The Invisible Library

Page 31

Kai looked at her with big disappointed eyes. ‘I would have enjoyed partnering you,’ he said. ‘Really. You would, too.’

‘Allow me to inform you that I am an exquisite bed partner,’ Irene said, a little sniffily. ‘I have travelled through hundreds of alternates and sampled partners from many different cultures. If I took you to bed, you certainly wouldn’t be complaining.’

Kai gave her another deep stare from those drowning-dark eyes of his.

She sighed. ‘But right now, we have a book to find, I have to study, and you need to sleep. Please?’

Eventually he did, and she could work in peace, with only the occasional side-thought about tempting offers and beautifully contoured muscles.

A couple of hours later, with Kai soundly asleep, Irene put down her papers and rubbed her sore temples. She’d just memorized a dozen different adverbs for the way that an airship moved, and fifteen adjectives for types of smog. She was due a break.

Unfortunately, thought came along with it.

Alberich was known to be allied with some of the Fae; he’d gone to them when he first went renegade. Now he allegedly played on their various factions with the energy of a lunatic musician with a pipe organ. The few fragmented reports that the Library had on him – at least those that were accessible to juniors like herself – suggested that he was after immortality.

She stared at the papers without really seeing them. Immortality. The Library gave an effective sort of immortality, or at least a continued life until the person involved grew tired of it. As long as a Library initiate bearing its mark was inside the Library, they didn’t age. Out in the multiple worlds, one grew old, but inside the Library ageing just stopped. She’d spent years in the Library herself while she was training. She’d had years of experience that didn’t show anywhere obvious. Except perhaps her eyes sometimes, but she tried not to think about that.

That was why the Library hierarchy functioned as it did. Junior Librarians operated out in the divergent worlds while they still had the years to spare. Once they grew old, they retreated to work in the Library for as long as they chose, with only the occasional trip outside if necessary. These were people like Coppelia and Kostchei, spending their days in the endless rooms, finally able to get their research done properly. Some Librarians just lived on and on, until they decided that they’d had enough, or went out into the alternate worlds to finish their days somewhere that they liked. The Library paid for it, however expensive or exotic, on the grounds that ‘nothing is too good for those who’ve spent their lives in service to the Library’. Of course, it was similarly aged Librarians who voted for the funding on that sort of thing . . .

Irene wasn’t going to start thinking about that sort of thing yet. She had years in the field ahead of her yet. Decades. Things to do. People to see.

But then there was Alberich. He’d left the Library five hundred years ago. There was no way that he could still be alive by the Library’s normal methods. He must have made some sort of bargain with the Fae, creatures defined by their impossibility. Common horror or fantasy literature supplied half a dozen unpleasant ideas on how Alberich could still exist, though some of them might not count as living.

And what did he want to do with that continued existence? The Library could use unique books to connect and bind itself to particular alternate worlds. But what could someone else – someone from outside the Library – do with those linking books? It wasn’t an area within which junior Librarians had been encouraged to speculate. The best answer she could come up with at the moment was something bad.

After all, what might it imply if Alberich could influence whole worlds simply by owning certain key texts . . . ?

Irene seriously considered another brandy. This was all growing overly complicated. Bradamant wanting to take over the mission, the Fae involvement, Alberich . . . and then there was Kai.

She looked across at his sleeping form. He didn’t snore. Kai breathed gently and regularly, like an advertisement for particularly comfortable pillows. And he’d managed to fall asleep in just the sort of position that might require her to smooth his brow or wake him with a kiss. As for that earlier shift of persona from street punk to semi-aristocrat – he’d handled that detective like a gentleman born. And his current interest in wardrobe, seduction and general adventure really didn’t fit the young man who’d introduced himself to her as Coppelia’s latest student. There was something off. Coppelia had to have noticed it herself.

Irene realized that she was tapping her finger against the papers. She deliberately stopped herself. Habits were dangerous; they could get you killed.

Had Bradamant’s interest in Kai been suspicious?

Irene had her own history with Bradamant, which she certainly wasn’t going to discuss in front of Kai, or behind Kai, or in any place where Kai might end up hearing about it. The woman was a poisonous snake. No, that was unfair to snakes. Irene had been Bradamant’s student once, and she knew exactly what it meant. Get used as a live decoy, somehow miss any of the credit but catch all the blame. Then spend years putting your research credentials back together again, after the blot on your record caused by rejecting an older Librarian’s offer to take you out on another mission.

With an effort, she stopped herself tapping on the papers again.

It was just three in the morning; she could hear distant church bells and clock chimes, drifting through the fog outside. Another hour of study, then she’d sleep and Kai could keep watch. She was paranoid enough to want someone keeping watch, however unlikely it was that Alberich or anyone else could find them here.

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