فصل 15

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فصل 15

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CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Hiring a middle-of-the-night cab proved impossible, and Jess ended up taking a near empty public train back to the High Garda facilities, where he hoped he’d still find Captain Santi. He didn’t know how to locate Wolfe, and he didn’t want to send a Codex message. Someone would be watching.

He reported at the secured gates of the compound and had his Library bracelet flashed, which proved his temporary status was still activated. The presence of guardian statues once again raised his hackles. These were sphinxes, again, the same as lounged on the sides of the Alexandrian Serapeum.

They seemed passive, and the guards who checked Jess’s credentials waved him through.

One of the sphinxes tracked him, turning its stone head as he passed. He tried not to imagine what it could do to him. It rose from a crouch to pace after him for a few steps, which made him cold to the bones, but it seemed to only be curious.

Maybe it smelt the urgency on him, and the fear.

It studied him, and finally settled. The gate slid shut without incident behind him.

That wasn’t the end of it, of course. More automata were placed inside, on the large walkway that led to the front of the multi-storey barracks, the offices, the unit headquarters, and the place they took their ease, the Hive.

He took that last pathway, past an automaton that was modelled on a Spartan soldier. Having it look human didn’t make it less alarming, especially when the eyes flared red and the whole body twisted into a crouch, spear at the ready. The spear it held was real, and so was the sword. Could they make an army of them? Jess wondered.

Maybe. Maybe Thomas would be the one to make them.

The thought of Thomas’s gifts being twisted that way made him angry.

Jess entered the front doors this time, instead of the back way. It was just as busy, and he paused to get his bearings. It was, if anything, even noisier and more crowded than before, but he pushed his way through to the place he’d been drinking with the others … and where he’d last seen Wolfe, with Santi.

They were both gone now, but asking after them among some of Santi’s very drunken soldiers got him directions to the captain’s lodgings, which were only a short walk from the base gates. That mean braving all the statues again, but having already cleared him, they ignored him this time.

He was feeling bone-tired by the time he found Santi’s small doorway and knocked.

It was well into hours when no sane person made visits, but the captain opened the door and stepped back without any comment. Not even a question. Surely what are you doing here at this hour was warranted.

‘I need to talk to Wolfe,’ Jess said.

Santi paused in the act of tying the sash of his silken robe, but didn’t look up.

‘Presumptuous, but correct, because he lives here. Sit down, Brightwell.’

Santi’s command tone was out, and Jess found himself obeying the order without question. Santi sat down across from him. He folded his hands on the table and looked at Jess with an unreadable expression.

‘Are you going to let me talk to him, or do I have to start shouting?’

‘Just listen,’ Santi said.

‘I’ve known Wolfe since we were both postulants.

Everyone knew he was to become the next Artifex Magnus, or even the next Archivist. He was brave, brilliant, intuitive, dedicated … he had everything the Library wanted. But he had one thing they didn’t want: imagination.’

Jess was getting more impatient with every tick of the clock, and he found himself picking at a rough spot in the wood, worrying it with his fingernail. ‘Is there a point to this?’

‘Wolfe recognised that the Library had stopped moving forward about two hundred years ago. It wasn’t changing.

It couldn’t, because it needed Obscurists to do its work, and as fewer were found, it had to hold tighter to each one. And then squeeze. And then strangle.’ Santi shook his head slowly. ‘Wolfe had an idea of how to sweep all that away and rebuild the Library anew. It was brilliant.’ Jess was no longer impatient; Santi had succeeded in keeping his attention. ‘They didn’t listen.’ ‘Oh, they listened. He was a well-respected, important Scholar by then. They listened. They took his research. And then he was gone.’‘What?’

‘Gone. I was told that

Wolfe was on assignment.

Then on a mission for the Artifex. Finally I was told not to ask again. I kept asking anyway. They persuaded me to stop.’

There were scars on Santi’s chest. Jess would have thought they were battle scars, but these looked too regular. Too even.

Too calculated.

‘It was more than a year before he turned up again.

Middle of the night. He looked like he’d crawled out of hell.’

A year … ‘Where had he been?’

