فصل 05

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فصل 05

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CHAPTER FIVE

Ptolemy House went from claustrophobic to uncomfortably empty, with only the nine of them left to rattle around inside. That included a few Jess wished had dropped by the wayside, like Santiago and Portero and Glain … but the addition of Morgan to their ranks made up for it. Jess enjoyed her company. More than he should, he knew. With nine of them left, three would have to leave by the end, and they would all be fighting for the six spots left.

On the morning of the third day after the falsa lottery, Jess was up before the bells, but he found Khalila there ahead of him, already sipping coffee and reading a blank. She was always reading now. It was probably why she would survive them all in the cut-throat world of the Library.

‘What is it?’ Jess asked, as he poured his cup. She shrugged. ‘Khalila, you’re never early. You sleep until the last moment, and arrive exactly on time. You’re precise about it.’

She shut the book. ‘I wanted to talk to you in private, and you get up early.’ ‘Talk about what?’

She gave him a significant look.

‘If you’re waiting for me to guess, I haven’t got a clue,’ Jess said, and handed her a piece of pastry he knew she particularly liked. It had raisins. He loathed them, but she bit into it with enthusiasm.

‘You should be more careful,’ she said.

He froze cold inside. She knows. She knows about my family.

But that was proven wrong when she continued, ‘I assume you already know better, but anyone can see that you’re paying far too much attention to the girl.’ ‘Glain? Well, she’s very tall. She’s hard to ignore.’ Khalila only sighed in response to that, so Jess conceded the point. ‘You mean the new girl? Morgan?

All right, I like Morgan. At least she isn’t Glain.’ ‘Glain is all right. She’s just very direct.’

‘And what do you think of Morgan, then?’ Khalila considered him over the lip of her coffee cup.

‘She is a mystery, and mysteries are dangerous, especially here. You should remember that. This is not a time to be distracted.’ ‘I like mysteries.’

‘You like challenge, Jess.

And I assure you that she is well aware of it. She’s very clever. Too clever by half.Maybe you cannot see that, but I do.’

‘So you don’t like her?’ ‘Oh, I do, very much. I just don’t trust her, and neither should you. The rest of us, we’ve spent time together. Sweated together.

Failed together. She …’ Khalila tapped a fingernail on the heavy pottery of her cup.

‘She is a blank, and until we see what’s on her pages, I would keep my distance.’ ‘There are only nine of us left. Three of us are leaving anyway. Maybe I should be worrying more about the devils I know.’

Khalila conceded that with another shrug, and a rueful half-smile. She was different now, Jess thought. More mature. More comfortable in her skin, and with her own brilliance. Here, among people who respected her, she shone like a diamond.

He might have also been drawn to her, except that she had made it all too plain to everyone that she was not available. Only Dario pursued her, and she found it, Jess thought, flattering and exasperating, in turns. But he didn’t think she would ever return Dario’s affections. She was too aware of the sameadvice she was giving him.

Three of us will leave.

She didn’t want to be one of them … or have to give up someone she loved. And she didn’t want distractions.

They ate without talking more about it. He enjoyed Khalila’s ability to say what she meant and move on.

Efficient.

Portero was the next one in, yawning and surly; he grunted a greeting to them and loaded his plate up before taking a seat far away. Dario settled for coffee, and a spot with Portero. Glain avoided them all, still, and sat solitary, at least until Morgan arrived with Izumi, and both infringed on her space. Glain suffered it, though not

happily.

Thomas was almost late, and as he reached out for a pastry, Izumi – back at the food, which was remarkable for such a slender girl – slapped his hand away.

‘Wash your hands before you touch anything, Thomas,’ she said. ‘You’re filthy.’ He was. His fingers were dark with grease, and he blushed a hot red and left the room. When he came back, his skin was scrupulously clean, and he retrieved a light breakfast before crowding into a seat beside Jess and Khalila. ‘Guten Morgen,’ he said. ‘Will we survive the day?’

‘Depends,’ Jess said. ‘We don’t know what Wolfe’s got for us. What were you working on down there?’ Thomas had established his own space downstairs, in a corner of an old storage room, where he rebuilt things that he rescued from dumps and market stalls. How he found the time was a mystery, given the work Wolfe piled on them, but Thomas insisted it was soothing.

‘Something amazing,’ Thomas said, and the delight in his face had a sly cast to it.

‘I think you will especially like it, Jess. You see, I’ve been thinking about how the Codex functions.’‘The Codex functions through the Obscurists, and Wolfe made it very clear that the details of just exactly how it functions remain the secrets of Obscurists,’ Khalila said.

‘Thomas, I thought you would know all this by now.’ ‘I do! But only imagine if we could make all that unnecessary!’

‘Make what unnecessary?’ ‘The Codex. Obscurists. All of it.’ ‘Unnecessary? Thomas!

It’s the basis of the Library!’ Khalila had lowered her voice, and Jess saw the flash of worry on her face. When he tried to speak again, she gestured for him to speak more quietly.

Thomas’s version of quiet was a hoarse whisper, and Jess didn’t know that it helped much. ‘It’s inefficient,yes? Obscurists are rare. It is an unstable resource, you said that yourself in class. Safer to find another method. What if we could eliminate the need for the Codex?’

‘You’re barking mad,’ Jess said. ‘The Codex is necessary. Always will be.’ ‘What if I could show you something else? Something better?’

‘You’d be the bloody Archivist Magister in a day. If it worked.’

‘It will,’ Thomas said, with complete confidence.

‘Then show us.’

‘Not yet. It isn’t finished.

But when it is, I will be able to make the Codex obsolete.’ Khalila was still frowning.

‘Thomas, I don’t know about this. It sounds like heresy to me. Be careful, will you?

Please?’‘I am not a Burner!’ ‘I said it sounded like—’ Jess’s Codex flashed and hummed. He pulled it free, and all the others buzzed as well.

From Wolfe.

It had an address listed, and nothing more. No instructions other than that, but it was clear what Wolfe wanted from them. Jess drained his coffee, and around him everyone else was doing the same.

‘Come on,’ Glain said.

She was the first to the door.

‘It’s a long walk. We’d better hurry.’

The heat beat down from a shimmering molten sun, with no hint of clouds; the ocean breeze didn’t help much, since it came weighted with moisture. Jess was getting used to the climate, but in the half-hour it took to follow Glain’s long, fast strides to the address Wolfe had messaged them, he began to really miss the bone-chilling days of a London winter. The light cotton shirt he wore stuck to his skin in uncomfortable patches, and the crown of his head felt as if someone held a hot metal plate to it. When Thomas took a swig of water, his face brick-red from the exertion and heat, Jess remembered to do the same.

