Authors: Margaret Rogerson
Before the monster’s whispers could sink their claws into her again, she rolled onto her side, where she found herself
face to face with a giant, filmy blue eye. It was reddened and watering, quivering in pain as it attempted to remain open long enough to focus on her. Using the last of her strength, she dragged herself upright. She raised the Director’s sword above the monster’s body and drove it downward with all her strength, burying it to the hilt in the monster’s greasy hide.
The eye’s pupil expanded, then
,” the Malefict gurgled.
Gouts of ink bubbled from the wound. She clenched her jaw and twisted the blade. The monster heaved, throwing her aside. Demonslayer remained stuck fast in its body, far from her reach, but she no longer needed it. The eyes twitched wildly and then went still, rolling upward, the lids relaxing. As if aging in rapid time, the leather skin began to
turn gray, then crack and peel. A cloudy film spread over the eyes. Chunks of its body collapsed inward, sending up fountains of fiery ashes. As she watched, the Malefict disintegrated on the wind.
She remembered what the Director had told her in the vault. This grimoire had been the only one of its kind. She had been responsible for it, and she had destroyed it. She knew she hadn’t had a choice.
But still she thought to herself,
What have I done?
Ash swirled around her like snow. A brassy ringing filled the air. At last, far too late, the Great Library’s bell had begun to ring.
HIS IS MADNESS. The girl has done nothing. You know she is innocent—”
“I do not know that, Master Hargrove,” said Warden Finch. “Only two people handled the Book of Eyes when it arrived in Summershall. Now one of them is
dead. Tell me, why was Scrivener out of bed when the Malefict broke free?”
Hargrove wheezed a disbelieving laugh. “Are you truly suggesting that Scrivener had something to do with this? That she
a Class Eight grimoire? Preposterous. What earthly reason would she have to do such a thing?”
“She was found out of bed, out of bounds, with the Director’s sword.”
“Which the Director left
to her in her will, for heaven’s sake! It belongs to Scrivener now—”
Elisabeth’s eyelids fluttered. She lay beneath a thin, scratchy blanket in an unfamiliar bed.
Not a bed, a cot
. Her toes were cold; her feet stuck off the end. The stone wall she faced didn’t
belong to her room, and Finch and Hargrove’s argument didn’t make any sense.
“The Director’s keys were missing from her key ring,” Finch
growled, “and we found them at the entrance to the vault. Someone took them. Scrivener was the only one there. The library had been secured for the evening—no one else could have gotten inside.”
“I’m certain there’s another explanation.” She had never heard Hargrove so upset, even after the booklouse incident. Sunk halfway into a dream, she envisioned him gesticulating the way he did during his
lectures, his fragile, age-spotted hands waving through the air as though he were conducting an orchestra. “We must investigate,” he said, “speak to Scrivener, employ
to understand what happened last night.”
“I’ve already sent a report to the Magisterium. A priceless grimoire has been destroyed, and the sorcerers will want someone to answer for it. They’ll get the truth from her, one way
A long silence followed. “Please, I beg you to reconsider.” Hargrove’s voice sounded muffled, as if he had moved off, intimidated into backing away. “The Director trusted Scrivener, even loved her. We both know she wasn’t one for sentiment. Surely that must count for something.”
“It does. It tells me that the Director loved the wrong person, and the mistake killed her. You’re dismissed,
“Director,” Finch corrected. “If you’ve forgotten your place, Hargrove, I’m sure I can find you a new one.”
Why is Finch calling himself the Director?
Elisabeth’s memory flooded back as she fought her way
awake. Ashes. Bells. Wardens surrounding her with their swords drawn, Finch emerging from the group to seize her arm. He had dragged her downstairs and thrown her
in this cell. She recalled the rage that had twisted his pockmarked face in the torchlight. And she remembered the wetness that had shone on his cheeks when he turned away.
At once, she regretted waking. Every inch of her body ached. Bruises throbbed on her arms and back, and whenever she breathed in, her ribs stabbed her lungs. But far worse than the pain was the rush of understanding that followed.
He blames me for what happened.
She hadn’t expected to be hailed as a hero—but this?
And if he’s the Director now . . .
Biting the inside of her cheek, she forced herself to sit up. She clutched the coarse blanket to her chest, finding that she was still dressed in her nightgown, crusted stiff with ink and stained with her own blood. Looking around, she found no sign of Hargrove, but Finch stood
outside the bars of the cell door. Hard lines etched his features as he gazed down the corridor. A single torch blazed on the wall behind him, throwing his long, threatening shadow into the cell. She struggled to make sense of her final memory from last night. Why had his face been wet? It hadn’t started raining.
The truth dawned on her. “You were in love with the Director,” she realized aloud.
Her voice was little more than a thin scratching, but Finch swung around as though she’d hurled an insult. “Shut your mouth, girl.”
“Please,” she insisted. “I loved her, too. You must listen to me.” The words came tumbling out as though a dam had broken inside her. “Someone else released the Book of Eyes last night. I came downstairs, and . . .”
As she began recounting the story in fits and
starts, Finch’s hand stole toward the hilt of his sword. He squeezed the leather grip until it creaked. Elisabeth stammered to a halt.
“Always telling tales,” he said. His eyes shone like black beetles in the torchlight. “Always causing trouble. You expect me to believe you, after all the rules you’ve broken?”
“I’m telling the truth,” she said, willing him to see the honesty on her face. “You
can’t send me away to the sorcerers. It was a sorcerer who did this.”
