After Jacob disappeared, eaten by the book he was cataloguing, Leitner quickly hired another assistant.
Hannah could have quit. But it was hard to find a job with a specialization in palaeography and dead languages. It was even harder to find one that paid well. Not to mention one who let you actually read the books. So she stayed. But as she had some moral sense, she still talked to Lucy, the new assistant, in private.
"There are a few rules you should know," she told Lucy. "First, don't read the whole book. Seriously, don't."
"But it's my job!" Lucy protested.
"Yes, and it's dangerous. Maybe if you feel nothing you can keep going. Maybe. I'm always skipping at least the last page. But the best is, as soon as you feel the first discernible effects, you make a note on it, sort the book, and then start another." And, because she would use any bit of authority she had, "I'm in a union." This was true. "They would support us on this." This was not true.
Lucy seemed to think about it. At least, she would not be going blind.
"But what if it's a really good book?" she asked.
Hannah remembered being this way, at first, and hoped Lucy would be lucky and last more than a week.
Hannah was taking notes on a very old Greek version of Bacchae. Sometimes Leitner fucked up and brought back a book with very few magical effects. This was not one of these times. After only a few pages, Hannah screamed and tried to tear up her nearest coworker in the next cubicle.
Fortunately, it happened to be Mikaele, who easily overpowered her. She woke up in her chair, tied up, and with a big headache.
"Still want to kill me?" Mikaele asked with a hearty laugh.
Hannah thought the question over. "No." she told with as much sincerity as she could. Though of course, any killer in their right mind would have said the same.
And Mikaele didn't let her go. She would have done the same too.
"I took notes on what you screamed to me when trying to stab me with your nails. I think it would, you know, help with the classification."
Hannah sighed in relief. Maybe she wouldn't have to try and read it again, while in restraints. "You're a lifesaver, Mikaele."
"It's nothing. I owed you one for the time when you came to my rescue with a fire extinguisher instead of running away screaming."
He even untied her, though with a bit of caution.
(Based on the content of the murder threats and the invitations to join Dionysos she had screamed, the book was from Es Mentiaras, not the War Drums. It would have seemed logical, given the subject matter, but you didn't classify a book without hard proof.)
"This book is so soft!" Warren marveled. It was a copy of Dangerous Liaisons, in the original French, so of course the reading went to him. Mikaele could have done it too, but he was too busy with the Japanese poetry book that was his current assignment.
"Yes, it is!" Lucy confirmed, after hesitantly touching the cover, and blushing. Hannah and Mikaele exchanged some judging looks. You didn't touch a book that wasn't even your assignment.
"It must be fragile. I need to be cautious while turning the pages," he commented.
Hannah judged this too, but she was wrong.
Because it was while Warren, impassioned by his readings, grasped the book too hard and tore a page that the spiders came out.
They were many, and tiny, and seemingly resistant to the bug spray Hannah was keeping on her desk, just in case. Everyone was bitten many times. It didn't kill them, though.
But it was certainly the reason why they spent the last five hours without clothes, having shameful, delightful sex in every position. Hannah didn't consider herself a prude, so after it was finished, she theorized that the shame was probably part of the effects.
Well, not right after. Right after, she was just cuddling with Lucy, one possessive hand on her breast, while Mikaele had his head on her thighs, and she was feeling well.
"Couldn't we keep this one? You know, for... personal fun?" Lucy asked.
"Ugh," Mikaele answered. "Imagine if Leitner comes to check what's up with it, and he gets sucked into the orgy."
It was a good point. Only Warren protested. "He's a bit old, but not that ugly."
"He's our boss." Hannah answered. "We must have standards."
Warren started to scream.
It was probably a book emergency, and even if it wasn't, Hannah, Mikaele and Lucy reacted the best way they knew: they took their own books, the ones they were working on, and threw them all in Warren's cubicle. They were cautious never to work on books that seemed affiliated with the same Powers, because Leitner's theories on balance had some merit sometimes. A book could stop doing what it was doing to fight other books.
Warren stopped screaming.
Unfortunately, when they came to check, it was because his mouth had disappeared, as had most of his person. Only a leg was left out, without even blood dripping of it, probably because the book had drunk it all. Maybe if they hadn't done anything, nothing would be left.
"The Hunger." Mikaele commented. "It seems so obvious, in retrospect."
"It doesn't seem obvious at all!" Lucy protested. "It's not like it was called This book eats people!"
"Is it a special version of the Knut Hamsun book?" Hannah asked, while going to search kraft paper to wrap the book without touching it. She was traumatized. She knew it. But she coped by being curious.
"Is it a novelization of the movie with Catherine Deneuve?" Lucy asked, because sometimes, she coped surprisingly like Hannah.
"No, it's a science book about predators in the wild, that sort of thing." Mikaele had been friendly with Warren. It must have hit him hard. "I think I'm leaving the job," he said.
"Don't do it!" Hannah protested. "You're the most sensible person here!"
"That's why. Not now, though. I have a few things to take care of first. Why wouldn't you leave too?"
"It's still better than my library job," Lucy said sadly. "The pay is better, there’s only one angry, entitled patron, and you have the time to actually read unique books."
"It's a matter of pride. And I've been through worse at other jobs too," Hannah confirmed.
"I don't think Warren has," objected Mikaele, and he was undoubtedly right.
It happened a bit after Mikaele ran away with Leitner's address book. He hadn’t been replaced, nor had Warren. The overtime was tiring, but handsomely paid.
"You said you're in a union," Lucy asked. "Don't we deserve to be better paid?"
Hannah sighed. "Unfortunately, we already get a bit more than the usual wage for our diplomas, plus the risk premium. I think it's legal."
"We could threaten to leave and negotiate!"
"We could! But he would just let us go and hire other people."
"It's so easy, isn't it. What if we threaten to make public how Warren died? It would make things harder for him.”.
"Unfortunately, we signed a non-disclosure agreement."
"I think it doesn't apply in case of testifying for an actual death, which is the case here. Please, Hannah."
"I'll think about it. Do it too. But if you go that way, you must be ready to lose the job, in addition to a lot of legal complications, very annoying, even if you win."
Hannah should have supported Lucy more, but she couldn't stop herself from thinking that at least, the job was nothing but annoying.
"You're right," Lucy said. "I got carried away. I was reading this very good book where some workers blackmail their boss, and I was thinking..."
"I wish it worked," said Hannah.
She realized later, at home, that she hadn't asked Lucy the title of the book she had been reading. Nor had she asked whether it was a mundane book or related to their work.
The day after, Hannah didn't get to work first. As they were still two people at the moment and Lucy wasn't exactly an early bird, it meant either bad news, or a new colleague.
It was Lucy. She had the huge, tired eyes of someone who had read all night, and then more. The shadows under her eyes were so huge they looked like other, additional eyes.
"I've finished my book!" she said joyfully. Hannah had a vivid flashback of the first day, when she had recommended never doing this. It was too clear a proof of her mistakes, and she understood it was not all natural.
"Don't worry," Lucy said, and she also had additional tiny eyes in her long, pretty eyelashes. "I'm quitting, but I'm angry at Leitner, not at you. I think I have found my true calling. Let's say goodbye."
She kissed Hannah, and it was so sad and sweet, taste of lost opportunities, of not knowing how someone looks at you. But it was the only way Hannah was, so yeah, Lucy must have loved her.
The week after, Hannah was still the only one working, the evil books were accumulating, and a tabloid brought up a juicy file about Warren's death.
Hannah guessed she would have her raise.