‘Up there,’ Glain said, and indicated a nondescript shop on the street. She paused, and when Dario would have pushed past her, she grabbed his shoulder to pull him to a stop. Unlike the rest of them, she didn’t seem tired, or even overly warm. Jess wasn’t even sure she was sweating.‘Wait. This seems wrong.’ ‘What do you mean, wrong? Wolfe sent for us. He gave us this address. What are you afraid of?’ Dario pushed her hand away and kept walking.

They all followed him.

Jess watched Glain, because she positioned herself near the back of the group, and he thought, she’s using us for cover.She really did sense something. He had no idea what, but it woke a stinging prickle of alarm on the back of his neck.

Dario had almost reached the front of the shop when Guillaume Danton said, ‘Wait!’ Dario came to a halt and looked back, frowning.

Guillaume drew in a sudden, sharp breath, and said, ‘Step back, Dario.Carefully. Now.’ ‘Don’t be stupid, there’s nothing …’ Dario looked down, and his voice faded away to nothing.

His leg was just touching a thin, almost invisible, silver wire that stretched across the doorway. Guillaume moved forward and crouched down, face close to the wire. He straightened up. ‘I can’t see where it attaches. It may bean alarm, or something worse. Burners sometimes rig up Greek Fire to fall using this method.’ When they all looked at him, he shrugged. ‘I never said my family didn’t know things.’

Dario took a very careful step back from the wire.

‘We should go back,’ Khalila said.

‘Wolfe gave us the address,’ Thomas said. ‘I think he means for us to go inside.’

Izumi sighed. ‘Why does he insist we do these things?

Why can we not just learn – learn how to run a Serapeum for a change? I came to be a Scholar!’

‘Haven’t you paid attention?’ Glain snapped back. ‘That isn’t why we were chosen. If they’d wanted us to be librarians, we wouldn’t be here; we’d be taking training in our home cities and signing one-year contracts for a copper band. If you want to be a Scholar, you have to be better. You have to be able to handle yourself, out in the world.’

Glain was right.

Absolutely right. Jess knew Thomas was right, too; retreat from this would mean a black mark. Wolfe wanted them inside.

‘We have to go,’ Jess said.

‘You know we do.’

‘By all means, go,’

Danton said, and backed away. ‘I’ll be waiting out here. Better failure than funeral.’

‘Coward,’ Portero said.

Danton raised his eyebrows and folded his arms with no evidence of caring. ‘Fine, stay here. I’ll take the lead.’‘Wait,’ Jess said. ‘Not through the front. There’s another way.’

That got all their attention, and Dario said, ‘How do you know?’

‘Because there’s always another way.’ He hadn’t lived his entire childhood running from one thing or another without learning something.

‘Stay here. Let me scout it.’ Jess spotted the alley way only when he was almost past it; it was hardly wider than his shoulders, and the walls converged into an optical illusion that was hard to distinguish unless you were looking for it. He kept his eyes open as he moved that way, but there were no tripwires below, no traps dangling above. The alley led around to the back of the shop, and he backed up and gestured for the others. They followed him to the small courtyard in the back.

The shop’s door was shut.

‘Now what?’ Khalila asked.

She was, for once, out of her depth. This wasn’t a problem that would be solved by anything in her experience.

Glain turned to Jess.

‘Locked. Can you open it?’ ‘Yes. Probably.’

She searched around andhelped him locate pieces of wire, which he stripped and bent to the necessary angles.

It was a simple lock. His da would have been disappointed in how long it took him to crack it, but the others seemed suitably impressed. When he started to open it, Glain caught hold of the latch and shook her head.

‘Step back,’ she said.

‘Everybody. Back and to thesides.’ She was right. Glain kicked the door open with a sudden, violent movement and darted off to the right, and a glass bottle that had been balanced inside crashed down on the stone floor inside. The chemical reek of it hit Jess an instant before he saw a single, vividly green flame flare up. Greek Fire, but the bottle had been almost empty. It wouldn’t have killed anyone, but it would have left a scar.

Glain swept the glass fragments aside with her boot and stepped inside … and froze.

‘What is it?’ Jess asked.

She let out a fast, huffing breath, and stalked into the room to glare at Scholar Wolfe, who was sitting in a chair, calmly enjoying a hot cup of tea. ‘Slow, but acceptable,’ he said. ‘Glain, well done.’

‘Greek Fire?’ Glain stood right in front of the Scholar, and glared. She had a fairly magnificent glare, Jess had to give her that. ‘What kind of test was that?’

‘An hour ago, it wasn’t a test at all,’ Wolfe said. ‘Santi and his men arrested a nest of Burners in this shop this morning, and defused a series of traps, many of which they have left in place for you to discover, though they rendered them relatively safe.

You did well in avoiding the tripwire in front, and the Greek Fire at the rear door.

Now join Postulant Danton and search the rest of the shop.’

‘Danton?’ Jess turned, and saw that Guillaume was behind them, already going through boxes. ‘I thought you were staying outside.’ ‘I waited to see if you died back there,’ Guillaume said.

‘You didn’t. So I thought it was safe enough to come in.’ He lifted a box from the pile next to him and carried it over to put it in the centre of the room. ‘I found this: copper igniters. Burners use them for large Greek Fire containers. They might have been planning something big.’

‘They were,’ Wolfe said.

‘I leave it to the rest of you to work it out for yourselves.’ They gathered up anything they found that seemed out of place; the shop was supposed to be a pottery-making enterprise, but it had been closed up for months, and any trace of clay or wheels was long gone. Jess found a box of what looked like loose papers, but he realised, with a sickening jolt, that they were the interiors of books … ripped out of their bindings and tossed in sheaves into a pile. Not rare works; he knew most of the titles, and checked the rest on his Codex. Common black market copies, every one.

Why destroy them? Burners burnt books in protest, as statements. It seemed strange to destroy them in private.

It was Thomas who put the puzzle together, from scraps of metal and paper, leather and glue. He looked at everything they assembled in the centre of the shop and said, ‘They built Greek Fire containers into the covers of hollowed-out books. Why would they do that?’ Wolfe rose from his chair and looked at the tangle of clues, and nodded. ‘You bait a trap with what the creature you’re hunting likes best.

Scholars love original books.

