“For an old man who arrives late to everything,” I noted, “he certainly is spry.”
“Come on, Smedry!” Bastille growled, climbing back into her sleek car.
I sighed, then rounded the vehicle and pulled open the passenger side door. I tossed the handle to the side as it broke off, then climbed in. Bastille rapped her knuckles on the dashboard, and the car started. Then she reached for the gear shift, throwing it into reverse.
“Uh, doesn’t the car drive itself?” I asked.
“Sometimes,” Bastille said. “It can do both—it’s a hybrid. We’re trying to get closer to things that look like real Hushlander vehicles.”
With that, the car burst into motion.
Now, I had been very frightened on several different occasions in my life. The most frightening of these involved an elevator and a mime. Perhaps the second most frightening involved a caseworker and a gun.
Bastille’s driving, however, quickly threatened to become number three.
“Aren’t you supposed to be some sort of bodyguard?” I asked, furiously working to find a seat belt. There didn’t appear to be one.
“Yeah,” Bastille said. “So?”
“So, shouldn’t you avoid killing me in a car wreck?”
Bastille frowned, spinning the wheel and taking a corner at a ridiculous speed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I sighed, settling into my seat, telling myself that the car probably had some sort of mystical device to protect its occupants. (I was wrong, of course. Both Oculator powers and silimatic technology have to do with glass, and I seriously doubt that an air bag made of—or filled with—glass would be all that effective. Amusing, perhaps, but not effective.)
“Hey,” I said. “How old are you?”
“Thirteen,” Bastille replied.
“Should you be driving, then?” I asked.
“I don’t see why not.”
“You’re too young,” I said.
“Says the law.”
I could see Bastille narrow her eyes, and her hands gripped the wheel even tighter. “Maybe Librarian law,” she muttered.
This, I thought, is probably not a topic to pursue further. “So,” I said, trying something different. “What is your Talent?”
Bastille gritted her teeth, glaring out through the windshield.
“Well?” I asked.
“You don’t have to rub it in, Smedry.”
Great. “You … don’t have a Talent, then?”
“Of course not,” she said. “I’m a Crystin.”
“A what?” I asked.
Bastille turned—an action that made me rather uncomfortable, as I thought she should have kept watching the road—and gave me the kind of look that implied that I had just said something very, very stupid. (And, indeed, I had said something very stupid. Fortunately, I made up for it by doing something rather clever—as you will see shortly.)
Bastille turned her eyes back on the road just in time to avoid running over a man dressed like a large slice of pizza. “So you’re really him, then? The one old Smedry keeps talking about?”
This intrigued me. “He’s mentioned me to you?”
Bastille nodded. “Twice a year or so we have to come back to this area and see where you’ve moved. Old Smedry always manages to lose me before he actually gets to your house—he claims I’ll stand out or something. Tell me, did you really knock down one of your foster parents’ houses?”
I shifted uncomfortably. “That rumor is exaggerated,” I said. “It was only a storage shed.”
Bastille nodded, eyes narrowing, as if for some reason she had a grudge against sheds to go along with her apparent psychopathic dislike of Librarians.
“So…” I said slowly. “How does a thirteen-year-old girl become a knight anyway?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Bastille asked, taking a screeching corner.
And here’s where I proved my cleverness: I remained silent.
Bastille seemed to relax a bit. “Look,” she said. “I’m sorry. I’m not very good with people. They annoy me. That’s probably why I ended up in a job that lets me beat them up.”
Is that supposed to be comforting? I wondered.
“Plus,” she said, “you’re a Smedry—and Smedrys are trouble. They’re reckless, and they don’t like to think about the consequences of their actions. That means trouble for me. See, my job is to keep you alive. It’s like … sometimes you Smedrys try to get yourselves killed just so I’ll get in trouble.”
“I’ll try my best to avoid something like that,” I said honestly. Though her comment did spark a thought in my head. Now that I had begun to accept the things happening around me, I was actually beginning to think of Grandpa Smedry as—well—my grandfather. And that meant … My parents, I thought. They might actually be involved in this. They might actually have sent me that bag of sands.