‘He doesn’t say, and I don’t ask.’ Santi was quiet for a beat. ‘They destroyed his research, his personal

journals, everything. You’ll find no citations for him on the Codex, though Chris wrote hundreds of works before the day he presented to the Archivist. They wiped everything he’d done from the Library’s memory. He’s a walking ghost. He’s been a ghost since the day they finally let him go.’

Jess’s throat had gone dry, and he heard a click when he tried to swallow. ‘But they put him in charge of a class.

They sent him on an important mission. Why would they trust him with—’ He stopped himself. Santi didn’t say a word. ‘They didn’t.’

‘He was never a teacher.

They wanted him to find your secrets and turn them over.

But he found your secrets, and he never betrayed them.

What the Artifex knows, he had to get other ways.’ Santi smiled a little. ‘Little rebellions. Wolfe was meant to die on the trip to Oxford.

He’s an embarrassment and a risk. Living on borrowed time.’

‘But you’re still with him.’ ‘Of course,’ Santi said, and met Jess’s eyes. ‘Some people you don’t walk away from. I know you understand that. But if you’re here about Morgan, I can’t let you drag him into it. It’s too hard for him. He was born in the Iron Tower. He understands what it means to be locked up in that place.’

‘But—’ Jess hadn’t thought he could be surprised by anything about Wolfe, but he hadn’t expected that. ‘He’s an Obscurist?’

‘Born there, but he doesn’t have the gift. He was taken from the tower to the orphanage when he was ten years old, after he was tested.

Both his parents are still in the Tower. He was set free.’ Rejected and rescued, at the same time. Jess couldn’t comprehend it. So much of what Santi was telling him was so different than he’d ever expected. He thought he’d known Wolfe. They’d all thought that.But he was none of the things that they’d assumed.

Not a single one.

‘It – it doesn’t have anything to do with Morgan,’ Jess said. ‘I understand – why you wouldn’t want him to get involved. But this is about Thomas.’

‘God.’ Santi rested his head on his hand for a moment, as if Jess had given him a headache. ‘Enough.Enough. He tried not to care about you and your friends, but he had to, and once he did … I don’t want him dragged back to this. His position is dangerous.’ Santi broke off, and his eyes focused on something behind Jess.

The frustration and sadness that spread over Santi’s face told Jess what had happened, even before Wolfe’s low voice said, ‘It’s my decision, Nic. Not yours.’ Wolfe was fully dressed.

He’d either not been asleep at all, or he’d slept in his clothes, though these looked too fresh and sharp for that.

He slid into an empty chair at the table, and he and Santi held a silent staring contest for a moment.

Santi lost. He shook his head, stood up, and went to the small kitchen.‘You heard?’ Jess asked.

‘I can guess most of what he told you.’ Wolfe’s gaze was fixed on Santi’s back as he went about the domestic business. ‘I gambled for the soul of the Library. And I lost. Past is past. Now, tell me why you’ve come.’

‘Chris, for the love of Amon, don’t do this,’ Santi said. ‘Class is over. Walk away.’‘If you’re making coffee, I’d like milk,’ Wolfe said.

‘I know that. Jess?’

‘Uh – black, sir.’ He’d grown up on his father’s brew, so bitter and dark that it was like drinking midnight.

‘Thank you.’ It was absurd to be thanking him, but it just came out, somehow. Jess felt entirely off balance between Santi’s sudden hospitality, and knowledge of Wolfe that he was totally unprepared to handle.

‘Go on,’ Wolfe said to Jess. ‘Schreiber.’

‘When we were on the road, he showed me diagrams. I didn’t pay much attention at the time, I was thinking of … other things.’ Danger. Death. Morgan, who had somehow come to supersede those other considerations. ‘Thing is, he built what he showed me. He must have had it ready before we left. He was planning to present it to you. He hoped you’d show it to the Artifex.’ ‘Another automaton?’

Wolfe seemed more bored than alarmed. The warm, seductive scent of brewing coffee seeped through the small rooms, and Santi began pouring cups. Wolfe sat back as Santi set one in front of him, then Jess. Jess took the time to gulp down a burning sip.

Jess focused back on

Wolfe. ‘No sir. Thomas calls it a press.’

