The growing stench of charred paper filled the air as we approached the library. We walked in to find scattered, burned pieces of paper on the floor, and a few exhausted mice trying to clean up the mess. A black deer mouse perked up, shook ash from her whiskers, and called over to us. “You here to help?”
“Actually, no, we’re in the middle of a mission,” I picked my way through the rubble to where she stood.
Her face fell, and a cricket, probably her familiar, hopped onto her arm. She stroked its back. “I’m the new librarian, Miriam Delirium.” She held up a paw, open to us, and closed her eyes briefly. “Don’t ask. Anyway, we’re still sorting through all this stuff…”
“Can we talk to you for a moment?” Gretchen walked forward, and Emerson and the cricket perked up in each other’s presence.
Miriam nodded a little too eagerly. She was probably tired of cleaning and looking for an excuse to take a break. We filled her in on what we were trying to do.
She scratched her head roughly, releasing bits of ash and dust. “Yes, scranch dust would be the best tool for your needs, but those faeries took everything. Them and the mouse traitors. There’s nothing left. No scranch dust, enchanted pine nuts, not even any acorn traps. No empty ones, anyway. They even destroyed a bunch of flyknockers. Anyway. Anyway. Okay.” She paused and her nose wrinkled. “Ah!” her face brightened, and she put one finger on the tip of her nose. “I think I heard about something. In, ah, something…” She tapped her nose thoughtfully, then held the digit in the air. “Yes! I remember. Something in Stoneprior!” She dropped her cricket and ran toward the back of the library.
We followed to find her searching through a relatively unscathed stack of receipts and other papers. The cricket leaped to her back as she rifled through the stack. “Aha!” She yanked out a movie ticket stub, shaking the cricket loose at the same time. It bounced off the floor and landed on top of her head. “It looks like there’s a bird in Stoneprior who has something that might help you. I have an address…”
I peeked over her shoulder at what she held.
On the stub was a sketch of some thick glasses. Miriam looked around at me while pointing to them. “These are magical. If you look through them, you see things as they truly are. The glasses are human-sized, though…”
“Can I have this?” I reached for the stub and she handed it to me. I turned to face Dichall and Gretchen. “So if we get these glasses, and get to them to Vivian, she can see for herself what she’s gotten into, and she’ll practically beg us to lead her out of Pananima.”
They stared back at me, but Gretchen nodded and a bit of a smile lifted one corner of her mouth.
I shrugged. “I can’t think of any other way to do it. We better get started. Those creatures are making her older every day.” I turned back to Miriam. “Listen, there was a sword–”
She cut me off with closed eyes and a raised paw. “Grassblade is gone, Eve. I’m sorry.” Opening her eyes, she stared intently into mine. “Witnesses claim that Jenna herself had it when she escaped.”
I nodded and took a deep breath. That sword had been taken away from me for the greater good. If I’d been able to keep it, it would still be in our hands. It was Beatrice’s fault, but I felt guilty thinking badly of the recently dead. I found my hands were shaking and gripped my belt so nobody would notice.
We rolled up the stub, placed it in Gretchen’s backpack then made our way back through the maze of tunnels. Every time I saw the lid of an empty acorn trap I got the willies. Could the spirits that had been trapped in them be haunting our headquarters right now? I attempted to shoo those thoughts away, and focus on the mission at hand. As we passed the main room, I stopped. “We should tell the new leader what we’re doing, shouldn’t we?”
Dichall took my arm in his paw and pulled me close. “No, she might try to separate us.”
I pulled my arm from his grasp. “Give me a break, Dichall! You’re so paranoid.”
Dichall swallowed, and beckoned Gretchen close so we all could talk privately. “It’s just a feeling. We should go.”
I put my paw on his shoulder. “Listen, dear, I know she’s got a crush on you. Is that what you’re worried about? She’s a Councilmouse, Dichall. She wouldn’t endanger our mission over something so petty.”
Gretchen licked her lips. “No, Dichall’s right, Eve. Things feel… different… around here. New leaders lead to restructuring. Missions can be endangered or canceled. We need to go, now.”
