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Emma L Adams

Monsters & Manuscripts: A Library Witch Mystery Book 9 (Paperback)

Monsters & Manuscripts: A Library Witch Mystery Book 9 (Paperback)

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Book 9 of : A Library Witch Mystery

With summer on the way, Rory is looking forward to relaxing at the beach between her latest set of magical exams.

A mysterious beast appearing from the sea and terrifying everyone was not part of her plan.

Rory's cousin Cass, who responds to anything involving magical beasts by instantly making friends with it, is first to take an interest. But this beastie seems to have no intention of playing nice, and between her cousin's antics and Aunt Candace's unending hunt for a good story, Rory has her hands full trying to stop her relatives from running headlong into danger.

The strange new family in town who have an affinity with animals might be the key to helping her solve the mystery of what the creature is and where it came from. But Robin and her squirrel familiar, Tansy, have their own secrets - and if Rory isn't careful, their presence in town might expose the library's hidden depths for everyone to see.

Can Rory get to the bottom of the mystery before her family lands in a pit of trouble as deep as the ocean floor?

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“Time’s up,” said my Aunt Adelaide. “The exam is over.”

I put down my pen, my wrist cramping, and laid it next to the stack of paper in front of me. My aunt flicked her wand and levitated the papers onto the desk at the front of the room before giving me a smile. “You can go, Rory.”

Since I was the only person taking the exam, I didn’t need to wait forever to be dismissed. The fact that my aunt was the examiner didn’t hurt either. “Thanks, Aunt Adelaide.”

I walked out of the examination room and into the lower floor of the library, releasing a shaky breath. Done. I’d successfully completed my latest magical theory exam, and I didn’t think I’d done a terrible job either. I’d have to wait for the exams to be marked by an independent assessor from the local witch academy to find out my grade, but I hadn’t run into any unpleasant surprises or trick questions. The fact that the exams were typically taken by preteens probably had something to do with that. Just one more reason I was glad the academy had agreed to let me take my exams in the privacy of the library rather than with a bunch of eight-year-olds.

As I skirted the cosy area at the back of the library known as the Reading Corner, a giant tawny owl loomed over me from the nearest bookshelf. “Finished another exam, did you?”

“Yeah, my magical theory test,” I answered. “It covered hexes and spells, mostly.”

“Oh, I recall that one,” said Sylvester. “I hope you remembered to devote ample time to explaining the intricacies of enhancement hexes. They give bonus points if you can explain how to use a hex to switch your head around so that it faces backwards.”

Sylvester’s head rotated in demonstration, and I rolled my eyes at him. “You’re just winding me up, Sylvester. That’s not a thing.”

“It is.” His head rotated back around to face the front. “Your Aunt Candace tried it herself a few years ago and nearly got stuck like that.”

“That sounds like her, but it definitely wasn’t on the exam.” I continued walking across the downstairs floor of the library, past students sitting at tables in groups. Most of the local academy students were preparing for their own exams, and so were the students from the town’s sole university. I didn’t blame them for hanging out here, considering the library was the best source of magical knowledge in the town, though I sometimes wished they’d take their spell practise sessions elsewhere.

Typically, Sylvester insisted on flying behind me all the way through the Reference Section, offering a running commentary on the exam.

“Really, Sylvester.” I halted before I reached the front desk. “The exam is Grade Three, not for PhD students. They’re asking for basic hexes like turning one’s hair green, not body modification.” 

Sylvester hooted in alarm. “You can’t discuss the exam! It’s forbidden!”

“That wasn’t even a real example.”

I was doubly glad that my aunt had refused to let Sylvester be the one to supervise my exam considering his ongoing habit of winding everyone up, especially me. While he might have looked like a typical owl familiar, he wasn’t even an owl, but rather the animal-shaped embodiment of the library’s entire store of knowledge. Of course, most people had no idea of his real identity, even Aunt Adelaide. I’d learned his secret by accident, and Sylvester had made it firmly clear that he’d appreciate it if I didn’t tell anyone else. Grandma had known, I was sure, but she’d died before I’d ever had the chance to meet her. 

I’d only moved to the library six months ago, and I hadn’t even known the magical world existed before then. It’d been a serious adjustment to make, but as a self-certified bookworm, I’d taken to my family’s library like a mermaid to water, and even Sylvester’s oddities were just one more of the library’s quirks. Even having to take exams after I’d thought I’d left school behind years ago was worth the trade-off.