Wolfe had his cup halfway to his mouth, but he stopped and set it back down, precisely. Carefully. Santi had gone completely still as well. Jess didn’t know why, but he knew it was bad.‘A press,’ Wolfe repeated.

‘Explain.’

‘It makes copies of words,’ Jess said. ‘In ink. On paper. He calls it a press because it … presses ink on the page.’

There was a moment of ringing silence. Wolfe’s dark eyes bored in on him in unreadable stillness, and then he said, in a very soft voice, ‘Where is this device now?’‘Ptolemy House,’ he said.

‘In the basement.’

‘And the plans?’

‘In Thomas’s personal journal—’

Wolfe exploded up out of the chair so fast that he was only a blur. His cup overturned, sending coffee sheeting across the dark wood. Jess didn’t have time to do more than scramble to his feet before Wolfe was halfway to the door.

Santi was suddenly barring the way out, and there was real despair in his face.

‘No,’ Santi said.

‘Christopher, don’t.’ Wolfe lowered his shoulder and slammed into him, but Santi was taller, stronger, and expected the move. He expertly flipped Wolfe aside and onto his stomach on the floor with a hollow boom of boards, and held him pinned while Wolfe struggled. ‘Don’t. I won’t watch you destroy yourself. I saw the note. I saw what your mother told you.’

‘Let him go!’ Jess said, and took a step forward. That earned Santi’s straight focus, and that was … chilling. He kept walking, against all the sane impulses to stop.

‘Schreiber put his plans in his journal, Nic,’ he said.

‘His personal journal never went with him to Wales,’ Santi said. ‘They couldn’t have compromised it the way they got to Brightwell’s.’

‘Wrong.’ Wolfe was laughing, but it sounded like tears. ‘So very wrong. There are ranks of automata in the Iron Tower reading every word. The Library sees everything. And the thing they search for the hardest is this. This press. Because it’s the greatest risk in the world to their power. Damn you, Nic, let me go!’

Santi finally moved, and

Wolfe rolled up to his feet.

Santi was still between him and the door, but Wolfe didn’t try another rush. Not yet.

‘You never told me that,’Santi said. ‘About the journals.’

‘Would it have mattered?’ ‘Might have.’

‘They started after I was arrested,’ Wolfe said. ‘Part of the new interdictions. I was afraid you’d change what you were writing. If you had, they’d have taken you. I couldn’t let that happen.’ ‘Thomas says it’ll change everything,’ Jess said. ‘That’s true, isn’t it? Like your research, something that will change the Library.’

‘Thomas isn’t the first to come up with this idea. Call it printing, or a press, or an ink plate, or movable type, it’s an idea that they’ve been systematically destroying since 1455, when Johannes Gutenberg was a Scholar, and died in a cell beneath the Serapeum,’ Wolfe said. ‘Nic,if you ever believed me, believe me now: I have to do this. If I was left alive for a reason, it was this one. To save that boy.’

‘I know,’ Santi said. ‘I just wish you weren’t so bloody brave about it.’

Wolfe hugged him. It was a sudden, fierce move, and Santi embraced him back.

Jess knew what he was looking at, because he’d felt it.

Love, and the pain of knowing that love wouldn’t be enough.

‘I’m coming,’ Santi said.

‘And don’t argue with me about how you can’t protect me, I know you can’t. It doesn’t matter. I’m coming.’ Wolfe smiled. It was too private a thing, and Jess looked away from it. ‘Then get dressed,’ he said. ‘We won’t have much time.’ Ptolemy House was silent when they arrived. The whole street was quiet, though in other houses glows burnt here and there. Not in Ptolemy.

Even the light that always burnt over the door was gone, and the household gods shrouded in darkness.

‘Who’s still inside?’ Santi asked. Jess told him. All the occupied rooms were on the ground floor now, and he named off the room numbers, and occupants. ‘Check Schreiber’s room first. If you find him, bring him out.

We’ll get him to safety.’ ‘Safety where?’ Jess asked. ‘This is Alexandria.

The Library owns every inch of it!’

‘We’ll deal with that once we find him. Go. I’ll cover the street. Chris …’ He handed Wolfe a pistol, and Wolfe nodded his thanks.

