Assassin of Truths(6)

By: Brenda Drake

“It’s stuck.” It was too high for me to reach, so I climbed the ladder. Jaran grabbed the sides to keep it steady.

I reached for the book and paused. “Someone tied a rope around it.” My fingers followed the braided hemp. “The ends are nailed to the wood behind it.”

“That’s curious,” Jaran said.

Lei sighed, startling Jaran and causing him to bump into the ladder.

The ladder wobbled, and I clung to it. “Jaran,” I hissed.

“Sorry,” he said, then looked over his shoulder at Lei. “Perhaps you shouldn’t sneak up on someone in a dark library.”

“I’d apologize, but we both know it wouldn’t be sincere.” Lei inspected her nails. “The Wizard Council sent out an order to all the havens. The gateway books are on lockdown ever since some rogue Mystiks attacked Mantello. Most likely, they were part of Conemar’s band of evil misfits.”

The wizard havens were realms cloaked by magic and connected to the human world through secret entries within the libraries. There was too much unrest in the havens, and we weren’t sure who could be trusted. By binding the gateway books, it looked like the council was also in doubt.

“Wait.” I glanced down at her. “What would happen if I jumped and there’s another secured book on the other side? Would I get through?”

“Of course you would.” She looked disinterested in my questions but answered them anyway. “It’s a charm that opens the book when someone jumps through it, then locks it afterward.”

I opened my mouth, but she stopped me.

“And before you ask, humans can’t see the bindings or the book. Isn’t magic a wonderful thing.” The deadpan way she said it sounded like she thought it was anything but.

“Right. Good to know.” I glanced down at her. “Do you know the charm to release it?”

“Liberato,” she said.

“Set Free.” That makes sense.

“Didn’t Philip give you the charm?” Jaran asked.

“No. It must’ve slipped his mind.”

“Nothing ever slips his mind.” Lei returned to inspecting her nails. “This is going to be a long evening.”

She was right. Could his new role as high wizard be wearing on him?

I spoke the charm and freed the book. It was difficult to climb down the ladder with the heavy reference volume. Lei grasped my elbow and supported me as I stepped off the last wrung.

“Thanks,” I said, smiling at her, though there was a dullness to her eyes. I missed my playful friend. She hadn’t called anyone ducky since Kale died. The spell tattooed on Lei’s hand—a radiant lotus between her thumb and pointer finger—had subdued her emotions; losing the love of her life had to be torture. I understood her need to not feel anything, but she’d become unrecognizable.

She gave me an impassive look. “Put your helmet on—you’ll want to protect your vital parts. There have been reports that the spell disabling human weapons in many of the libraries is broken. Probably happened when your globe hit that trap.”

I wrenched my helmet out of my messenger bag and secured it on my head. The silver casing covered half my face and was shaped like a cat’s head and decorated with sapphires.

Jaran rested his hand on my shoulder and leaned over to my ear. “Listen, do you still call Nana before leaving the libraries?”

It had become routine for me to phone her just before jumping out of a library. I’d find a landline or swipe someone’s cell phone and make a two-second call. “I’m okay,” I would tell her.

“Yes,” I said. “Why?”

He handed me a slip of paper. “It’s Cole’s number. Can you ring him for me? Tell him I’m alive and well? I can’t use the phone or computer here. Carrig said they aren’t safe.”

Cole was the student council president at the school we’d attended while hiding in Branford, Connecticut, and Jaran’s boyfriend.

The separation from his boyfriend had to be difficult for him. I got it. Being away from Bastien sucked.

Bastien’s face flashed across my mind, and it was as if a dart hit my chest, piercing through flesh and bone, piercing my heart. Missing him was like my soul bleeding out. Memories of us together kept me up at night, and every minute away from him was like an eternity.

“Gia?” Jaran’s voice pulled me from my thoughts.

I stuffed the note into the front pocket of my pants. “Of course.”

“You’re the absolute best.” He winked and stepped away to guard the other side of the room from Lei.

I riffled through the pages of the gateway book until landing on the one with the National Library of the Czech Republic in Prague. The photograph was in motion. There wasn’t anyone inside the reading room. It was definitely closed.

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