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Emma Adams

Mummies & Mysteries: A Library Witch Mystery Book 14 (Paperback)

Mummies & Mysteries: A Library Witch Mystery Book 14 (Paperback)

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Book 14 of : A Library Witch Mystery

 When Rory and her magical family play host to the town’s Halloween masquerade event at their library, they’re prepared for anything… except murder.

When a man shows up strangled by his own mummy costume, literally unmasking the killer among the guests proves to be the least of the police’s problems. Between overbearing relatives trying to micromanage the investigation to inexplicable events in the library targeting Rory and her family, she finds herself wondering if there was more to the man’s death than meets the eye.

And does Aunt Candace’s Halloween mask really carry a deadly curse?

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On the day of Ivory Beach’s much-anticipated Halloween party, I was unceremoniously jolted out of sleep by a large swathe of cobwebs landing on my head. I sat upright, struggling to disentangle myself, while Sylvester the owl cackled loudly from his perch on top of the doorframe.

With difficulty, I managed to tug the matted, sticky webs off my mouth so I could speak. “What did you do that for?” 

“You were sleeping too peacefully,” replied the owl. “I thought I’d fix it for you.”

“Thanks.” I pulled at the webbing, succeeding only in getting my hand and wrist just as tangled as my head. After several moments of struggling, I seized my wand from my bedside table and cast a removal spell. The webbing slid off my skin like soap, and I then shooed Sylvester out of my room so I could get dressed in peace.

Really, it was lucky that Xavier hadn’t been here, or else he’d have been caught in the web as well—though the reasons for that were just as much of a cause for annoyance as my unwelcome early awakening. Admittedly, Xavier could slip out of Sylvester’s fake webs without needing to use magic at all. One of many perks of being a Reaper.

When I’d showered and dressed, I went downstairs to the kitchen. Estelle sat eating cornflakes at the table, while Sylvester perched beside her bowl and blinked his big owl eyes innocently at me. Someone—Aunt Adelaide, no doubt—had left a stack of toast on a plate next to jars of jam and marmalade and a full coffeepot.

“Hey, Estelle.” I picked up a plate of my own and piled toast onto it. “Ready for tonight?”

“I hope so.” She rubbed her tired eyes. “My mum’s double-checking I didn’t leave anything off the list, but my main concern is that we won’t have enough time between the library closing and the event’s grand opening. Oh, and making sure nobody unexpected shows up without being invited.”

She meant the vampires. Which was a risk, I’d admit, but Estelle had been planning the library’s annual Halloween party since last year, and we didn’t need to let a group of fanged nuisances ruin the night.

Sylvester stole a piece of toast from my plate. “If you don’t want unexpected people to show up, don’t host a masquerade ball open to the public.”

Without waiting for a reply, he took flight in a feathery swoop, dropping a trail of crumbs onto my head as he did so.

I shook my head to dislodge them and gave Estelle an encouraging smile. “Ignore him. He’s in a mood today. He woke me up by throwing cobwebs onto my face.”

Estelle sighed. “I know he’s right, though. I just thought… I mean, we’ve spent long enough lying low. It’s not like we don’t have any defences against potential trouble in here.”

“Exactly.” I began buttering my toast. “Maybe Sylvester has a touch of stage fright and is taking it out on the rest of us.”

Estelle snorted. “That’ll be the day.”

For reasons known only to his enigmatic self, Sylvester had bargained—or manipulated—his way into becoming the starring attraction of the night. Given his usual habit of staying hidden from the public eye, for the most part, I wasn’t sure why he’d suddenly become attached to the idea of performing at the library’s biggest annual event. Since the owl had an undeniable flair for the dramatic, though, I was sure that he’d get over his nerves and wow everyone tonight. 

“Could be worse,” I added. “At least we didn’t go with a vampire-specific theme like Aunt Candace suggested.”

“That’d have got Evangeline’s hackles up,” Estelle agreed. “Got to make sure we stay on good terms with our fanged neighbours. Do you think she’ll show up tonight?”

“Highly unlikely.” We were too low-class for the local vampires, despite a masquerade ball being exactly their cup of tea—or wineglass of blood. Either worked.

