“This part of the Library is open to the general public without an appointment, and, as such, it’s almost entirely benign,” Amanana explained, as they moved through an area full of shelves and books that looked almost like a normal, albeit rich, library; the shelves were cherry, the signs on the ends of each aisle brass, the floor marble mosaic. “Of course, the parts that aren’t benign can be very sneaky – we once had a patron end up possessed by a spirit that had been loitering in the modern fiction section for weeks just looking for the right sort of person. So you do still have to be a bit on your guard, sad to say.”
“I do believe that’s the story of every part of this place, isn’t it?” Veronika tried to sound chipper and not a little tired.
Amanana considered her question fairly. “Well, I think that the cafe is likely safe, as long as you don’t irritated Sylvester, and she’s more or less a mundane threat. And I believe the front desk is also safe of strange or unusual threats. However, yes, the rest of the place can be a bit surprising and a far sight more dangerous than your average job as, say, a firefighter or a front-line soldier. I did mention the pay and benefits are quite good, didn’t I?
Veronika laughed. “I do believe I would work here for a pittance, even with the risk of death seeming imminent. There has to be some way seasoned archivists get to be, well, seasoned, without ending up dead, isn’t there? Some trick to surviving?”
“There’s a lot of tricks to surviving. You’ve noticed one of them already – pay attention to your reactions. If they start to seem as if they don’t make sense, question them. And if they still are hard to wash out of your system, even if they’re definitely not the sort of thing you’d normally do, then go for help immediately, if not sooner. Even if another archivist can’t fight the thing any better than you can, they might be able to help you break its spell.
“There’s other tricks as well, of course, and some of it is a matter of learning what sections of the archives to avoid unless you cannot help it. I’d give you a list but it’ll be easier to learn them yourself, sadly, as some of them completely defy description and a couple others, ah, they move around.”
“Oh, goody. That does seem likely to make it tricky to avoid those areas,” Veronika pointed out. “If they could be anywhere.”
“They could, but they generally will give you some clue. The doorway or the arch, for instance.”
“All right, so in addition to – well, everything else, everything else, I’m also looking out for doorways or arches that tell me a place might be dangerous. You know, it’s a wonder anyone ever survives to their first anniversary of working here.”
She was more or less joking – or complaining without any real heat – as she had worked in places that were more obviously deadly in some ways than this before. Even the Fillion had borne its share of problems which could kill one, and that was saying nothing of the hatter’s she’d done a very short apprenticeship at, the family farm she’d spent a year on, or the short job she’d done at the factory.
“Well, the real wonder is that anyone ever notices their first year anniversary, what with the way time starts to warp. If you want to keep a calendar, I suggest leaving the grounds every day – every time you are done with work, that is – walking to some place nearby, and writing it down. I know Eleanor keeps a diary at the local post office, and Uma visits the cafe down the road – don’t tell Sylvester – I believe it’s Annies? The plural instead of the possessive always throws me. I mean, yes, we have plural of a single person here, but how many Annies do they have there, anyway?”
“Oh, I love Annies! And the little bookstore next to it. I mean, it seems a little silly to be buying books when I work here, at the Bellamy -”
“Well, the Bellamy is not all that well-stocked in certain fiction categories, or even in certain non-fiction categories, such as modern cookbooks.”
“Cookbooks.” She blinked. “I suppose I will have to discover a way to make food for myself, unless these little snacks are going to keep coming… No, that wouldn’t be right, soon I should be providing the snacks myself, yes?”
“Once you have a department you’re working in, yes. Even if it’s like some of the workers, some of the departments here and you rotate around a lot, it’s considered polite to have your own stash of supplies in case you are happened upon by a weary traveler. For what it’s worth, many of the departments also keep a cot in the back, or a blanket and a pillow at the very least, so if you’re ever very lost, there’s often a place you can rest.”
“That’s – well.” Veronika considered her words. “That’s terrifyingly helpful, I do have to say. That such things are needed enough that most departments think of them.”
“Well, the Bellamy is not the most well-known archive for no reason.” Amanana patted her shoulder. “They are not often needed, I will say, but when you are in charge of a department, you tend to look at that little unused corner and remember the time you were very lost and could not find any place better to rest than the collection of 3rd-century furs, and that tends to make one considerate of others who’ll end up in that situation at some point. At least, that was my logic, and to talk to One over in Reprography, it was their logic as well. She isn’t the first One, you know. Somewhere – ah, well, anyway. I’m not actually trying to frighten you off.” She paused. “Here, since we’re nearly there anyway, this is actually a fun secret.” She considered the bookshelf in front of them. “Let’s see, this is the Biographies, yes. So we want to go back one shelf, here,” she led Veronika, “and you’re looking for an autobiography of Santa Claus. It should be – ah, here. The one with the gold writing on green.” She gave the book in question a tug. “Be careful you’re standing on the marble part of the floor when you do this- there, see?”
A portion of the wooden floor folded upwards, revealing a short, green-carpeted stairway downwards. “This is very safe, very adorable, and it will only take a moment. You have my word. In the holiday time, tours of children come here, and the very good children, or at least the very clever ones, we show them this place.”
Veronika followed Amanana down the stairs; gaslights flickered into life as they passed them. They walked down just enough to be in a shallow floor below the bookshelves, the room lighting up more and more as they descended until the whole place was flickering with lights.
Veronika looked around, letting herself smile. The walls were a painted winter scene, giving the impression of a much bigger room. Soft snow-like stuff covered the floor. Pine trees reached up to the ceiling; the whole place even smelled of pine.
“Welcome to the Wonderland Room.” Amanana’s voice was soft and respectful.