“Take them and get out. Sneakily, of course.”
“Huh.” Bastille paused. “Why, that actually sounds like a good plan.” She seemed surprised.
“Of course it is,” Grandpa Smedry said. “We spent long enough working on it! I’ve worried for years that someday we might have to infiltrate this place.”
Worried? I thought. The fact that even Grandpa Smedry found the infiltration a bit unnerving made it seem even more dangerous than it had before.
“Anyway,” Grandpa Smedry said. “Quentin, be off! We’re late already!”
The short man nodded, adjusted the carnation on his lapel, then took a deep breath and ducked through the building’s broad glass doors.
“Grandfather,” I said, glancing at Grandpa Smedry. “These people want to kill me, right?”
“Don’t feel bad,” he said, removing his Lenses. “They undoubtedly want to kill all of us.”
“Right,” I said. “So, shouldn’t we be … hiding or something? Not just standing on the street corner in plain sight?”
“Well, answer me this,” he said. “That man with the gun—had you seen him before?”
“Did he recognize you?”
“No, actually,” I said. “He asked who I was before he tried to shoot me.”
“Exactly,” Grandpa Smedry said, strolling over to glance in the library window. “You are a very special person, Alcatraz—and because of that, I suspect that those who watch over you didn’t want their peers knowing where you were. You may be surprised to hear this, but there are a lot of factions inside the Librarian ranks. The Dark Oculators, the Order of the Shattered Lens, the Scrivener’s Bones … though they all work together, there’s quite a bit of rivalry among them.
“For the faction controlling your movements, the fewer people who knew about you—or recognized you—the better. That way, they could keep better control over the sands when they arrived.” He lowered his voice. “I won’t lie, Alcatraz. This mission will be very dangerous. If the Librarians catch us, they will likely kill us. Now that they have the sands, they have no reason to let you live—and every reason to destroy you. However, we have three things going for us. First, very few people will be able to recognize us. That should let us slip into the library without being stopped. Second—as you have noticed—most of the Librarians are out of the library at the moment. My guess is that they’re actually searching for you and me, perhaps trying to break into our gas station hideout.”
“And the third thing we have going for us?”
Grandpa Smedry smiled. “Nobody would expect us to try something like this! It’s completely insane.”
Great, I thought.
“Now,” he said, “you might want to take off those Oculator’s Lenses—they’re the only thing that makes you distinctive right now.”
I quickly did so.
“Quentin will stay in the lobby and inner stacks for a good five minutes or so—watching for any signs of unusual patterns in Librarian movement or security—meaning we have a little bit of time here. Try to wait without looking suspicious.”
I nodded, and Grandpa Smedry wandered over to peek through another window. I lounged with my back against a lamp pole, trying not to break it. It was hard to remain still, considering my anxiety. As I thought about it, the three things Grandpa said we had going for us didn’t seem to provide much of an advantage at all. I tried to calm my nerves.
A few moments later, a clink sounded behind me as Sing set down his gym bag of weaponry. I jumped slightly, eyeing the bag—I wasn’t really that fond of the idea of having my toes shot off by an “ancient” weapon.
“Alcatraz,” Sing said. “Your grandfather tells me that you grew up raised by Hushlander parents!”
“Um, yes,” I said slowly.
“Wonderful!” Sing said. “Tell me, tell me. What is the significance of this?” He proffered something small and yellow, which he had likely found in the gutter.
“Uh, it’s just a bottle cap,” I said.
“Yes,” Sing said, peering at it through his sunglasses, “I’m aware of your primitive liquid beverage packaging methods. But look, see here. What’s this on the underneath?”
I accepted the bottle cap. On the underside, I could see printed the words YOU ARE NOT A WINNER.
“See what it says?” Sing asked, pointing with a chubby finger. “Is it common for Hushlanders to print insults on their foodstuffs? What is the purpose of this advertising campaign? Is it to make the consumer feel less secure, so they purchase more highly caffeinated drinks?”
“It’s just a contest,” I said. “Some of the bottles are winners, some aren’t.”
Sing frowned. “Why would a bottle want to win a prize? In fact, how do bottles even go about claiming prizes? Have they been Alivened? Don’t your people understand that Alivening things is dark Oculary?”
I rolled my eyes. “It’s not Oculary, Sing. If you open the bottle and the cap says you’re a winner, then you can claim a prize.”
“Oh.” He seemed a bit disappointed. Still, he carefully tucked the cap inside a pouch at his waist.
