It was a bright, sunny day outside. The perfect kind of day for a grand adventure filled with daring deeds. Or it would have been if Bobby and Belle weren’t stuck inside doing homework. They were at the library to do research on the Romans and were already bored. Their eyes kept drifting to the window to stare longingly at the green grass and blue sky of the nearby park.
What Bobby and Belle didn’t know though was that many a great adventure had begun in a library.
They sat together at a small table with a pile of old books between them. Belle was trying to keep her eyes open as she read while Bobby had already given up and slumped back in his chair.
“I don’t see why we have to do this,” Bobby muttered. “Mrs Henson only yesterday told us that we need to go outside and be active because children are getting too fat, but then she gives us a whole list of homework to do so we can’t go outside. Talk about mixed messages. It makes no sense.”
“Adults make no sense,” Belle agreed absently. “It’s what makes them adults. All of the school work and getting a job overloads their brains, turning them from kids to adults. That’s how you tell.”
“You’re right. Like, why make us learn about the Romans? They’re all long dead. Anyway, what did the Romans ever do for us?”
Belle looked up from the book and thought for a moment. “The Romans made gladiators. They’re pretty cool.”
Bobby nodded his agreement. “True, gladiators are cool. Mrs Henson barely mentioned them though. Instead we have to learn about boring stuff like roads and aqua ducks. They aren’t cool. We feed the aqua ducks every week. How different can Roman aqua ducks be? Now if it were fire ducks or lightning ducks, that would be something worth learning.”
“Yeah. You could make them fight the gladiators. There’s no challenge fighting a water duck but a fire duck might give them a run for their money. Or maybe a swan,” mused Belle.
“No doubt,” Bobby said with a shiver. He was remembering a few summers ago when a swan had pulled him into the pond. “Nobody wants to fight a swan.”
Belle sighed and closed the book. “Nothing in that one. We need to find another if we want to finish our work today.”
“Please. No more,” Bobby begged. Belle dragged him out of his chair and he reluctantly followed her.
They wandered through the aisles, bobbing and ducking like yo-yos as they looked at the titles of books on high and low shelves. Bobby squinted up at the top shelf then climbed up slightly to pull down a large, faded book. It looked ancient. Not the impressive type of old that looked valuable but the tatty sort covered in stains and ripped pages.
“Centurentha,” Bobby read, struggling with the work. “He was a Roman soldier, wasn’t he?”
“You mean a centurion? They were a sort of soldier not a person,” Belle told him.
“Maybe it’s his cousin then,” Bobby answered, not really paying attention to what his sister had said. “Look, it’s all written funny too. If it isn’t English then it has to be Roman, right?”
“Latin,” Belle sighed. “Romans spoke and wrote in Latin. Did you not listen to anything Mrs Henson said?”
Bobby wasn’t listening to his sister either. He was flicking through the pages with wide eyes. The words seemed to form pictures that moved when he turned the paper. Seeing his face, Belle joined him and stared at the flowing text.
“Put it back, Bobby. Books aren’t supposed to do that. We can’t read it anyway. You’re wasting time when we could be outside playing. Come on,” Belle said, trying to close the book. Bobby didn’t move.
Belle tried to wrestle the book from his hands. She finally managed to pull it free but gave Bobby a papercut as the book slid from his fingers. A single bead of blood dripped down the page and began to swirl around with the dancing letters. The ink pulsed and rose up out from the paper.
The book fell to the ground. Words span faster now, growing and stretching into strange shapes that struggled to free themselves from the open tome. A dark figure reached out of the page and began to pull itself out like a swimmer climbing out of a pool. First came a clawed paw, then another, followed by a fanged snout.
Belle and Bobby watched in horror. A moment passed and the fear on their face became a frown. The book shuddered and the creature stepped fully out into the world, baring its fangs and bristling it’s pure white fur. It would have been a scary sight if the creature hadn’t happened to look like a small, fluffy puppy.
“Cower mortals for I have arrived to return that which was stolen. Who are you that summon me to this wretched plain?” growled the puppy in a voice much more squeaky than it expected.
The children didn’t move. They stared at the dog with mixed feelings.
“Bobby, that dog is talking to us,” Belle said slowly without looking away from the pup.
“Dog?” growled the dog. “I am a spirit of time and space, a creature of the abyss feared by men and beasts in every dimension. You dare call me a dog?”
“Look, its little tail is wagging,” pointed out Bobby, completely ignoring what the dog was saying. “It’s so cute. You think we can keep it?”
The dog bristled with anger, its fluffy fur sticking out further to make it look like a cotton bud. Growling, it trotted away to a window to check its reflection. Seeing himself, the dog yelped and froze.
“I should be a fearsome wolf! A giant canine of legend! Not this fluffy runt!” It made a retching noise in its throat. “I look so… cute. It’s sickening.”
“I think you look lovely,” Belle told him sweetly. The dog made more disgusted sounds.
“Why were you in that book?” asked Bobby. “Funny place for a dog to be.”
“Listen closely, tiny human. I am not a dog but an ethereal being of great power forced into the form of an impure mutt. That book is a very important magical artifact. The only problem is that some of the words were lost. Without them the book is useless.”
“How do you lose words from a book?” Belle wondered aloud.
The dog lowered its head. “It was the work of a man known as Teller. The book must be read every hundred years in order for reality as you know it to continue. Teller wants to shatter reality so tried to destroy the book. As its guardian, I tried to stop him but was locked away inside the book instead. Teller only managed to take a few words but he scattered them across history.”
“A hundred years is a really long time,” said Bobby.
“It is a blink of the eyes to the universe,” the dog replied knowingly. “This current century cycle only has a few months left.”
Belle reached down and picked up the dog, cuddling him like a baby. “That is horrible.”
“Put me down, tiny human! Let me go or I will destroy you!”
“We should take him to Dad. He always knows what to do,” Bobby announced. “Maybe he’ll even let us keep him. I’ve always wanted my own dog.”
The dog glared at him. It struggled and squirmed for a moment before escaping from Belle’s grip. He trotted away and jumped up onto a table where he stood tall and proud to address the children. Or, as tall and proud as a foot high ball of white fluff with legs can look.
“Listen closely, tiny humans. I am called Eldrik and it is my job to keep the world safe. As the holders of the Centura, I task you both with finding the missing words.”
Bobby and Belle looked at Eldrik, then at each other, then back to Eldrik.
“Sorry,” said Belle with a small shake of her head. “Can’t. We’ve got to be home by four o’clock or we’ll be in big trouble.”
“Yeah,” agreed Bobby. “Plus our mum told us not to talk to strangers and you are really strange.”
Eldrik showed them his fangs. The children weren’t sure if it was supposed to be a smile or a snarl. His tail wagged side-to-side so fast that it was a blur and his big black eyes began to glow blue.
“There isn’t time to argue. I have chosen you. Now come. We have a job to do.”
“But there is an adult right around the corner. I can’t even tie my shoelaces,” Bobby tried to argue.
The light from Eldrik’s eyes grew wider, spreading across his body until the dog looked fully blue. His grin grew wider then he jumped, landing between Bobby and Belle with a bright flash of colour.
The world fell away from them.