The firebombs would have been layered under real ones, inside of containers. All they have to do is arrange for the lot to be confiscated and tagged back to storage.’Khalila put a hand to her mouth. ‘If Scholars had sent them to the Archive …’ ‘The Archive might have been damaged,’ Wolfe finished for her. ‘It’s always a goal of the Burners, though it’s very rare to find such a plot within Alexandria itself.

They usually target outside the city, but this knot of snakes seems unusually venomous. I wanted you to see this. Reason it for yourself.’

Jess remembered with sudden, vivid clarity the dark, smoky scars and gouges left on the steps of the London Serapeum, the day he’d run from the lions. The Burners had been going after St Paul’s for years, long before his birth; they’d killed hundreds in that particular attack when he was nine. He’d been a long way off, and still seen the smoke rising up, heard the distant screaming. It had been the worst attack anywhere, except the assaults that went on constantly in America, where the Burners had succeeded in shutting down four of the largest of that country’s daughter libraries.

Technically, those Serapeum remained open, but no one dared to visit.‘They’re getting bolder,’ Glain said. ‘Every year, more attacks. Why can’t the Library stop them?’

‘We try,’ Wolfe said.

‘They’ve learnt to avoid the Codex; when they make plans, it’s through paper message or messengers.

Never anything an Obscurist can track or see.’

‘Sir?’ Thomas looked up from his contemplation of thepile in front of him. His face was set, and very serious.

‘How close did they come?’ ‘Not close this time.’ Wolfe looked around at them, and for the first time, Jess felt he was treating with them as genuinely worth his effort.

‘And yet, they are here, and that is troubling. Some of you may have grown up in places where the Burners are tolerated, even encouraged,but believe this: if you wear the band of the Library, you are their enemy. That is why we are putting so much time into training you to be vigilant.’

‘Scholar?’ Izumi raised her hand, a little hesitantly.

She waited for his nod to continue. ‘Isn’t it the job of the High Garda to pursue them? Not Scholars?’

‘It was,’ Wolfe said. ‘Nowit’s ours as well. I don’t like it either, but that is the world in which we live. That is the world I am training you to enter.’ He walked towards the door, only looking back to say, ‘Mind the tripwire. It still has a bite.’

They had a silent, grim walk back to Ptolemy House.

Jess could still smell traces of alchemical compounds from the Greek Fire, a ghost of theman burning in St Pancras Station. That is the world I am training you to enter. Jess had grown up a smuggler, understanding that books were a precious commodity, understanding that his family catered to a basic human hunger.

He didn’t understand the Burners. He didn’t want to understand them. He wanted to go back to a safe placewhere he didn’t have to think about these things any more … but he was honest enough to know that there were no safe places. Maybe never had been.

And maybe that was why his father had sent him, to learn that lesson, as much as anything else.

Jess dreamt of automaton lions running at his heels, but when he turned in the dream,slow and weightless, it wasn’t lions after all. It was a young man carrying a bottle of Greek Fire, who upended it over his head, screaming.

It was his own face.

Dario stumbled in drunk in the middle of the night, and set to snoring. He sounded like a broken chain being beaten on metal, and it didn’t stop. Jess thought wearily about smothering him, but that seemed imprudent, so he dressed in the dark and slipped downstairs.

The common room sofa would do just as well for tonight. Tomorrow, he’d move his small chest of belongings to one of the empty rooms. Should have already done it, he thought.

Dario would be pleased to have his private room again.When he got to the common room, the door was closed. He tried the handle.

Locked.

He put his ear to the door, but it was silent as the grave on the other side. Someone might have locked it by mistake; it had happened more than once, but if Portero had brought one of his girlfriends back, they were going to get a nasty surprise.Jess didn’t intend to let anything stand between him and the few meagre hours of rest he had left.

He stretched up for the key on the ledge above the door. After the first few times of being locked out, Thomas had provided a key, which had come in handy more than once.

The door opened without so much as a creak. He expected to find the room empty.

Instead, he found Morgan Hault.

She was dressed in a thick Egyptian dressing gown, and her brown hair was plaited into a rope that hung over her left shoulder. He hesitated in the doorway. Her back was turned to him, and as he started to say her name, something made him stop.There was a strange, buzzing feeling in his head.

He recognised it. It was the same feeling he had when one of the Archive tags was activated, and drew energy away from him in the process. The same as the drain he’d felt when using the map to track Santi, only that had been so much worse.

‘Morgan?’

She turned, fast, and hesaw something he couldn’t comprehend. It didn’t make sense. She was holding a blank, but the letters were not on the page of the book. Not ink on paper, the way that the Codex mirrored them from the original book in the archive. The ink was there, but ghostly. Shimmering.

The letters were floating in gold and orange, sparking and turning, twisting in slow,fluid patterns. Rows and columns, cubes of them, all shifting and whispering and moving as much as a foot above the blank, and the storm in his head reached a sudden horrible intensity just as Morgan dropped the book.

As the blank slid free of her fingers, something followed it – a kind of string, was how he thought of it, except that it was a string of strange, pulsing light. Almost like a static shock, but too delicate, too lingering.

A string of orange light that broke just as the blank thumped to the carpeted floor.

She didn’t say a word. Her eyes had gone wide, but then they narrowed in calculation, and she backed slowly away.

He staggered and braced himself against the doorway.

Just breathed for a moment,and then reached over and closed the common room door. Then he locked it and pocketed the key.

‘What was that?’ he asked, and when she didn’t answer, he pushed free and stepped forward. She backed up.

‘You’re not leaving until you tell me.’

‘I don’t know what happened,’ she said. He could see her trembling. ‘The blank must be—’ ‘Don’t try it. The blank isn’t defective, and I’m not a fool.’

‘Jess—’

‘I can only think of one explanation for what I just saw, and that is that you’re an Obscurist,’ he said.

‘I’m not!’

‘Don’t lie to me again.’ He saw her whole body go tense and still. She wasconsidering whether or not to come at him for the key, and whether or not she’d win if she picked that battle. It lasted a long few seconds before she took in a breath and said, simply, ‘Yes.’ Now that she’d admitted it, the shock rolled over him.

Obscurist. But they weren’t supposed to ever leave the confines of the Iron Tower.

What was someone like that doing here, disguised as a student?

Maybe that’s the point.

Maybe it’s another test, and we’re supposed to find her out. ‘Does Wolfe know what you are?’

She snapped the answer back too quickly. ‘He doesn’t know anything.’

