The air hangs heavy in the dark, musty twilight of the ancient library of the High Academy of Magical Studies. It is a dark, eerie place of endless ominous rows of bookshelves and parchment shelves and sunbaked-plaque shelves and whatever other shelves the librarians had to come up with throughout the centuries to hold countless volumes of written, drawn and sometimes hand-signed knowledge. In their neatly organized shelves, the magic books stir at the unused nightly company. Glowing faintly, rattling their bindings, humming, they all seem to watch their unexpected guests, focusing their attention on the two stalking shadows that navigate the hallways in search of – wait a minute…
“Why again did you bring me to the library at this time of night?” Geryon asks.
His whispers, low as they are, seem to echo off the walls. Around him, the books flap their covers and flip their pages, mimicking the young wizard’s words almost perfectly with their sound.
Geryon cringes at the terrible murmur. Blasted library! To Hell with it and its keepers! It is bad enough in daytime but this feels like the opening of a bad horror story where the hysterical girl gets to live and the skeptic intellectual ends up impaled on a lampost…
“I did not bring you here, you followed me,” Dion whispers at him in annoyance. “Now stop making such a racket.”
“Well, if you are going to be picky about it…” Geryon retorts. “That still does not explain why we are sneaking into the library instead of into a well-lit pub. I thought you wanted to drink.”
Behind Geryon, a group of books bursts into song, making the young wizard jump a foot high in the air before realizing what has happened. He glares resentfully at the whole thirty-two-volume The Magic in Music collection as the tomes fall into a soft-toned chorus about a flower, a lunatic and a bicycle of some sort.
Both lurkers fall silent for a moment until the song and the noise die away. Thankfully, it is the librarian’s night off and no one is keen enough on finding a book to look for it themselves. The whole damned place is organized according to some indecipherable scheme created by the former librarian as a form of cruel and unusual punishment to students he did not like (i.e., any student really), making it nearly impossible to find whatever it is one is looking for without expert help. And Geryon can just swear that some of those older, nastier grimoires just hide behind other books to escape the probing hands of the more dedicated academic overachievers. Some of those leafy old buggers even seem to prey on their weaker co-inhabitants, growing thicker and thicker by the year. New editions…yeah, right!
Finally, Dion decides to speak. “I do not just intend to drink, I intend to get drunk.”
“Well, one does tend to follow the other quite nicely…” Geryon notes. His brow furrows. “Wait a minute, since when do you get drunk? You are a god and all that.”
Dion stops and turns to look at his friend. Even in the faint light, Geryon can just see the faint white glow of the god’s scleras as his eyes roll in their sockets. “Of course I can get drunk if I so choose. All I have to do is cancel my magic protections against toxic substances…” He shakes the two bottles in his left hand. “…such as alcohol.”
“Can’t we at least get drunk in a less eerie place like say…a pub with busty barmaids?” Geryon insists. “Actually make it a pleasurable experience, so to speak?”
“I don’t want to get drunk with waitresses,” Dion waves him off. “Besides, I’ve been with them all.”
The words raise concern with Geryon. It is not that Dion is lying about having been with probably every single attractive (and sometimes even mildly unattractive) barmaid in the area. Finding a bar with at least one girl left untouched by him has become as difficult as finding a pair of matching socks in the Dean’s dresser (especially since stealing a sock from the Dean’s dresser was instituted as a freshman rite of passage by, well, Dion). But the god is not the type to drink alone or sulk in a corner as he nurses a pint. In fact, Geryon cannot remember Dion ever being anything other than jovial, charming, quick-witted and mischievous in the best of academic traditions. Without a drop of evil or bile, the young god seems to have never experienced worry or stress in his leisurely life. This sudden wish for isolation is completely out of character for him.
“Maybe they hired someone new,” Geryon ventures in a singsong voice.
“Will you stop?!” Dion nearly roars into the dark, high ceilings, like a huge beast trapped in its dark cave. In their shelves, the books sussurate, the plaques rattle, the prayer bells howl, the rune bones clickity-clack against their hardwood casings. The library seems to shake in fear at the sudden outburst.
Obviously annoyed at his own carelessness, the god sits down with his back against the shelves harboring the dusty, slowly disintegrating remains of the Ware’s An Hundred and Seventeen Marvelouss Transformations (With Many Uses Of a Moste Perntinente and Perspicatiouss Nature) collection of scrolls and goes silent until silence returns. When he speaks again, he is little more than hissing at a rather shocked, tremulous Geryon. “Why don’t you just leave? I am perfectly capable of getting drunk on my own, thank you very much.”
The young wizard looks down at his friend, wondering for a moment where this side of him has been hidden for so long. Sitting against the dusty bookshelves filled with ancient knowledge, opening one of the liquor bottles as if he holds a grudge against it, Dion looks like a grumpy old predator hiding to lick his wounds. Still, he also looks just like the same Dion from a few hours ago. For all he sounded positively terrifying when he roared, Geryon knows his friend. Ignoring his icy cold spine and making a big show of looking unphased, he sits down by Dion and extends a hand to the god.