They would have been Smedrys too, of course. So, were they some of the ones that “got themselves killed,” as Bastille so nicely put it? Or, like all these other relatives I was suddenly learning I had, were my parents still around somewhere?
That was a depressing thought. A lot of us foster children don’t like to consider ourselves orphans. It’s an outdated term, in my opinion. It brings to mind images of scrawny, dirty-faced thieves living on the street and getting meals from good-hearted nuns. I wasn’t an orphan—I had lots of parents. I just never stayed with any of them all that long.
I’d rarely bothered to consider my real parents, since Ms. Fletcher had never been willing to answer questions about them. Somehow, I found the prospect of their survival to be even more depressing than the thought of them being dead.
Why did you burn down your foster parents’ kitchen, lad? Grandpa Smedry had asked. I quickly turned away from that line of thinking, focusing again on Bastille.
She was shaking her head, still muttering about Smedrys who get themselves into trouble. “Your grandfather,” she said, “he’s the worst. Normal people avoid Inner Libraria. The Librarians have enough minions in our own kingdoms to be plenty threatening. But Leavenworth Smedry? Fighting them isn’t nearly dangerous enough for him. He has to live as a spy inside of the shattering Hushlands themselves! And of course he drags me with him.
“Now he wants to infiltrate a library. And not just any library but the regional headquarters—the biggest library in three states.” She paused, glancing at me. “You think I have good reason to be annoyed?”
“Definitely,” I said, again proving my cleverness.
“That’s what I thought,” Bastille said. Then she slammed on the brakes.
I smashed against the dash, nearly losing my glasses. I groaned, sitting back. “What?” I asked, holding my head.
“What what?” Bastille said, pushing open the door. “We’re here.”
“Oh.” I opened my door, dropping the inside handle to the street as it came off in my hand. (This kind of thing becomes second nature to you after you break off your first hundred or so door handles.)
Bastille had parked on the side of the street, directly across from the downtown library—a wide, single-story building set on a street corner. The area around us was familiar to me. The downtown wasn’t extremely huge—not like that of a city l
ike Chicago or L.A.—but it did have a smattering of large office buildings and hotels. These towered behind us; we were only a few blocks away from the city center.
Bastille rapped the hood of her car. “Go find a place to park,” she told it. It immediately started up, then backed away.
I raised an eyebrow. “Handy, that,” I noted. Like Grandpa Smedry’s car, this one had no visible gas cap cover. I wonder what powers it.
The answer to that, of course, was sand. Silimatic sand, to be precise—sometimes called brightsand. But I really don’t have room to go into that now—even if its discovery was what eventually led to the break between silimatic technology and ordinary Hushlander technology. And that was kind of the foundation for the Librarians breaking off from the Free Kingdoms and creating the Hushlands.
“Old Smedry won’t be here for a few more minutes,” Bastille said, standing with her handbag over her shoulder. “He’ll be late. How does the library look?”
“Umm … like a library?” I said.
“Funny, Smedry,” she said flatly. “Very funny.”
Now, I generally know when I’m being funny. At this moment, I did not believe that I was. I looked over at the building, trying to decide what Bastille had meant.
And, as I stared at it, something seemed to … change about the library. It wasn’t anything I could distinctly put my finger on; it simply grew darker somehow. More threatening. The windows appeared to curl slightly, like horns, and the stonework shadows took on a menacing cast.
“It looks … dangerous,” I said.
“Well, of course,” Bastille said. “It’s a library.”
“Right,” I said. “What else should I look for, then?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m no Oculator.”
I squinted. As I watched, the library seemed to … stretch. “It’s not just one story,” I said with surprise. “It looks like three.”
“We knew that already,” Bastille said. “Try for less permanent auras.”
What does that mean? I wondered, studying the building. It now looked far larger, far more grand, to my eyes. “The top two floors look … thinner than the bottom floor. Like they’re squeezing in slightly.”