My expectations of hefty magic tomes full of spells were quickly dashed. Laney’s idea of books was limited to fairy tales about princesses and knights and, of course, magic. Not exactly what I had in mind. As far as she was concerned, if it didn’t interest her, it didn’t exist.
“This one’s really good,” she informed me, holding up a thin novel called Loved By Two Dragons. “He’s a dragon, but he’s also a handsome boy. But his brother’s even more handsome, and he’s an even bigger dragon!”
Apparently teenage girls liked shitty books no matter in every world.
The library wasn’t particularly big, about the size of a large living room, but the walls were covered in shelves, and each shelf was full of books. I skimmed the spines looking for any interesting titles.
“When I said books about magic, I meant books that teach you how to do magic, not silly stories for little girls.”
“You want to learn magic?” said Laney. She was sitting cross-legged on top of the table in the middle of the room—there were plenty of chairs, but for some reason she ignored them. Next to her was a plate that used to have a pile of sandwiches on it, most of which had migrated into my stomach.
“Yes, I want to learn magic. Are there any books that tell you how?” So far I hadn’t found anything other than bad novels and some out of date almanacs. Something along the lines of Magic For Dummies would have been ideal, but I hadn’t come across anything even close to that.
“No, of course there aren’t,” she said. “How would a book be able to teach you something like that? You either can do magic or you can’t.”
I flicked through a book called Out In The Field, which turned out to be a guide to planting crops at different times of the year, and placed it back on the shelf.
“Do you know anyone who can do magic?” I asked her.
“My uncle’s supposed to be able to, but I haven’t seen him in a few years. He locked himself away in one of the spires, working on his research, whatever that is.”
There were seven spires around the city, each vastly taller than any of the other buildings, and with no doors or windows.
I continued browsing the shelves. “What are the spires for?”
“I don’t know. Daddy says they protect the city, but I don’t see how. They never do anything.”
My finger stopped on a worn out book. The faded writing on the spine said Beasts Of The Wild. I pulled it out and flipped it open in the middle. There was a drawing of a yeti-looking creature called a yowg. The description gave details of height, size and hair colour. Dietary information and habitats were also included. I flicked through more pages and found more creatures, some of which I was familiar with. The names, at least.
Unfortunately, the book wasn’t organised into alphabetical order, so I had to search a number of pages before I found what I was looking for: Mouse King.
The drawing did not look like the small chap we had encountered. This version of the Mouse King was ripped. Huge muscles, enormous teeth, a body almost as wide as it was tall. What the fuck?
Grayson had seen what we brought in and identified it as the Mouse King. Had he made a mistake? I kept reading.
The author of the book was clearly very enthusiastic about the creatures he wrote about. Everything was described in excruciating depth. Why use one adjective when you can use six? It made for a very slow, boring read as I tried to find an explanation.
He also loved footnotes. Even the footnotes had footnotes. It was in one of these that I finally found my answer. According to the author, the only time the Mouse King was vulnerable was during its mating cycle, when it lost most of its body mass and avoided conflict by remaining hidden with its mate. It also returned to this weakened state after it was killed.
The Mouse King we fought was with a pregnant female, so it matched up with what the book told me. And it also confirmed my own suspicions that we had just got lucky. If we’d encountered it at full strength, it would have torn us to pieces.
“It’s amazing The Avengers were able to kill the Mouse King, isn’t it?” Laney was standing next to me, peering at the open book in my hands.
“Yes,” I said. “It’s very impressive.”
“I know it was you, Colin,” Laney whispered. She had a glint in her eye. “I know you were the ones who killed the Mouse King.”
I thought about denying it, but she didn’t look like she was bluffing. There was no way she would credit me with the kill if she didn’t have some kind of proof. I snapped the book shut.
“How did you find out?”
“I heard you talking to Daddy. I thought you were lying at first, but what’s the point of claiming you did it but not wanting people to know? It didn’t makes sense, at first. But then I remembered this book I read, where the hero pretends to be weak and pathetic, but secretly he’s has a special ability. He can change into a giant wolf.” She looked at me expectantly, like I was about to transform before her eyes.
“I’m sorry to disappoint you, Laney, but I’m not a werewolf. And I’m not pretending to be weak and pathetic, I really am weak and pathetic.”
“Then how did you kill the Mouse King?”
I took out the spike from my belt and showed it to her. “With this. I managed to stab it in the eye. It was very messy, blood and bits of brain everywhere. And screaming, lots of screaming. Mainly by me. So please put any romantic notions about heroes and hidden abilities back in your books where they belong. And don’t talk to anyone about it, either.”
She looked disappointed. “I know how to keep a secret. Even a boring one. Are you sure you aren’t secretly super strong or anything?”
“Yes, I’m sure.” Another book caught my eye, this one on swordfighting.
I flicked through the book. There were lots of diagrams of a man with a big moustache in various poses with a sword. There were a lot of complicated arrows and directions. I closed my eyes and tried to visualise the steps in the book. I hoped the moustache wasn’t compulsory.
“What are you thinking about?” whispered a voice uncomfortably close to my ear. “Are you imagining what you would like do to me if we were alone?”
I opened my eyes and looked around the empty room. “Laney, we are alone. And the only thing I’d like is to read this book, and maybe a few more sandwiches.”
The seductive leer—which more closely resembled a baby about to pass wind—fell from Laney’s face, to be replaced by a more age appropriate pout. She snatched the book from my hands.
“I suppose you think you can learn how to use a sword from a book, too,” she said.
“Idiot. You don’t learn by reading, you learn by doing. Trust me, I’ve been trained in the art of swordsmanship since I was three. There’s no substitute for the real thing.”
“Then teach me,” I said. Yes, she was only thirteen, but I only needed to learn the basics. And I was a lot less likely to get hurt practicing with her than some huge warrior. Or so I thought.
“Why should I? Do you think I have nothing better to do?”
“Because I’m making it my second request.”
She put the book back on the shelf and made a pa-pa-pa noise with her lips as she thought about it. “So you want to be in the same room as me when I have a sword in my hand?”
“I’m relying on you wanting your horse to stay alive more than you want to see me dead.”
She nodded contemplatively. “I just have to make sure you don’t die, right?” Then she smiled, which was terrifying.