“Hmm,” Bastille said. “That’s probably a population aura—it means the library isn’t very full today. Most of the Librarians must be out on missions. That’s good for us. Any dark windows?”
“One,” I said, noticing it for the first time. “It’s jet-black, like it’s tinted.”
“Shattering Glass,” Bastille muttered.
“What?” I asked.
“Dark Oculator,” Bastille said. “What floor?”
“Third,” I said. “North corner.”
“We’ll want to stay away from there, then.”
I frowned. “I’m guessing a Dark Oculator is something dangerous, right?”
“They’re like super Librarians,” Bastille said.
“Not all Librarians are Oculators?”
She rolled her eyes at me. “Of course not,” she said. “Very few people are Oculators. Smedrys on the main line and … a few others. Regardless, Dark Oculators are very, very dangerous.”
“Well then,” I said. “If I had something valuable—like the Sands of Rashid—then I’d keep them with me. So, that’s probably the first place we should go.”
Bastille looked at me, eyes narrowing. “Just like a Smedry. If you die, I’m never going to get promoted!”
“How comforting,” I said, then nodded at the library. “I’m seeing something else about the building. I think … some of the windows are glowing a bit.”
“All of them, actually,” I said, cocking my head. “Even the black one. It’s … a little strange.”
“There’s a lot of Oculatory power in there. Strong Lenses, powerful sands, that sort of thing. They’re making the glass charge with power by association.”
I reached up, sliding the glasses down on my nose. I still couldn’t quite tell if I was seeing actual images, or if the light was just playing tricks on me. The changes were so subtle—even the stretching—that they didn’t even seem like changes at all. More like impressions.
I pushed the glasses back up, then glanced at Bastille. “You certainly seem to know a lot about this—especially for someone who says she’s no Oculator.”
Bastille folded her arms, looking away.
“So, how do you know all of this?” I asked. “About the Dark Oculator and the library seeming empty?”
“Anyone would know those auras,” she snapped. “They’re simple, really. Honestly, Smedry. Even someone raised by Librarians should know that.”
“I wasn’t raised by Librarians,” I said. “I was raised by ordinary people—good people.”
“Oh?” Bastille said. “Then why did you work so hard to destroy their houses?”
“Look, aren’t knights supposed to be a little less … annoying?”
Bastille stood upright, sniffing angrily. Then she swung her purse straight at my head. I started but remained where I was. The handbag’s strap will break, I thought. It won’t be able to hit me.
And so, of course, it smashed right into my face. It was surprisingly heavy, as if Bastille had packed a brick or two inside, just in case she had to whack the odd Smedry in the head. I stepped backward—half from the impact, half from surprise—and stumbled, falling to the ground. My head banged against the streetlamp, and I immediately heard a crack up above.
The lamp’s bulb shattered on the ground beside me.
Oh, sure, I thought, rubbing my head. That breaks.
Bastille sniffed with satisfaction as she looked down at me, but I caught a glimmer of surprise in her eyes—as if she too hadn’t expected to be able to hit me.
“Stop making so much noise,” she said. “People will notice.” Behind her, Grandpa Smedry’s little black car finally puttered up the street, coming to a stop beside us. I could see Sing smushed into the back seat, obscuring the entire back window.
Grandpa Smedry climbed perkily out of the car as I stood rubbing my jaw. “What happened?” he asked, glancing at the broken light, then at me, then at Bastille.
“Nothing,” I said.
Grandpa Smedry smiled, eyes twinkling, as if he knew exactly what had happened. “Well,” he said, “should we be off, then?”
I nodded, straightening my glasses. “Let’s go break into the library.”
And once again, I considered just how strange my life had become during the last two hours.
Kindly pretend that you own a mousetrap factory.
Now, I realize that some of this narrative still might feel a little far-fetched to you. For instance, you might wonder why the Librarians hadn’t captured Grandpa Smedry and his little team of spies long before they attempted this particular infiltration. My friends do—as you have undoubtedly noticed—stand out, with their self-driving cars, odd disguises, and near-lethal handbags.
This brings us back to your mousetrap factory. How is it doing? Are profits up? Ah, that’s very pleasant.
A mousetrap factory—as you well know, since you own one—creates mousetraps. These mousetraps are used to kill mice. However, your factory is in a very nice, clean part of town. That area itself has never had a problem with mice—your mousetraps are sold to people who live near fields, where mice are far more common.
So, do you set mousetraps in your own factory? Of course not. You’ve never seen any mice there. And yet, because of this, if a small family of mice did somehow sneak into your factory, they might have a very nice time living there, as there are no traps to kill them.
This, friends, is called irony. Your mousetrap factory could itself become infested with mice. In a similar way, the Librarians are very good at patrolling the borders of their lands, keeping out enemy Oculators like Grandpa Smedry. Yet they don’t expect to find mice like Grandpa Smedry hiding in the centers of their cities.
And that is why two men in tuxedos, one very large Mokian in sunglasses and a kimono, one young girl with a soldier’s grace, and a very confused young Oculator in a green jacket could walk right up to the downtown library without drawing too much Librarian attention.
Besides, you’ve seen the kinds of people who walk around downtown, haven’t you?
“All right, Smedry,” Bastille said to Grandpa. “What’s the plan?”
“Well, first I’ll take an Oculatory reading of the building,” Grandpa Smedry said.
“Done,” Bastille said tersely. “Low Librarian population, high Oculatory magic content, and a very nasty fellow on the third floor.”
Grandpa Smedry squinted at the library through his reddish glasses. “Why, yes. How did you know?”
Bastille nodded to me.
Grandpa Smedry smiled broadly. “Getting used to the Lenses this quickly! You show quite a bit of promise, lad. Quite a bit indeed!”
I shrugged. “Bastille did the interpreting. I just described what I saw.”
“Was this before or after she smacked you with her purse?” Quentin asked. The short man watched the conversation with amusement, while Sing poked around in the gutter. Sing had, fortunately, put away his weapons—and was now carrying them in a large gym bag, which clashed horribly with his kimono.
“Well,” Grandpa Smedry said. “Well, well. Sneaking into the downtown library at last! I think our base infiltration plan should work, wouldn’t you say, Quentin?”
The wiry man nodded. “Cantaloupe, fluttering paper makes a duck.”
I frowned. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Don’t mind him,” Bastille said. “He says things that don’t make sense.”
His Talent, I thought. Right.
“And what, exactly,” Bastille said to Grandpa Smedry, “is your base infiltration plan?”
“Quentin takes a few minutes scouting and watching the lobby, just to make sure all’s clear,” Grandpa Smedry said. “Then Sing makes a distraction and we all sneak into the employee access corridors. There, we split up—one Oculator per team—and search out powerful Oculatory sources. Those sands should glow like nothing else!?
“And if we find the sands?” I asked.