Authors: Margaret Rogerson
Elisabeth froze, the breath trapped in her chest. The Director had never addressed her by her given name—only her last name, Scrivener, or sometimes just “apprentice,” depending on how much trouble she was in,
which was often a fantastic amount. “No, Director,” she said.
“Hmm. It was storming, I recall. The grimoires were restless
that night. They were making so much noise that I barely heard the knock on the front doors.” Elisabeth could easily picture the scene. Rain lashing against the windows, the tomes howling and sobbing and rattling beneath their restraints. “When I found you on the steps, and
picked you up and brought you inside, I was certain you would cry. Instead, you looked around and began to laugh. You were not afraid. At that moment I knew I couldn’t send you away to an orphanage. You belonged in the library, as much as any book.”
Elisabeth had been told the story before, but only by her tutor, never the Director herself. Two words echoed through her mind with the vitality
of a heartbeat:
. They were words that she had waited sixteen years to hear, and desperately hoped were true.
In breathless silence, she watched the Director reach for her keys and select the largest one, ancient enough to have rusted almost beyond recognition. It was clear that for the Director, the time for sentiment had passed. Elisabeth contented herself with repeating the unspoken
vow she had held close for nearly as long as she could remember. One day, she would become a warden, too. She would make the Director proud.
Salt cascaded onto the table as the coffer’s lid creaked open. A stench of rotting leather rolled across the vault, so potent that she almost gagged.
A grimoire lay inside. It was a thick volume with disheveled, yellowing pages sandwiched between slabs
of greasy black leather. It would have looked fairly ordinary, if not for the bulbous protrusions that bulged from the cover. They resembled giant warts, or bubbles on the surface of a pool of tar. Each was the size of a large marble, and there were dozens altogether, deforming nearly every inch of the leather’s surface.
The Director pulled on a heavy pair of iron-lined gloves. Elisabeth hastened
to follow her example. She bit the inside of her cheek as the Director lifted the book from the coffer and placed it within the circle of salt.
The instant the Director set it down, the protrusions split open. They weren’t warts—they were eyes. Eyes of every color, bloodstained and rolling, the pupils dilating and contracting to pinpricks as the grimoire convulsed in the Director’s hands. Gritting
her teeth, she forced it open. Automatically, Elisabeth reached into the circle and clamped down the other side, feeling the leather twitch and heave through her gloves. Furious. Alive.
Those eyes were not sorcerous conjurations. They were real, plucked from human skulls long ago, sacrificed to create a volume powerful enough to contain the spells etched across its pages. According to history,
most sacrifices had not been willing.
“The Book of Eyes,” the Director said, perfectly calm. “It contains spells that allow sorcerers to reach into the minds of others, read their thoughts, and even control their actions. Fortunately, only a handful of sorcerers in the entire kingdom have ever been granted permission to read it.”
“Why would they want to?” Elisabeth burst out, before she could
stop herself. The answer was obvious. Sorcerers were evil by nature, corrupted by the demonic magic they wielded. If it weren’t for the Reforms, which had made it illegal for sorcerers to bind books with human parts, grimoires like the Book of Eyes wouldn’t be so exceptionally rare. No doubt sorcerers had attempted to replicate it over the years, but the spells couldn’t be written down using ordinary
materials. The sorcery’s power would instantly reduce the ink and parchment to ashes.
To her surprise, the Director took her question seriously, though she was no longer looking at Elisabeth. Instead she
focused on turning the pages, inspecting them for any damage they might have sustained during the journey. “There may come a time when spells like these are necessary, no matter how foul. We
have a great responsibility to our kingdom, Scrivener. If this grimoire were destroyed, its spells would be lost forever. It’s the only one of its kind.”
“Yes, Director.” That, she understood. Wardens both protected grimoires from the world, and protected the world from them.
She braced herself as the Director paused, leaning down to examine a stain on one of the pages. Transferring high-class
grimoires came at a risk, since any accidental damage could provoke their transformation into a Malefict. They needed to be inspected carefully before their interment in the vault. Elisabeth felt certain that several of the eyes, peering out from beneath the cover, were aimed directly at her—and that they glittered with cunning.
Somehow, she knew she shouldn’t meet their gaze. Hoping to distract
herself, she glanced aside to the pages. Some of the sentences were written in Austermeerish or the Old Tongue. But others were scrawled in Enochian, the language of sorcerers, made up of strange, jagged runes that shimmered on the parchment like smoldering embers. It was a language one could only learn by consorting with demons. Merely looking at the runes made her temples throb.
“Apprentice . . .”
The whisper slithered against her mind, as alien and unexpected as the cold, slimy touch of a fish beneath the water of a pond. Elisabeth jerked and looked up. If the Director heard the voice, too, she showed no sign.
“Apprentice, I see you. . . .”
Elisabeth’s breath caught. She did as the Director had instructed and tried to ignore the voice, but it was impossible to concentrate on
anything else with so many eyes watching her, agleam with sinister intelligence.
“Look at me . . . look . . .”
Slowly but surely, as if drawn by an invisible force, Elisabeth’s gaze began to travel downward.
“There,” said the Director. Her voice sounded dim and distorted, like she was speaking from underwater. “We are finished. Scrivener?”
When Elisabeth didn’t answer, the Director slammed
the grimoire shut, cutting its voice off midwhisper. Elisabeth’s senses rushed back. She sucked in a breath, her face burning with humiliation. The eyes bulged furiously, darting between her and the Director.
“Well done,” the Director said. “You held out much longer than I expected.”
“It almost had me,” Elisabeth whispered. How could the Director congratulate her? A clammy sweat clung to her
skin, and in the vault’s chill, she began to shiver.