‘Watch yourself.’

Santi stepped back into shadows and nearly vanished as Jess and Wolfe slipped inside Ptolemy House.

All the glows had been extinguished, and when Jess tapped the first one, which should have raised the rest, they stayed dark. Glows didn’t fail often, and this seemed convenient timing.

Jess knew Ptolemy House well enough to navigate it in the dark, and he led Wolfe down the hallway, counting doors. Thomas was at the end, on the left.

‘Wait,’ Wolfe whispered.

He got a small portable glow from his pocket and shook it to the lowest setting. Then, as Jess eased open the unlocked door, he bent and rolled it into the room, where it cast golden-green shadows on an unmade bed, a pile of unwashed clothes, a blank that had fallen to the floor beside the bed.

And something that looked black and wet on the bedding.

Jess stepped forward, and stopped, because he knew what it was. He could smell the sharp metallic tang of it, like a newly-sharpened blade.

Blood.

‘Easy,’ Wolfe said.

‘Check the wardrobe.’ Jess slid back the door to and found nothing but folded clothes and tools on the shelves. Boxes of gears and parts. He checked beneath the bed. There was nowhere else in the room for Thomas to be.

Not dead. He can’t be dead, that’s not much blood.

They’d all bled more than that in Oxford, hadn’t they?

‘Downstairs,’ he said. ‘He could be with the press.’ ‘Check the other rooms first,’ Wolfe said, and handed him a second small glow.

‘Careful. Try not to wake them if they’re asleep.’ Jess nodded and stepped out. Across the hall was

Khalila’s chamber. Empty.Her bedclothes were disarranged, but there were no signs of violence.

Dario’s room was likewise empty. So was Glain’s. The four of them were all gone.

His heart was hammering fast in his chest, and he checked his own room, simply because he half thought he’d find himself lying peacefully in his bed, asleep and dreaming all of this … but it was just as he’d left it. Nothing out of place.

The empty rooms were all still empty.

The basement, then. Jess’s nerves were stretched to breaking point, and when the front hallway door opened as they headed for the steps to the cellar, he flinched. If he’d had a gun, he’d have shot Santi dead as the man eased inside.That might have been why Santi hadn’t given him a weapon.

‘Hurry up,’ Santi said.

‘Something’s not right out there.’

‘There’s blood in Schreiber’s room,’ Wolfe said. ‘We’re going downstairs.’

Santi nodded and locked the front door. ‘They’ll know we’re here.’Santi seemed relaxed now that things were in motion as he led them down the stone steps into Thomas’s workroom. The glows were out here, too. Jess brightened the one Wolfe had given him, and tossed it over the railing into the centre of the space.

The basement seemed empty. Undisturbed. No signs of blood, or his friends.

Thomas had cleaned up the scrap metal that had been littering the floor.

And then Jess’s eyes fell on the ancient old door in the far wall. The one he and Thomas had locked.

There was no longer a lock on it.

Santi and Wolfe let him move down the stairs, to the door. He took hold of the cold iron ring, and pulled.

There was nothing inside.No bodies. No device.

Nothing but fresh scrapes along the walls where the machine had been dragged away. He showed Santi and Wolfe.

‘Tagged, most likely,’ Santi said. ‘Sent to Archive.

They didn’t carry it out of here up those steps without breaking it apart. The room’s too clean for that.’

‘Where did they take everyone?’ ‘Let’s go find out,’ Wolfe said. He turned and led the way up the steps, snuffing the glow with a press of his fingers as he reached the main hall door. He’d forgotten that it was locked, Jess thought.

Except it wasn’t locked, though Jess had seen Santi do it. The knob turned easily in Wolfe’s hands, and the door swung open.

‘Halt!’ said a voice behind them in the dark of the

hallway, and overlaying it was another from outside on the doorstep. Santi whispered a low, vicious curse that only Jess heard, and then raised his hands. ‘Drop your weapons!

You are arrested by authority of the Library!’

There wasn’t any choice.

Santi and Wolfe both disarmed, and then Jess found himself pushed face first into the wall. A framed portrait, unseen in the dark, broke loose and fell with a crash.

