The New York City main library takes up two city blocks along Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. Nestled among the city’s skyscrapers, it has been a haven for knowledge seekers and the downtrodden since its opening in 1911. As Alizar walks up to the rear of the building through Bryant Park, she pauses a second to take in the view. Green trees, ancient by American standards, sway in the spring breeze. If she thinks about it, she can almost envision George Washington’s troops resting here after the Battle of Long Island.
What most New Yorkers haven’t considered, is that when they lay out in the sun, picnic, or take part in New York fashion week here, they are doing so on a graveyard. The bodies have been excavated and relocated since then, but the dead’s essence, their souls, still linger. This is a place of great power, as is the library resting atop it.
At the library’s main entrance on the other side of the park, she makes her way up the Vermont maple staircase. The two lions, located on either side of the stairs stand guard, looking for anyone who might mean the library harm. As she passes, she says good morning to Patience, the southernmost lion. To any passerby, she would look like a crazy person. This wouldn’t be a surprise by New York standards. However, if the mortals saw the real world, the one hidden from view, they would be struck dumb at the lion’s response.
“Good morning, Patience,” Alizar said to the Tennessee marble lion.
“G’mornin’ Ali,” the lion replied in its southern twang. “Havin’ a good mornin’?”
“So far so good, any trouble?”
“Quiet as a mouse fart,” the lion responded, and Ali chuckled.
The humans only see what they want to. If they looked hard enough, they would see Patience, and her sister Fortitude, roaming the park and the library, standing guard. When they decide to move around, tourists take photos of a magical apparition. Crime in the area used to be a lot more common until the elders permitted the magical beasts to roam. Drug dealers, for instance, won’t hear the mighty roar from one of the pair. They will only know that they need to leave. Immediately. Later, they will also find that all of their product is rendered useless. The lions protect and purify.
Inside the library, the gleaming white marble of Astor Hall is blinding from the sunlight, streaming in through high arched windows. The lobby, if you can call it that, is filled with students and tourists. Making her way through the crowd toward the elevators, Alizar bumps into several people. Her second sight is always on high alert around large groups and today is no exception. With a simple touch, Ali can parse out someone’s hopes, dreams, and fears. She will know their greatest triumphs and darkest shames.
Almost to the elevators, a man is standing and looking up toward the balcony, where even more people congregate to get the best photo of the room. His features are gaunt, and he looks to be in the final stages of some terminal illness. Pale skin hangs loosely on his face, and his eyes are so dark that they’re almost black. Not wanting to feel what the man is going through, Ali carefully sidesteps him. But another passerby bumps her shoulder, and she tumbles sideways toward him. Reaching out to steady herself, her hand grasps the man’s arm.
“Excuse me; I’m so sorry. It’s so busy here this morning.”
He turns his dark eyes to her, and they flash, she thinks. No, it must have been the light through the windows playing tricks.
“It was no problem at all,” he says with the confidence and grace of New York’s elite. “I was just taking in the room.”
“It is beautiful. I’m sorry, though, I have to get going, or I’ll be late.”
“It was a pleasure to meet you, Alizar.”
She hurried toward the elevator and slipped in just as the door was closing. Her heart began to thunder, and she sensed the familiar tingle of power on her skin. Alizar felt nothing when she touched him. No thoughts or feelings. There was no pain and no happiness. His dark eyes were too intelligent for there to be nothing going on in his mind. It was almost as if he was a void of human thought and emotion. She had never sensed anything like it in her many years.
When the last passenger exited the elevator, Ali swiped her card against the reader, and she began to descend. Officially, the building only had one basement. Unofficially, there were several. The car stopped, and a sound dinged before a computerized voice spoke out “B3.” Stepping out, she stopped cold. A bolt of adrenaline went through Alizar’s body, and her power surged. The cold fluorescent lights, stretching intermittently for a hundred feet in front of her, all blew at once. In a shower of glass dust, she spoke out into the darkness, “He knew my full name.”