I found my cousin Estelle behind the front desk helping a student check out a stack of textbooks almost as tall as he was. When he tottered away, she caught sight of me and beamed. “Rory, you survived!” 

My brows shot up. “Should that be surprising? It’s not like I had to wrestle a wild manticore.”

“Watch Cass doesn’t hear you saying that.” She moved to open the front door for the student with the pile of books, and he staggered out into the town square.

Sylvester landed atop a nearby bookcase. “I can make some suggestions for your practical exam if you think it’s too easy for you.”

“Don’t get any ideas.” To Estelle, I added, “He’s been banging on about this spell that can supposedly turn one’s head around backwards and how it’s the key to getting full marks on the exam. He also claimed that Aunt Candace tried it herself once.”

“She did, but it’s definitely not on the curriculum,” said Estelle. “Really, Sylvester.”

“I knew you were trying to worry me on purpose.” I rolled my eyes at the owl. “Honestly. Where’s Aunt Candace?”

“Upstairs working on her book, where else?”

“I figured she was trying to get out of exam supervision.” Aunt Adelaide had had to work hard to persuade the local academy to let her supervise me while I sat the exams since they’d thought she might give me an unfair advantage. As she’d pointed out, though, there was little help she could give me that would make up for the disadvantage I’d started at by moving to the magical world as an adult, so they’d caved in. “It seems quiet in here, that’s all.”

Estelle shrugged. “It’s exam season.”

“Yes, it is,” said Sylvester. “The students are slowly losing the will to live. Or maybe that’s just in the Existential Crisis Division.”

“Ha ha.” I was a weirdo who liked studying, though I preferred writing essays in my own time rather than in the pressure of an examination room. “I don’t expect Cass to be around, but it would have been nice if she or Aunt Candace had offered you a hand at running the desk while your mum was supervising me.”

“I don’t mind,” Estelle said. “You’re the one who had to sit an exam.” 

“It wasn’t terrible.” I rubbed my wrist. “I might have to brew a potion for wrist cramps, though. I haven’t written that much in a long time.”

Ironic given that our family’s own magic worked by using words to conjure up whatever we needed, but it generally didn’t involve writing essays, and neither did working in the library. I hadn’t been at school for a long while, not since my postgraduate literature degree. Nor had I expected to go back. Yet my new life—from studying magic to learning my way around the odd dimensions of the library itself—was so much of an improvement on my old life as a bookshop assistant for a boss who cared little for my value as an employee that I couldn’t imagine ever returning to that world.

“That’d be good practise for your practical potion-making exam,” said Estelle. “I can do it instead, though, if you’d rather take tonight off.”

“If you like.” I smiled at her. “I still have to practise for next week’s familiar exam, so I’m not taking the evening off. That won’t involve writing anything, though.”

“I’m surrounded by boring overachievers,” Sylvester bemoaned.

“Then why not hang out with Cass instead?” I enquired.

Cass rarely came downstairs to help with running the library voluntarily. More often than not, she was to be found behind the door of the Magical Creatures Division up on the third floor, where she smuggled vulnerable and often dangerous magical creatures into the library to look after. Since Cass much preferred animals to people, that worked out in all our favours.

My phone buzzed with a message from my boyfriend, Xavier. How’d it go?

Good. My reply probably wouldn’t get through for a while thanks to the library’s habit of scrambling phone signals, but if past experience was anything to go by, the Grim Reaper’s apprentice would already be on his way to the library.

“Xavier?” Estelle guessed, eyeing my phone. “You two should go out tonight. The weather’s nice, for a wonder.” 

“I’ll see whether he’s free.” The notion of taking the night off was certainly appealing, despite the looming prospect of another exam next week that I hadn’t done enough preparation for yet. I’d impulsively put myself in for the Grade Three magical exams early so I could take them at the same time as the academy students and had consequently had to cram several years’ worth of knowledge into only a couple of months. The fact that the other students taking those exams were younger than nine had not made it any less gruelling, especially as I was also working full-time at the library. As for Xavier’s own schedule, Reapers never really got to take days off.

“He’ll be free unless someone bites it,” Sylvester supplied.

“I’m aware of that, Sylvester, but there’s no reason his boss can’t handle it instead.”

Not that the Grim Reaper would agree. He might have taken a step back from interfering in

our relationship, for a wonder, but that didn’t mean he was happy about Xavier and me spending time together. The Grim Reaper seemed to be avoiding me altogether these days, though that might have been less due to my relationship with his apprentice and more because I’d recently discovered that he might have met my dad before I’d ever known the magical world existed.

