The following morning they learned about the storyteller rune in the first class, and Amelia was absolutely taken with it. After learning to trace the rune onto thin sheets of paper, Ms. Strigot handed out a book to each of them and instructed them to write it inside the cover in pencil. Amelia stared down at the book she’d been given, which was a plain brown cover with scrolling yellow words.
Of Monsters and Men
Around her the other students were bent over their book already, scratching the rune carefully into the paper. Amelia opened the cover, and was immediately enveloped by the smell that only very old books could give off. She smiled and inhaled deeply. It was strange to love the smell of something old and musty, but she couldn’t help it. It was scent that meant far off adventures in other lands, exciting swords fights and battles with dragons.
It felt strange to be writing in a book. In most circumstances it was quite forbidden, so she traced the rune lightly on the inside cover, making sure not to press too hard with the pencil. The minute she lifted the led from the paper a quiet whispering sound began drifting up from the book. She sat up, startled, and then bent closer to listen.
“In the year of eighteen seventy,” the whispery little voice said, “there was a count by the name of Draguncula Macabre. He was a very wicked man, and all he loved was what money could buy him. And money bought him nearly everything. Mansions and great feasts, fancy carriages and fancier women. But one thing Count Macabre did not yet have…”
Amelia sat up, mouth open in astonishment. She found Beatrix smiling at her, holding her own book up for inspection. It was a little green pocket book, but its voice was much louder than the one Amelia had been given, in fact, it was nearly bellowing its story out loud.
“You did it the first time.” Beatrix had to raise her voice over the noisy book. “Wonderful job. I had to retrace it three times the first time I tried it.” She grimaced down at the book in her hands. “Golly, this one is a loud mouth.”
The noise level was slowly rising in the classroom as the other students drew out the runes. The books ranged from quiet whispering, like the one Amelia had, to very loud, and one in the back even began yelling, until the student slammed it shut.
“Alright everyone, seems you’ve all got it.” Ms. Strigot raised her voice over the noise, waving her hands at them. “Please shut your books now before we all get headaches.”
The sound of covers snapping shut proceeded complete silence. Amelia couldn’t help glancing down at her book again, even though Ms. Strigot had begun to lecture on the rune. Fierce happiness filled her, and she could hardly sit still. She’d drawn out the rune and it had worked on the first try. Perhaps she was actually going to be good at this. She’d been afraid that she would be terribly behind everybody else, but it didn’t seem too hard so far.
Of course, things were just getting started. It could get a lot more difficult.
Before class ended the students were asked to erase the runes from the books and pile them at the front desk before they exited the classroom. Amelia dropped hers off on the stack and joined Beatrix by the door, who was waiting next to Leon.
She felt her cheeks flush when Leon grinned at her. He was acting as if everything was perfectly normal. Like he hadn’t stolen a kiss and then doubled over with heart palpitations.
He’s completely ridiculous.
Amelia tightened her grip on the leather book she was holding, and smiled at Beatrix, determined not to let him see how flustered she was. “Shall we go?”
They walked down the hallway to the next class, which was run by Mr.Sansom in the library. Beatrix had already warned her that “History of Literature” was mind-numbingly dull, but Amelia found that she was actually looking forward to it.
The three of them entered the library on the back end of the crowd of students, and Amelia paused, falling behind the others, hardly believing her luck.
The library was packed ceiling to floor with books. The ceilings were impossibly high, they had to be thirty feet at least, domed at the top and painted with murals of angels. The bookshelves were dark cherry wood, and packed together tightly. There were sliding ladders at regular intervals, and stairs in the middle of the room that lead up to a second level of shelves.
Beatrix turned around. “Are you coming?” She looked amused, and Amelia hurried to follow her the rest of the way into the library.
“This place is fantastic. I’ve never seen so many books. It’s like a dream.”
Sasha York had trailed in behind them. She was standing with her arms crossed over her chest, glaring around the room. Amelia had noticed that Sasha hadn’t been as nasty lately. Last night while they were getting ready for bed she hadn’t even said anything mean to anyone. She had kept to herself, furiously scribbling away on a set of fancy stationary, snapping at Kaylie if she said anything. Kaylie herself was standing just behind Sasha, looking extremely sullen.
“This place is a joke,” Sasha said loudly. “My father is going to hear about how they go around accusing innocent people. This library might as well be burnt to the ground right now. It’s as good as gone.”
It was obvious that Sasha was being completely ridiculous, but still, Amelia couldn’t help feeling a pang of horror at the thought of this place burning. She glared at the other girl, then turned away quickly, telling herself it wasn’t worth it.
