Authors: Margaret Rogerson
The question slipped past
Nathaniel’s guard. He gripped the rail, off-balance. “I chose not to help you fight Ashcroft.”
Her heart ached. She gazed at his shoulders, the line of his back, which expressed his unhappiness so plainly. “It isn’t too late to change your mind.”
Nathaniel bent and leaned his forehead on his arm. Silence reigned. The foyer stank of aetherial combustion, but beneath that, there was the faint
scent of roses. “Fine,” he said at last.
Joy rushed through Elisabeth like a gulp of champagne, but she didn’t dare ask for too much at once. “I can stay?”
“Of course you can stay, you menace. It isn’t as though I could stop you even if I wanted to.” He paused again. She waited, breathless, for him to force out the rest. “And fine, I’ll help you. Not for any noble reason,” he added quickly,
as her spirits soared. “I still think it’s a lost cause. We’re probably going
to get ourselves killed.” He resumed walking up the stairs. “But every man has his limits. If there’s one thing I can’t do, it’s stand by and watch you demolish irreplaceable antiques.”
Elisabeth was grinning from ear to ear. “Thank you!” she shouted after him.
Nathaniel waved dismissively from the top of the landing.
But before he vanished around the corner, she saw him smiling, too.
HEN ELISABETH BROUGHT the scrying mirror to Nathaniel’s study the next evening, he didn’t seem surprised—even though, according to him, it had been lost for the better part of a century.
“It belonged to my Aunt Clothilde,”
he explained. “She died before I was born, but I always heard stories about how she used it to spy on her in-laws.”
Elisabeth hesitated, remembering what Mistress Wick had told her the other day. “Wasn’t that after the Reforms?”
“Yes, but you wouldn’t believe the number of forbidden artifacts squirreled away in old homes like this one.” He closed his eyes and ran his fingers over the mirror’s
edges, concentrating. “The Lovelaces found ambulatory torture devices in their cellar, including an iron maiden that chased them back upstairs, snapping open and shut like a mollusk. Personally, I won’t even go into my basement. There are doors down there that haven’t been opened since Baltasar built the place, and Silas tells me he had a
bizarre obsession with puppets. . . . Ah.” His eyes snapped
open. “There we are.”
She leaned over on the couch for a closer look. The glaze of frost had receded from the mirror’s surface. According to Nathaniel, there was nothing wrong with it; its magic had only needed to be replenished after lying dormant for so many years. Now, she and Katrien should be able to talk for as long as they wanted.
A delighted laugh escaped her. She looked up to find Nathaniel
watching her, his eyes intent, as though he had been studying her face like a painting. A shock ran through her body when their gazes locked. Everything shifted into sharp focus: the study’s instruments glittering over his shoulder, the softness of his lips in the candlelight, the crystalline structure of his irises, infinitely complex up close.
For a heartbeat, it seemed as though something
might happen. Then a shadow fell across his eyes. He cleared his throat and passed her the mirror. “Are you ready?” he asked.
Elisabeth bit back a rush of embarrassment, struggling not to let anything show on her face. Hopefully, he wouldn’t notice that her cheeks had turned pink, or if he did, he would mistake the flush for excitement about Katrien.
“Yes, but I want to try something else first.”
She brought the mirror close to her nose, ignoring the jitters in her stomach. “Show me Ashcroft,” she commanded.
Nathaniel tensed as the mirror’s surface swirled. When it cleared, however, it didn’t show an image. A pool of shimmering golden light filled the glass instead. Elisabeth frowned. She had never seen the mirror do anything like that before.
“I don’t understand. Is he in a place with
no mirrors nearby?”
“That’s Ashcroft’s magic.” Nathaniel’s tension had eased. “It looks as though he’s cast protective wards on himself. They’re intended to stop malicious rituals, but evidently they block scrying mirrors, too.”
She blew out a breath, realizing she’d been holding it the entire time. “He prepares for everything. That was one thing I came to understand while trapped in his manor.
It seemed too good to be true—being able to spy on him—but I had to try.”
