In 2013 the marvellous Angry Robot books will be publishing three Split Worlds novels, the first is out in March and called "Between Two Thorns". This story is part of a crazy thing I decided to do before I got the book deal and was forging ahead with the project on my own: releasing a new story every week for a year and a day, hosted on a different site every time, all set in the Split Worlds. I wanted to give readers a taste of my kind of urban fantasy and have the opportunity to build in secrets and extra tit-bits for those people who, like me, love the tiny details. It's also been a major part of my world-building work alongside writing the novels.
This is the forty-fourth tale in the year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. If you would like me to read it to you instead, you can listen here. You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here. You can also sign up to get the stories delivered to your inbox, one per week for a year and a day.
The Quiet Librarian
They watched, both peeping out from behind open books, both holding their breath. The librarian moved closer to the trap, making Xavier's right leg bounce up and down with excitement.
"She's getting old," George whispered to him. "What if she has a heart attack?"
"Mundane medicine is very advanced, I'm given to understand. She'll be fine."
The librarian reached the space on the shelf and didn't appear to notice the tiny lines of formulae written towards the back of it, nor the box tucked away at the end of the symbols. She hefted up the huge encyclopaedia, her arms trembling with the effort, and slid it into place. As the book completed the criteria required for the formulae to take effect, dozens of bright yellow spiders ran out over the top of the books and down their spines, only inches from her face.
Her mouth curved downwards and she wheeled the trolley back to the main desk, leaving the spiders to find nooks and crannies to frighten future readers.
Xavier shook his head. "I was certain that would do it. Spiders worked perfectly before."
"That was in 1982," George said. "I remember it well; it was the only year in the eighties that I lost to you."
"Get ready to lose again," Xavier said. "I'm sure the next thing I have planned will do the trick."
"Don't be so certain." George pulled out his pocket watch. "We have two more hours before we're expected back in the Nether and this will be my tenth win in a row, I'm sure of it."
They abandoned their books and went their separate ways, hunting down locations to set up their next attempts as the librarian scanned in returned books and chatted with the locals.
George went up to the mezzanine floor and leaned on the railing, watching the activity at the main desk. He missed the solid thump of the old-fashioned date stampers. Now it was all barcodes and bright beeping sounds. Other than that, the library hadn't really changed over the last sixty years. There were new books, new posters on the walls and new bookshelves added for modern reference sections, but the fiction area was still as he remembered.
He'd already tried dropping a huge book, hoping the loud bang would elicit a response from the librarian. All it achieved was a crying baby and a stern glare in his direction. He'd mouthed 'sorry' and blushed, feeling childish.
He considered a simple formula to add water vapour to a section of air on the far side of library, to make her think there was a fire breaking out, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Making an old lady think a fire was starting in the library she'd worked in for most of her life just wasn't cricket. Perhaps he was going to lose this year.
"It's such a shame," a young mother's voice caught his attention. "I don't know what we'll do when it closes. You know how many books mine go through a week."
"They don't care about normal people," the librarian replied. "They're so rich they think everyone can just buy any books they want to read. I've written over twenty letters since they made the announcement and haven't even had a reply."
"We did all we could," the mother replied, picking up one of her children. "It was in the local paper, did you see it?"
"I did. The only good that's come out of it is that people have been talking to each other like they used to."
George went to the newspaper section as the mother and her children left. He found the latest copy and the headlines made the yearly challenge seem even more childish. The library was being closed down.
A movement drew his attention back towards the desk and he saw a large white rat scurry out from behind a bookcase. The librarian peered over the top of her glasses at the rodent.
"Well, really," she said and grabbed a cardboard box from under the desk. With the efficiency of a woman with better things to do, she caught the rat, taped the box shut and made some air holes in it. As she phoned the local pest control, George decided that there was no point keeping up the absurd bet with Xavier. The poor woman had been frightened in dozens of different ways over the years. They'd have to do something truly horrific to make her scream now and he simply wasn't prepared to do that anymore.
He leaned back and watched a small girl run through to the children's area, an older child close behind. An old man was hunched over a computer in the corner, typing slowly with one finger and occasionally grinning at the screen.
George put the newspaper back and went up to the desk. The librarian smiled at him. It was the first time he'd approached her rather than just conspiring to terrify her.
"I understand they're planning to close the library," he said. "I thought you should know that I'm about to go to the local council offices and give them one million of the Queen's pounds, with instructions that it be used to keep this establishment open for as long as possible and that you be employed here for as long as you wish."
Her mouth fell open. "Is this some sort of trick?"
"No madam, I can assure you this is a serious offer." He pulled out the Sorcerer's chequebook and showed her the name of the bank. It would be a simple matter to buy a bag of anthracite and create enough diamonds to replenish the account. "If you wish to accompany me to see it done with your own eyes, you are most welcome to do so."
Her cheeks flushed. "Isn't that the one the Queen banks with?"
He nodded and she reached over the desk to throw her arms about him and kiss him on the cheek. As he blushed, she explained what was happening to the other librarian, put on her coat and then squealed with unbridled joy.
He extended his arm to her, and as they strode out together, he permitted himself the briefest triumphant glance back at Xavier. He had won after all.
Thanks for hosting, Emma!Thanks for asking me to host, Emma, and very best of luck with the Split Worlds novels - I can't wait to read them!
Between Two Thorns, the first Split Worlds novel, is available for preorder on Amazon now.