It wasn’t the local vampires who concerned me, though. Evangeline and I would never be close friends, but she didn’t belong to the group of rogues with an unending grudge against my family and who might take tonight’s event as an invitation to make trouble. We’d driven them out of the library several times already, but it’d be nice to have a stress-free night—or as stress-free as possible for a family of biblio-witches anyway. 

Estelle brushed crumbs off her lap. “It’s too late now, and Sylvester knows it too. We’ve already put out the word, and half the town’s promised to attend. Maybe more. Depends how many other parties there are tonight.”

“I can’t imagine most of them will be invited to Evangeline’s.” Her events were the very definition of exclusive—and not generally human friendly either. “No, we’ll be fine. Between the library’s defences and the threat of being pecked to death by an owl, nobody will dare make trouble tonight.”

Estelle and I finished breakfast and left our family’s living quarters for the main part of the library, where the lobby was decked out, ready for the evening. The centrepiece, a giant inflatable pumpkin, hovered above, level with the ceiling. Below, three storeys of shelves climbed upwards, draped in spiderwebs and fringed with orange-and-black tinsel.  

Sylvester perched on the topmost balcony, directly below the pumpkin, which he surveyed with a greedy eye. After he’d spent weeks popping any balloon Estelle left unattended, she’d finally wrangled him into an agreement where he was allowed to burst the giant pumpkin balloon at the beginning of the party on the condition that he left it alone beforehand. Neither Estelle nor I had entirely had faith in him to exercise restraint, and I knew she had at least two other pumpkins waiting in the wings as backup.

When he saw me looking at him, Sylvester shuffled his feet around but left his face turned towards us in that creepy owl-like manner. He did not, however, make a move for the pumpkin.

“He’s behaving,” said Aunt Adelaide, emerging from behind a shelf with her arms full of fake cobwebs. Tall and curvy, she resembled her daughter, Estelle, and shared her head for business too. “He’s been sitting up there for most of the night and hasn’t touched anything.”

“Good.” Spying a pile of books waiting in the box next to the front desk, I went to organise them. 

“Oh, you don’t have to bother with the returns, Rory,” added my aunt, siphoning off the cobwebs with an expert wave of her wand. Somehow, she’d avoided getting any tangled in her long, curly red hair. “I’ll handle them.”

“It’s no big deal,” I insisted. “You and Estelle already have enough to do.”

The pair of them had put this event together in a matter of weeks, an impressive achievement with the number of setbacks that had stood in their way. Between vampiric threats and vanishing corridors, magical libraries came with all sorts of hazards at the best of times. I’d been living here for less than a year, so there were some areas that I didn’t have access to yet, and the gaping holes in my magical knowledge became apparent when faced with a new challenge, like a Halloween party, for instance.

I placed the pile of returns on the desk and reached for the roll of parchment that listed all the codes and their corresponding sections. I’d got pretty good at finding the main ones without needing to consult a guide, but there was usually one oddity in there. 

“Hey, Jet,” I called my familiar’s name. “Can you help me with these?”

“Here, partner!” he squeaked, fluttering down to my shoulder. The little crow wasn’t strong enough to lift a book larger than a pamphlet, but he liked to participate in the library’s activities, and I figured I might as well tire him out a little before the party. Yesterday, he’d got himself worked up into such a frenzy over the upcoming celebrations that I’d had to ban him from flying around the Reading Corner and distracting the visitors by twittering at them. My family alone could understand his speech, a trait he shared with Sylvester. Aside from that and the wings, the pair had absolutely nothing else in common.

“This way.” I picked up the first return—a large magical dictionary—and carried it through the reference section, which stretched behind the front desk. Generally, the shelves down here stayed where they were put, though I did have to move one of Aunt Candace’s notebooks from the dictionaries section where she’d stashed it on a shelf.

Typically, when I picked up the notebook, my hand turned bright purple. Security spell, is it? Since it was my wand hand that had been affected, I reached for my Biblio-Witch Inventory instead. The little book I kept in my pocket came in handy in situations involving simple spells, where I could usually just press my fingertip to the pre-written word reverse and undo whatever prank had hit me.