‘Bit of advice, if you’re going to lie, learn to do it better.’ Jess’s pulse was racing, but it was as much with adrenaline as fear. I’ve seen an Obscurist at work.

That seemed as impossible as petting a unicorn. ‘Relax. I won’t hurt you.’

That made her frown, and her voice turned firmer. ‘Do you realise how arrogant that makes you sound? If I’m an Obscurist, do you really think you have the ability to hurt me?’‘Probably,’ he said. ‘They don’t keep you in the Iron Tower because you can easily defend yourselves, now, do they? You’re not some sorcerer out of a story. What you do is alchemy, not magic.

You’re not going to throw a spell at me. Alchemy requires preparation.’

‘I wasn’t talking about magic,’ Morgan said. ‘I can look after myself. And, if you push me, I will.’ She had a knife now, and he hadn’t even seen her draw it. From the way she held it, he could see she was comfortable with the weapon … and she would be, if she’d actually survived a war to get here.

But there really would be no advantage in fighting, for either of them. He held up his hands. ‘Good point. Maybe I should just call the HighGarda and have you escorted to the Iron Tower.’

He’d hit a nerve. A big one. She took a tighter grip on the knife, and he saw the flash of panic in her eyes. She didn’t want to go there. Not at all.

‘All right,’ she said, and tried to make it sound casual.

‘Wolfe knows all about me. Happy now?’ He might not have believed her if he hadn’t just seen her lie, but that, surprisingly, was the truth.

Though why Wolfe would help an Obscurist was another thing entirely.

‘What are you going to do?’ she demanded.

‘I don’t know.’ He nudged the blank on the floor with his foot, but it was back to just a plain volume, no different than any other he’d ever held.

‘Is this thing dangerous?’‘It’s a blank. Why would it be dangerous?’

‘Because I just saw it do something I’ve never seen a blank do before.’

‘That’s not the book,’ Morgan said. ‘It’s just simple manipulation of the formulae behind the mirroring. I can do that with any blank. They’re all connected to the Codex, by their nature; it’s the principle of similarity. Asabove, so below. It’s what the Doctrine of Mirroring is based on. I was finding a way in.’

She said it as if that was self-explanatory, which maybe it was, to her; it was the same offhand way

Thomas talked about engineering, or Khalila about dizzying levels of mathematics, as if anyone ought to be able to see how it worked.

It made him feel stupid, and annoyed by it. ‘So you’re an Obscurist who came here to pretend to be one of us,’ he said. ‘Why? Is this another one of Wolfe’s bloody stupid tests? Are we supposed to discover your secret? Then I think I win. Though it was stupid of you to be down here doing this.’

‘It’s not a test! I wish it was. That would be so … simple.’ The flush was fading from her cheeks now, and she walked over to the fire to warm her hands. ‘And I didn’t do it here by choice.

The blanks work best when they are near each other.

Principles of similarity, the sympathetic energy grows stronger. I locked the door.

What are you doing here?’ ‘Looking for sleep,’ he said. ‘Which I’m not going to get. If you’re not here to test us, why are you here?

Shouldn’t you be in the Tower?’

‘I’m not going to the Iron Tower,’ she said, very quietly. ‘That’s the whole point of this. They were looking all over England for me by the time I made it past the border. I won’t be here long. Once I have what Icame for, I’ll be on my way again.’

‘Khalila was right. She told me not to trust you,’ Jess said. He sat down on the divan, because he didn’t think he had the strength to keep standing; too many surprises today, and not enough rest.

‘What are you after?’ ‘What do you think? I want my life! I want to erase any trace of … what I am.’She wrapped her arms around her body, as if she was chilled to the bone, despite the fire. ‘I was coming here, you know, that wasn’t a lie. I’d already been accepted for training when I first accidentally opened up formulae; Scholar Tyler in Oxford saw me do it when I was reading a blank at the Serapeum. He told me opening the formulae leaves a kind of … record that the Obscurists could trace back to me, eventually. I had to destroy my record in the Codex itself if I didn’t want to end up in the Iron Tower.’ She paused, but Jess didn’t say anything. Her voice had the ring of truth.

More, it had the ring of desperation.

‘I could open formulae, but actually altering it was impossible to do from Oxford, and even from the London Serapeum; I tried.

Scholar Tyler told me that the closer I could get to the Iron Tower, the better chance I had of changing it. I already had an opening here in the training class. It was my only choice, they were looking for a stray Obscurist in London by the time I left.’ That struck some kind of thought in her, and she looked at him with sudden, real distrust. ‘Did someone send you here to find me? Did you suspect me?’

‘Not me. I was just

looking for a quiet place to kip. You should have put a sign up. No entrance, alchemical sabotage in

progress.’

‘Was that a joke?’

‘Not a very funny one.’ Jess still couldn’t quite take itin. An Obscurist. He’d come to think they weren’t real, or if they were, that they were incredibly old, with beards that stretched to the floor.

He’d never imagined one his own age. Or a girl, for that matter. ‘You said Wolfe knows. How did he find out?’ ‘He caught me,’ she said.

‘I tried my best, but if I’m not concentrating sometimes I reveal the formulae without meaning to do it, and … he saw. I thought he’d send me straight to the Tower. Instead, he told me to do what I needed and get out as soon as possible. He warned me my time was running out, and he couldn’t protect me.’ The idea of Wolfe protecting any of them made Jess feel oddly off balance.

Wolfe was their enemy – or, at least, their judge, jury, andexecutioner. What would move him to keep Morgan’s secret?

He didn’t think she knew, or if she did, that she’d tell him. ‘If you came just to remove this record from the Codex, it means you won’t be staying once you do it.

Right?’

She was watching him with just as much wariness as he felt himself. ‘All I need is a few more days. Are you going to turn me in?’

He should, he knew; if anything would get him a posting at the Library, completely eliminate any chance that he’d be sent off … there she was, his golden goose. A stray Obscurist, the rarest of all birds by her own admission.

He knew that was how he should see her, but all he could see was a girl. He’d spent his entire childhood as a fugitive from one thing or another. From his father.

From the Garda. From his future.

So he said, ‘No. I won’t turn you in.’

‘As simple as that?’ ‘As simple as that. I understand what it’s like to run. Besides, you said Wolfe already knows. Who would I tell?’ Morgan closed her eyes tight in sudden relief. Now that she wasn’t looking at him, he could stare freely. It was the same face, but there was something different about her, too. Something subtle and strong she’d taken great pains to hide, and wasn’t hiding any more. Not from him.