“Why, pray tell, would a sorcerer free a grimoire, knowing it would be destroyed? Those spells are gone now. No chance of getting them back, and all the sorcerers are weaker for their loss.”
He was right. There was no reason for a sorcerer to have done it. But she knew that what she had sensed had been real, and if he would
her . . .
“There was something wrong last night,” she blurted, grasping at a memory. “There weren’t any wardens on patrol aside from the Director. I didn’t see anyone in the halls. It was a spell—it must have been. You can check the logs, ask the wardens. Someone else must have noticed.”
“Lies and more lies.” With satisfaction, he spat on the ground outside the cell.
Elisabeth. She had the sense of wandering into a dark wood and suddenly realizing that she was lost with no hope of finding her way. Finch was never going to believe her, because he did not want to. Her guilt was the best gift he had ever received. The Director had chosen to love Elisabeth, not him, and finally he had an opportunity to punish her for it.
“An idiot, you are,” he was saying. “Always
thought so. Irena never believed me, claimed you had
, but I knew
you weren’t worth the trouble of room and board, ever since you were a fat little babe, filling the library with your squalling.”
Irena. That was the Director’s name? She had died without Elisabeth even knowing it.
“I’m telling the truth,” she whispered again. Her face prickled, hot with humiliation. “I smelled sorcery
in the library. A smell like burnt metal. Aetherial combustion. I swear it.”
His lip curled in a sneer. “And how would you know that smell?”
“I—last spring, when—” She cut herself off, feeling ill. If she explained that she’d snuck into the reading room and spoken to a magister, she would only make things worse. She looked down and shook her head. “I just know,” she finished weakly.
in a grimoire, no doubt,” he growled. “One you shouldn’t have been reading, filling your head with the words of demons. Are you consorting with demons, girl? Have you begun dabbling in sorcery—is that how you know?”
She retreated in bed until her back thumped against the wall. “No!” she cried. How could he accuse her of such a thing? She had sworn her oaths, just like him. If she broke them by
attempting sorcery, she would never become a warden, never be permitted to set foot in a Great Library again.
“We’ll find out soon enough.” He turned away, lifting the torch from the wall. “I’ve heard what the Magisterium does to traitors. Their interrogations are worse than torture. When they’re finished with you, girl, you won’t be fit to sweep the library’s floors.” The light began to recede,
taking his shadow with it.
Elisabeth scrambled free of the blanket and stumbled to the cell door, gripping the bars. “Stop calling me girl,” she called after him. “I’m an apprentice!”
There came a dreadful pause. “Are you, now?” Finch asked, his voice ugly, full of relish.
His torch bobbed away, leaving her in darkness. Slowly, she reached for the key around her neck, the key she hadn’t taken
off in the three and a half years since the Director had given it to her, and grasped only emptiness.
There was nothing there.
• • •
Elisabeth’s days blurred together. The Great Library’s dungeon lay deep underground, far from any glimpse of sunlight, and she was alone. She rested on her cot listening to the scufflings of rats and booklice, grateful for their company. Without them a thick,
suffocating silence descended over her cell, tormenting her with strange imaginings.
Finch didn’t visit her again; neither did Master Hargrove. At regular intervals, torchlight flooded the corridor and a warden came to shove a tray of food beneath the cell door. Less often, he unlocked the door and replaced the waste bucket in the corner. It was always the same warden who did this. She tried
pleading with him the first few times, but he didn’t listen. The looks he gave her were proof enough that he believed whatever Warden Finch—
—had told him.
That I am a traitor,
and a murderer.
Despair dulled her mind. Grief lapped at her in a ceaseless tide. She had never guessed that the Director loved her. Certainly not enough to leave her Demonslayer, her most prized
possession. Elisabeth wished she could carry that knowledge back in time and do everything differently. She finally had proof that the Director had believed in her all along, but it had come too late, and at far too great a cost.
As the days crept past and her tears ran dry, she obsessively
combed through the attack in her head, trying to piece together exactly what had happened. It was difficult
for her to imagine the Directer being taken by surprise, but every piece of evidence pointed to the fact that a sorcerer had ambushed her. He’d stolen her keys and gone down to the vault, then freed the Book of Eyes. No one had interrupted him, because he’d used a spell to—what?
To trap the rest of the library in an enchanted sleep. That was what the Book of Eyes had meant, when it had told her
that she’d woken while everyone else slept. Katrien was ordinarily a light sleeper, and yet even a firm shake hadn’t roused her. Meanwhile the sorcerer had needed the Director awake, alone, so that he could take her keys. . . .
But how had he gotten inside the library in the first place? All of its locks were made of solid iron, impossible to open with magic.
It didn’t matter. He had found a
way. And now Elisabeth was to be given over to the sorcerers, any one of whom could be the saboteur, waiting for the chance to eliminate a loose end. No justice awaited her at the Magisterium. Only death.
She laughed—a strange, unpleasant sound that she barely recognized as her own. The warden had just arrived to deliver her daily meal, and he gave her a wary look as he pushed the tray beneath
He thinks I have gone mad
. As darkness returned to her cell, seeping in from the corners like water over the deck of a sinking ship, she wondered whether he was right. It seemed that it was the rest of the world that had gone mad, not her—but if she was the only one who thought so, could she truly call herself sane?
The bruises on her arms, glimpsed every so often in the torchlight,
faded from deep purple to a sickly, mottled yellow. A
week passed in the world above. Her routine never varied, until one day, after the portcullis ground upward with a shriek of iron against stone, two pairs of boots echoed down the corridor instead of only one.
Elisabeth knew what this meant: the sorcerers had come for her at last.