He hoped it was the Artifex Magnus’s likeness.

His hands were quickly bound behind him, and he was pushed outside onto the street. Wolfe and Santi were restrained too, and an unmarked black carriage had pulled up to the kerb. One by one, they were loaded inside by what now in the moonlight Jess could see were High Garda troops. Not Santi’s men. He’d never seen these faces before.

The rear of the carriage had been fitted out with metal benches. They were all boosted up into it. Jess took the right side, Wolfe and Santi the left, and in a matter of seconds the doors were shut, locked, and the carriage lurched into motion. The box smelt of sweat and fear and a lingering odour of sick. There was only a small barred window above their heads to admit fresh air, and on this still night it didn’t do much good.

‘Where are they taking us?’ Jess asked. The other men didn’t answer.‘I’m sorry, Nic,’ Wolfe said.

‘I’m not,’ Santi said, and crossed his booted feet. ‘It was worth every moment of what comes next.’

Wolfe turned his face away, and in a flash of passing light from outside, Jess saw that there were tears streaking his face.

That, finally, was what made Jess really afraid.As much as he hated being trapped in the moving cell, he dreaded what might come next, and when the carriage rolled to a stop, Jess tensed himself for a fight. He wasn’t sure how much he could do, given his bound hands; escape was impossible, given the trackers. But he wasn’t going quietly.

‘Stay calm,’ Wolfe said.He sounded calm, at least.

‘Jess. Are you listening to me?’

‘What if they’re dead?’ Jess asked. His voice was shaking, and he couldn’t seem to control that.

‘They’re not,’ Santi sounded sure of it. ‘Maybe they’d have killed them outside the city. They won’t do it here. Don’t lose faith.’ Faith. Faith in what? He’d believed in the Library, the ideal of it, anyway. He’d believed that it was doing good, and more, that it wanted to do good. But now he’d seen the dirty underside, and he couldn’t hold on to his faith much longer.

The doors opened, and Jess blinked in the sudden light of glows turned to their maximum brilliance. ‘Out,’ a voice in shadow said. ‘Santi,then Brightwell, then Wolfe.

Go.’

That was a High Garda trooper, no doubt about it; the tone was one Jess had become familiar with on the road. Jess followed the orders, though he found it harder than he’d expected to step out of the high bed of the carriage with bound hands.

He ended up jumping. He heard Wolfe’s boots hit the ground behind him.

The glows turned lower, and his eyes adjusted to pick out the soldiers arrayed around them. Six of them to three bound men. At least they had a healthy respect for their captives.

‘Brightwell. Come this way.’

He hesitated, but Wolfe nodded sharply to him. A guard took him by the elbow and led him away while the other two were taken a different way. He tried to get his bearings, and finally it struck him just where they were: the Alexandria Serapeum, but on a side of it he’d never seen before. A heavily fortified, highly secured side.

This was the face of the pyramid that held the offices of the Artifex Magnus, and –somewhere in that warren – the other Curators, and the Archivist himself.

‘Where did you take

Scholar Wolfe?’ he asked his guard, who was only a little younger than his own age, by appearance. No answer, and the pace picked up as they strode through an ornate outer chamber lined with rare original volumes set behind glass. From there, hallways spread out like spokes, and each had a traditional Egyptian hieroglyph inset with gold atop the lintel. He should have been fascinated, any other time – awed, by walking halls that the greatest minds of the world had inhabited through the ages.

Instead, he could only feel sick anger, and fear – and then, a wave of relief almost as strong, as he caught sight of the party coming towards him from the hallway marked with the Medica symbol.

Khalila was the first to reach him, and she threw her arms around him with shaking strength. ‘Thank Allah you’re all right! We looked for you, we thought you’d been taken too … where have you been?’ Her happiness faded as she realised that his hands were pinned behind him. ‘Jess?’ Dario and Glain were right behind her. Khalila had pulled on a thick, striped robe, and her hijab, but he could tell that she had been pulled from her bed. Dario was wearing a loose shirt and linen trousers that had probably served him for nightwear. Glain had on only a plain nightgown, her feet stuck in the same mud stained boots she’d worn to Oxford.