Notably, Aunt Candace herself was nowhere to be seen. She’d likely either be plotting a Halloween-themed novel to add to her collection or else assembling her outfit for the evening. That left Cass, who was up on the third floor with an array of magical monsters. I fervently hoped her pets would not be participating in the event, though a kelpie rampaging around would certainly add to the Halloween atmosphere.

When I walked out of the research division to pick up the next book, I spied Estelle fixing a banner across the first-floor balcony while Spark the pixie helped hang up the other end. The little fairy was scarcely bigger than my palm, his wings as delicate as the fake cobwebs, but he held the banner valiantly in his tiny fingers.

“Need a hand?” I called up to them.

“I’m all right.” Estelle adjusted the banner and stepped back. “The banners keep falling down. I blame Sylvester for sharpening his claws on them.”

“Why not stick them on with cobwebs?” I suggested. “I’d like to see him disentangle his claws from that.”

“He’d put mice in my bed for a week if I did that to him.” She beckoned Spark back to her side, and the little pixie perched on her shoulder. “Though I guess if I warn him in advance, he’ll only have himself to blame.”

“Exactly.” I was impressed at how quickly she’d managed to drape the library in decorations, given Sylvester’s apparent attempts to undo her progress. “Anything else you need help with?”

“Yes—we’ll have to seal off the third floor tonight,” she said. “We can’t have anyone getting into the fourth-floor corridor. I don’t think Cass will want them getting near her animals either.”

“Definitely not,” I said firmly. “She won’t decide to shake things up by letting one of her magical monsters loose, will she?”

“Not after Mum chewed her out the last time,” said Estelle. 

“She didn’t, did she?” Sensing a story there, I asked, “Not the kelpie?”

“No, but ten years ago, Cass brought a baby pegasus to the Halloween party. It ate three books.”

“Ouch.” Cass had been on her best behaviour lately, though her patience might be put under strain when faced with the choice between being shut out of the Magical Creatures Division during the event or being locked in with the monsters. Knowing her, though, I was sure she’d choose the latter. There was no way we could risk any of the guests getting into the entrance to the fourth-floor corridor. While the guardian stood in place to keep out intruders, we didn’t need the library’s resident shadowy monster to crash the party any more than we needed a manticore on the loose.

I picked up three books from the returns section that needed to be taken to the third floor and then made for the stairs. No books were registered as belonging on the fourth floor, and the corridor had inexplicably vanished several decades ago thanks to my late grandmother’s highly effective concealment and misdirection spells. The corridor’s recent rediscovery had also awakened its guardian, a being that had been created to guard the corridor against anyone who didn’t belong to our family and the reason we’d have to take pains to ensure nobody from the party wandered upstairs by mistake.

The guardian’s magic paled in comparison to that which it guarded. The fourth floor concealed a room that could grant the wish of any of us who asked for their heart’s desire, within certain parameters. That the room worked for my family alone didn’t mean we wanted the whole world to know, especially certain vampires who coveted rare magic like magpies collected shiny objects.

Speaking of rare magic…

“Estelle!” I called out. “What about the Book of Questions?”

“What about it?” she called back.

“We’re not leaving it in its usual place, are we?”

“Of course not,” she replied. “My mum’s sealing it in a downstairs room where nobody can get their hands on it.”

“Good.” I’d wanted to check, as the Book of Questions was amongst the most dangerous of the library’s artefacts—and that was among some serious competition. Like the corridor, its magic was restricted to my family members alone, but I shuddered to think what Sylvester might do to any unwitting guest who opened its pages. Turn them into a footstool, probably.

When I reached the third floor, I went in search of Cass. A warning growl from behind the door to the Magical Creatures Division told me the manticore’s cage was open, so I knocked first in case I found myself trapped between the jaws of a half-lion, half-crocodile.

“What?” she called. “Rory, is it? Come in and stop lurking.”