‘Morgan. How old areyou? Really?’ ‘I didn’t lie. I’m sixteen,’ she said, and opened her eyes again. He looked away. ‘I’ve been running for months.

Training in secret.’

‘Training with who?’ ‘I won’t tell you that, Jess.

I know you have secrets of your own, so let me keep mine.’

‘All right. Are you really from Oxford?’He met her eyes again, briefly, but it didn’t help. If she was lying, she was better prepared to do it well now. ‘I was born there,’ she said.

‘My father’s still there. And I’m going back as soon as I’m done. Another day or two, I promise. You won’t have to keep my secret for long.’

‘How do you plan to get out of Alexandria?’Her lips curled a little on the edges, making shadows.

‘I’ll fail one of the tests, and lose a lottery drawing, and I’ll be off. No one will suspect a thing, and by that time the records will only show that I’m Morgan Hault, failed student. No one will know I was ever anything else.’

‘Well, while you’re altering records, put me at the top of the class. It’d be a nice change.’

She crossed to sit down on the divan across from him, and pulled her feet up beneath her. Graceful and easy, and deceptively familiar; he’d seen her in this pose many times. It’s a role. She’s just playing at being one of us.

But it didn’t seem that way. It had seemed to him that she’d genuinely relaxed in hispresence, as if she felt safe.

‘Do you know what you’re giving up?’ he asked.

‘I know you didn’t ask for it, but being an Obscurist must be important work. You’d be part of the Library for life, automatically a gold band … they’d pamper you like a queen.’

‘You really don’t know anything about it, do you?’ She rested her chin on a fistand braced her elbow on the worn velvet arm of the divan.

Across the room, the fire cracked and sparked, the room felt warm and peaceful.

Strange, given what they were discussing. ‘I told you, Obscurists are taken. Dragged from their families as soon as they’re identified. Forced into the Iron Tower. Those gold bands you speak of? For an Obscurist, it’s a collar lockedaround your throat that never comes off. No freedom. No way to leave.’ She studied him for a few silent seconds.

‘I’d rather die. You would, too. I know that much about you, Jess.’

‘I expect you do,’ he said.

‘If you’re using the blanks to get into the Codex and alter your records, that means you can read those records,’ he said. ‘Which means you alsoknow everything they know about all of us. You’re too sharp not to have done your research.’

That got him a sudden, sharp look, as if he’d unnerved her. ‘And?’ ‘I need to know what it says about me.’

‘Not much. Your father should be more careful when he writes to you. I could tell that it was some type of code.I don’t know what it meant, but if I thought he was sending you instructions, someone else might have guessed it too. They could be watching you.’ She picked at a loose thread on the arm of the divan. ‘I haven’t been able to get deeper than that. It takes time, I told you, and I’ve been more concerned about finding my own records than yours.’‘Aren’t you going to ask me what that suspicious message was about?’

She shook her head. ‘It’s not my business.’

‘How do you know I’m not some kind of Burner, here to blow up the place?’ ‘Are you?’

‘I think the better question is, are you?’

They were suddenly locked in a wide-eyed stare,and it occurred to Jess that it was just … insanely ridiculous. A spy for smugglers and a hidden Obscurist, and all they could do was ask each other if they were Burners.

It was so sad it was actually funny.

Jess got up and searched behind the blanks on the far wall, where he knew Portero had hidden a half-emptybottle of wine. He poured two glasses and handed one to Morgan. ‘Cheers to well-kept secrets.’

She tipped her glass vaguely in his direction. ‘So you’re not here for the obvious reasons, either.’ ‘Doubt it’s even just the two of us. Danton seems to know quite a lot about Burner tactics. Even Khalila worries me from time to time.’ He took a deep gulp. Cheap stuff, but it didn’t matter.

‘Did you want to come here? To the Library?’ ‘I was sent. Mostly my father’s idea. He’s …’ Jess shook his head. ‘It’s not something I can talk about.’ She shrugged. ‘I’ll be gone soon. It won’t matter.

And I know how hard it is keeping secrets. Sometimes, you just need to tell them.’She let out a strange little laugh, fragile and oddly charming. ‘I should be terrified, because you know about me. I haven’t trusted anyone in so long. But instead I feel … I feel better that you know.’ She took another drink, and didn’t quite look at him. ‘I feel safer.’

He hadn’t known, until that moment, how desperatelyhe craved that feeling … the feeling of letting down his guard, of having someone see him for who he really was.

Not the Jess Brightwell he’d constructed over the years, his silent lie to everyone outside his family. Go on, some mad little voice inside him said. Who can she tell?

You can send her to the Tower with a wrong word. He could tell a little. Just the worst of it.

‘Do you know what an ink-licker is?’ he asked her, and startled her. She turned towards him, eyes going wide.

‘Not really. Only that it’s —’

‘Perverted? Yeah. It is.’ He pulled in a deep breath and let it slowly trickle out. ‘I saw one eat a book. The rarest book in the world, Aristotle’s On Sphere Making. And I gave it to him.

Wasn’t supposed to go that way, I thought he was just – just a collector. But he chewed it up, like it was the rarest feast. Sickest thing I ever saw.’

She covered her mouth with her hand, stricken, and he liked her the better for that. For the horror in her eyes. ‘That’s appalling,’ she said. ‘I’m so sorry. How … when …?’

‘I was ten,’ he said. ‘Ten years old. He’s dead now, the ink-licker.’

‘How did you get your hands on an original book like—’ She stopped herself and studied him for a long moment, then shook her head.

‘I think I can guess. Don’t tell me.’

He waited for the inevitable look of shock, or revulsion. When it didn’t come, Jess said, ‘Now you can turn me in, too. I suppose that makes us even.’

Morgan didn’t say anything. Her expression said volumes, though. She understood being out of place. Being alone, always.

Burdened with secrets and afraid of every wrong word.

They had a great deal in common. How strange.

He finished his wine in the warm, comfortable silence.

For the first time in a long time, he felt relaxed. I probably just made a terrible mistake, he thought. But it might have been worth it to feel this way. To feel … free.

He finally said, ‘Aren’t you afraid? Being in the enemy camp?’

Morgan gazed at him for so long he thought she wouldn’t answer, and then she slowly smiled and sipped her wine. ‘Yes,’ she said.

‘From the moment I left Oxford until now, I’ve been absolutely terrified.’ She didn’t elaborate. He didn’t either.