I looked from one to the other. I just couldn’t believe that something like that could happen in the Micean Council. We all had the same mission, didn’t we? I felt a bit of rivalry with Evelyn, but I wouldn’t ever let that interfere with the important work we were doing. Surely she wouldn’t, either.
But my teammates were dead serious.
I raised my arms and let them fall to my sides. “I will defer to your greater experience.”
Dichall visibly relaxed, and we made our way through the chaotic halls to the pigeon stand.
As we waited in line, huddling together to fight the cold, I found myself growing uneasy and anxious. I reflected on my state of mind and realized that the conversation had unsettled me. The Micean Council was a noble organization and my new home, my new identity. The idea that it might ever be at cross-purposes to our own goals had never crossed my mind. But I’d seen no evidence of that, just Dichall and Gretchen being paranoid about one mouse. Even if that mouse did have a crush on my man. I shook myself, steeled my resolve, and tried to think about our next steps.
There was no getting on a pigeon, it turned out. A chubby, brown mouse named Jasmine Thickfur was temporarily in charge of who got to fly, and the wounded mice had priority. There were seven of them waiting for rides to duck ponds, and not enough birds to carry them She took one look at us, shook her head, and shouted over the wind. “You able-bodied Councilmice can hitch a ride on a bus or something. We’ve got wounded here!” Her tone of voice sounded both impatient and exhausted.
Dichall glanced into a pocket of his shirt. “I have a few crumbs. Let’s try to bribe a bird out in the yard.”
I cocked my head. “A few crumbs aren’t going to get us to Stoneprior, are they?”
Dichall looked in his pocket again and shook his head. “We need more food.”
I folded my freezing ears back to warm them and looked out into the city. “I guess we could try to sneak on a bus or something.”
Gretchen nodded and stroked Emerson’s body. “Risky. But I think it’s the only way we’re going to get there. Unless you feel like walking for days.”
I ran over the plan in my mind and something occurred to me. “Wait a minute, how are we going to get the glasses back to Quebec? They’re human-sized. We can’t carry them.”
Gretchen gestured toward the river. “We might be able to convince some animal in Stoneprior to carry it back for us, but we might not. It’s safer if we bring Waffles with us.”
I nodded. “All right, let me see if I’ve got this straight. We use Dichall’s crumbs to get a ride back to Vivian’s house, where we get Waffles to agree to this plan. Second, we somehow smuggle a hyperactive dog all the way to Stoneprior and back – and fast enough that his humans don’t notice he’s gone, think he’s lost and start looking for him, or a dog catcher doesn’t grab him as a stray. And then, once we’re finally back with Vivian, somehow make her wear the glasses and look at Magnitrude without Magnitrude noticing. All without knowing for sure she’ll be frightened, instead of fascinated, and agree to accompany us out of the locus she’s trapped in.” I stared at each of them. They just looked at each other then back at me. I frowned. “Is that our plan, seriously?”
Dichall rubbed his eyes. “It’s a little complicated. If we think of a better one on the way, we’ll do that instead, but I’m freezing. Let’s get a move on.”
“Okay, we’ll get down to the yard and find a bird. Let’s go through the headquarters. I’m about to die of frostbite out here.”
Gretchen glanced down to the yard. “Nein, let’s just jump down. I don’t want anybody stopping us in there.”
“Is Emerson going to be okay?”
“She shares my spirit. Familiars are tougher than bugs in the wild. She’ll be fine.”
I shivered. “Come on, we can go through the inside, nobody’s—”
Gretchen cut me off. Her eyes flashed and her voice took on an intensity I didn’t think she was capable of. I took a step back. “I know you think highly of the Micean Council, Eve. We do, too. But you’re new. I’ve seen things like this go down in Germany, at the Rat der Mäuse.” She took a deep breath and calmed down. “Please understand – things are in chaos right now, there could still be traitors lurking in the shadows, and we can’t trust anyone but ourselves until everything settles down. Please, just bundle up and follow me.”