فصل 03

کتاب: جوهر و استخوان / فصل 8

فصل 03

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When Jess got the letter from home, he knew his father was finally calling in the debt.

Mother’s letter was mere camouflage, but his father’sscribble … that was different.

Father had mentioned

Descartes in his note. It was an urgent code, quoting

Descartes, who was his father’s least favourite philosopher. Jess, as he read the message, felt his pulse quicken. All your siblings … Brendan and Liam, but Jess knew there had been a third child born after Liam and before him and his brother.Stillborn. So that made three siblings. Descartes’ third work was on the subject of optics and refraction, which meant his father was telling him to look … but look for what?

Worth to the world. An odd turn of phrase for his father, and Jess read it several times before the meaning sank in. It was a quotation, hiding in plain sight. He couldn’t quite place the work in question by memory, and he didn’t dare an obvious request to the Library to track it down.

His father wanted him to obtain the book where that quotation was to be found, and deliver it to his cousins … names his father had made him memorise before he’d boarded the train for

Alexandria. Distant relations,some of them, but just as often trusted colleagues in the trade.

In that one message, his father had ordered him to search for a particular book, and to deliver it to contacts in the Alexandrian smuggling trade … and by using a quotation by Descartes, he’d indicated how urgent the acquisition was.

Very.His first real job, on behalf of the Brightwells.

Jess had expected to feel exhilarated in that moment, useful at last, but instead, he felt … used. Nothing different about that, he told himself.

He’d been used by his family since the day he’d been old enough to run. You don’t have to do it, some little part of him whispered. He can’t punish you now. He’s got too much invested. What if he was caught? Not only would he be dismissed, but this time, he wasn’t just an anonymous cutter in the streets of London. He’d be known. Identified.

Turning down his father had just as many risks.

‘Everything all right?’ Jess flinched and almost fumbled his Codex, because Thomas was right at hisshoulder, and Jess hadn’t sensed his approach. Too stealthy by far, for such a solid young man. Jess shut the book. ‘Family business,’ he said. ‘Nothing.’

Thomas sat down across from him, on an old divan that wasn’t meant to hold someone of his size; it creaked alarmingly, and the ornamental legs bowed, but he didn’t seem to notice. Glain, who was sitting on the other end, got up to ease the load on the furniture, with a typically grim scowl at the both of them. She went to the water jug in the corner of the common room and then found another seat far away.

Apart from Glain and a rowdy group playing dice in the corner, they were almost alone. It was far later than any of them should have been awake.

‘My family messages don’t make me so grim in the face,’ Thomas said. ‘Is it bad news?’

Jess shrugged and forced a smile. ‘It’s always bad in my family. Can you think of a book that has the phrase in it worth to the world?’

‘No, why?’

In truth, Jess couldn’t; he didn’t dare. He shrugged.‘Not important. I just heard it somewhere, and it sounded familiar.’

‘It’s from one of the Lost Books,’ Glain said, which was unexpected; he didn’t think she was even listening.

‘A play by Aristophanes burnt in the sack of Rayy. I thought you were supposed to be the expert, Brightwell.’ ‘Not tonight, apparently,’ he said. ‘Thanks.’ He was genuinely grateful. His father wanted him to find a lost book by Aristophanes, urgently, and deliver it to the shadow market contacts. A book that was somewhere in Alexandria.

Somewhere in Alexandria wasn’t a reasonable area to search.

Jess yawned, stretched, and closed his Codex.

Thomas, who’d put his head back against the divan’s cushions, cracked a blurry eye and said, ‘Off to bed?’ ‘Yeah, dawn’s coming fast, and Wolfe has no mercy,’ Jess said. ‘Gute Nacht.’

‘Your accent is still terrible, you know.’

‘You taught me.’

Jess didn’t go to bed. He slipped up the stairs to the second floor, which was now mostly deserted, thanks to the early departure of some of their classmates. He took the route he’d scouted earlier through the back corner window of a little-used storage room. From there, it was a short drop to a ledge, then down to the alley behind Ptolemy House. Even this late, the streets were still busy, and he’d been out enough to know his way.It took most of the night to find a shadow market

‘cousin’ who knew the book in question and who in town possessed a copy: he found it was in the collection of a man named Abdul Nejem. Nejem, he was told, wouldn’t sell it; it was the prize jewel of his treasure chest of books.

It didn’t matter, because Jess didn’t have the funds to buy it in any case. His fatherhad only instructed him to get it.

So he stole it.

It was an easy enough job, though it was near dawn when Jess delivered the

Aristophanes scroll back to his market contact … but the cousin-in-crime who’d been waiting to receive the book was gone, and someone new waited in the darkness.

That was almost never agood sign, new faces. Jess stopped and took a step back, getting ready to run.

The figure stepped into the light with a tight, guarded smile on his face. ‘Hello, brother,’ Brendan said. ‘See you haven’t lost your touch.

That’s good. Thought this place might make you turn honest.’

He stepped forward and pulled Jess into a hard embrace. Hard to admit how good that felt, to see family.

‘I’m as honest as I’ll ever get,’ Jess said. ‘Which will do fine, thanks. What are you doing here?’

‘Came for that,’ Brendan said, and gestured to the ornate scroll case in Jess’s hand. ‘Aristophanes, right?

Never cared for him, but I don’t care about personal taste when hard currency’s involved. Any problems getting hold of it?’

‘Brendan …’ Jess took a deep breath and shook his head. ‘What are you doing here? In Alexandria?’

‘Told you already. Were you followed?’

‘No, I’m not an amateur, and answer the bloody question!’

‘Da wanted it in the safest possible hands,’ his brothersaid, ‘which happen to be mine, of course. It’s a trip to the buyer, he didn’t want it entrusted to anyone else along the way. Including our cousins.’

The idea of Brendan strolling bold as brass into Alexandria and smuggling out a book made Jess feel sick to his stomach.

Physically ill. ‘It’s not simple death by hanging here,brother. They’ve got a long, inventive tradition of finding ways to make people die in pain. Let the others take the risk, that’s what Da pays them for!’

‘Da’s orders were for me to do it personally,’ Brendan said. ‘I know what I’m getting into, ta for caring.’ ‘I—’ I do care, Jess wanted to say, and it was true, but he knew neither one of them felt comfortable with having that said aloud. ‘If you’re caught, I’m in it, too.