“Perhaps it’s for the best,” Nathaniel sympathized. “Imagine if we’d caught him in the privy. Or trimming his nose hairs. Or even—”
Elisabeth made a face. “Show me Katrien,” she said to the mirror, before he could add anything else.
Her fingers tightened on the frame as the glass swirled again. She had prepared Katrien
and Nathaniel for this moment as best she could, considering she’d only had a minute or so to speak with Katrien that morning, but now that the time had arrived for them to actually meet, she felt disturbingly queasy. For some reason, she didn’t think she could bear it if her best friend ended up hating Nathaniel.
Katrien’s face appeared in the mirror. She sat cross-legged on the floor, wrapped
to the chin in an oversized quilt. Somehow, she managed to make the effect look threatening. Perhaps it was her gaze, dissecting Nathaniel like a laboratory specimen.
“Thorn,” she intoned.
“Quillworthy,” he replied.
A long pause elapsed, during which Elisabeth wondered if she might throw up. Finally, Katrien poked a brown hand from the quilt and pushed up her spectacles. The hand retreated
back out of sight as though it had never existed. “I suppose you’ll do,” she said. “Now, what else do I need to know before we get started?”
Just like that, the awkwardness vanished. Elisabeth barely resisted leaping to her feet and cheering. She angled the mirror so Katrien could see both their faces. “To start with, Ashcroft is a couple of days late attacking the Great Library of Fairwater.”
Katrien frowned. “Do you think that’s because he hasn’t made any progress on the Codex?”
“Exactly—he could be buying himself more time, because he isn’t ready to move on to whatever he has planned for Harrows. . . .”
The three of them spoke well into the night, interrupted once by a random room inspection that left them scrambling to cancel the mirror’s spell before a warden saw their disembodied
faces hovering above Katrien’s armoire, and a second time by Silas, who insisted on serving them a three-course dinner on the coffee table. Katrien watched Silas with keen interest, but thankfully said nothing.
They capped off the meeting by trying to get Nathaniel into the Codex. First they tried having him go alone—in order to establish a control, Katrien explained, but Elisabeth suspected
she just wanted to watch Nathaniel struggle. Next they tried going together, linking their arms in the hopes Elisabeth could somehow pull him along with her. But every time, she simply materialized in the workshop dimension on her own. Prendergast grew so upset by her repeated arrivals that he began throwing jars full of severed fingers at her, at which point they decided to call it a night.
“Elisabeth,” Katrien said, as they all got up and stretched. “Can I talk to you about something? In private.”
Alarm jolted straight to Elisabeth’s stomach. No doubt Katrien had noticed the way she had turned red every time Nathaniel took her arm. Did they truly need to talk about that?
As Nathaniel and Silas left the study, she sank back onto the couch, sandwiching her hands between her knees.
“Are you all right?” Katrien asked. “You look like you have indigestion. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about your resistance to magic. Where it might have come from, and so forth.”
Elisabeth slumped into the pillows. She felt as though her organs were liquefying with relief. “Did you come up with any ideas?”
“Well,” Katrien hedged, “there must be a reason why you’re the only person who’s been able
to get inside the Codex, and it has to be related.” She paused. “Do you remember that time you fell off the roof, and you didn’t break anything?”
Elisabeth nodded, thinking back. She had been fourteen at the time, and had climbed two stories to avoid being seen by Warden Finch. “I got lucky.”
“I don’t think so. That fall should have hurt you, but you only walked away with a few bruises. Stefan
swears you cracked one of the flagstones. Then there was the incident with the chandelier in the refectory—it practically landed on you. And the time you got strawberry jam all over—”
“I know!” Elisabeth interrupted, flushing. “I remember. But what does any of that have to do with me being able to get inside the Codex?”
Katrien gnawed on her lip. “You aren’t just resistant to magic. You’re also
more physically resilient than a normal person. You’ve survived things that would have killed anyone else.”