“Why do you care about that anyway?” I asked. “Aren’t you an ancient weapons expert?”
“Yes, well,” Sing said, “an ancient weapons expert, and an ancient clothing expert, and an ancient cultures expert.”
“He’s an anthropologist, lad,” Grandpa Smedry said from beside the library window. “One of the most famous ones at the Mokian Royal University. That’s why he’s part of the team.”
“Wait,” I said. “He’s a professor?”
“Of course,” Grandpa Smedry said. “Who else would be able to work those blasted guns? The civilized world hasn’t used such things for centuries! We figured that we should have someone who can use them—swords might be more effective, but nobody carries them in the Hushlands. It’s better to have at least one person on the team who understands and can use local weapons, just to be sure.”
Sing nodded eagerly. “But don’t worry,” he said. “I may not be a soldier, but I’ve practiced with the weapons quite a bit. I’ve … never shot at something moving before, but how difficult can it be?”
I stood quietly, then turned to Grandpa Smedry. “And what about Quentin? Is he a professor too?”
Sing laughed. “No, no. He’s merely a graduate student.”
“He’s quite capable, though,” Grandpa Smedry said. “He’s a language specialist who focuses on Hushlander dialects.”
“So,” I said, holding up a finger. “Let me get this straight. Our strike team consists of a loony old man, an anthropologist, a grad student, and two kids.”
Grandpa Smedry and Sing nodded happily. Bastille, leaning against the library wall a short distance away, gave me a flat stare. “You see what I have to work with?”
I nodded, beginning to understand where she might have gotten such a grumpy attitude.
“Oh, don’t be like that,” Grandpa Smedry said. He walked over, putting his arm around my shoulders and pulling me aside. “Here, lad, I’ve got some things I want to give you.”
Grandpa Smedry pulled open his tuxedo jacket and removed two pairs of spectacles. “You’ll recognize these,” he said, holding up a yellow-tinted pair. “I used them back when I first picked you up from the house. They’re fairly easy Lenses to wield—if you can already do readings like you did on the library building, you should be able to use these.”
I accepted the glasses, then tried them on. At first nothing changed—but then I thought I saw something. Footsteps, in various colors, fading slowly on the ground around me.
“Tracks,” I said with surprise, watching as Sing wandered over to another gutter, leaving a trail of blue footprints on the asphalt behind him.
“Indeed, lad,” Grandpa Smedry said. “The better you know a person, the longer the footprints will remain visible. Once we get inside, we’ll sp
lit up—you and I are the only Oculators in the group, and so we’re the only ones who will be able to sense where the sands are. But the inside of a library can be deceptively large. Sometimes the stacks form mazes, and it’s easy to get lost. If you lose your way, you can use these Tracker’s Lenses to retrace your footprints. Also, you can probably track me down if necessary.”
I glanced down. Grandpa Smedry’s footprints glowed a blazing white, like little bursts of flame on the ground. I could easily see the trail of white back to Grandpa Smedry’s black car, still parked across the street.
“Thanks,” I said, still feeling a little apprehensive as I removed and pocketed the Tracker’s Lenses.
“You’ll do fine, lad,” Grandpa Smedry said, picking up a second pair of glasses. “Remember, this is your inheritance we’re searching for. You lost it, and you’ll have to get it back. I can’t hold your hand forever.”
I felt like noting that I had seen very little hand-holding in this adventure so far. I didn’t really know what was going on, didn’t quite trust my sanity anymore, and wasn’t even convinced that I wanted my inheritance back. Grandpa Smedry, however, didn’t give me an opportunity to complain. He held up the second pair of glasses—they had mostly clear Lenses, with a little dot of red at the center of each one.
“These,” he said, handing the Lenses to me, “are one of the most powerful pairs of Oculatory Lenses I possess. However, they’re also one of the easiest to use, which is why I’m lending them to you.”
I eyed the glasses. “What do they do?”
“You can use them for many purposes,” Grandpa Smedry said. “Once you switch them on—you just have to concentrate a bit to do that—they’ll begin gathering the light around you, then direct it out in concentrated beams.”
“You mean, like a laser?” I asked.
“Yes,” Grandpa Smedry said. “These are very dangerous, Alcatraz. I don’t carry many offensive Lenses, but I’ve found these too useful to leave behind. However, let me warn you—if there really is a Dark Oculator in there, he’ll be able to sense when you activate these. Only use the Firebringer’s Lenses in an emergency!”