“Just wanted to make sure your pet wasn’t loose.” I nudged open the door and stepped inside, keeping a safe distance from the cage at the back, near which Cass stood. Her sleeves were rolled to the elbows and her red hair twisted into a messy knot behind her head, while the manticore’s crocodilian tail was visible in the cage behind her.

“The others wanted to ask if you were okay with our blocking off the stairs to the third floor tonight,” I said. “To make sure none of the guests can get up here.”

She barely blinked. “And you thought you needed to ask me… why?”

Surely she’d guessed. “Are you going to stay up here while the party is going on?”

“Yes, I’ll stay,” she said crisply. “I don’t think I’ll be missing much if I skip out on the party. I have all the entertainment I need.”

“Fair enough.” At an ominous growl from the manticore, I stepped out the door. “I thought I’d be polite and ask before we locked you upstairs. You really don’t mind?”

“Of course not.”

Only Cass would prefer being in a monster’s cage to a party. In fairness, I’d usually rather be reading a book instead, but tonight was as much a celebration for me as everyone else. Part of me had thought Cass might feel the same, but I’d once again underestimated her devotion to all things scaled and clawed.

I finished returning the books and got on with the work of the day. Between helping with preparations and listening to my familiar spread gossip from the rest of town about who was coming to the event tonight, the hours raced by, and before we knew it, our closing time was upon us. As evening approached, we did a last sweep of the library to turf out any stragglers reading in the corners before we closed the doors and went to our respective rooms to get ready.

For my costume, I’d picked out a black dress Cass had loaned me and then bought a mask that resembled a crow’s feathers so I’d match my familiar—simple enough. My phone pinged with a rare message as I fit the mask into place, and a familiar ache hit my chest to see Xavier’s name. He was the one person I could all but count on to not show up tonight, thanks to his boss the Grim Reaper’s inherent disapproval of our relationship and the fact that Halloween was known for being a busy one for Reapers. His message—have fun tonight—brought a familiar bittersweet tang, but I tried to take it to heart. Xavier didn’t want me to spend the night moping instead of celebrating with my family.

When I left my room, Laney slipped out into the corridor with a vampire’s swift grace, her dark-brown hair bouncing to her shoulders. Relieved tears pricked my eyes, the same reaction I’d had every time I’d seen her for the past week, since she’d woken from a coma that I’d feared was permanent. That had been my first wish granted by the fourth-floor corridor: to wake her up from the effects of the poison she’d mistakenly ingested trying to save my life from one of the Founders, and her recovery was the reason tonight was as much a celebration for my family as it was a fun night for the rest of town.

That was, if the Founders didn’t show up tonight to finish the job.

I slammed a lid on those thoughts and fixed on a smile. “Hey, Laney. You’re coming to the party?”

“I wouldn’t miss it.” The slightest hint of fang poked out from her mouth when she smiled, but she came by those naturally, with no need to wear a costume. 

“Aren’t you dressing up?” I asked.

“I don’t have anything to wear,” she said. “Unless someone has a spare outfit?”

“I’m sure Cass would lend you one.” 

Laney pulled a face. “No, thanks.”

“Then I’ll ask Estelle.” It didn’t matter too much if Laney didn’t dress up—frankly, everyone else being in masks would be enough of a recipe for confusion already—but Cass wouldn’t mind her borrowing something. I think. Cass’s attitude towards Laney had been perplexing, to say the least, since Laney had awoken from her coma.

Downstairs, I found Estelle cleaning up the remains of a dead mouse from the front desk. “Ugh. Was that Sylvester?”

“I think he was trying to add to the atmosphere.” She made the mouse vanish with a wave of her wand. “Oh, hey, Laney. Not dressing up?”

“She doesn’t have a costume,” I explained. “I was going to ask if you had a spare.”

“Oh, I can resize one of my old outfits. No problem,” Estelle said. “Come with me, Laney.”

“I’ll make sure Sylvester doesn’t behead any more rodents,” I offered. “We don’t need that trauma.”

The owl didn’t technically need to eat due to not being alive in any literal sense, but my “stage fright” theory might have merit with how erratically he was behaving today. I wouldn’t lie—I was pretty nervous, too, while Jet had got himself so overexcited that I found him flying in circles at warp speed until he nearly knocked himself out on a bookshelf. Aunt Adelaide rescued him by gently extending a hand and scooping him up.

