Happy Valentine's day! I really wanted to get this all done in time, but it ended up being a lot bigger of a project than I'd thought. This is for Chero, because she's fun to write and because she called dibs on Belle.
Chero made sure to lock up when she left the house. It wasn't that she was paranoid, honestly, it was just that regardless of her teacher being home, anyone could just walk right in. With the noises the man was making downstairs as he tried his very best to invent a new spell, she doubted anyone would have the guts, but if some thief was desperate enough to try it her master wouldn't notice their entrance.
Chero flipped through her latest read. One last page for this book, enough reading material to comfortably get her into town. She would be without entertainment for a block or two, but that was all right; she'd probably run into the other girls on her way. The other two girls in town that tended to hang around her liked to chat, and Chero found it easy to zone out to their voices. Pricilla and Clover were also apprentices to the magical arts, but like other girls their age, they were more interested in love potions than practical magic.
Just her luck, Chero didn't run into and lose herself in the chatter of the girls. Instead, her nose decided to make friends with the stitching in the spine of the leather-bound tome when she ran straight into a tall, barrel chested man. The last two sentences, (two measly sentences! What a time to be interrupted,) were lost to the space above her head as her latest adventure was snatched from her delicate fingers and held just out of reach. She knew it was just out of reach because her immediate reaction was to make a grab for it.
"Good morning, bella," a smarmy voice greeted her. Ah, and here he was: the victim of many a love potion, the great hunter, the most looked up to man in all the village-
"Battista, may I have my book back please?" Chero asked, her tone implying that she didn't have the patience for this kind of interruption. She watched in horror as the hard cover book was bent back until the front and back covers touched each other, the spine crackling as the seal of glue was broken in some places. Oh, now that book would always open to that page! That annoyed her to no end!
"How can you read this? There's no pictures!" he demanded.
"Some of us use our imagination," she muttered in exasperation.
"You know," he said matter-of-factly, "women shouldn't read. They just need to stay home and have children, and learn house-keeping spells. They don't need to think. That's for men! We're smarter anyways."
"If you want a woman who doesn't think and will sit around and listen to you, why don't you just talk to the does you kill?" Chero asked in her sweetest voice. Instead of taking the hint, Battista went off on a tangent about his latest hunting trip. He still had yet to return the book.
Chero ignored him and went to the library, mourning the loss of her story. Two sentences. Two bloody sentences! Was it so much to ask to be able to finish one measly book before being interrupted? To top it all off, Battista was still following her, boasting very loudly, pantomiming kneeling in the grass and shooting something. She passed by Pricilla and Clover, who both looked at her with pure green jealousy, and not a second after she passed she could hear them chattering to each other about how she was crazy for not seeing how lucky she was that the great Battista was even talking to her.
Chero was just giving her book one last look, just to say good-bye, when it was snatched away from Battista by one of the librarian's apprentices. She was a small thing that leaped out of the shadows, rescued the hostage, and landed with a feline grace, and immediately began to flip through the book. Battista quickly switched moods, squawking in protest and yelling loudly at the girl. She held up her hand for silence, which, despite Battista being taller and stronger, was immediately given to her, because she was just a little scary.
Her eyes flitted over the pages, and when she reached the middle of the book, she stopped, her face hardening in irritation. She closed the book, seemed to go over something in her mind, and then held out her hand, palm up.
Battista didn't understand the gesture, but Chero recognized it from the one time she'd brought a book back late. "Pay up," came the harsh demand, the girl's eyes betraying not one flicker of sympathy.
"Excuse me?" Battista gasped, his pride momentarily outweighing his fear. "Pay you for what?" The girl rolled her eyes in response.
"Mocha! Mocha, I found them!" a little voice called, getting closer. A young boy, maybe six or seven and missing a front teeth ran between the three and passed a few pages of print to the apprentice.
"Thanks, Jim," she murmured, passing the boy a small caramel candy from the front pocket of her work apron. He unwrapped it and stuffed it in his face, and then ran to go and play with the other children. (He wouldn't brag though, because if he did, it would be a few weeks before he got another candy.)
Mocha, the book-keeper, turned back to Chero and Battista and waved the pages in the man's face. "Damages," she answered. He stared blankly at her. She huffed, looking for all the world like she was speaking to someone with serious mental issues.
"Those pages belong in the book," Chero pointed out as Mocha put her hands on her hips and shook back her long brown hair as though she had better things to do. Chero ran her fingers through her own hair, the same if not a shade or two lighter. Battista looked between the two of them, then at the book in the librarian's hands.
"Like anyone cares about one lousy book," he reasoned, shrugging.
"I wouldn't want to read a book that's missing half the story," Chero objected.
"But she can fix it!"
"Supplies don't grow on trees, you know," Mocha informed him, waving her fingers in a "hurry it up" gesture.
"I don't see what the big deal is," was the muttered response.
"Let me borrow your ax. I plan to bring it back with a broken handle and not pay for the damages," Mocha snapped.
"But you can't use a broken ax!"
"And there's no purpose in a broken book," Chero stated, slipping in beside Mocha supportively.
"I don't want a broken book," Mocha said indignantly.
"Well then just give it to me," Battista said desperately, barely containing his rage at having them team up against him.
After a pause, Mocha gave the man a once over, curled her lip in distaste, and held out her hand. "Two gold pieces."
"What?" Battista shouted, waving his hands. "But you don't want it!"
"I'm still losing merchandise," Mocha reasoned. Battista grumbled and pulled his change purse off his belt.
"How much do I owe you?" he asked, picking out a few copper pieces.
"Seven silver pieces."
Mocha shrugged indifferently. "Would be five, but you've been wasting my time." Chero resisted the urge to giggle.