You know that. Same face.’ Brendan’s smile had teeth now. ‘Well, can’t have my brutal torture and death get you failed out of your class, can we? Stop worrying, brother. I’ll be fine. Best get back to your school before you’re missed.’

‘Brendan—’‘At least you’ve learnt not to call me Scraps. Thought I’d have to beat that out of you, one day.’ The smile faded, and his brother looked like half a stranger now.

Someone he loved, but someone he wasn’t sure he could ever really trust. ‘I’ll give Father your love.’ There was just enough sarcasm in it to sting, and then Brendan was gone through a hidden door at the back of the empty shop, and Jess was left alone to hope that the next time he saw his twin, Brendan wasn’t dying.

Or dead.

He made it to Ptolemy

House just as the bells clanged, summoning them to another day with Scholar Wolfe.

‘You look terrible,’ Thomas said, as Jess wentstraight for the common room, and coffee. ‘Bad night?’

That was, Jess thought, putting it mildly.

The Aristophanes book was valuable, but sending Brendan was stupid.

Reckless. He wondered what his father was thinking … and then he wondered if it had really been his father’s idea at all.‘This is impossible!’ Izumi burst out the next morning, when their Codexes all flashed and chimed in unison, and Jess opened it to find instructions from Wolfe. ‘We get so little sleep, he asks so much, and for what? Now this?’

‘What?’ Jess asked her.

‘Mine says report to the classroom. What’s yours?’Her mouth was set in a grim straight line. ‘He wants me to report to the Medica headquarters. I’m to receive special half-day training on top of classroom study.’ Jess looked around at those in the common room.

‘Anyone else?’ About half the class raised hands, including Thomas. ‘Where are you off to, then?’ ‘Artifex,’ he said. He was trying not to seem happy, but as usual with Thomas, he couldn’t conceal it. ‘I am to study the making of blueprints.’

The rest were similar; it was apparent that Wolfe had identified specific traits in them he felt needed cultivation. Khalila had special study with another Scholar versed in sophisticated mathematicsand the study of the heavens.

Dario seemed fairly content to be studying intensively in history. Glain, not surprisingly, ended up training with the High Garda.

Jess had nothing additional. It seemed ominous, as if Wolfe had simply given up on him. Jack of all trades, master of none, was another favourite saying of the Brightwell household.He’d always thought knowing many things gave him strength.

Now it made him feel vulnerable.

The day’s classroom training, though, was also curiously individual. They were kept waiting in the room and told to read on the internal structure of the Library hierarchy, which Jess could already recite in his sleep, and then were taken one by one to a smaller side room where Wolfe waited.

When it was Jess’s turn, he felt that it was a critical moment: either he would impress Wolfe today, or he would be struck off.

He was in sixth place in the class rank, and sixth place would be impossible to hang on to without standing out in some way.‘Sit,’ Wolfe said, and nodded to a simple wooden desk and chair in the middle of the room, with a box on top of the desk. ‘Do you understand the theory of Translation?’

‘Yes sir. It is an offshoot of mirroring, but instead of just creating a copy of a thing, you actually move the thing from one place to another.’‘Simplistic, but accurate.

Part of the job of a librarian is that as you locate an original work, whether that is just a personal journal surrendered on the death of the owner, or recovered materials, it must be added to the Library’s collection. I assume you understand how this happens.’

This, then, was the test.

‘In theory. I’ve never done it.’ ‘You will do it now,’ Wolfe said. ‘Open the box.’ Jess stood up and folded back the leaves. Inside, there was a stack of volumes – twenty or more. Originals.

The smell of them was hauntingly familiar. He took the first one from the stack, then looked at Wolfe, who was leaning against the wall with his arms folded.Wolfe raised his dark eyebrows. ‘Don’t wait for me, postulant. You said you knew the process. Try the desk drawer.’

Jess opened the drawer, and inside found a jumble of clips. Simple things, spring hinged, with the Library symbol embossed on a seal at the top. They looked no different than anything a clerk might use to fasten some papers. Mundane.

He took a clip and put it beside the book, but his mind went blank. I put the clip on next? Or …

‘I’m waiting, Brightwell.’ He was missing something, and it flashed into his mind in the same second.

He removed his Codex from his pocket and put it on the desk, opened it, and … again, hesitated. Was it the clipfirst? Or Codex? Or … Stop thinking so much, Jess told himself. You know the steps, Wolfe’s quizzed you on it enough. Just do it.

He picked up the clip and slid it carefully down onto the front cover of the book, then opened the book to the interior to find the title. Once he had that, he checked the Codex. The title was already listed. He picked the book up and tapped the seal on the clip to his postulant’s bracelet, and a dim light woke inside the seal. It started to glow.

‘You may want to sit back,’ Wolfe said. Jess did.

He was still holding the book, watching the glow brighten.

There was a feeling inside his head, a kind of strange light static. ‘You may also want to place the book on the table,unless you want to lose a hand.’

Jess quickly put it down.

The glow brightened, and brightened … and then flashed red. He felt a suction of air, a strange pop that sounded more in his head than in the room, and the desk was bare.

The book was gone.

‘Congratulations,’ Wolfe said. ‘You have successfully sent a book to Archive. Now do it again. Faster.’

He did. This time, he didn’t hesitate. It was a smooth process: clip, Codex, desk, pop, gone.

Wolfe said nothing. Jess reached back in the box and did three more in quick succession, one after another.

The last title wasn’t in the Codex, so he took the time to take out his stylus and carefully enter the title and author on an empty page before sending it on.

‘Stop,’ Wolfe said, when Jess reached for yet another book in the box. He was frowning. ‘I think that’s enough.’

‘Thank you, sir,’ he said, and stood up. He felt strangely dizzy for a moment, but braced himself and got his balance. His stomach growled.

‘What you feel now is the energy the Obscurist’s alchemical transfer takes from you. The tags work on the same principle as the Codex; they exist both here and in the Archive, and through manipulation of the essence of the object, an Obscurist’s process can physically move it from one place to another. You’re simply providing fuel.’ Wolfe continued to study him with an intensity Jess found unnerving.

‘Am I dismissed, sir?’ ‘Yes,’ Wolfe said. ‘Send in Danton next. No discussion of this with anyone.’

‘Yes, Scholar.’

That, Jess thought, was one of the simplest things he’d been asked to do so far, and it cheered him that he’d found something that made Wolfe look at him with real interest. He wrote it down in his journal that evening: I think I might have finally found my place now.

And he was, of course, wrong.

