Vivian went very still. “I don’t want to go home. I want to be a big girl.”
“But Miss Magnitrude is a…” How do I say this? “Well, she’s a monster. She only looks like a woman.”
Vivian fussed over the hair of her doll for a moment, not saying anything. Her mouth twisted. She doesn’t like what she’s hearing…
Waffles started panting, his dark eyes shifting rapidly from her to us.
I turned to Gretchen and Dichall. “If we use scranch dust, she will see the creature for what she truly is.”
“That might convince her,” Gretchen glanced to where Magnitrude had walked out, “but we don’t have any.”
Waffles let out a whine. “Scranch dust? What are you talking about? We have to get her out of here! Now!”
Dichall and turned to Vivian. “I know you don’t want to go. It’s really important. Your parents miss you.”
She kept stroking her doll’s hair, not meeting our eyes. “Every day I get a little bigger. When I’m big enough, then I’ll go home.”
If they let her.
Dichall tried again. “Vivian, I really think—”
“No!” She looked at us then, her eyes wet. “Were you really playing hide and go seek with Miss Magnitrude?”
“No, we weren’t really playing. We are here to help you, and she might try to hurt us.” Dichall held up his paws out, a conciliatory gesture.
“You told a lie?”
None of us answered.
“Go away!” She turned and planted her face in the pillow.
“Vivian,” I started to approach, but the girl visibly stiffened.
Gretchen put her hand on my shoulder. “She’s not coming, Eve. Come on, we have to get some scranch dust.”
Waffles’s eyes went wide. “We’re leaving her here with that monster?”
“Just to headquarters and back.” I suddenly felt very tired. “We have to get some scranch dust from the store at the Micean Council. Then we come back. We invoke the dust, Vivian sees what Magnitrude really is, and then maybe she’ll come with us.”
“But! … But!”
“We can’t force her to go.” I leaped atop Waffles. “We’re too small, and she would alert everyone here, and she’d be lost for good. She has to want to go.”
Waffles reluctantly capitulated, and we snuck by Miss Magnitrude again, which wasn’t very hard, as she was distracted, swatting and screeching at gnats.
We walked out of the little town, out of Pananima, and into the freezing Quebec winter of the Mundane World.
Outside the Kilby house, we flagged down a common nighthawk who was willing to fly us back to Ottawa. Waffles had gone from anger, to sadness, and was now in sullen resignation.
“Don’t worry,” I said, putting my paw on his, “we’ll be back in about ten hours. We just need to go to headquarters, get some sleep and some scranch dust, and we’ll be back to get Vivian.”
“Please hurry. They’re stealing more of her youth every day.” Waffles went through the doggy door, tail between his legs.
I shook the tiredness from my whiskers and mounted the bird. The three of us huddled together for our cold flight home.
As soon as we got near the Peace Tower, we could tell something was very wrong. At the pigeon stand, two Councilmice were arguing with a crow. The nighthawk dropped us off on the roof nearby, and we scampered over to see what the fuss was about.
An old mouse turned to us and did a doubletake. “Eve Pixiedrowner?”
I gestured to the squabbling. “What’s going on here?”
The mouse sighed and dropped his arms to his sides. “Where to begin… Come inside, you are going to want to sit down for this.”
Inside Council headquarters the mouse spoke to us in a voice just above a whisper. “There was a Councilmouse here. Jenna Talkyadown. Did you know her?”
Dichall wiped a drop of melted snowflake from one of his whiskers. “Not well. We met her just before we left on the mission we’re just returning from. What about her?”
The old mouse swallowed and looked around as though someone might be listening. “You talked to her? She was a turncoat. Working for the faeries, we think.”
I think my heart must have stopped for a moment. “What?”
“It’s not just here. All across North America there was a coordinated strike, all on the same day. The Council here is in bad shape. Listen, Beatrice died in the battle.”
Gretchen gasped. “Beatrice Brownbrow is dead?” She and Beatrice went way back.