Until now.

He wouldn’t dare break that trust.

They didn’t speak again.They finished their glasses, and Jess closed his eyes, half reclining on the couch. I’m daft, he thought. Daft to trust someone who’s done nothing but lie to me from the start.

She could go straight to the High Garda. Turn me in. She was probably thinking the very same thing of him.

He didn’t mean to, but he drifted off to sleep. He just barely sensed something like the soft brush of fingers across his face, and then he was off in dreams.

Quiet, pleasant dreams.

He was lying on the couch alone when the bells rang.

Not the usual morning

bells. These had a different tone altogether. Jess bolted upright, because these bells sounded like emergency tones to him, and they didn’t shutoff. Fire? No smoke, but he supposed it was possible.

By the time he made it to the common room door, others were coming out of their rooms, breathless and just as alarmed. Only some were already dressed for the day. One of them was Morgan, neat and tidy in her pale-blue linen dress, with her hair up.

He looked at her for too long, and she returned it. We should watch that. Someone will notice. But what would that matter? What was wrong with noticing a girl?

Thomas came from downstairs in the basement, rubbing grease from his hands onto his trousers. He looked as if he’d slept in his clothes, if he’d slept at all.

‘Is it a fire?’ Khalila shouted over the alarms, asshe ran towards them. She’d thrown on her clothes, but her headscarf wasn’t pinned as neatly as usual. Bits of dark, smooth hair poked out. Glain, behind her, wasn’t just dressed, she looked as if she’d been up for hours.

‘Please tell me it’s not a fire!’ The bells cut off, and left a deafening silence.

‘It’s not.’ The answer came from the front door of Ptolemy House, where Captain Santi was just entering. ‘It’s a summons.

You’re to report to the Scholars’ Reading Room in the Serapeum. Don’t waste time. This isn’t a test.’ Jess believed him. There was something deadly serious about the way he looked at their little group. Serious, and regretful.

‘The pyramid?’ Dario said. ‘We’re going to the pyramid?’

‘Right to the top,’ Santi said. ‘Hurry up. The carriage is waiting.’

Those who weren’t already dressed scattered to remedy that; Thomas muttered something under his breath in German and went to put on something clean. Jess, Glain and Morgan remained in the hall, with Santi.‘Sir,’ Glain asked. ‘What is this about?’

‘I’m not here to answer your questions. I’m here to get you where you’re going.’ ‘Is it – is this where we get our final ranking? Where we get our appointments?’ Santi stared at her in a way that clearly said question time was over, and Glain gave it up. Jess’s pulse quickened, though. She could be right.

This could be Wolfe’s final decision.

He saw Morgan’s face, then, and realised that there was another option, a far worse one.

Maybe this hadn’t come from Wolfe at all. Maybe one of them was about to be found out.

The hissing progress of the carriage carried them past the familiar borders of Alexandria University, and close to the Iron Tower, which dominated almost everything in view, except the pyramid. It doesn’t rust, Jess remembered Thomas saying, and this close, he could see that his friend was right. The iron was black, pitted, and almost unmarked by streaks of dark red, for all its age.Massive. Forbidding. Why iron? Jess wondered. Does it help them in their work? He’d avoided alchemy as best he could; he didn’t care for being shut away in labs, smelling foul chemicals all day, but he remembered that iron was an important alchemical symbol, all bound up with blood and the earth.

Morgan would know.

Morgan was sitting besidehim, and the backs of their hands brushed. Just lightly, just the backs, but the warm softness of her skin was distracting.

So were her secrets.

The Iron Tower fell behind, and the massive bulk of the pyramid grew and grew. ‘I knew it was big,’ Danton said, staring out the window next to him. ‘I never knew it was this big.’ He sounded awestruck, and Jess thought that maybe he’d been wrong about the boy being a Burner. He seemed impressed, not outraged.

The carriage arrived at the Serapeum. Santi got them all out, and Glain looked around with the same care she’d taken on the street the day before, when they’d been scouting the Burner house.

‘Which way?’ she asked Santi.

He nodded at the steps.

The breath went out of Jess just looking at them.

They were endless, straight up, though there were a few landings along the way with benches for those who needed respite. At the top, the rising sun sparked gold from the pyramid’s capstone. It seemed ridiculously far up.

‘Fantastic,’ Dario said grimly, and led the way on the long climb.

Dario’s lead lasted to the first landing, and then Glain’s long, seemingly tireless legs pulled her into the front. Jess was content to let her have it anyway; the steps were shallow, but mindlessly eternal. He looked up and paused for breath … and for the first time, realised that there were automata reclining on the marble on either side of the landing.

Sphinxes.

The statue to his right turned its head and stared at him with flickering red eyes. Jess had to fight the instinctive urge to back away, because these creatures were even more disturbing than the lions of London; the sphinxes had eerily human faces, setoff by the ancient Egyptian headdresses of pharaohs. A human face on an automaton was infinitely more disquieting, because it was all the more inhuman.

The flickering red in the eyes continued and grew brighter.

‘Hold up your wrist,’ Dario said from behind him.

He sounded as out of breath as Jess felt. ‘Your sleeve covers it, and they need to see the band. Do it.’

Jess did, slowly, showing the statue his Library postulant wristband. The sphinx’s eyes flashed white, and it settled back into its crouch. Morgan was hastily rolling back the sleeves of her gown on the other side of the landing, too, since that automaton was restless as well.‘Maybe Wolfe’s hoping the creatures will remove a few more of us for him,’ Thomas said. He meant it for a joke, but it was a dour one.

Despite all the differences – the gleaming pyramid, the rising Alexandrian sun, the clean, orderly city laid out beneath with its flat roofs and statues of lost gods – Jess felt he was back in grey London, stalked by lions.Danton had stopped next to them now. He was shorter than most of them, and the steps must have been even more of a challenge, since he was the last one up. ‘What are you afraid of? They’re just automata. They’re on every street in America.’ It reminded Jess of an ancient Greek text he’d read once: The animated figures stand, adorning every public street,and seem to breathe in stone, or move their marble feet.

He’d always found it chilling, not thrilling.

‘If you didn’t have so many Burners in your land, perhaps there wouldn’t be so many statues,’ Thomas said.

‘We have very few in Germany, you know.’

‘Maybe we have so many Burners because the Library keeps adding more automata.’‘Chicken, egg, omelette,’ Jess said. ‘Stop arguing, the both of you.’