The next morning, when the Codex instructions came, Jess still had no individual study.

It felt deeply unfair,especially since he was one of only four who didn’t.

‘It doesn’t really help,’ Thomas told him later, when they were all back in the common room at the end of the day. ‘Individual study only makes me know how little I understand. And it seems no matter how much we know, Wolfe will always know more.’ He was trying to cheer Jess up, which was kind of him, but it wasn’t going to work. Jess was in a completely dark mood. ‘It only allows us more opportunities for failure, ja?

So perhaps you are better off.

We will be lucky if any of us survive to get a placement.’ ‘Speak for yourself,’ Dario said from where he sat near the fire. ‘I intend to wear the gold and become Historia Magnus one day. If you feel that way, Schreiber, you should save yourself humiliation and slink home to the land of … cabbages, isn’t it?’

Thomas, busy with a clock that he’d disassembled and laid out for inspection, ignored him. His big hands worked with delicate precision as he sorted and cleaned the tiny cogs. Dario was playing dice with one of his cronies, Hallem, while the other, Portero, looked on.

Jess, despite his foul mood, had agreed to a strategy game of red and white stones with Khalila.

He’d learnt not to challenge her at chess, at which she excelled, but she’d not mastered the game of Go quite so readily. He was able to hold his own, which helped his mood a little. The rest of their classmates were clumped in groups around the room. Some studied, looking pinched and worried; some buried their fears in games, or dozed in the somewhat worn armchairs. He wondered what Dario was up to. He didn’t like the calculating look in his roommate’s eyes.

‘You’re not paying attention,’ Khalila chided him, and he focused back on the game board. Indeed, he hadn’t been, and she’d almost succeeded in trapping him.

He made his countermoves, and almost laughed when her expression turned thunderously dark. Had she been Glain’s size and temperament, he’d have been right cautious, but on Khalila, thwarted ambition looked about as intimidating as a puppy’s snarl. ‘I shouldn’t have played fair and warned you, I suppose.’

‘Not if you plan to win,’ he said.

‘I do like winning.’ She smiled, the fit of pique gone in an instant, and Jess realised why Dario was staring his way. Dario did not like it when Khalila smiled at someone else. Jealous, Jess thought. That could be useful.

Dario had few weak points,other than his tendency to believe everyone was inferior to him. Khalila could be a sore spot.

Jess was ashamed of that in the next heartbeat, and concentrated hard on the board in front of him. In six moves, he’d driven her into a corner, and Khalila declared defeat with good grace. ‘Next time we play chess,’ she said.

‘Don’t play to yourstrengths,’ Jess told her.

‘Strengthen your weaknesses.’

When he pointed to the board, silently asking for another turn, Khalila shook her head. ‘No, I’ve got more work from Scholar Zhao to do.’ As soon as she said it, he saw the flash of contrition in her eyes; she had additional study, and she hadn’t meant to rub that in his face.‘Sorry.’ ‘Maybe Brightwell’s not just stupid. Maybe he paid Wolfe off, and that’s why he’s got no tutoring,’ Portero said as he rattled his dice.

He’d taken Hallem’s place across from Dario. ‘Though I doubt a scrubber like him has two Romans to rub together.’ The official coinage was a geneih, but everyone called it a Roman, for the portrait ofJulius Caesar on the face.

‘Maybe he’s giving a different service,’ Dario said.

‘Have you finished licking our esteemed Scholar’s arse yet, or are you merely pausing for breath?’ There was an edge to Dario’s voice, and Jess understood why.

He’d seen Dario vulnerable, when his Codex was stolen.

They’d hardly exchanged a word since, unless it had that sort of confrontational teeth embedded.

Khalila looked up sharply at him, frowning, and

Thomas dropped a wrench loudly on the table.

Jess poured himself a glass of wine from the decanter on the sideboard.

‘Sorry, was I taking your turn polishing his apples?’ Dario’s smile was a flash of teeth from a dangerousanimal. ‘Honestly, Brightwell, I don’t know why you keep trying.’

‘Dario,’ Khalila said.

‘Please shut up.’

Dario shrugged and leant back, spreading his arms extravagantly wide. One of the other students was passing, and jostled him.

Predictably, that focused Dario’s attention. The boy who’d trespassed was a quiet one, pale, with light flaxen hair and eyes more silver than blue. From America, Jess remembered, but with a very French name.

‘Pardon,’ the boy said, and moved on.

‘Danton, isn’t it? You’re related to the famous French Burner.’

‘I’m American.’

‘No, you’re a pitiful French expatriate. Do you go to Paris for the reenactments? The mass beheading of the Burners?’ Danton had no readable expression on his face, but his body language was guarded.

‘I’ve never been.’ ‘Very educational. Living history. No stomach for watching your ancestor’s head coming off?’

‘Dario,’ Glain said, and shut the book she wasreading. ‘Leave him alone.

Someday, someone is going to teach you a real living history lesson. It’ll hurt.’ ‘It’s all right,’ Danton said. His voice was as level as ever, and as unsettlingly calm as his expression. ‘It’s common knowledge. He didn’t have to dig far to get to a sore spot. But then, Master Santiago never works very hard at anything he does.’‘I was just pointing it out.

Burner sympathies run in your family,’ Dario said. ‘I’m sure they’re keeping a close eye on you, Guillaume.

Feeling nervous yet?’

‘Maybe you’re nervous,’ Jess said. ‘Where are you in the class ranking now, Dario?

Number ten?’

‘And where are you? In my shadow. As usual.’

‘Rankings change. I’m in for the long run, not the sprint.’

‘Yes, of course, you would be a runner,’ Dario said, and Jess felt cold inside.

Dario had resources, and he valued whatever dirt he could dig on all of them … but he relaxed as Dario went on.

‘You would be a runner because you don’t have the stomach for a gentleman’s fight.’‘Your version of a gentleman’s fight means a knife in the back, so no, I don’t fight like a gentleman,’ Jess said. ‘I fight to win.

Want to play?’ He gestured at the Go board, eyebrows raised. Dario pushed back from the dice table, gave him a long and measured look, and then shrugged.

‘Why not. Portero’s almost bankrupt, anyway.’Portero’s faint ‘No I’m not!’ was generally ignored.

Danton, released, pushed away and towards the back of the room, where he sat beside Glain. Dario stood up, stretched, and settled into the chair across from Jess … all without breaking the steady, measuring stare.

‘I’ll take red,’ Dario said.

That wasn’t a surprise.

