The third novel in the three-part Angel Fable arc.
Jane has been reunited with Caius, but the price was too high. Now she and her companions must race against a new foe to save one of their own before he does something unspeakable.
Their chase leads them to the epicenter of the Librarian world, the Central Library, where all research knowledge is stored. There they find new allies and old foes that lead them through the Catacombs of Tomes and into a world of the darcane, the black magic of the Shifting World.
They follow the trail and are led to a shadow that was once a city where the ghosts of the past stretch out their dark hands for salvation. The High Librarian has designs for those hands, and they need the power of a lumina to fulfill them.
The call of the wagon and cart drivers echoed up and down the long stone road.
"Get out of the way!"
That last call was not for the draft animals but for me. I scooted against the wall where my other companions already stood and watched the cart scurry by. Like many of the wagons, it was empty and headed for one of the ten gates that led into this city of noise and solitude.
Quite a mismatch, huh? But that was the perfect description of Urbas Sophia, home of the Central Library and guarded by an army of Blue Binds.
The noise came from the carts that came in constant waves through the ten arched gateways of the city's massive walls. The fortifications rose up some fifty feet and were twenty feet thick. They were plenty large enough for the mix of defensive machines that pointed outward at the fields beyond the walls.
There were trebuchets, catapults, and an odd cannon or two, a rarity in a world that hadn't progressed past the dark ages in terms of toilets.
The silence came from the very center of this stone metropolis. There, etched into the sky like giant daggers, were the towers of the Central Library. The complex was itself surrounded on all sides by steep walls of craggy stone, but their high peaks showed a style similar to High Gothic. There were high gray arcades, or arches that could barely be seen over the twenty-foot wall. The long bodies of the buildings denoted a nave, or central aisle within them, and there were enough tall, wide windows to make even a narcissist happy.
It was near one of these exterior craggy walls that we found ourselves pinned. The only gate into the Central Library's compound was close by, and the exiting wagons turned onto this narrow street to leave.
Sage leaned forward and looked across me at Caius who stood on my other side. "I believe our guide should be severely reprimanded for bringing us in this direction."
Caius sheepishly smiled at him and shrugged. "You said you wanted to blend in and get a good look at the gate."
"That will be quite difficult without getting run over," Sage pointed out as another set of carts rolled by, forcing him back.
"You just have to have timing," Caius scolded him as he stretched his neck to peek around a nearby corner across the street. Another pair of carts rounded the corner from the left and drove past us. "Now!"
We pushed off the wall and scooted over to the other side just as another pair of carts flew by. Their drivers gave us dirty looks before they rolled down the street and out of sight.
I craned my own neck to see what they might have held, but there were only stacks of tarps in the beds. "Why are there so many carts going in and out?"
"They're the daily deliveries of charta and pachero, along with copies of log books from the libraries," Caius explained.
Another pair flew past us. "How many libraries are in the system?"
"The number is known only to the Central Library librarians," Sage revealed as he scooted in front of my grandmother. "Pardon me, dear."
She gave him a sly smile. "Dear, is this really the time?"
"Keep it clean, Bee," Sage scolded her as he peeked around the corner. "There are children present."
At that moment I wished for bleach to be invented, but I shook off their teasing conversation and returned us to the matter at hand. "Do you see anything?"
Sage drew back and nodded. "Yes. There appears to be a large gate blocking our way."
"Couldn't we get in through one of the full wagons?" I suggested.
He shook his head. "Unfortunately, no. There are at least eight guards at the gate, and they are doing a rather fine job of scouring the contents."
I scooted down the line and Sage made room. I peeked around the corner and saw what he meant. The gate was forty feet wide with a tall arch. A central column separated the wagons going in and out, with those going out in the road closest to us. The far road had the eight guards, and two wagons stood abreast. The tarps that covered the wares were pulled aside and every book and barrel was searched with a thoroughness that would have put a drug dog to shame.
I drew back and looked to my grandfather. "You're not kidding about that searching."
Sage cupped his chin in one hand and furrowed his brow. "Without entrance into there I cannot think of how we would find Ennius."
Caius sighed and shrugged. "Then we'll just have to go talk to Naso."
I pressed my back against the wall as more carts rushed past us. "Who's Naso?"
"A friend of mine," Caius revealed.
"Would this friend be the source of your knowledge of the grounds?" Sage guessed.
Caius grinned. "Mostly. There was this pretty little librarian in there who I got to know pretty well-" He noticed the dark look on my face and cleared his throat. "But yeah, he's the one who told me about the papers being here."