Battista dropped the pieces in her open palm. Between two silver pieces he'd attempted to pass off a copper piece for more than it was worth. Both girls looked dubious, and the three stared at each other until the man of the party growled and payed in full. He then turned on his heel and stomped away, his cheeks burning red.
"Thank you," Chero said, turning and smiling at Mocha.
"De rien," Mocha replied. She opened the door to the small library and held it open for Chero, who stepped into the cozy little place with a nod of thanks. As soon as the door closed, the visitor was knocked over by a flying tackle-hug, courtesy of the second apprentice of the book master. The two overturned a table during the fall, but luckily the pots of ink, sand and glue did not shatter when they hit the floor. Sparing an exhausted grumble for the almost mess, Mocha took her ruined prize to the work room, whose door was propped open to let air in.
"Chero! Hi!" Kiki exclaimed. From somewhere under her shoulder, Chero returned the greeting, although much less animatedly. Kiki stood, helping the taller girl up, and shaking dust from her short blond hair. Her habitual smile made her face bright, her brown eyes crinkling up at the corners. She looked contagiously happy, and Chero couldn't help but smile back.
"Where did you go this time?" the petit blond asked. This was her way of asking Chero what her story had been about. The brunette began recounting a tale about a brilliant detective, eccentric and strange but able to tell everything about a man from the hat he wore, who dragged around a retired soldier for no real determinable reason.
"Elementary, my dear Watson!" she finished, after having explained a small part of the story. Kiki laughed.
"What does that even mean?" she asked, giggling while she forced the words out.
"I don't really know!" Chero exclaimed, and the two continued to chortle loudly at the admission.
"Where did that book come from?" Chero asked finally, righting the overturned table and putting the pots back in place.
"Um... you'd have to ask Mocha," Kiki murmured. Though she too went with their master to search the world for stories, Kiki rarely remembered where things came from.
There was the sound of a knife being driven into a wooden worktable in frustration. "England," came the growled reply, as well as a small squeak when the knife was removed.
"You speak English?" Chero asked, raising her eyebrows.
"There are other languages in the world than just Italian, you know," Mocha replied, a light smile in her voice. Chero had to laugh a bit at that.
There was a moment of silence before a long string of curse words in a multitude of languages poured out of the work room.
"What's wrong?" Chero asked, startled.
"They're a mess!" Mocha cried, "I can't save these pages."
"Oh, that's not the reason you're mad," Kiki jeered. "You're just angry because you haven't spoken to Draco in a while."
An ink stained rag that smelled strongly of glue flew out the door and hit Kiki in the side of the head. She flailed her arms and grumbled in distaste.
"How long has it been since you've spoken to Ettore?" Mocha asked. Chero and Kiki both went to the door to watch her work.
"A while," Kiki admitted, eying the small printing press in the corner. The two girls watched as the third cut the pages from the book, trimmed off the rough edges, and cut the new, blank pages to size. She used magic to arrange the letter stamps, but that was as far as she went when making books. Many people in the area asked her why she did this; why not just use magic to do all the work? She rarely had the patience to explain, as those who asked were usually complaining about how fast they could get books. Chero had asked once, however, and Mocha had explained that magic left behind imprints of the wielder. If she made books using only magic, the readers would read the stories with her opinions and not their own. If she was in a bad mood while putting the book together, the guests of the library would be in a bad mood when they put the book down. Considering how monotonous book making was at times, the readers might feel antsy and bored in the middle of the best part of the story, and then where would the world be?
Chero still thought there was an old magic in the hands of the girl as she worked. She loved watching the graceful movements of her friend as her nimble fingers snipped, sewed and glued. It was amazing how with a few pieces of paper, ink, glue and leather could become an adventure. What took most people days took minutes, and the book was complete, the glue dried, and the volume back on the shelf for someone else to borrow, to lose themselves in, to get away.
"So what'll it be today?" Mocha asked, standing and wiping off her hands. As usual, Chero got excited at the prospect of having another book in her hands, and she leaped onto the ladder and rolled her way across the shelves, a large grin dominating her face quite suddenly.
"I'll take this one!" she exclaimed, pulling a small leather bound novel off the shelf. Kiki bounced up and down, excited to see what she'd picked. It's not that she had a bad memory, it was just that she didn't put as much work into each book, so she couldn't tell which it was just from looking. Mocha, however, had bound most of the books in the library, and she knew Chero, so she was a bit faster at guessing the girl's pick.
"Again?" she asked, a light smile stretching across her face. She shook her head. "How many times does this make it?"
"Um..." was the murmured reply. Chero turned the book over in her hands, noting absently that the blue leather had been replaced with newer stuff, making the outside look a little less roughed up. "About four times?"
Mocha waved her hand. "Keep it." Chero grinned and turned to leave, then paused in the doorway and pondered the girl's choice of words.
"Keep it?" she asked tentatively. Mocha nodded.
"It'll be well loved in your hands," she reasoned.
"Oh, thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!" Chero cried, crushing the other girl in a hug.
"Ouch! Back, back, back!" the other girl yelped. Chero dropped her and she hugged back gently. "Have fun."
Chero did leave, then, wishing that the two girls in the library had less work to do and could go around town with her and keep her company. She caught the last snatches of conversation as the door swung closed.
"I'm going to get a stomach ulcer, between worrying about Ettore and worrying about you!" Kiki complained.
"It's not that bad. I just hyperextended a muscle," Mocha replied calmly.
"You're gonna make Draco's hair fall out," Kiki warned. The other girl laughed.
Kiki's response was cut off as the door swung closed. Chero opened her book and dove into the well known story, and started on her way home.
A small note: Draco means dragon, (duh) and Ettore means loyal. Next chapter coming soon!