What did surprise Jess was how acutely smart Dario Santiago was at the game.

Jess was good, he knew he was, but it felt almost as if Dario could see directly into his mind. Every clever move he made, it seemed Dario had seen it two moves before.

Jess thought he could almost feel the young man’s intelligence at work. Dario had left his ego to one side, which made it an interesting match indeed.

They worked in silence.

No barbs. Jess became aware that others had moved to observe. Even Thomas gradually stopped fiddling with his bits of metal and stood motionless as he watched.

Gradually, Jess became aware of vulnerability in Dario’s approach. It was subtle, and Dario played fast and fierce to draw Jess’s attention away from it, but at last, Jess had him. He heard an indrawn breath from the crowd around them as he sprang the trap; one single stone placed in exactly the right place, and Dario’s strategy collapsed. Now, Jess was the aggressor, Dario the defender, and as Jess played through the moves in his head, there was no possibility that Dario would win.

Dario came to the same conclusion. Jess saw the flash of recognition go over his face, followed by a swift wave of anger … and then it was gone, and Dario played it out to the bitter end until he’d no more moves to make.

Then he rose to his feet, bowed slightly to Jess, and said, ‘Well played.’ Jess stood as well and bowed in turn. ‘Well matched.’

They stared at each other for a moment, and Jess had the feeling that for the first time, Dario was actually seeing him … not as an obstacle, or a victim, but as someone worthy of notice. He wasn’t entirely sure he liked it.

Dario must not have, either, because he smiled an entirely too brilliant smile.

‘Doesn’t make us friends.’ He turned on his heel and walked from the room. His usual acolytes fell in behind him, but some cast glances back, as if recognising that the balance of power seemed to have undergone a subtle shifting.

Thomas clapped a large hand on Jess’s shoulder. Not gently. ‘That was impressive,’ he said, and sank down in the chair that Dario had vacated. ‘How did you learn to play this game?’ ‘My brother taught me,’ Jess said. ‘So he could beat me at it.’

‘I’m surprised he could.’ ‘I didn’t say it turned out the way he planned.’ Jess swept the board. ‘Let’s play.’ They were twenty postulants when he went to bed, yet somehow, when Jess woke the next morning, there were twenty-one in Ptolemy House. He’d adjusted to sharing schedules with Dario, and the advantage of taking his bath in the evening before bed meant that he could go straight to breakfast and be there first.

But not today.

Today, there was a girl there that he’d never seen, writing in her personal journal. When she saw him, she put her pen and book away.

She was pale-skinned, with lustrous brown hair pinned up tight in a style he hadn’t seen since leaving England, and she was wearing an English dress too heavy for Alexandrian weather. He was struck by the shape of her, trim and smoothly curved, and by her eyes, which were a striking light brown. She looked intelligent and guarded … and deathly tired.

Jess stopped. He knew he was staring, but he couldn’t think what question to ask first. She spared him by offering her hand. ‘Morgan Hault,’ she said. Her palm was warm and soft, but her fingers seemed cold. Nerves, he thought. ‘They said I could eat here.’

‘Are you visiting someone?’

‘No, I just arrived. I’m a postulant.’

Jess cocked his head and considered that as he reached for a fresh, hot roll – benefits of coming early, the food was much better at this hour.

‘How’s that possible? Ourclass was formed weeks ago.’ ‘And I was supposed to be in it,’ Morgan said. She chose a pear and took a small bite.

‘I was delayed. Fighting around Oxford.’

He recognised the accent then. Oxford. She must have had a devil of a time getting out. She was thinner than she should have been; that, too, would have been a souvenir of the war with the Welsh.Food was getting scarce, last he’d heard. And hadn’t there been a siege?

She finished off the pear quickly. He silently handed her a bread roll, which she bit into with sudden ferocity, and made a delighted sound in the back of her throat as she chewed.

‘Bread must have been scarce,’ he said for her. ‘Fruit too, I’d imagine.’She swallowed as she nodded. ‘Everything was scarce,’ she said. ‘Is there any meat?’

He silently indicated the section at the end that held fish and fowl. No pork, and he missed bacon, but it wasn’t a common dish in this part of the world. She loaded a plate and found a table. He brought her a cup of Egyptian coffee, which she tried politely. She clearly didn’t care much for it.

‘I’m Jess Brightwell,’ he said. ‘From London.’ ‘Any other of our countrymen here?’

‘There was, but he’s already packed off home.

First rule of Ptolemy House, don’t get attached. We’ve lost twelve students already.’ Her wide-eyed look spoke volumes, and he shrugged,feeling suddenly like an old, wise veteran. ‘Wolfe is a very tough proctor.’

‘I’ve heard stories. Is he as bad as they say?’

‘You’ll see. How are you on history?’

‘Fairly good. I’m still working on memorising the core collection on the Codex.’ ‘Memorising the Codex?’ She’d caught him by surprise with that one, and he took abite of his bread to cover it.

Chewing and swallowing allowed him time to consider.

‘Why would you do that?’ She smiled. ‘I come from a war zone, Mr Brightwell.

The Codex doesn’t always function as it should. I’d think you’d know, as an aspiring librarian, to plan for the times it fails.’

He’d never considered it, not for a moment. The Codex was simply there, available, a living document mirrored from the original in the Library. Had been all his life.

It was how he located books and loaded them into blanks; it was how everyone did it.

Why would the Codex not work?

And yet, clearly, that was possible. Even Khalila had that blind spot; she’d never so much as mentioned it, andJess knew she wasn’t studying for it. Quizzing them on the contents of the Codex they all took for granted was exactly the kind of nonsense that Wolfe would pull.

‘Interesting,’ Jess said, and tried not to show the new girl how much she’d just taught him about his own assumptions. ‘I suppose that might be useful. When did you leave Oxford?’‘Almost a month ago,’ she said. ‘It was a long, hard journey to get to safety.’ Morgan took another bite of bread, then followed it with some spiced chicken. ‘I need sleep. And a new wardrobe.

Is it always this hot?’ ‘Afraid so,’ he said, and fetched her another plate.

Before she finished what was in front of her, others had started filing in, still yawning. Glain made it as far as the coffee urn before she turned and stared at the newcomer.

‘Allow me,’ Jess said, when Morgan began to speak.