"Can he be trusted with so delicate an operation as we required?" Sage wondered.
"If you give him enough knowledge about any obscure topic that has his fancy then yeah, he'll bite," Caius assured us.
Sage sighed. "Then I suppose we should go see this ‘Naso.'" Another pair of carts flew past. "If only to prevent our demise beneath the wheels of these wild carts."
We hurried of that street and into the well-organized street system. The entire city, trapped as it was within the fortification walls, had been built in a perfect square. The blocks were aligned perfectly with those walls, and the houses were close together in perfect lines. The houses, too, were of a plain sort. Most were townhouses with shared whitewashed walls. The few homes with yards sported clean-cut lawns and pristine porches.
"How old is Urbas Sophia?" I asked my companions as we rounded another perfect corner onto another ramrod straight road.
"The Library has controlled the area for a thousand of its three thousand year history," Sage told me.
"Has it always been this. . .this-"
"Boring?" Caius suggested.
I nodded. "Pretty much."
"The Library razed much of the older portions some five hundred years ago, leaving only the buildings that currently stand on their campus," Sage told me. "The rest of the city was made in the image of the analytical minds of the Librarian notia, or notaries, thus the grid layout and pristine houses."
"So what happens when a blade of grass tries to jaywalk onto the streets?" I wondered as we passed by one of the few homes with a lawn.
Sage smiled. "They take the Red Queen's advice and have off with their heads. With a pair of garden sheers, of course, not a sword. That they reserve for the owner."
I jerked to a stop and my eyes bulged out of my head. "Seriously?" My companions turned to me, all grinning. I glared at them. "You guys are picking on the weak link, aren't you?"
Sage chuckled. "You are far from our weak link. Your close relationship with memories saved us on our last adventure."
My face fell as I recalled those final scenes in the Casglade Citadel. "Yeah, but they didn't save Alex."
Bee walked over to my side and wrapped her arm around my shoulders to give me a squeeze. "You did wonderfully there, dear, and don't you think otherwise."
Sage nodded. "She's right, Jane. None of us is psychic, so who could have foreseen Ennius' betrayal? Or even that he was a foe?"
"That explained how he arrived not too long after I did," Caius reminded us.
"Yes, well, that doesn't help us find your informant, either," Sage reminded him.
Caius looked around and smiled. "No worries. We're almost there."
"This informant of yours must be pretty important," I mused as I studied the three houses with lawns, more than most of the blocks through which we'd passed.
Caius led us onward and nodded. "Yeah, but don't remind him of that. He's got enough ego."
"That explains why you two are acquainted," Sage mused.
Caius shook his head. "Not really. We met in a pub. He's got a weakness for binskey, and I happen to have been delivering a case of the stuff to the pub when he came in. He bought the whole case and as thanks treated me to a bottle."
"Why should he thank you and not the pub owner?" I wondered.
Caius flashed me one of his impish grins. "Let's just say binskey isn't really allowed in Urbas Sophia."
"Then binskey was contraband," Sage surmised.
Caius winked at him. "And the best kind. That stuff was good." He glanced down the street. "Looks like we're getting close. It's the house with the gray door. Just don't look at it, we don't want to catch anyone's attention."
I faced ahead, but my eyes flickered over the houses on our left. One of them had a gray door. The windows were covered by equally gray curtains and the shutters were painted gray, as well.
"So is this guy the resident librarian mortician?" I whispered.
"He's a little odd," Caius admitted as he continued leading us down the street. "We'll give a knock at the back door."
We followed him to the corner where we turned left to continue on the block. Every block had an alley that divided the rear of the buildings from one another, a safety precaution in case of fire. The blaze wouldn't spread to other buildings as quickly with the twenty-foot wide road between them.
The back of the townhouse had a set of steps that led up to the rear door. We climbed to the small patio and Caius knocked on the door. "Naso? You there?"
He tried the handle. The door gave way and Caius swung it open. The rear of the house had the plain kitchen with its wood stove and cupboards. All of it was covered in dust, and a few dirty dishes sat in a pan. Everything also lay in a deep shadow due to the gray curtains over every window and no candle in sight.
Caius stepped into the eerily quiet house. "Naso? You in here?"
"Perchance he is out," Sage suggested.
Caius shook his head. "Naso rarely goes out, and he wouldn't leave the back door unlocked if he was."
He walked further into the house and we followed. I was in the back of the line and stepped into the room. I froze and my eyes widened.
The cold barrel of a gun was pressed against my temple. A small voice came from the darkness. "Don't move or you die."