“Fine… Pass it on, then,” he says with false irritation. “If you’re getting drunk, I might as well keep you company.”
Dion opens the second bottle and hands it to him, muttering a warning. “Careful, it was made for gods.”
Geryon pauses with the bottle half raised to his lips. “Will it kill me?” he asks.
The god shrugs. “Probably not.”
“Probably?” Geryon raises an eyebrow.
Dion shrugs again before taking a swig of the sweet-scented liquid. “Don’t know… Never heard of humans drinking it.”
Geryon drinks anyway, on the basic premise that he is young and healthy, used to dealing with magic, and there is no way in the Insula he is going to just sit and watch Dion get drunk without getting in on the action. Thankfully, the drink does not kill him nor does it cause any changes he cannot live with (like turn his skin purple with pink polkadots). He is, however, left nicely drunk after just a half dozen swigs. Before he realizes it, Dion has already taken the bottle that Geryon was drinking from and switched it with the bottle that the god has just emptied. Even with his defenses and spells down, it still takes Dion a considerable amount of time and alcohol to get drunk.
“Why – Why we gettin’ drunk anyway?” Geryon asks.
The liquor makes thinking difficult. Geryon tries to read the label painted on the bottle, which, really, is what he should have done before drinking. The golden, handwritten lines that should resolve into some form of a written language (and Geryon knows plenty, misfit intellectual that he is) seem to run and squirm away from his sight, huddling into an indecipherable pile of…of…really fancy squiggly things.
“Ah’m…” Dion begins to slur. “Ah’m gettin’ drunk to…forget…somethin’. I got no idea why you’re gettin’ drunk.”
Geryon snorts and points at himself. “Look at me. I mean, look…at…me. I look like I need a reason?”
Dion looks his friend up and down, appraisingly. “You look like you need a miracle fro’ tha god o’ beauty, thass wha’ you need. An’ some muscle. Like, actual muscle.”
Geryon looks down at his own pale, scrawny body that somehow seems to include more bones, joints and skin than should be allocated to any normal human being. Blonde haired and blue-eyed, the young wizard looks like a mockery of the handsome First Ring god stereotype made popular by the cheap romantic novels that human girls spend so much time reading. He resents the muscles that will not bulge on his chest, the weakness of his thin arms that makes him unfit to lift anything heavier than a couple of textbooks. Hanging out with Dion at least makes him feel better about himself, as the god cannot be bothered to spend time appraising the looks of any person he does not plan on bedding. Well, at least not when he is sober.
“Ya know, ya should learn t’be nice t’people you don’t wanna hump,” Geryon retorts.
Dion seems to consider this, taking another, careful look at Geryon. “Well, you got good bones. Mean, all you got is bones. An’ skin.” He shakes a couple of fingers in the general direction of Geryon’s head. “An’ that thing you call hair.”
“Don’t you badmouth my hair!” the young wizard shrieks, raising a chorus of rustling pages. “Is’ my best quality!”
Dion blinks and opens his mouth to speak but nothing comes out of it for a while. “Tha’ really says lots ‘bout you,” he finally says.
Geryon sighs. Truth be told, even his hair is terrible. Still, there are some things a drunken person just does not admit even to one’s drunken best friend. He lets silence creep in again before trying a new stab at the conversation.
“So…what you tryin’ to forget?”
“Huh?” Dion looks at him as if he doesn’t remember how he even got here in the first place.
“What you tryin’ to forget?” Geryon insists.
“Oh…” Dion looks down for a moment. “I don’ remember.”
“Is it a girl?” Geryon asks with a grin.
Dion shakes his head. “No, iss the booze,” he slurs, raising his empty bottle. “Really works.”
“Lessee… what did I wanna forget?” the god wonders, tapping the mouth of the bottle against his temple. Suddenly, he brightens up. “Oh! I remember!”
“Good, what is it?” Geryon urges him on.
“Oh…oh…” Dion’s face contracts in a grimace. “I wanna forget again.”
“Oh, come on!” Geryon cries, throwing his hands up in frustration.
Dion little more than whimpers. “Ah’m sad.”
“Sad?” Geryon protests. “Why’re you sad? You’re powerful, you’re smart, you’re goo’lookin’.”
“Thanks,” Dion mutters.
“Seriously, I’d do you,” Geryon states almost solemnly, looking sideways at Dion.
“Awww…. I’d do you too,” the god replies almost automatically. He raises an eyebrow in afterthought. “After lots more booze.”
“Yeah…” Geryon concedes, surreptitiously checking his empty bottle for any leftover drink. “Anyway, all the chicks love you. You’re immortal, you’re a god–”
“Not all chicks,” Dion interrupts him.
Geryon snorts and waves him off. “Shut up! Who’d say no to you?”
Dion becomes very quiet again. “She did. An’…She’s dead.”
Geryon’s brow furrows in confusion. “You killed her? Thass cold, man.”