He stood up. ‘Everybody, this is Morgan Hault, she’s new, so be kind.’ ‘New?’ Portero came closer to inspect her. ‘New and gone tomorrow. Doesn’t look like she can stay the course.’‘Who says you can?’ Glain shot back. ‘Stop breathing on the girl.’ ‘She’s too far behind,’ Guillaume Danton said quietly, as he put an inordinate amount of bread on his plate, along with smoked fish. ‘She can’t make up time unless Wolfe gives her breaks, and you know he wouldn’t.’

Morgan said, ‘I can keep up. So if you think you’ll get rid of me that easily, get ready for disappointment.’ ‘Morgan, if you are coming with us, you should get changed,’ Khalila said.

‘We’re scheduled for the field today.’

‘The field?’

‘The High Garda compound.’ Khalila set her plate down on a corner of the same table Jess and Morgan occupied. Jess took the hint and got up, since he’d finished, and Khalila gracefully slid into his spot.

‘Wolfe is a great believer in the idea that we must be able to defend ourselves, and Library property, at all times; I think he takes the Burners too seriously, but we all must complete a basic High Garda training course. You will want looser, lighter clothing if you’re coming.’ Khalila had dressed in her version of that: a summer-weight pair of ankle-length, gathered trousers under a long tabard, split at the sides. She still wore the headscarf, but today’s was light, opaque silk. ‘Stay with me, I’ll see that you—’

There was a sudden, audible intake of breath from across the room, and a clatter of utensils on plates, and Jess looked up to see the dark, foreboding presence of

Scholar Wolfe in the doorway of their common room. That was bad enough, but behind him loomed Captain Santi, Wolfe’s High Garda shadow.

Jess’s fellow postulants had gone very still, and Jess knew why: inside Ptolemy House, they’d always felt free from any interference by authority… until now. Now, it was abundantly clear that Wolfe, or any Library authority, could enter without warning or announcement.

Their home was not their sanctuary.

Wolfe’s gaze raked the room, and settled on Jess … no, not Jess. The girl across from him. He gestured to Morgan.

‘You. Come here,’ Wolfe said.

‘Sir?’ She had gone milkpale, and Jess saw, with a pulse of sympathy, that the heavy dark circles beneath her eyes stood out even more starkly. She looked exhausted and quite sensibly afraid.

Wolfe didn’t feel like explaining himself, clearly.

He exchanged a look with Santi, who came forward and put his hand on the girl’sshoulder. When she didn’t get up, he pulled just enough to guide her to her feet.

‘Where are you taking her?’ Jess couldn’t quite believe he’d opened his mouth to ask; he usually had a better sense of self preservation. But he had done it, and the question hung in the quiet air.

‘Did I make it your business, postulant?’ Wolfe asked.

Jess mutely shook his head. Morgan sent him a quick glance and a half-smile that struck him as surprisingly brave, under the circumstances. ‘It’s all right,’ she said. ‘I should have reported to you first thing, Scholar Wolfe. Here are my documents.’

She reached into a pocket of her dress and brought out her Codex, which she flipped open to show a familiar shape: the same acceptance letter that Jess carried upon one of the pages of his own book.

Wolfe took the book and studied the page, then snapped it shut and handed it back. ‘You’re late.’ ‘I know, sir. The war—’ ‘You’re late, and I don’t care about excuses. You may ask anyone here how forgiving I am, and how likely it is that you’ll be staying, Postulant Hault. But as I am a kindly soul at heart, you may take the day to recover from your travel. I expect you to present yourself with the others tomorrow, and I expect you to be fully prepared in every way. You’ll get no further consideration.

Understood?’Morgan didn’t speak. She only gave him a single, sharp nod. If she was afraid, she concealed it better than Jess would have thought possible, and when the soldier let go of her arm, she calmly sat back down to finish her breakfast.

Wolfe watched her for another few seconds, then walked to the coffee urn and poured coffee for himself. Oh God, Jess thought, appalled.Now he’s going to hang about. He must not have been the only one who feared it, because the students closest to the door began furtive moves towards it.

Wolfe said, with studied casualness, ‘Don’t bother to flee, students. Today I’ve decided to cancel the scheduled weapons training.

We will be assigning you into teams shortly.’‘Teams? Doing what?’ Khalila was the one who asked, probably because she was the only one safe enough to question him, and Dario – who surely would have – hadn’t yet arrived.

‘Confiscations,’ Wolfe said. ‘And since you asked, Postulant Seif, you will be with me, along with

Brightwell, Portero, and Danton. The rest of you,Captain Santi has your assignments. You will be working with other Scholars.’ Khalila looked at Jess with wide eyes, and mouthed

Confiscations? As if she’d never heard the word before.

Jess understood it all too well. His father had never been raided, but he’d seen it happen to others in London.

He’d just never expected to have to be one of theLibrary’s minions carrying it out.

At least you’ll get to handle some original books.

Despite his best efforts, his pulse quickened at that thought. Maybe Da was right.

Maybe I do have ink in my blood.

Across the room, Guillaume Danton was exchanging a look with Joachim Portero, and it was clear that neither one of them thought being added to Wolfe’s personal team was in any way a compliment. It was an opportunity, but only one to fail even harder.

Morgan Hault was watching Jess, and when he met her eyes, she gave him a small nod. ‘Good luck,’ she said.

‘You’ll need it,’ Wolfe said. ‘You have five minutes.I will be outside. Anyone late draws a tile.’

He left, trailing Captain Santi. There was an immediate, hot buzz of talk in his wake. Breakfast was mostly ignored.

Disappointingly, Dario somehow made it downstairs and outside just in time.

Jess joined the group with Wolfe.

He’d have expected to spend the day talking with Khalila, but that wasn’t to be; she fell into close conversation with Guillaume Danton instead as they boarded the steam carriage, and the two of them sat whispering as the vehicle lurched into motion. Jess had no choice but to sit next to Dario’s friend Portero. The Portuguese boy was shorter than Dario, darker in skin tone, and he cultivated a thin little moustache that failed to be a convincing balance with his heavy chin.

They didn’t talk. Partly, that might have been the ominous, unspeaking presence ahead of them of Scholar Wolfe and Captain Santi.

Mindful of what Morgan had said about the Codex, Jess reviewed the list of Core Collection titles. No one (not even Khalila) could hope to remember every book on the list, but he concentrated on the oldest and rarest.

Smugglers and collectors delighted in those, and thanks to his background, he had more than a passing acquaintance with what sold best in the shadow markets.

Portero idly stared out the window as the wide, clean Alexandrian streets rolled by.