My late father’s secrets hadn’t come to light until the journal he’d kept throughout my childhood had drawn the attention of a group of vampires known as the Founders and my secret family had come to my rescue. Now the vamps in question were safely ensconced behind bars, I was making steady progress reading through my dad’s journal entries, and it had become abundantly clear that while my dad had exiled himself from the magical world to marry my mother, he’d kept the habit of wading into magical intrigue. He might have given up his wand, but his unending fascination for old books had remained intact, and that passion had landed him in the crosshairs of the Founders. Vampires traded in knowledge, and learning the extent of my dad’s history with them would have to wait until after my exams were done.

A knock came from the library’s front door, which I opened to reveal Xavier standing on the other side. When one heard the words ‘Grim Reaper’s apprentice,’ a devastatingly handsome guy with blond hair and aquamarine eyes was not the image that came to mind, but Xavier wasn’t typical of the average Reaper in any way. He was thoughtful, kind, sensitive, caring… and all mine.

I greeted him with a hug and kiss, which prompted a gagging noise in the background from Sylvester. Ignoring the owl, I said, “It’s great to see you.”

“Want to head outside?” Xavier asked with a glance at Sylvester. “I bet you need fresh air after being in a stuffy exam room all day.”

“I like the sound of that.” Considering how rarely the sun showed its face here in Ivory Beach, I needed to soak up all the rays of sunshine I could before it hid itself behind the clouds again. “Typical that the weather is like this when everyone’s trapped indoors studying. I’m guessing the Grim Reaper isn’t a fan?”

“He’s drawn all the curtains in the house.”

I grinned at the mental image of the Grim Reaper hiding from the sunshine in a darkened room. “So, business as usual, then.” 

Xavier and I walked hand in hand across the town square and down a narrow road past the clock tower to reach the seafront. When I’d moved to Ivory Beach last winter, I hadn’t exactly arrived at the best time of year for enjoying the beach. Even with the sun’s rays caressing the streets, a cool breeze blew off the coast, but a number of bobbing heads were visible in the ocean. Academy students blowing off steam between exams, I guessed. When you lived on the coast in England, you took what you could get—and Ivory Beach was visually appealing even when overcast.

A wide, sandy beach spread as far as the eye could see, with a short pier extending out into the glittering ocean beyond. Xavier and I found a bench to sit on and watch the waves while we caught up on the last few days since we’d seen one another, which did not involve much on my part except studying.

“You don’t actually want me to describe the entire exam, do you?” I asked him. “Because that’s pretty much been my entire week.”

“Still more interesting than mine,” he said. “Not that I’m technically supposed to confide the details of my Reaper training, but it’s just plain boring, to be honest.”

“Or a downer,” I added. “There’s a reason Reapers don’t typically entertain at children’s birthday parties.”

He grinned. “You aren’t wrong. Personally, I’d rather hear about your exams than the misery of the recently dead.”

That was fair enough. Xavier’s main job was to collect the souls of the departed and help them to the next world. I wouldn’t call that boring, but the magical world had different standards, and a lot of it was still novel to me.

When the weather started to cool down, we retreated to the walkway that ran along the seafront and walked towards the pier to admire the view of the ocean. As I took my first step onto the wooden planks, I glanced down and spotted several oddly shaped gouges in the wooden surface. They formed the outline of what appeared to be two large claws or footprints as if some massive beast had gripped the edge of the pier with all its strength.

“What’s that?” I indicated the markings. “Those are far too big to belong to a seagull.”

“I haven’t a clue,” said Xavier. “They definitely don’t belong to a mermaid either.”

“A werewolf?” I suggested. Did werewolves enjoy swimming? Vampires most certainly didn’t. As for the alternatives… Cass was the expert on magical monsters, not me, and I dreaded to think of any of her favourite beasties making their home in the water this close to the beach.

Xavier took a step back. “Maybe we should warn the people who are swimming if they haven’t seen.” 

Good point. The handful of students in the water didn’t seem to have noticed the claw marks, but it was better to forewarn them in case whatever the marks belonged to turned out to be something they needed to worry about.

I followed Xavier away from the pier, my gaze briefly lingering on the police station. Would Edwin appreciate us pestering him over a couple of claw marks that might not belong to anything dangerous? I didn’t know, but if I were in the water, I’d definitely want to be warned.

Xavier approached the beach. “I can walk into the water myself and tell them, no problem.”