“Yes. That was what I wished to show you tonight. You have a way with grimoires, an affinity for them that I have never seen in an apprentice before. But despite that, you still have much to learn. You want to become a warden, do you not?”
Spoken in front of the Director, witnessed by the angel statues lining the walls, Elisabeth’s soft reply
possessed the quality of a confession. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted.”
“Just remember that there are many paths open to you.” The scar’s distortion gave the Director’s mouth an almost rueful cast. “Be certain, before you choose, that the life of a warden is what you truly desire.”
Elisabeth nodded, not trusting herself to speak. If she had passed the test, she didn’t understand why the Director
would advise her to consider forsaking her dream. Perhaps she had shown herself in some other way to be unready, unprepared. In that case, she would simply have to try harder. She had a year left before she turned seventeen and became eligible for training at the Collegium—time she could use to prove herself beyond a doubt, and earn the Director’s approval. She only hoped it would be enough.
Together, they wrestled the grimoire back into the coffer. As soon as it touched the salt, it ceased struggling. The eyes rolled upward, showing crescents of milky white before they sagged shut. The slam of the lid shattered the vault’s sepulchral quiet. The coffer wouldn’t be opened again for years, perhaps decades. It was secure. It posed a threat no longer.
But she couldn’t banish the sound
of its voice from her thoughts, or the feeling that she hadn’t seen the last of the Book of Eyes—and it had not seen the last of her.
LISABETH SAT BACK, admiring the view from her desk. She had been assigned to transfers on the third floor, a vantage from which she could see all the way across the library’s atrium. Sunlight streamed in through the rose window
high above the front doors, casting prisms of ruby, sapphire, and emerald across the circular balconies’ bronze rails. Bookcases soared upward toward a vaulted ceiling six stories above, rising around the atrium like the layers of a wedding cake or the tiers of a coliseum. Murmurs filled the echoing space, punctuated by the occasional cough or snore. Most of those sounds did not belong to the
blue-robed librarians striding to and fro across the atrium’s tiles. They came from the grimoires, muttering on the shelves.
When she breathed in, the sweetness of parchment and leather filled her lungs. Motes of dust hung suspended in the sunbeams, perfectly still, like flakes of gold leaf trapped in resin. And teetering stacks of paperwork threatened to spill from her desk at any moment, burying
her in a landslide of neglected transfer requests.
Reluctantly, she wrested her attention toward the imposing
piles. The Great Library of Summershall was one of six Great Libraries in the kingdom. It was a full three day’s journey from its closest neighbors, which were spaced evenly apart in a circle around Austermeer, with the Inkroads connecting them to the capital at the center like the spokes
of a wheel. Transferring grimoires between them could be a delicate task. Some volumes nurtured such a potent grudge toward each other that they couldn’t be brought within miles of the same location without howling or bursting into flame. There was even a house-sized crater in the wilderness of the Wildmarch where two books had clashed over a matter of thaumaturgical doctrine.
As an apprentice,
Elisabeth was entrusted with approving transfers for Classes One through Three. Grimoires were classed on a ten-point scale according to their level of risk, with anything Class Four and above requiring special confinement. Summershall itself held nothing above a Class Eight.
Closing her eyes, she reached for the paper on top of the stack.
, she guessed, thinking of Summershall’s neighbor
to the northeast.
But when she turned the paper over, it was a request from the Royal Library. Unsurprising; that was where more than two-thirds of her transfers went. One day she might pack up her belongings and travel there, too. The Royal Library shared a grounds with the Collegium at the heart of the capital, and when she wasn’t busy with her warden training, she would be able to wander its
halls. In her imagination its corridors stretched on for miles, lined with books and passageways and hidden rooms that contained all the secrets of the universe.
But only if she earned the Director’s approval. A week had passed since the night in the vault, and she hadn’t come any closer to deciphering the Director’s advice.
She still remembered the exact moment that she’d vowed to become a
warden. She had been eight years old, and she had fled into the library’s secret passageways in order to escape one of Master Hargrove’s lectures. She hadn’t been able to bear another hour of fidgeting on a stool in the stifling storeroom-turned-classroom, reciting declensions in the Old Tongue. Not on an afternoon when summer pounded its fists against the library’s walls, thickening the air to the
consistency of honey.
She recalled the way sweat had trickled down her spine as she crawled through the passage’s cobwebs on her hands and knees. At least the passage was dark, away from the sun. The golden glow that filtered between the floorboards provided enough light to see by, and to avoid the skittering shapes of booklice as she disturbed their nests, sending them racing around in a panic.
Some grew to the size of rats, engorged on enchanted parchment.
If only Master Hargrove had agreed to take her into town that day. It was just a five-minute walk down the hill through the orchard. The market would be bustling with people selling ribbons and apples and glazed custards, and travelers sometimes came in from outside Summershall to peddle their wares. She had once heard accordion
music, and seen a dancing bear, and even watched a man demonstrate a lamp whose wick burned without oil. The books in her classroom hadn’t been able to explain how the lamp worked, so she assumed it was magic, and therefore evil.
Perhaps that was why Master Hargrove didn’t like taking her into town. If she happened to encounter a sorcerer outside the library’s protection, he might steal her away.
A young girl like her would no doubt make a convenient sacrifice for a demonic ritual.
Voices snapped Elisabeth back to attention. They were emanating
from directly beneath her. One voice belonged to Master Hargrove, and the other to . . .
Her heart leaped. She flattened herself against the floorboards to peer through a knothole, the light that poured through it setting her tangled
hair aglow. She couldn’t see much: a slice of desk covered in papers, the corner of an unfamiliar office. The thought that it might belong to the Director sent her pulse racing with excitement.