I sheathed Grim’s blade, and leapt after the black faerie, running on all fours for speed, the tip of my weapon tapping the ground with every leap. Did you know that mice can reach a top speed of about seven miles per hour? That’s about as fast as a running human. We can’t do it for very long, but still. We can boogie.
Not far ahead of me, it made toward a hole. I lunged, grabbing one of its insectoid wings, which came loose in my paw. The creature squealed, wriggled loose, and dove through the hole. But in addition to running, you know what else mice are really good at? Squeezing through little holes!
I dropped the wing and we followed the faerie into the unknown: one mouse, two mice, three mice, falling into the dark.
I bounced once, scrambled to get a grip on what felt like wood, but missed and continued downward, probably along the interior of a wall, all in complete darkness. Moments later, I landed in a little room, about a foot square and lit with a small candle. Had I been heavier, it might have hurt. As it was, I scrambled to my feet and glanced around. My fellow Councilmice were with me a moment later.
It didn’t look good.
The faerie stood in front of us, baring his teeth and squeezing his eyes almost shut. But he wasn’t what I was worried about.
Behind him were seven others like him.
And behind them was one about the size of a human fist, and roughly the same shape, with many segmented legs sprouting from her on all sides. Out of the main section, like the centaurs of human legend (but without the horse parts), rose the torso and upper body of a human woman. She reminded me of a grotesque version of a spider. She screamed something in the fae language, pointing at us.
Her underlings rushed us, needle-sharp fingers raised as weapons.
In one smooth movement, I drew Grim’s blade and bisected the first of them, slicing clean through its pom-pom body. Out of the corner of my eye I made out Dichall and Gretchen moving toward the corner. I backed up to defend them. Being cornered wasn’t ideal, but at least it would keep us from getting surrounded.
It was over in minutes. Scary as they looked, they had no instinct for fighting. Cowardly ambush predators, used to sniping at children’s fingers from the darkness, they were no match for Councilmice. The three of us killed five, and the remaining two backed away, cowering and emitting whimpers—a cross between frog noises and creaking doors.
The big one stepped forward, drawing a small, very shiny sword. I froze and gaped. Swords of that size just don’t exist. Or, at least, I’d never seen one. There were no animal blacksmiths, were there? And why would a human forge a sword the size of a toothpick? She smiled a fanged grin, swinging the blade back and forth, cutting the dark air.
“Hey, ugly!” Dichall yelled, and threw his dog-tooth spear. The faerie turned her head and swung the sword. It cut through the spear into two pieces. Seizing the distraction, I pointed Grim’s blade at her and charged.
Distracted by Dichall’s attack, she never saw me coming. I ran Grim’s blade all the way into her belly, up to the hilt even, then yanked it back out. Inky liquid gushed out, sublimating seconds after it pooled on the floor. She looked down at me, eyes and mouth like three little Os, then crumpled into a pile. The sword clattered to the floor beside her.
The other two faeries were squealing and trying to climb the walls to get away from us. But we blocked the only exit and quickly killed them. I cleaned Grim’s blade on the large boss faerie’s body before it disintegrated.
Gretchen picked up the sword. “I’m going to use my magical sight on it.”
Dichall and I caught our breath while Gretchen stared at the sword, doing whatever it was she did when she looked into the magical world.
“You were amazing, Eve.” Dichall turned to me, our whiskers almost touching. “Maybe sometime you can show me your moves.”
I didn’t meet his eyes. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
Before he could answer, Gretchen interrupted. “It’s a magical sword, Eve.” She turned it, handle first, to me. “You are our warrior.”
I took the blade in my paw and swung it around a few times. It was balanced, light as a pine needle, and sharp as squirrel repartee.
“My spear broke.” Dichall pointed to Grim’s blade, in my other paw. “How about I take that?” Our paws touched as I passed the weapon from mine to his. He pretended not to notice the spark, but I heard his quick intake of breath.
We got a pigeon ride home and I made sure to the blade out of sight beneath my cloak as we walked into headquarters.
“Come on,” Dichall pulled my cloak, “We’re going straight to the library.”
“Gretchen Flix! Hello.” The librarian was chubby and had a missing eye. “And who is this?”
Gretchen waved a paw toward Dichall. “This is Dichall Smileyes.”
The librarian cocked his head to the side. “Mmm. I think I’ve heard of you. How’s your wife?” I felt my body deflate a little, but then caught myself. Why should I care if he has a wife?
Dichall looked at the floor. “She was killed in the line of duty.”
I felt my body lighten again and hated myself for it.
Gretchen slapped me on the back. “And this is our newest recruit, Eve Pixiedrowner.”
I extended a paw. “How do you do?”
He ignored it. “How do you do too, and other assorted pleasantries. Now, what can I help you with?”
Gretchen smiled. “Aaaand this is Gregory Bookkeeper. Small talk is the bane of his existence.”
“I can appreciate that.” I drew my sword. “We’re here because of this. We want to know what it is.”
Gregory looked closely at the sword with his good eye, then held out his paws and wiggled his fingers. I handed over the blade and tried not to wonder whether Dichall was looking at the sword or at me.
Gregory carried it to a table then pulled out a clear marble and used it as a magnifying glass, examining the intricate carvings in its hilt and cross guard.
“Mmm. Mmmm.” He raised one finger into the air and scurried off to get a book from the shelves.
“I hate to bring this up,” Gretchen said, “but we’re really not supposed to hold on to magical things we find in the field on Council business.”
“We’re not?” My voice sounded to me like a mouse pup being denied a pop-tart crumb.
“Nope,” Dichall glanced at the doorway, “technically, she’s right, but the rules don’t say how soon we need to give it to the owls.”
Gregory came back and broke the tension. “It’s called Grassblade. It’s magical all right. Forged by the greater fae hundreds of years ago. It’s got an interesting history, actually, you see—“
I cut him off. “But what does it do?”
“Oh, well. It kills faeries, is what it does.”
“Oh. Grim’s blade did that pretty well.”
“No, this does some serious, internal kind of magical harm. I think it would even hurt a greater fae. It’s quite a find! Well done. Anywho, need to get back to work, so you mice run along, now, all right?” And without waiting for our reply, tucked the book under his arm and disappeared into the stacks.
We stood there, looking at the sword.
Gretchen looked at me and licked her lips. I could tell she didn’t want to say anything. Dichall looked at me, too.
I broke the silence. “If we give it to the owls…”
“They would find the best use for it.” Gretchen crossed her arms.
Dichall rolled his eyes. “At some point. But we might be facing a fae, and soon.”
I glared at him. “Are you suggesting that we break the laws of the Council just in case—“
“Rules, not laws…”
“—just in case we decide to go on some suicide mission against a fae?”
Dichall shrugged. “You never know, we might run into the fae anyway. Accidentally.”
“There you are! Come quick!” Emilie dashed in, panting. “You have to take care of a haunted kindergarten.” She wheeled around and fled back out the door.
I glared at Dichall. “To be continued.”
He just smiled at me with his eyes.