They’d all got used to the sight of the teal-blue harbour and white-sailed mountains of ships floating there, but Portero was staring out at the old Egyptian gods that lined the roadway, still mighty under the sun after so many thousands of years. He clicked beads between his fingers, and Jess finally realised they were part of a rosary.

‘Does it bother you?’ he asked Portero, and nodded out at the gods on the street.

Portero shot him an unreadable look.

‘Shouldn’t it? They’re false gods.’ Jess shrugged. ‘Real enough to the Egyptians,’ he said. ‘And they’re beautiful, in their way.’

Portero was already sweating from the intense heat; even the carriage’s cooler interior couldn’t keep it all out, especially next to the windows. ‘They should have been pulled down ages ago,’ he said. ‘The Christians and Muslims agree on that much.’

Jess flashed back to the death of On Sphere Making, and felt a slow roll of revulsion. ‘That sounds like a Burner talking,’ he said.

‘Destroying what offends them, and never mind legacy.’

Portero turned on him angrily. ‘I said nothing of the kind! I would never harm a book! Never!’

‘Not all knowledge is

books. Those out there, they’re history in stone. Men carved them. Men sweated in this sun to put them there, to make their city more beautiful. Who are you to say what’s worthy for men to see today, or tomorrow?’

‘You’re an irreligious bastard,’ Portero said. ‘I knew you would be.’

‘I’m as good a Catholic as you,’ Jess said. ‘I just don’t hold with making the world into copies of what I like.’ Khalila and Guillaume had stopped talking, and both were staring at him.

Guillaume raised his eyebrows, and said, ‘You’d better stop or you’ll be failed out for this kind of talk, Portero. Not that I wouldn’t enjoy it.’

Guillaume was right.

Portero glared back, then went back to staring out the window, while Jess picked up his book again. Guillaume and Khalila went back to their whispered conversation, too indistinct to be clearly heard, and Portero clacked his beads.

It was too long a ride. By the time the carriage slowed and stopped, Jess was ready to strangle the lot of them.

Then the carriage halted, and Jess stepped out, and wished immediately for the cooler comfort of the interior again. The heat rose up in waves from the stone, and in the shimmering air, Jess spotted Wolfe’s black robe billow wide as he jumped down from the conveyance’s front cabin. Captain Santi joined him, and Jess noticed that this time, he was dressed in full High Garda uniform, with the Library’s symbol embossed in gold. Armed to the teeth.

Wolfe took a look around them, and Jess followed his example. It was a gracious street, shaded here and there with spreading trees; the flat roofed, square houses were neatly plastered and well kept, and the one that Wolfe seemed most interested in was painted a clean, pale yellow. It was larger than its neighbours, and discreetly set back behind a wall of a slightly lighter colour. The walkway was inset with hieroglyphs of protection and benediction.

‘Always survey the area first,’ Wolfe said. ‘Identify anyone in the area who might interfere, or be on the lookout. Look, listen, feel. It might save your life.’ The same things, Jess thought, that a smuggler would do.

Maybe it was that thought that woke a strange sense off amiliarity. Déjà vu.

Khalila, Guillaume and Joachim were all silent, so Jess stepped forward and stopped a respectful distance from the High Garda soldier.

‘Pardon, Captain Santi, but … could you explain how this is supposed to go?’

Santi turned towards Jess, pivoting with smooth grace.

He was not overly tall, but had the build and poise of a fighter. Must have been a good fighter, since his sharp chinned face was unmarked by any scars or disfigurements; he had a long straight nose, heavy, dark brows, and close-cropped hair. His skin held the deep brown shade of an Italian who spent a lot of time in the sun, and the deep lines at his nose and mouth betrayed his age … older than his still dark hair would suggest.

‘Don’t sir me, I’m not your father, and you’re not under my command.’ He said it pleasantly enough, but there was a distance in his eyes.

‘Sorry, Captain,’ Jess said.

‘What do you want us to do?’ ‘Assist,’ he said. ‘You search and carry away what illegal materials we find.

You’ll learn how to spot a contraband hiding place. Andstay out of Wolfe’s way.’ It sounded simple enough, and Jess felt on firmer ground. Contraband was his speciality, after all.

Khalila seemed disturbed.

‘Will … will the family be there?’

‘Of course,’ Santi said. ‘If they’ve nothing to hide, they’ll be fine. If we turn things up, their sentences will depend on what we find.Could be confiscation; could be arrests. But that’s not your concern. Just follow Wolfe’s lead, and let me take care of any trouble.’

She nodded hesitantly, and glanced over at Jess. He tried to give her a reassuring smile, but in his guts, he felt this wouldn’t be pretty. She was about to have a harsh introduction to the darker underbelly of the Library …the one that Jess had grown up knowing. It wasn’t all clean reading rooms and fancy Scholars debating the merits of Plato’s views of comedy. The Library might have brought the wisdom of ages into the lives of the common folk; they might have kept humankind from falling into the darkness of ignorance and despair and superstition. But that didn’t mean their hands were clean.

Just the opposite, in Jess’s experience.

Wolfe didn’t speak to them. He abruptly strode forward down the peaceful little walkway towards a yellow house, and a hot breeze caught his robe and snapped it like a pirate flag behind him.

As Jess got closer, it hit him like a bolt why this streetseemed so familiar. I’ve been here.

He’d been at this house.

As Alexandrian custom dictated, Wolfe touched his fingers first to the small inset statue of the household god Bes on one side of the doorway, and then to the goddess Beset on the other.

Then he knocked, and was answered in only a moment by a young servant girl,neatly dressed. He showed her a page in his Codex, and her mouth fell open in shock.

She had absolute terror in her eyes.

‘Please get the master or mistress of the house,’ Wolfe said. She dashed away on bare, silent feet; it was the Egyptian custom to go without shoes on the polished tiled floors that helped keep the houses so cool within.Wolfe followed her in, and drew the rest of them along.

Alexandrian homes were almost oriental in their simplicity, with a few

luxuries showing like gems against the plain walls. A fluted lamp cast a yellow glow in a dimmer corner with a Roman-style reading couch, and there was a bookcase in plain view … filled with Library-stamped blanks, ofcourse, as could be found in any home, no matter how rich or poor.

Disconcerting. Jess did know this house, but he’d only seen it in the dark, deep night, when all the lamps were doused or lowered.

