeing with him. It seemed like he killed half the world by the end of the book. And the people he romanced… For Phyra’s sake, is this guy going to kiss every single man and woman who he doesn’t kill?”
“Well, he IS a God now.”
“Stories are supposed to be about interesting characters and progress. Not about someone so powerful they never have to change. The only thing this dragon God kid changed was blowing up the world at the end of the book! Is that a cliffhanger for a sequel, or…”
“Oh, I… I kind of get it now.”
Earl came back down and says, “Yes, I think you’re starting to get it.”
“You’re… not supposed to identify with the dragon God and his power,” Emi said as if she’d fallen into some deep revelation. “The whole book is… a metaphor for the harm the Gods would cause if there was no harmony to keep.”
“Well, I wouldn’t put it that way, but you are on the right track, I think,” he told her. “The book is bad because its protagonist is bad. But he gives humanity a very important lesson. We must pray for our Gods to be powerful and kind, or else they won’t be able to help us in the right way. They could very well end up like the dragon God in this story.”
“I never thought of it that way… I still hate the book, but I almost respect it now, too.”
“That’s about how most people feel about it. It’s a very controversial book in Dannark, I hear. By the way, want me to put that book back for you?”
“Oh, sure thing.”
Earl went back up the ladder carrying Resurrection of the Dragon Dog back to its rightful place… out of the hands of any potential reader. “Of course, there was a dragon God worshipped in the Frozen Desert a long time ago. Its origins are mysterious and there is no evidence of followers anymore. That’s all we know.”
“You sure know a lot about the Gods, Earl,” Emi said. “You’re like a walking encyclopedia whenever I need it.”
“Heh, my daughter says that, too. Sometimes I worry she only became a junior priest because I blabbed on about it too much.”
“Yeah…” Emi had a lot she could say, but nothing that wouldn’t compromise her secret relationship with Beatrice. She was a bit confused why they hadn’t told Beatrice’s parents yet, but whatever she was comfortable with, that was fine.
“Oh yeah, you and my daughter went to the docks the other day, didn’t you?”
“About a week ago, yeah, to see that Runa girl.”
“Oh, brother,” Earl said. “That Runa is something else…”
“I think she’s adorable. She’s the silliest person I’ve ever met, and I’ve met me. How old is that girl, anyway?”
“Oh, uh… Well, I don’t actually know. She always needed a babysitter back in the day, but I think that was a behavioral issue more than anything. Her mother thought she needed a friend. She might have be the same age as Beatrice…”
“Same age as Beatrice? That’s… A lot less adorable, if that’s true. But still a little adorable.”
“Speaking of adorable, can you hand me those copies of Brandy Family Picnic on the dolly?” Earl asked.
Emi found the books and handed them up to the ladder. “Aw, I loved Brandy Family Picnic as a kid. That was one of the first books I read here! Such a cute story.”
“I remember that time. That was when your parents still came by here to drop you off every week. You know, I never quite figured out why a wealthy family like the L’Himes chose a public library to take their daughter, but I’m very glad they did, because I wouldn’t have met that wonderful little child who would one day grow up to be you.”
“Awww… Wait, my parents used to take me here?”
“Of course. What, were you going to come by yourself when you were still four feet tall?”
“Uh… huh.” Emi shook her head like she didn’t know what he was talking about. Then her hair got all in her face. Ugh. “Somehow I don’t remember this. I guess I just thought I always came by sneaking out–er, by asking permission, which is what I always do.”
“I only met your parents briefly a couple times, but they seemed like wonderful people. I’m really glad for all the work they are doing for Elince right now. A lot of people might hate them, but they’re the only ones standing between Dannark and King Kline, and… they’re doing a good job.”
“To be honest, I try not to keep up with my parents too often. They’re not really… I mean, I love them, but…”
“I understand,” Earl said. He slid back down the ladder and pushed the dolly to another shelf on the library. Emi followed him. “I had a tough relationship with my parents, too. Enough that I went and ran away to Balarand the moment I came of age.”
“Maybe I should do the same.”
Earl laughed another time. “No offense, my friend, but you don’t seem like you could survive too well on your own.”
“You may be right…”
“But hey, if you ever feel like you’ve had enough with the life of luxury, you can always stay at my family’s apartment for a while. Or… I would say that, but we only have two beds and I doubt my daughter would be too keen on sharing.” He smiled as if he made a silly dad joke. Instead, it made Emi’s face turn bright red as her mind considered the scenario he presented to her.
“Ah, it appears Emi has been embarrassed by something,” a voice from behind said.
It was Tia Knoll, surprisingly wearing breeches and no wig. What the heck was he doing here?
“Oh, wow, Tia Knoll, here in my library?” Earl seemed incredibly impressed. “Together, you two have more money than my entire apartment complex combined. And you’re visiting the public library. That’s got to be a sign of the times.”
“I am merely here to grab Emi for an important date we have,” he said.
“Tia, how did you even know I was here?”
“You are always here, if you are not at your home.” Tia grinned.
“You two are going on a date?” Earl asked. “But I thought… Hmmm.” His expression became perplexingly stern.
“No, no, no! Not a date date. Like just a normal event known as a date. We are not dating. Just an event,” Emi tried to correct desperately.
“She speaks the truth,” Tia said. “I tend to only have romantic interactions with other men.”
“Yeah! And we’re going to to this event known as… Uh, what event is this again?”
“It’s called, ‘Let’s go eat a late lunch and gossip!’ The best event.”
Earl was back to his normal self. “Oh, you young people are always the same. Well, enjoy yourselves. Come back if you ever want to read some books for free, not that you’ll ever need it.”
Just when Emi was starting to have a heart-to-heart with Beatrice’s own father, here comes Tia Knoll himself… Sigh.
Still… It was a very good talk. It was very weird to say this, but Emi realized today that Earl was one of her best friends. And that was nice.