As a Reaper, he could even fully immerse himself in the water without needing to breathe, but it never failed to alarm me when I saw him do things that would kill a regular person. Luckily, the students spotted us waving before he entered the water, and a blond girl wearing a polka dot bikini came wading out of the sea onto the beach. 

“What is it?” She picked up a towel from the sand and wrapped it around herself. “Ah—you’re the Reaper?”

“That’s me,” said Xavier. “I wondered whether you’d noticed those claw marks over on the pier. We wanted to warn you in case there’s something in the water.” 

She spun towards the pier, dropping her towel. “Whoa. Thanks for warning me. I’ll tell the others.”

After she hurried away to find her friends, Xavier and I watched until they began to return to shore. Once everyone was safely on the sand, we returned to the walkway.

“I guess nobody else noticed,” I remarked to Xavier. “Otherwise, they’d have told the police.”

“I think we should do that ourselves,” he replied. “When it gets dark, they won’t be able to see if there’s anything dangerous in the water.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” 

It wasn’t going to make us very popular with the locals if we got the beach shut down, but having the police back us up ought to stop the complaints if we turned out to be right. On impulse, I darted back to the pier and snapped a picture of the claw marks using my phone so I’d have proof to take to Edwin.

That done, Xavier and I entered the small brick building that housed the local police station and found Edwin talking to one of the large trolls who worked as his assistants. The elf policeman’s face took on a familiar long-suffering expression as if he knew we’d come bringing bad news.

“Aurora.” He turned towards us. “And the Reaper. Am I right in thinking you’ve come to report a dead body?”

“It’s nothing that serious… I don’t think,” I added hastily. “We found these weird claw marks on the pier. Whatever they belong to, it’s pretty big, and might be dangerous.”

“Claw marks?” he echoed. “From what?”

“That’s what I’d like to know.” I pulled out my phone and showed him. “I don’t recognise them, but if they belong to something that might attack people in the water, then people need to be warned.”

He squinted at the image. “Is that kelpie back again?”

“Kelpies don’t have claws. They have hooves.” My cousin Cass had successfully tamed the kelpie in question, though he’d caused a fair bit of chaos a few months ago when he’d escaped his cage and gone rampaging around the library. I knew for a fact that she still paid him the occasional visit, but those gouge-like claw marks weren’t the kelpie’s.

Edwin glanced up from the phone. “I’ll send someone to check it out.”

“Thanks, Edwin.”

Once we’d left the police station, I turned to Xavier. “Want to head to the Black Dog and grab dinner? I’m supposed to study for my next exam tonight, but I have time to get something to eat first.”

“Sure,” he said. “Which exam is that again?”

“Familiar training.” I led the way to the cosy seafront pub that had become our favourite place to spend our evenings. “I haven’t even started proper revision yet.”

“Ah,” said Xavier, entering the pub behind me. “How’s Jet taking it?”

“He seems happy enough, but I’m not sure he actually knows what an exam is.” My crow familiar, Jet, had been at my side since my arrival in the magical world. A few months ago, I’d tried to put a spell on him to enable easier communication and accidentally given him the ability to talk, which might have given us an advantage in our exam if he hadn’t been as excitable as a hyperactive squirrel and prone to getting distracted.

“I’m sure he’ll figure it out,” Xavier said. “He’s good at obeying you when he remembers to listen.”

“I only have a week to prepare, so I hope he gets the hang of it fast.” I picked out a seat at our usual table in the corner, where Xavier drew less attention than he did elsewhere. The Reaper’s apprentice might have been undeniably gorgeous, but he was also unavailable by the very definition of his job, and for that reason, we attracted a lot of stares when we went out together.

“Is this your last exam?” he asked.

“Yeah, and I didn’t have many options, short of learning to fly on a broom in the space of a week. Or asking Sylvester to help, which might be worse.”

His brows rose. “Would Sylvester help you, do you think? If you bribed him, I mean.”

“I guess he did help my cousins back when it was their turn.” Granted, they’d been kids, and I was pretty sure he hadn’t been capable of talking at the time either. That didn’t mean I was desperate enough to beg the owl to help me with my exams. He’d laugh in my face and then give me bogus advice for maximum amusement.

Riding a broomstick was one of the few parts of the magical world that didn’t appeal to me. I much preferred casting spells with my feet on the ground, but using a wand was just one part of my magical education, and I needed to master a range of skills to prove myself capable as a witch. That included training my familiar. While convincing Jet to keep calm for the duration of an exam seemed a tall order, it couldn’t be worse than asking for Sylvester’s help, right?

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