This was the house of Abdul Nejem, and he’d stolen the Aristophanes scroll from it for his father. That … couldn’t be a coincidence.The servant girl didn’t reappear; instead, he heard the confident slapping footsteps approaching of a much larger person, and a man rounded the corner from what must have been the courtyard garden. He’d been in the pool, most likely; he’d wrapped a Japanese-style robe around himself of rich blue silk that had been cut twice as large as usual to fit around his bulk. He had shaved Alexandrian style, hairless head to toe, and if he hesitated a little when he saw Wolfe at his door, he covered that discomfort well.

‘Scholar,’ he said, and gave the deepest bow his belly would allow. ‘I am honoured, of course, to

entertain such an esteemed visitor. Please, be welcome to our home. May I bring you food and drink?’ Wolfe brushed aside the courtesies. ‘Are you Abdul Nejem?’

‘Yes, of course. How may I assist you?’

Wolfe extended his Codex and displayed the warrant. He handed the book to the man, who scanned it, read it again, and looked up to say, ‘But this is a terrible mistake!

There is no contraband here!’‘Perhaps,’ Wolfe said.

‘But we have a job to do.

You’ll wait with Captain Santi while my team searches.’

‘But I must protest!’ the big man said, and jabbed the book back towards Wolfe like a sword. Wolfe deftly intercepted it and put it away.

‘This is outrageous, I am no criminal! I would never …’ Santi stepped forward then, and the man’s bluster drained out of him, and something like fear crept across his face. ‘Please take a seat on this very fine couch,’ Santi said, and led the man to it. ‘Who else is at home today?’

‘My – my wife Nabeeha,’ the man said. ‘But she is unwell. In bed.’

‘Postulant Seif,’ Wolfe said. ‘Please go find the lady Nabeeha and bring her here, if she can walk. If not, we will go to her in a moment.’ Khalila wavered, then bowed her head and went quickly down the hall. The house was built in a square, with a central sunlit courtyard made serene with a bathing pool, fountains, flowers, and sheltering trees; the thick walled house stayed cool, and funnelled breezes that carried the pleasing scents throughout the rooms.

Jess wondered if he should follow Khalila, to be sure she was all right, but before he could make that decision Guillaume Danton said, ‘Sir, should I explore the other rooms?’

‘Go,’ Wolfe said. Danton disappeared after Khalila.

When Jess made a move in that direction, Wolfe extended a sharp finger towards him. ‘Thorough search of this room, Brightwell,’ Wolfe said.

‘Portero. Check out there.’ Jess didn’t really need to search at all, because he knew exactly where the compartment was; he’d recently spent an hour finding it in the dark of night. He wished that Wolfe had sent him off to search somewhere else, because now he had to make an elaborate production of not finding the spot … at least, not quickly.

Jess started on the wrong wall, tapping and probing. It felt like elaborate theatre.

He’d gone more than halfway around the room when he finally arrived at the tiny piece of fabric stretched tight and plastered in place that hid the switch.‘Found something, Scholar,’ Jess said, and pressed hard. There was a muted click, and a square section of the wall about four feet square sagged inward and rose up. Inside, it was covered by a layer of plastered fabric that was cleverly secured at the corners.

Jess peeled the fabric back, and behind it were the treasures. Seen in full daylight, they would have been breathtaking to most – stacks of original books, and a honeycomb of scrolls. The smell of the old ink and vellum and parchment … it smelt like home to him, and for a dizzy moment, Jess just wanted to touch those smooth leather bindings, those crisp rolled edges.

He stepped away and metWolfe’s gaze. Wolfe nodded, looking far too thoughtful.

‘Good, Postulant Brightwell,’ he said. ‘You have a knack.’ ‘That’s – that’s not mine!’ the fat man in the corner blurted, and Niccolo Santi pushed him back down on the couch as he tried to rise. ‘I swear, I am innocent! This is a house that honours the Library in all things!’ Guillaume Danton had returned, Jess saw; he was supporting the bowed weight of a woman of about the same age as the house’s owner. She seemed old before her time, and moved as if each step pained her. Her eyes widened when she saw Jess standing at the wall, and the uncovered cache of books. Her knees loosened, and she would have fallen if Danton hadn’t held fast to her.Or at least, that was how it looked at first, until the seemingly frail woman snatched a hidden knife from her belt, straightened, and threw Danton off balance. He had no real chance to react before the woman had whipped an arm around his throat to choke him and pulled him up to his toes, while the knife hovered over his vulnerable, fast-pulsingjugular.

‘Let my husband go or this boy dies,’ Nabeeha Nejem said. Santi exchanged a glance with Wolfe, who’d not moved so much as an eyebrow, and stepped back to let the fat man stand up. The husband seemed unsteady, and out of his depth. ‘Abdul, get the books. Go.’

‘There’s nowhere you can run,’ Wolfe said. ‘You must know that.’ Jess moved aside as the fat man came towards him, and made sure that as he did, he angled closer to the woman, and Danton. The other boy’s face was even paler than usual, but he didn’t struggle.

She was pressing her arm like a bar over his throat, and he was likely to lose consciousness if it continued.

The London Garda had favoured that move, and it was usually successful.

Danton might be stronger than Nejem’s wife, but she had better leverage.

And she had the knife.

She also wasn’t stupid, and as Jess shifted his weight, her dark eyes cut towards him. Suddenly, the knife pressed hard enough against Danton’s neck to slice a thin line of red. But she didn’t speak to him – instead, she spoke to her husband. ‘Abdul, move! We have little time!’ Abdul Nejem was already

hurrying, but he was clumsy and nervous, and there were far too many books for him to carry. There must have been twenty volumes, not including the scrolls. Abdul had to pick and choose, and it was clear he was too frightened to do it well.As he reached for another volume, the five he already had stacked in his left hand slipped, and two of them crashed to the tile floor.

Abdul gave a little cry of alarm and tried to pick them up, but that only created more of a landslide … and in the distraction, Khalila Seif slipped up silent as a ghost behind the wife, and grabbed the woman by her long braid of hair. The wife cried out, unprepared for the sudden attack, and then froze. From Jess’s angle, he could see that Khalila had pressed her own blade into the woman’s back.

‘Let my friend loose, or this goes into your liver,’ Khalila said. ‘It might not kill you, but it will certainly make you wish you were dead.’ What seemed most effective about it – and, Jess had to admit, most chilling – was the calm way Khalila said it. She didn’t raise her voice. There was no sense of tension or excitement. It was as casual as if she’d commented on the lovely garden just visible beyond the other doorway.