‘And stop talking about breakfast,’ Dario groaned.

‘I’m starving.’

‘Climb,’ Thomas said.

‘You’ll forget.’

He was right. By the time Jess achieved the second of the three landings, food was the last thing on his mind. His legs burnt, and so did his lungs, and he still had hundreds of steps to go. Glain was halfway up the last set, and not slowing. Good for her.

Morgan joined them on the steps, and as Thomas and Dario took the last set upward, she held Jess back to fiercely whisper, ‘Do you think this is a trap?’ ‘For you?’ he asked. ‘Or for me? I don’t know.Maybe.’ ‘What can we do?’

He nodded to the sphinxes, gazing off into the distance. ‘Nothing,’ he said.

‘We can’t run, can we?’ Morgan followed his motion, and stared thoughtfully at the automaton.

It turned its head and met her gaze.

‘Morgan. Come on.’She didn’t seem to want to move, but he grabbed her elbow and forced her up for a few steps.

When he looked back, the automaton had turned its head almost completely around at an utterly disturbing, inhuman angle.

Watching them.

Jess climbed faster.

They joined the others at the top in the shadow of the ancient stone portico. Portero, Himura and Danton behind them, the last still labouring up the stairs. Next to him, Morgan leant forward, bracing her arms on her thighs; her chest heaved for breath. Jess was just as exhausted, but he held himself upright and tried to slow his breathing as he gazed out over the city. It was a magnificent view … all of the glittering, elegant glory of Alexandria laid out around the pyramid like spokes in a wheel. The harbour was a silken teal blue in the growing morning light, perfect as a jewel, and the ships drifting there small as toys. The breeze up here was fast and cool on his sweating face.

Staring down from the pyramid’s golden capstone was the Library symbol, and the motto: Tota est scientia.

Knowledge is all. A multitude of sins could hide in that all-encompassing shadow.

When the last three joined them, the nine of them looked at each other. ‘Well?’ Glain demanded. ‘Anyone?’ When no one moved, she shook her head and stalked to the closed marble door under the capstone. It glided open under her touch.

‘You first,’ Dario

muttered, but he immediately followed second.

The hall they passed through was lined with the portraits of ancient librarians.

Not a single one looked as if they’d ever learnt to smile. It took almost a full minute of gloomy progress before Glain arrived at a massive set of square wooden doors set with iron bands and intricately carved with the seal of the Library.

The portal opened at her push, and buttery light from the room spilt out over them.

Ranks of amber lights cast pools of brilliance down from a high, pointed ceiling onto gleaming wooden tables, and books.

The Scholars’ Reading Room.

The shelves surrounded the room, floor to high angled ceiling – blanks already filled with Codex information in a permanent collection, like the ones Jess’s father had in his office. And there, on the far western wall, stood an entire case of originals. Not, Jess thought, anything rare, but enough to allow Scholars to touch real paper, smell real ink, weigh real history.Handling originals was an important part of a Scholar’s life – finding them, saving them, preserving them for the future.

Defending them.

The room was empty. No sign of Wolfe. No sign of anyone, in fact. Tables stretched out across the room, some stacked with untidy piles of blanks as if those who’d been here had left in a hurry.

It seemed unnaturally quiet.

‘Should we sit?’ Thomas asked. When no one answered, he shrugged and took a chair at one of the tables. They all followed suit.

Jess wanted one with easy exits, but Dario beat him there, and Danton claimed the other logical choice. He chose a seat next to Morgan instead.Then, they waited. Time ticked by, and with every silent moment, Jess felt the tension crank tighter. This is wrong, he thought. Why now?

Is it because I found out about Morgan? Is it even Wolfe we’re waiting for?

It was.

Wolfe arrived dressed, as always, in Scholar robes, so that was comforting in its own cold, familiar way. What wasn’t so comforting was the fact that he didn’t come alone. Santi was with him, and took up a post near the door, but Santi was only one of an entire contingent of High Garda men and women, all dressed in full uniform who filed in and took up positions.

In the middle of that parade of force came a new form in billowing robes, but his weren’t black.

They were a brilliant purple.

Jess had never seen one of them, but he knew that only the seven Curators of the Great Library wore that colour, by law.

Beside him, Morgan took in a breath and whispered, ‘That’s the Artifex Magnus.’ Artifex. Mathematics, engineering, the practical arts.Jess studied the man as he moved forward, and if he’d had to boil his thoughts down to a single word, it would have been intimidating. The man’s white hair was shorn close to the scalp, and his face was square and lean and strong beneath a shocking white brush of beard.

He looked grim.

Impossible to tell if that was his usual manner, or a sign of what was coming.

‘I am honoured to introduce the Artifex Magnus,’ Wolfe said. ‘Attend to his words.’

That made Jess’s stomach go tight and his mind go still.

There was something ominous in Wolfe’s stiff posture, the distant glitter of his eyes. The presence of the Artifex alone made it an earth-shaking event that no one could possibly have predicted. Someone in the position of a Curator, charged with the preservation of the Great Library itself, could not be here just to impress students.

‘We have a pressing issue,’ the Artifex said; he had a deep, resonant voice, one that must have delivered thousands of speeches.

‘Oxford has been under siege for some time. All negotiations have failed. The English king has ordered that no surrender be given, and both sides have informed us, as is required by the accords, that the Serapeum at Oxford may be damaged in the conflict. They’ve agreed to the standard evacuation ceasefire so that we may withdraw Library personnel.’ Morgan’s body trembled,just a little, but her expression didn’t flicker. She was from Oxford. She had family there.

This was personal to her.

‘The Library staff have been guaranteed safe passage from the city, and most have exited, but therein lies our problem,’ the Artifex continued. ‘The staff left before the discovery of a cache of rare books beneath the Serapeum. Since most of our librarians are already gone, those who remain cannot possibly handle the removal of so much. To make it more critical, if the English forces discover we are in possession of such a treasure, they might use it as a bargaining chip.’

‘Bargaining chip?’

Thomas seemed stunned by the idea. ‘But surely they would want to save the books, not put them at more risk! That is in the accords!’ ‘In theory,’ the Artifex agreed. ‘In the fog of war, such things become fluid. So we must send in additional staff to assist in tagging and archiving the books.’

‘And you’re sending us,’ Jess guessed. ‘Why?’ The Artifex’s frosted blue eyes fixed on him. They were the colour of unforgiving winter, and Jess felt a chill go through him to match. ‘In part, because of you,

Brightwell,’ he said. ‘There are only a few among us

capable of handling the transfer of so many books, so quickly; your skill then becomes essential. Likewise, Postulant Hault’s familiarity with the city benefits us.