“Careful,” she said. “Rory, you look wonderful.” 

“Thanks.” I smiled. “Aren’t you going to get ready? I can keep an eye on things down here.”

“I’ll do it, partner!” Jet squeaked, bouncing up and down on her hand like a yo-yo.

“Okay, but don’t hurt yourself.” I ran through the mental list of people who should be present. “Should someone check on Aunt Candace?”

“Can you do that, Rory?” Aunt Adelaide asked with an apology in her voice. “If she’s got lost in her manuscript, she’ll appreciate a reminder that she’ll need to get ready.”

“Sure.” I headed back to the living quarters and made for the staircase leading up to our rooms. The room at the top was Aunt Candace’s writing cave, and I never knew quite what I’d open the door on, so I knocked first. “Aunt Candace, are you ready?”

Her voice drifted upward from the floor below. “No, I can’t find my outfit!”

I followed her voice down to the door that led to her actual bedroom, in which she spent surprisingly little time. I entered to find a scene that looked like there’d been an explosion in a fancy-dress shop. A pirate outfit lay next to the upper half of a tiger costume, while various wigs were heaped in a hairy pile in the middle of the floor. A tutu hung from the ceiling, adorned with feathers like a tropical bird.

Aunt Candace was dressed from head to toe in a greyish outfit that resembled a mummy, but she had no mask on, and her wildly curly red hair hung down to her shoulders. “My mask has gone missing!”

“Which mask?” Pretty much any mask would go with her current outfit, which was surprisingly drab compared to her normal style. She usually wore bright flowery skirts and dresses, but she’d opted for clothing that was more suited to a prison cell than a party.

She clucked her teeth. “I bet my sister stole it.”

“Stole what?” Aunt Adelaide asked from the doorway. “What’ve you got yourself worked up over?”

“She says she can’t find her outfit,” I replied. “No idea what she’s talking about.”

“My sister knows,” said Aunt Candace. “She’s had it in for my special mask from the start.”

“Not that mask.” Aunt Adelaide gave a quiet groan. “Couldn’t you pick one that isn’t—?”

“It isn’t cursed,” Aunt Candace interrupted. “Really, you people have no sense of adventure.”

“Cursed or not, it’s hideous.”

“Cursed?” I raised a brow at Aunt Candace. “You have a cursed mask?”

“I had a not-cursed mask,” she corrected me. “Which someone stole.”

“It probably moved by itself,” said Aunt Adelaide. “I haven’t touched it, Candace. I have better things to do with my time.”

“If she’d touched it, she’d probably have purple hands,” I told Aunt Candace, recalling the notebook incident earlier. “Thanks for that, by the way.” 

“You’re welcome.”

I rolled my eyes then left my aunt to resume the search and returned to the lobby. Estelle and Laney joined me a minute later, the former dressed in an adorable fairy outfit that closely matched Spark the pixie, the latter in a slinky dress and an ornate feathered mask that covered her eyes but not her fangs. 

After a short while, Aunt Adelaide came downstairs dressed in an even more elegant version of Laney’s feathery ensemble, bedecked in jewels and vibrant feathers. 

“Sylvester,” she called up to the balcony. “Ready? It’s almost time.”

“I’ve been ready for hours, you cauliflower,” came the reply.

As the seconds ticked down to nine o’clock, Aunt Candace finally came bounding in from the living quarters, announcing, “I found the mask under the bed. I knew it’d be somewhere.”

The mask in question looked like it was made of dead skin. Certainly not my first choice for a costume party, though it was thematically appropriate, and it distracted attention from the notebook and pen bobbing up and down at her side. No doubt she’d be mining the guests for ideas all night.

“Everyone ready?” Estelle asked for the fifth time.

“Yep,” I said, and Aunt Adelaide and Laney echoed my sentiment. 

A rush of pride and happiness bolstered me. My family was reunited, and together, we’d be able to face anything that might happen tonight.

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