Nabeeha must have known she had no chance. She waited long enough that Jess began to calculate his chances of disarming her, but then she suddenly lowered the knife and let Danton fall. The boy, only half-conscious, dropped to his hands and knees, gasping for breath. Blood dripped slowly from his cut neck – a flesh wound, from the look of it. Lucky.

Khalila stayed where she was, one hand clutching into the other woman’s braid and the knife pressed against her back, until Niccolo Santi stepped forward to take charge of the captive. Then, the girl let go, sucked in a deep breath as if coming out of a deep sleep, and shuddered all over. Jess watched her as she tried to resheathe her knife; her hand trembled too much to hit such a narrow target. She finally put the blade down on a small table near the wall and knelt down next to GuillaumeDanton to see how he was.

Jess understood. Always easier to see to another than face your own fears.

Abdul Nejem, meanwhile,stood indecisive in the centre of the room with his arms filled with a tottering stack of illegal books. He stared at his now-captive wife with shock, as if he couldn’t quite believe that she hadn’t won the day, and when Wolfe stepped up and took the books from him, the man deflated like a punctured balloon. He sank down on the only other furniture in the small room – a chair that groaned beneath his weight – and buried his face in his hands. ‘You’ve killed us,’ he wept. ‘You’ve killed us all, you greedy woman!’

‘Shut up, for the love of heaven,’ Nabeeha said. ‘We claim academic privilege!’ ‘Really,’ Wolfe said, in that ominously silky voice that Jess recognised from classes. He turned towards Nejem and tilted his head to one side. ‘Regale me with your credentials. I will be fascinated to hear of your work.’ The man only sputtered, clearly unable to manufacture anything useful.

‘Niccolo, I believe we’redone. Secure them both.’ ‘Wait! I-I can tell you where she got them! I swear, it was my wife who did this, not me! I am innocent!’ ‘Abdul!’ Nabeeha’s shout held all manner of vicious threat, and her husband shuddered.

‘Take the lady outside,’ Wolfe said, and Niccolo

muscled the struggling woman out her own front door. Now that the game was up, she seemed about as weak and infirm as a cobra.

‘Continue, Master Nejem. I really am fascinated.’ ‘It was my wife’s idea. I never read them, I tell you! I never touched them until today! She – her family—’ Nejem gulped air again. ‘Her family is full of black market criminals. I can give you names, Scholar, I swear that I can, if you will show mercy …’

It was, Jess hoped, a bluff and a lie, because if it wasn’t, there could be consequences.

The community engaging in black trade here in the very shadow of the Great Library was small and close-knit. It wouldn’t take much for it to come apart … and that would affect him, too.

It might even implicate him.

‘How many in your

household?’ Wolfe asked. He was thumbing through the books that he’d taken from Nejem, and he sounded distracted. ‘Besides your wife.’

‘My two sons are grown men and live with their own families. It is only me, and two servants.’

‘The servants may go.You did know of her activities. That makes you complicit in the …’ Wolfe stopped talking and concentrated on the book he’d just opened. He read for a moment, then looked up and gestured to Jess. ‘Take these. All of them. Scrolls as well. Catalogue them and tag them for removal.’

Nejem paled still more.

‘Please, Scholar, I beg you…’ ‘It’s not for me to decide your fate, Master Nejem.

That will be up to the jurists.

But if you want my advice, hire yourself an advocate, and don’t attempt to leave the Library’s precincts unless you want to try to outrun a


Jess took possession of the books. The man was openly weeping now, and the servant girl that they’d met before came in from the garden door to offer him a soft cloth to wipe his face. She glanced at Jess, then quickly down, and he realised that she was afraid of him.

He’d become the enemy, the terrifying spectre of authority.

Don’t think about it. Just do what you’re told.

‘Sir,’ Jess said. ‘I need tags.’ Wolfe handed him a bag of them without comment.

Jess paused to give him a look. ‘Are you still grading me?’

‘Of course,’ Wolfe said.

‘You disappoint me by asking.’

It was no different than it had been in training, except that he thought it would be better, given the urgency of the situation, to place all the tags on the books at once, and activate them all at the same time. The Obscurists had created the things, after all; he was only triggering the potential held within the seal.

Sending them all together was more efficient. Wolfe said nothing to indicate he was making a mistake as he placed the tags, activated them all quickly, and steppedback as the glow brightened around the clips.

Even at the safe distance, Jess felt the tingle of energy sweep through him as the tags – all of them – activated at once. It felt vastly more powerful than in training, a jolt like being struck by lightning, and he smelt a peculiar, sharp odour of burning that vanished almost as quickly as it came.He turned to see that Khalila and Danton were standing behind him, watching. They seemed riveted.

‘How many did you send at once?’ Khalila asked him.

‘Are you all right?’ ‘Yes, I’m fine …’ That was an automatic response, but then he realised that he wasn’t, not at all. He felt disoriented, exhausted, and suddenly violently sick. In fact, it was all he could do to control his nausea long enough to stumble out of the room to the peaceful garden, where he dropped to his knees to void his stomach. He remembered Wolfe’s curious stare when he’d done so many, one after another, at the original training. That hadn’t seemed to hurt him at all. He’d had no idea that it would drain him so much to activate twenty at the same moment.

Danton and Khalila had followed him, and as Jess knelt there shaking and chilled, Danton passed him a cup of clean water and an orange. ‘Here,’ he said. ‘It should help.’

The food and water did do him good, and Jess regained his balance after a few moments. Khalila offered him a cloth with which to wipe the sweat from his face, and the two of them helped him to his feet. ‘That was impressive,’ Danton said.

‘I’ve heard librarians sometimes pass out from managing five tags one after another, never mind twenty at the same time. I got sick from just one in Wolfe’s training.’ Jess hadn’t even considered it, really. Training hadn’t made him feel much, just a brief dizziness that had passed in seconds. Since it had been an individual process, with only Wolfe in attendance to show him the steps, he hadn’t even known the others felt sick.

‘Next time, group them in fives and rest between,’ Khalila said. ‘It might avoid the discomfort.’‘Good advice,’ Jess said.


He pulled free of them and stood on his own. Shaky, but manageable. As he stood there testing himself, their fellow student Portero sauntered through another door, looked around, and said, ‘Nothing in the rest of the rooms. Nice place, isn’t it? What did I miss?’

Khalila patted him on the shoulder. ‘Nothing,’ she said.

‘Absolutely nothing

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