The mouse nodded and looked solemnly at the floor. “She’s not the only one. Faeries got in—let in, we think, by Jenna and her allies.”
Gretchen flopped, sitting on the floor, her mouth open, shaking her head. Emerson’s wings stopped fluttering. I put my paw on her shoulder.
“Many mice died. We buried them in a mass grave last night.”
I didn’t think something like this could ever happen. My new home!
The mouse perked up as though waking from a trance. “You need to go talk to the leader. The new leader, since Beatrice… it’s Evelyn Farseer.”
Dichall and I looked at each other. Evelyn was that beautiful shaman mouse with eyes for Dichall, if I’d read her body language correctly.
Dichall broke the gaze and turned to the old mouse. “Had Beatrice designated her as heir?”
“We don’t know. Much of the library was destroyed in the battle. That’s where such things would have been recorded. Come on, I’ll bring you to her.”
The headquarters used to be full of stressed, exhausted mice running to or from missions, but now it was full of stressed, exhausted, and wounded mice, some on stretchers and makeshift gurneys to be carried to bird wizards who might be able to heal them. The feeling was tense and paranoid. The hallways smelled of blood. Many acorn traps were missing or lying on the ground, open, I noticed with alarm. Those malignant spirits will all have to be captured again.
The mouse brought us into the main meeting room. Evelyn was in the centre, asking a mouse about his whereabouts on the night of the attack, her lustrous fur practically glowing in the dim candlelight. Her bumblebee familiar rested upside-down on the ceiling just above her. All eyes turned to us, and the room quieted.
“Gretchen, Eve, and Dichall. Welcome home.” Evelyn gestured for us to approach like she was royalty or something. With a nod she dismissed the mouse she was talking to, who scampered out of the room like he’d rather have been anywhere else.
She looked at me, then Gretchen, and then her eyes finally came to rest on Dichall. Of course… “You’ve been gone for a while?”
Dichall looked at me and Gretchen, then back to Evelyn. She was clearly asking him. “Yes, Evelyn Farseer. We are in the middle of a mission. We’ve found a child who wandered into a locus in Pananima and doesn’t want to come out.”
Evelyn blinked her beautiful eyes. “What do you need?”
I felt the need to get involved in this conversation. “We’re back for some scranch dust.”
Evelyn’s eyes looked away. “I’m sorry. There isn’t any. I don’t know what you’ve heard already, but Jenna Talkyadown was working with the faeries. Our best guess is that they had given her some enchantment that allowed her to turn invisible. She gnawed a secret entrance and allowed faeries in during the day, when many of us were asleep. Beatrice died. Gregory Bookkeeper was killed as well. They sacked the library. There’s no scranch dust. There’s not much of anything.” Her gaze returned to mine, and I saw the exhaustion there.
The hair on my back went on end, and I felt a chill. It was worse than I thought. “Was Jenna captured?”
Evelyn shook her head. “We don’t know where she is. We think the faeries might have covered her escape.”
“What about Kingston?” Gretchen gestured in the city’s general direction. “Could we get some there? We need it to convince the child of the danger she’s in.”
Evelyn sighed. “As far as we know, Kingston was hit, too. It’s unlikely they have any scranch dust either. Same with Montréal. I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to find another way.”
My mind was on Grassblade, the sword that I used to kill the fae Yonya. The magical sword that had been taken from me. I gritted my teeth, wishing I hadn’t surrendered it.
Gretchen wasn’t finished with her. “Can the owls make us some more?”
“They’re doing what they can, but they’re still busy with the invasion they’ve been dealing with. I’m afraid you can’t wait for them.”
Gretchen herded us away and turned her head back. “Yes, yes, Evelyn, we’ll figure something out.”
Dichall looked at Gretchen’s hand on his back, confused. “What’s the hurry?”
“We have to go to the library, ja? See what’s left before it’s picked over!”