Leon’s lazy drawl echoed around the room. “Yes, I’m sure your daddy will take down the prestigious, one thousand year old school that has produced the greatest rune scribes in the history of England. We’re all shaking in our boots, really we are.”
There were snickers from the other students, and a pale slender girl in a lace dress said snidely, “Positively petrified.”
“You want to start something, Lydia Moon?” Sasha glared at her. “You know my father well enough.”
The girl, Lydia, looked like she did want to start something. Her hands curled into fists and she began to step forward, when there was a heavy clunk from the front of the room, and Mr. Sansom hurried in, face flushed.
“Alright, that’s enough chit chat. I hate to be late, but I was just discussing having the key of Solomon repaired with Mr. Proustworth.” He flinched. “He’s terribly angry about it.”
The students went quiet, and Mr. Sansom bustled to the front, pushing his glasses up, struggling to hold the load of books under his arms. “Alright. Today we’re going to discuss some of our major players here. As you all know, this library is stocked with some of the most valuable grimoires and manuscripts known to man.”
He turned, beckoning for the students to follow, leading them into a smaller section of the library the housed two large glass cases. “Look but don’t touch,” he said. “The cases can do without your fingerprints all over them.”
The students spread out around the cases. Most of them, Amelia noted, looked bored. They’d probably seen all of this before. She pressed forward, determined to get a look at what was behind the glass.
The first case held five different books. Two of them were open to display yellowed pages scrawled with black ink, the others were shut, locked with iron bindings. One even had a heavy looking lock on the front of it, and there was no key in sight.
Mr.Sansom seemed to notice her looking at it, probably because she was one of the only students that was pressing forward with interest.
“Ah yes, this first one is the Libri di Mortem.” His voice dropped to a loud stage whisper, and he wiggled his brows dramatically. “The book of death.”
There was no laughter from the students, and he cleared his throat and added hastily. “Not a humorous matter of course. It contains a great deal of deadly spells that should never be used by anybody, including resurrection spells, and summoning spells.”
Amelia wasn’t sure if she was allowed to ask questions, but she figured he was looking directly at her, so he probably wouldn’t mind. “What do they summon?”
Mr. Sansom looked delighted. “Ah, good question, dear.” He turned to the crowd of students. “Can anyone tell me what the summoning spells might bring? Anyone?”
Leon was probably the only person on earth who could say that while still looking bored. A pale faced girl with dark eyes, who looked nearly as bored as Leon spoke up. “And monsters, but we all know that.”
“Yes, thank you Ivory.” Mr. Sansom looked exasperated. He turned away, his hands hovering over the glass case. “Now, if you were to use one of the spells without knowing what it did, you could find yourself facing down a creature from the forest, or far worse, a fiend straight out of the depths of hell who would break the bonds of the spell and enslave you.”
There was some interest at this. The students seemed to perk up a little bit, and Mr. Sansom brightened. “Yes, each one of the spells in this book is so dangerous that the book was widely destroyed a few years back. We have the only readable copy that is left.”
“There are others you can’t read?” Beatrix asked.
The librarian hesitated. “Yes. There’s…one more.”
“Is it torn up or something?” Amelia leaned closer to the glass, staring hard at the cover of the book, which looked nearly innocent, save for the heavy locks. It was just a book, wasn’t it?
“Well, um…the other book is unreadable because…it’s damaged.”
“By what?” The girl, Ivory, seemed to be amused by the teacher’s fidgeting. “What happened to it?”
“It…it’s covered in dried blood,” Mr. Sansom blurted out, and the class fell silent.
Amelia moved away from the glass, nearly stumbling backwards into Leon. Mr. Sansom quickly changed the subject after that, talking about the “Red Dragon” Grimoire, and how it could apparently summon the devil. Amelia was only half listening, staying well away from the glass. She wasn’t interested in evil books that got you murdered, she wanted to hear about stories, about tales of brave knights and adventures. Not black magic.
She frowned, realizing that something was niggling in the back of her mind. She smelled something funny, something that reminded her of autumn. Of fireplaces and leaves burning and…
Amelia jerked up straight, searching the room frantically. Around her the students shifted, glancing over their shoulders, a murmur started up.
She finally spotted it in the back, a column of smoke rising up over the tops of the bookshelves. Someone else saw it, shouted, drowning out Mr. Sansom’s lecture.
Who do you think started the fire? Would the Libri de Mortim really summon demons? What should the children do now?