Elisabeth started to object, then remembered her battle with the Book of Eyes. The Malefict had squeezed her until she thought her lungs would pop, but as far as she knew, she hadn’t so much as cracked a rib. In retrospect, that did seem strange.
“I was thinking about how those qualities
might be connected,”
Katrien went on slowly, “and something occurred to me. Do you remember those experiments I did when we first met?”
“The ones with booklice?”
Katrien nodded. Her eyes grew slightly misty. “Fascinating creatures, booklice. They spend all day scurrying around in parchment dust, eating and breathing sorcery, but it doesn’t harm them. They’re gigantic, and hard to kill. I thought
they were a different species at first, unrelated to normal booklice. But after studying them, I realized that wasn’t the case. They start off normal when they hatch. It’s the exposure to the grimoires that changes them.”
For a moment, Elisabeth couldn’t speak. Her head spun. She imagined herself as a baby, crawling between the shelves. As a little girl, sneaking through the passageways. She
could hardly remember a time in her childhood when she wasn’t covered from head to toe in dust. “Do you mean—are you saying I’m a
“The human version of one, at least,” Katrien said. “As far as we know, you’re the only person to have ever grown up in a Great Library. By the time most apprentices arrive at age thirteen, we must be too developed for any changes to occur. But you . . .”
Elisabeth felt as though she had been struck over the head with a grimoire. She had lived sixteen and a half years with a case of double vision, and suddenly, for the first time, the world had snapped into focus. This was why she had woken the night of the Book of Eyes’ escape. This was why she had been able to resist Ashcroft, and why the volume in the archives had called her—what had it called
A true child of the library
Ink and parchment flowed through her veins. The magic of
the Great Libraries lived in her very bones. They were a part of her, and she a part of them.
• • •
At the Royal Library that week, Elisabeth thought of little else. She went about her work as if lost in a dream, observing countless things she hadn’t noticed before. Grimoires rustled on the shelves
when she walked by, but remained still and silent for the librarians. Bookshelves creaked. Rare volumes tapped on their display cases to get her attention. Her route to and from the storage room took her past a Class Four that was infamous among the apprentices for its foul temper—they fled down the hallway, shrieking, as it spat wads of ink at their heels—but all she had to do was nod at it every
morning, and it left her alone. In one particularly memorable incident, a section of shelving sprang open unprompted, knocking Gertrude from her feet in its eagerness to beckon Elisabeth toward a secret passageway.
But the longer she swept, scrubbed, and polished, the more the sparkling sense of wonder drained away, replaced by an emptiness that hollowed out a chasm in her chest. If she were
never able to regain her standing with the Collegium, what was left for her in the world? Outside the Great Libraries, she felt like an animal in a menagerie—an oddity torn from its home and paraded through places it didn’t belong. Every day, she tried to convince herself to quit so she could focus all her energy on Ashcroft. And every day, a wave of terror paralyzed her at the mere thought. The moment
she set aside her uniform and stepped out the door, there might be no going back.
Gertrude tsked and sighed, still convinced that Elisabeth was preoccupied with a boy. In a way, Elisabeth was. Her lack of sleep now owed itself to late nights around the flickering green fire in Nathaniel’s study. Cluttered with the results of their meetings,
the room increasingly resembled the base of operations
for a war. They had rearranged the furniture and tacked notes to the walls. But despite their efforts, Prendergast remained as uncooperative as ever, and they hadn’t gotten any closer to uncovering Ashcroft’s plans.
Today Elisabeth had been put to work cleaning the floor of the Observatory, whose blue-and-silver tiles gleamed like gemstones with every stroke of the mop. The room was designed
for grimoires whose text could only be revealed by moonlight or starlight, or during certain planetary alignments. Astronomical devices whirred gently, off-limits to touch, particularly the enormous bronze armillary sphere that hung from the center of the Observatory’s glass dome like a chandelier. When she strayed to the edge of the room and peered down, she discovered a dizzying bird’s-eye view
of the Collegium’s grounds. All appeared quiet this afternoon, except for a single rider galloping toward the library, dressed in travel-stained Collegium livery.