All it took was the walk home and the sinking feeling in her stomach to convince her.
She was not going to apply.
Alina stepped from the 13th floor of the library out onto the ledge path to the Jagged Step Lane, a length of steps spiraling down to the main paved side walk. She avoided the flight paths, large cloud-formed wind tunnels with walking pathways at the bottom, as at the end of the day they were gummed up with everyone flying and walking home.
Twenty minutes later, her thoughts still spinning, Alina left the paved walkway just outside the city and jumped the last half a dozen feet or so to the bright green grass and dirt path below landing in a squat.
She rose from her landing and shook out her trembling fingers, and taking a deep breath, Alina walked on.
The worries rose with each step. Leaving the library, leaving Avaglade, it was just too much. She would fail. She’d be too slow. Or she wouldn’t be able to understand what the people from down below were saying and…
She walked to the next rocky ledge and jumped out into the air grabbing the support pole for the sky path above and let her momentum spin her around and down until she landed on the small bit of grass knoll then jumped again to the next bit of land as a rolling mist rose from the clouds.
The physical challenge drew her worries out of her, made her deal with them in a very present way.
Then the next worry came… that it would all be just too new, too different. Not even the idea of the large salary was tempting anymore. Alina made her way though trees until she stood at the edge then she dashed across and down the path and up the knoll to her tree grown home.
It was decided. She wouldn’t go to the interviews tomorrow. She was content. She was comfortable. And that was alright.
Slowly, the knot unclenched in her stomach. No change was fine. No change was good. Everything would stay the same. The words hugged her, comforted her. It would all be alright.
She threw out her arms and spun as a lightness took hold of her. She even laughed a little when a cloud sprinkled her with a spot of rain.
And then she arrived home. It was quiet. “Gran’ma?” she called from the wooden door.
Alina pushed her cart of books around the 39 foot high shelf to the next isle. It was a reasonable risk she estimated. The job kept her secluded from dealing with the public face-to-face. No one asked her opinion, no one made her do anything that she didn’t want to do.
Alina hated nothing more than being forced to do what she didn’t want. And she loved risking life and limb the way she wanted; she would not have it any other way.
Then came the day the world fell apart. The day her perfect seclusion became an impossibility, and she wouldn’t realize it until too late.
It all started on a Monday, the most inconspicuous of days. She was at dewey decimal 790.81 when Rory, the city manager, cleared his throat at the bottom of the ladder.
She looked down. “Do you need a book?” It was shameful, but as Alina didn’t follow the politics closely, she didn’t recognize him in that moment. He worked in the building next door and rarely interacted with the daily public she reasoned later.
His mouth dimpled as he smiled in amusement. Her heart fluttered and she put her hand on her chest, blood rushing to her cheeks. Too much coffee, must be.
Rory responded to her question that she’d already forgotten, “No. You are Alina, correct?” he asked.
She nodded. He gave an encouraging smile. “Would you join me below?” Strange men at the bottom of ladders gave her pause. He saw her hesitation. “I’m Rory, the city manager. I just have a proposition for you, if you have a moment.”
Redder in the face now, she nodded mutely and awkwardly made her way down as he waited.
He motioned her to follow which she did, down the isle of the towering bookcases with sconces every few feet or so to light the way. Must be bad news if he couldn’t tell her except in private. Had she done something wrong?
Twisting her fingers she tried to remember anything she might have done to offend a patron or staff member, anyone in the city… Nothing. There was nothing she could have done.
He led her to Lacey’s office, the head clerk. They both sat down.
He steepled his hands and leaned forward, “It has come to my attention that you jumped the bookshelves to save a book from dropping on a patron.” Statement, not a question.
Yet, this couldn’t be the reason she was here. She had been doing such acrobatics since she’d been hired last year. She waited for the real reason.
He broke the silence then, “You have been known for this since you came, in fact last week you saved Demetri from the stacks when he became stuck in the law section and saved him from dropping to his death.”
Really, you may be wondering as a reader by now why Avaglade kept such a dangerous library, but that really isn’t important right now. Alina waited for the point. Climbing shelves was part of the job description.
“And it was your idea for the reorganization for different areas around the library which has increased user rates significantly.” Rory continued, “Really some of this is what we expect of our library pages, but Agnes seems to think there is more to you than the others. So much so, that she has recommended we offer you the assistant position at City Hall.”
The city manager’s chocolate dark curls fell onto his forehead as he set his chin in his hand as he looked at her, considered her, pondered her. “To be honest, I am still considering whether or not to offer you this opportunity.”
She said nothing. She didn’t know what city assistants did nor why they thought she’d be good at the job.
“I explained to Agnes that we have a rubric and test that you must past just like all the other candidates. They all have the degrees and schooling to be here. In fact, they have the degrees to be full-fledged workers in the special development of our city.”
Why he was considering her at all if that was the case?
“We are an unusual city, the only city where heights and flight for daily travel are the norm. We hold the jewels of the earth in our floating rock that keeps us among the stars.”
Alina was unimpressed. She grew up here.
He saw her unimpressed state and tilted his head, considering that maybe Agnes had a point for wanting her. “Agnes wants you for this particular assistant position as you will be working with her. That is why I’m considering you. Agnes works with the Elven Folk. In their realms as it were, the dangers are real. Many think that libraries are bound by these walls, but if that were so, we would be living in the Dark Ages like monks.”
Her silence was refreshing from all the candidates he’d seen. Her very present silence compelled him to talk. A very good trait for an assistant. “Your tasks would take you beyond these walls and into the libraries of the other creatures of the realms below and above. You would be a vital part of extending the reach of the library and preserving new additions to our ancient library of the clouds. Of course, your tasks extend to whatever we would need of Agnes to do or perform as well.”
She still said nothing.
“Well, are you wanting to apply and accept the challenge of such a job?”
Alina sat before him. The job sounded exciting in a new way, and to be honest, her job wasn’t as exciting as when she first started. It wasn’t like she was at death’s edge every day. Not that the option was a present need in her life or anybody else’s. But still…with all those candidates, it was likely she wouldn’t get the job.
It was decided. For a bit of fun, she would try out for the job.
Her green eyes for the first time rose from the spot on his chest that she kept her eyes at and met his cerulean blue ones. “How do I apply?”
That dimpled grin rose again. Alina pressed her hand to her chest. No more coffee for her.