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Reinald didn't see much use in looking through novels, but then again, he supposed they were in a book, after all.
While he and Anna looked over them Fourteen returned to the small shelves and poked through them. After several minutes, she said, "Did you ever fight a big animal with water?"

"…Yeah," he said, looking up.  She held a thin volume out to him.

It was illustrated in graceful inks, in the style of an artist mimicking the oriental aesthetic.  Frowning, he closed it to read the title.  He looked through the pictures, reading a paragraph here and there.

Dmitri and the Guardian with Three Eyes.

He gave it to Anna, who looked just as confused.  After a time, Fourteen offered them another book; free of illustrations and in the format of a cheap horror.

Englehart and the Chemical Monster.

"This one's my version, if you wanted more details," Fourteen said in a dry tone, giving him another paperback.  With a tone in her voice that was bitter to the point of hysteria, she added, "It's a scifi."

Sinclair and the Monster in the Dark.

He looked at the roaring space monster on the cover, bearing down on a gallant, caped hero.  It did look like it might have been the animal in the chalk outline.  

"Why is everyone else's name in the title of these stories?" Anna muttered.

Flume looked up.  "I went looking for you so someone could confirm that it wasn't just me.  The book kind of hates me, after all.  But either it did that since we're the ones reading them or…" she tossed her head at the crude order she had begun to arrange on the table.  "Here, help me with what I started.  We're in these other peoples stories, right… but they're not our stories."

"That's not very flattering," Reinald said.  "I feel like we all participated."

"But some of us have more stories."

They began to arrange more books, setting them up in hesitant stacks.  A pattern was starting to form, there were tiers as the stories tapered off, less of each with each…

"What does that remind you of?" Reinald said, frowning.

They puzzled over it, commenting on plots here and there, noting where names were repeated or omitted, patterns and trends in the tales.  

Sixty-four brightly-colored, glossy-paged picture books.  Thirty-two sepia, crumbly-backed novels.  Sixteen stiff-bound, pastel colored novellas. Eight bold-titled, cheap paperbacks.

Anna thought of game shows, and sports, and started, "It's like a-"

"Oh, constables.  I had a higher opinion of your work ethic."

The three of them jumped, and looked up.  Their host was back, and with it Fourteen's shorter officer.  They regarded the trio over their long snouts, and the dog-giraffe's eyes held a resigned sort of regrettable disappointment.    None of them had heard the aliens approach.  

"Good news, I closed the case, it was Sinclair," Fourteen said.  

The host stepped forward, extended a large, iron-boned hand, and with one careless sweep, scattered their books onto the carpet, upsetting the reading lamp with them so it clattered on the floor, hood shattering.  

"Hey!" Anna said, her confrontational instincts flaring up.  She took a step towards it, but Reinald caught her shoulder.

"You have time to read your stories later," it impressed.  "Lots of time!"  its voice strained, like a caretaker stressing the issue to children.  "But have you forgotten, there is a murderer in this mansion?"  it leaned forward, hands clinking as it placed them palms down on the table.  "In fact we're all still in the most terrible danger!  You really shouldn't waste any more time, constables!"

Reinald made eye contact with the other alien, the one hanging back in its uniform.  It met his eyes with a cool self-satisfaction, and he saw the chaos therein.

"Leave the books, dears," their host went on.  "The help will put them back."

"We were just looking for more… evidence," Fourteen said.  Anna glanced at her sharply .  She smiled sweetly at the host, nodded to the officer, and turned on her heel to leave the library.

It's a story about characters reading stories in a tournament about stories.

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March 13, 2012
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