Even Postulant Wathen’s Welsh connections may come in handy for the fulfilment of the mission.’

‘For the record,’ Wolfe said, in a deceptively casual voice, ‘I don’t agree.

Postulants are not librarians.

They cannot be asked—’ ‘They are not being asked,’ the Artifex snapped.

‘They are being ordered.

You’ve narrowed the class to nine; there are six placements available. At the end of every postulant class is a field examination. This will serve.’ ‘Artifex—’

‘Enough, Wolfe. I’ve heard your arguments. There is no place in the world for librarians who lack the will to defend books against wars, rebels, and Burners. Books cannot fight for themselves.

Postulants or not, it’s still their duty to defend them.’ Wolfe took a step forward.‘I strongly object to this—’ The Artifex snapped his fingers, and his High Garda escort pushed off the wall, ready to move. Santi moved, too, walking around the tables to stand with Wolfe. Two sides, and the students caught in the middle, Jess realised.

And it was very clear who was on the winning side.

The Artifex pointed a sharp finger at Wolfe. ‘Leave.Another word, and you bring down a great deal of pain.

Not just on yourself.’ Wolfe’s dark eyes glittered, and his hands clenched, but he nodded sharply, turned, and walked out of the room. Santi followed, but not without a look back.

That, Jess thought, was a killer’s stare, and it was fixed on the Artifex with real intensity.

Then they were gone, and the door shut behind them.

Portero cleared his throat.

‘Artifex? With the greatest respect, sir … what happens to us if we … don’t agree to go?’

‘You fail,’ the man said.

‘And you go anyway. Never fear, I won’t send you alone.

You’ll have a troop of High Garda with you. And Scholar Wolfe, of course. I wouldn’t dream of keeping him from the action.’ Smug bastard, Jess thought. As much as he’d always disliked Wolfe, what he felt for the Artifex was an entirely new level of loathing.

‘When do we leave?’ he asked. ‘Sir.’

‘Immediately. Wait here for instructions. And no messages out. I will keep your families apprised of any necessary details they need to know. You are dismissed.

Tota est scientia.’

They said it back, mostly by rote, and watched him depart, drawing his High Garda escort along with him.

Wolfe didn’t come back.

‘What should we do?’ Izumi asked.

‘That’s not the right question. The right question is, what can we do? And the answer to that is, nothing.’ Dario got to his feet, but even he didn’t seem to know where to go from there. ‘We refuse, are failed, and go anyway, or we go, and hope we don’t fail.’

‘My father won’t stand for this,’ Khalila said. She seemed stunned, out of her depth for the first time since Jess had met her. ‘The Library can’t just send us.

Not to a war zone! We aren’t High Garda!’

‘They can do whatever they want,’ Jess told her.

‘They always have. You’re just seeing it that way for the first time.’ He offered her a hand, and she took it to stand.

Her fingers were cold, but she offered him a small, unsteady smile. ‘It’ll be all right. We’ll look out for each other.’‘Yes,’ Glain said. ‘We will. It’s time to stop biting at each other, and that means you, Dario, and you, Jess. We have to depend on each other from this moment on. No secrets. Agreed?’

Jess’s gaze brushed over Morgan’s. No secrets.

‘Agreed,’ Jess said.

One by one, they all echoed it.

The door to the room opened again, and Captain Santi looked in on them.

‘Down the hall. Wolfe’s waiting for you,’ he said.

They all filed by him, but when Jess passed, Santi took hold of his arm. ‘Brightwell.

A word.’

Thomas gave him a worried look, but at Jess’s nod, he left with the rest. The door swung shut behind him with a solid boom.Santi let him go. ‘Do you recognise this?’ He pulled a folded piece of paper from his pocket. Written on it, in ink, was a message that had no name or signature, but Jess recognised the hand. Brendan never had been very skilled with a pen.

Pay respects to your cousin Charlie. You’ll find him beneath the sod.Lay some flowers for us.

It was a family message, and it was in family code.

Cousin Charlie meant his cousin Frederick, in Oxford; beneath the sod meant a particular spot in that town to find the man. Lay some flowers meant that Jess could ask for help there … at a price.

Jess looked up at Santi’s impassive face, and felt a real stab of fear. Brendan had written this, so had his brother been taken? How else could that note be in the possession of a High Garda soldier? He deliberately fought down those fears and handed the paper back.

‘Nothing to me, mate. No idea what it means.’

‘Ah,’ Santi said. His tone was light and pleasant. ‘Good thing. One of my eager young soldiers found it in the possession of a black trader.

Barzem. Know him?’

‘Never heard of him,’ Jess said. Barzem had been the contact who’d sent him to steal the Aristophanes play from Abdul Nejem. He was a good liar; he’d trained at it his entire life.

But he didn’t think Santi believed a word of it.‘Just as well,’ Santi said.

‘He’s dead. Knifed in the back on his way out of a coffee shop. What’s the world coming to? Well, might as well dispose of this.’ He ripped the message up into tiny pieces and put it back in his pocket. ‘I’ll burn it at home. Wouldn’t want anyone to find it here.’

That was confounding.

And disturbing. ‘Are we done?’ ‘I doubt it,’ Santi said, but he opened the door for him to escape.

Jess found the others, who were waiting in the hallway.

Thomas sent him a questioning look, but Jess just shook his head. He edged closer to Morgan, who ducked her head and said, ‘What was that?’

‘Nothing you need to worry about,’ he said.

‘But something you should?’

He wasn’t sure yet. He knew that he ought to be worried; Santi obviously knew the message had been meant for him, and yet he’d shown it to him. He’d destroyed it.

Brendan knew he was heading for Oxford. He’d known even before Jess did somehow, and that was worrying indeed. His father had extensive networks of contacts around the world, every book smuggler did. But he’d never had contacts inside the Library itself, not before Jess. So how had

Brendan known? Who’d told him?

There was something familiar about what Santi had just said about the dead man, Barzem. Knifed in the back coming out of a coffee house.

It was a strong echo of something his brother had once told him, long ago it seemed, back in rainy

London. Stabbed in the back coming out of his club, his brother had said.

The ink-licker’s murder.

Something Brendan would know Jess couldn’t forget.

Brendan hadn’t got a message through to Barzem.

He’d left it on his body.

His brother had never left Alexandria.

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