‘Where’s Thomas?’ Jess asked. His throat ached with tension.

They exchanged looks.

Dario put his hands on

Khalila’s shoulders. ‘They told us he was injured in a Burner attack on Ptolemy

House. First we knew about it, we were being dragged out of bed and brought here.’‘But you’re all right?’ Glain nodded firmly.

‘We’re all right.’ But even Glain’s eyes were bright with what looked like fear now.

She didn’t like this. None of them did. ‘We asked why Thomas wasn’t with us. They didn’t say.’

‘I’ll find out,’ Jess promised, and his guard pulled his elbow to tow him onward. ‘Find Wolfe and Santi!’ His escort took him down the hallway that was marked with the name of the Artifex Magnus, and he had to turn his attention forward, because all too soon his friends were out of view.

This area of the Serapeum smelt like sandalwood and oils, and at this hour of the night it seemed deserted.

There were rooms off to the sides of the halls that held desks at which people must have worked, but Jess had only time for glances as he was marched relentlessly to the end, where a large, ornate door was decorated with the goddess Nut spreading her golden feathers. It stood partially open.

And in the room behind it stood the Artifex Magnus. He paced in front of a large golden desk, in a pale-yellow room decorated with old

Egyptian gods in the classic Alexandrian styles. Except for the desk and a few chairs, the only other thing the room held were books. Not blanks, original ancient volumes, scores of them, all uneven in size and shape. The room smelt of old paper and leather, overwhelming the rare wood of the hallway.The guard stood Jess in the middle of the room and, to Jess’s surprise, cut his bindings loose. The Artifex nodded to him. ‘You may go,’ he said to the guard.

‘Close the door.’ It shut with a heavy boom, and Jess heard a lock engage.

No escape that way. No wonder they didn’t need the bindings here.

‘Where’s Thomas?’‘Let’s set the ground rules now, Brightwell. I ask the questions, you answer, because if you do not, this will go spectacularly wrong for you. Then, if I choose, I will answer one of yours.

Understood?’ The Artifex’s voice sounded calm and cold, and Jess unwillingly nodded.

‘Now. Why did you go off in the middle of the night in search of Scholar Wolfe?’Jess wanted to ask about Thomas again, but he knew that wouldn’t help. ‘I needed to ask whether or not he was going to recommend me for a posting.’

‘You don’t strike me as particularly anxious about your future at the Library.

Ah, correction. Didn’t. You have good reason to be anxious now.’

‘I can’t go back home if I fail here. I needed to know for sure that I wouldn’t be sent away.’ The best lie, Jess’s father had taught him, was always mostly truth. In fact, this one was completely true, and Jess heard the tremor in his voice as he said it. ‘Wolfe found out something about my family I didn’t want known. I thought he was going to reject me for placement.’The Artifex picked up a marble ball from the top of his desk and rolled it restlessly in his gnarled fingers. ‘I see. Even if that is true, why did Wolfe and Santi come back with you to Ptolemy House?’

‘I was drunk and angry.

Wolfe didn’t want me on my own, so he and Captain Santi took me back. That’s all.’ The Artifex Magnus clasped his hands behind his back and stared at him. An old man. An old face. Eyes as sharp as chips of ice. He doesn’t believe me, Jess thought.

‘We have reason to believe that in addition to young Guillaume Danton, may his soul rest in eternal peace, there was another

Burner acolyte in your class.

One conducting dangerous experiments under the cover of night. Were you aware of this?’

‘No,’ Jess said, and only then realised with a sickening drop in his stomach that the Artifex was talking about Thomas. ‘What sort of experiments?’

‘The sort that result in chaos, blood, and death.’ The Artifex’s pale lips twitched in the cover of his white beard,but he didn’t answer directly.

‘It seems very odd that you were absent from the house when our men arrived. I would have thought you, like your fellows, would have been longing for bed after your … adventures.’

Adventures. That was one word for it, Jess supposed; the kind of word used by someone who kept his murder at a distance. ‘I’ve answered your questions enough.

Where’s Thomas?’