“I didn’t kill her, she died.” Dion explains. His voice is low now, almost muffled. The shadows in the library seem to wrap around him. “Last week. Edine. Thass her name… I really liked her. She was like, my first love. Even went dragon huntin’ in the Lands for her. Come back, she’s engaged to some idiot light god.”
“Oh…” Geryon mouths. He feels himself sobering up a bit. “How’d she die?”
Dion shrugs at this. “Freakish accident. Drowned at that big be-mortal-for-a-time resort thing downslope. Was takin’ a vacation there after separating from the jerk. I wass…you know, juss waitin’ for her to come back up. Take my shot again.”
Geryon nods. If love is a difficult thing among mortals, gods sure do take it to an extreme. They can have the emotional attention span of a shrew in heat or nurse an infatuation for centuries. They may love a being, any being, with a searing intensity that makes mortals dream of a lifetime of companionship, only to let go a few days later, satisfied in their emotions and having loved no less truly for having loved so shortly. And they can carry a torch for centuries without their feelings ever dwindling, ever wavering, regardless of whether or not they are loved back. Gods are plagued with eternity and with memory. And it’s really a close call, which of them can hurt them more. “Yeah, I remember…when I heard a ‘no’ for the first time.”
“Must’ve been tough,” Dion notes, glancing at the young wizard in sympathy. And then, because alcohol numbs sense beyond simple compassion, he adds, “You look like that, back then?”
“Wass that s’posed to mean?” Geryon mutters resentfully.
“You kinda look like a sewer rat on a bad day,” Dion replies. “An’ Ah’m drunk on Ambrosia. If that can’t make you look good, nothin’ can.”
“Hah! Wanna bet?” Geryon challenges him, looking up at the Ware’s scroll shelves. “‘s gotta be a spell somewhere in here tha’ can do that!”
Dion’s eyes suddenly widen, his face lights up. “I got an idea!”
Geryon tries to blink away the golden haze that is currently clouding his judgement. “Wha?”
“Let’s find it!” Dion exclaims, jumping to his feet to a nearby chorus of background music hummed by the more flashy volumes of The Magic in Music.
“Wha?” Geryon asks again, looking up at the god.
“The spell!” Dion explains in excitement. “Let’s find it, get you all buffed up, lookin’ real nice…THEN we hit the pub.”
Geryon’s synapses fire up at that. “Pub? I’m likin’ this already!”
He shoots up to his feet and starts racing Dion to find the right scroll. A momentary thought makes him pause. “Wait…isn’ tha’ kinda dangerous? What if you turn me into a hairy caterpillar or somethin’?”
“I promise, nothing less than vertebrate or higher!” Dion reassures him. “Come on… All these spells have counterspells anyway.”
“Well, fine…” Geryon submits. “Bu’ you’re not turnin’ me into a girl!”
Dion grins. “Oh, then I’d do you for sure! Come on!”
They scour the shelves of thick, ancient scrolls, struggling to read the fading labels engraved on the thick leather casings. They move from shelf to shelf, racing at first but then slowly losing momentum as their initial enthusiasm begins to dwindle with frustration.
Suddenly, Dion’s voice rings with renewed excitement.
“I found it! I found it!” he cries, hefting the heavy scroll out of its shelf. “Hear this ‘Dis Spelle Will Make The Subject Stronge as a Lion and Powerful as an Raptor’.”
Geryon’s eyes light up and widen. He starts shaking in anticipation. “Oooooooooh! Try it! Try it!”
“Ssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…” Dion scolds him. “Ah need to concen – concentrecate – focus.”
Painful empty minutes go by as Dion wrestles the scroll some more before finally removing it from the shelf and from its casing. The ancient parchment seems to crack and crumble at Dion’s every touch and the god struggles to unfurl it and get the complex enchantment in shape to be cast. He reads the words with care, taking the time to correctly pronounce each syllable.
Soon, the floor around Geryon’s feet is glowing golden. In the massive library, the books seem to murmur at first, flipping their pages in nervousness. Then, they go dead silent. Geryon rises in the air. His world is filled with a brilliant light and muffled, somewhat slurred chanting punctuated by occasional swearing as Dion struggles to read the next line of the spell. The wizard’s body begins to feel strange.
Something is not right.
Pain erupts from every limb, from every organ. It sparks in places that Geryon did not know he had. It leaves him breathless, voiceless as bones are reshaped, unfamiliar muscles bulge, hair grows. He is blinded by the light but he can swear he even feels his nails grow and change, his teeth sink back into his gums and merge with his skull.
Something is not right.
But it all happens so fast, so overwhelmingly fast that he cannot even call out to Dion to stop and save him. In the blink of an eye, the light is gone and he is standing again on the creaky wooden floors of the bleak, dark library, on all four of his paws.
ON ALL FOUR OF HIS PAWS?!
A few steps away, Dion looks down at him, jaw dropped.
The god scratches his head and looks back at the scroll as if puzzled by the results of his spell. In his hands, the scroll crumbles, falling to the floor in a neat pile of moldering dust.
Dion looks down at it, blinks. “Oooooooooh crap…”