That earned him a long, long stare, as if the old man was weighing him. Like the Egyptian goddess Ma’at, weighing a man’s soul against a feather. ‘I regret to inform you that the young man succumbed to injuries he sustained at Ptolemy House.

Evidence suggests that someone struck him on the head as he lay asleep in his bed. Perhaps his attacker removed the body before it could be discovered. Perhaps we are still searching for it.’ Those cold, cold eyes froze him from the inside out. ‘And then, of course, the attacker came back, with accomplices, to clean up after himself.

Shall I spell it out for you? I should think you are clever enough to work out the narrative.’ ‘Thomas is dead?’ Jess no longer felt clever. He couldn’t understand even that one simple fact, though he’d feared it since he saw the blood in his friend’s room.

‘He can’t be dead.’ ‘You killed him,’ the Artifex said. ‘Or so the story might go. A drunken fight that got out of hand, perhaps … common, in all the wrong and sad meanings of that word. Then you panicked.

You ran to Scholar Wolfe, thinking he would help you hide your crime. But unhappily for you, young Schreiber survived just long enough to send a message for help to the Garda. They removed the others from the house, for their own safety, of course. Sadly, your friend Thomas expired before he could receive help.’ ‘I didn’t—’ Jess couldn’t stop the protest, but he managed to stop after those two blurted words. It wouldn’t matter. The Artifex knew damned well he hadn’t killed his best friend. The truth was what the Library wanted it to be. That was the lesson being taught here.

‘Of course you didn’t kill him. However, I can build a convincing case against you – and the price of that would be your death. And Wolfe’s.

And Captain Santi’s, which is a genuine regret, because he is very capable.’ The Artifex was still rolling the marble ball in his fingers, but now he set it carefully back on its small golden stand on his desk. ‘Your fellow students might also be suspect.’ ‘What the hell do you want?’ Jess dimly recognised the tense, gravelly tone of his voice; it reminded him of his father’s voice, the day that Liam had been hanged for book running. The day that his father’s heart had shattered, and been bolted back together hard as iron.

‘From this moment on, you will become my eyes and ears,’ the Artifex said.

‘Scholar Wolfe is a dangerous man, with dangerous leanings, and although he has powerful protection, he can and must be brought down.

Your friend Thomas fell under his influence, and his death may be laid directly at Wolfe’s feet.’

Jess’s fists were clenched at his sides, which he only realised when he became aware of the pain. He deliberately loosened them.‘You want me to spy on Wolfe. For you, who killed my best friend.’

‘I think you’re a smart, capable lad who has a bright future in the Library, and you’ll do what’s best for yourself. You understand practical considerations; you were raised by a practical family. Thomas was brilliant, but fatally naive. You won’t make the same mistake.’‘Do you really think I’ll work for you?’

‘Oh, I think you’d rather spy than swing like your brother Liam,’ the Artifex said. He pressed a button on his desk, and the door unlocked behind Jess with a thick, metallic click. He felt the wave of air as it opened.

He looked back to see two Garda behind him. One was taking a fresh pair of binders from his belt. ‘Yes or no. I need your answer.’

‘How can you even be sure I’ll tell you the truth?’ ‘Do you really think you would be my only source of information? If I catch you in even one lie, you’ll hang. Yes or no, Jess. The sand’s almost run from your hourglass.’ Jess shut his eyes for a few seconds, not because he was uncertain, but because he didn’t want to look at the man any more. He had a sickening urge, nearly impossible to resist, to grab that marble ball and beat the old man’s head in, just as they’d done to Thomas.

‘Yes,’ he said softly.

‘What will I say to Wolfe?’ ‘You’ll tell him that I questioned and released you.

From now on, you will write me handwritten reports when anything of interest occurs regarding Scholar Wolfe. Do you understand? And as I said, there will be other eyes watching. I’ll know if you try to cheat me.’

‘Why don’t you just kill him?’ Jess asked. He opened his eyes now, because he wanted to see the old man’s face as he answered.

‘With some enemies, it’s safer to let them destroy themselves.’ The man went around his desk, sat, and made a dismissing gesture as he opened the leather-bound blank on his desk. ‘I expect to hear from you soon,

Brightwell. Very soon.’

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