Kai raised his hand again. ‘So, theoretically, would these local spirits be a useful source of information? I mean, I’ve been stuck in the Library for the last five years, I know the theory, but not how you go about it in practice . . .’
‘Good thinking,’ Irene said, but then she saw Dominic frowning. ‘Why, is there a problem?’
‘They can be dangerous,’ Dominic said. He fussed with his glasses again. ‘I wouldn’t recommend it as a primary option. To be frank, I haven’t had much chance to investigate things myself – my cover, you know. There’s only so much that I can get away with as Head of Classical Manuscripts. You’ll probably be able to find out more at ground level.’
Irene nodded. ‘We’ll keep it as a fall-back option, then. Do you have any local Language updates that I should be aware of?’
‘I’ve put them in the briefing,’ Dominic promised. ‘There aren’t many, though. The vocab is all fairly generic. A vampire’s a vampire as you’d expect, fangs and all etc. Actually, if you want to wait here, I’ll go and fetch the documentation, and then the two of you can slip out and get to work.’
Kai looked down at his clothing. ‘Like this?’ he asked.
‘You’ll have to claim to be barbarian visitors from Canada,’ Dominic said cheerfully. ‘I do have some clothing for emergencies, but under the circumstances you can pass for students until you can buy some clothing that fits you better. You’ll just need some overcoats until you can get to a shop.’ He stood up, brushing his hands together again. ‘I’ll be back in a moment. Don’t fret.’
‘Thank you,’ Irene said, suppressing a sigh of relief, but he was already out of the door. Perhaps his quick exit was due to embarrassment. Helping visiting Librarians maintain a low profile was supposed to be part of the Librarian-in-Residence’s job, after all. It usually involved a little more than ‘here’s an overcoat and there’s the nearest shop’. She considered prospective excuses for the shopkeeper. I’m terribly sorry, but we just had all our luggage stolen while disembarking from the ocean liner . . .
Kai stretched and looked around restlessly. ‘Do you suppose barbarian Canadians wear jeans?’
‘I hope female Canadian barbarians wear trousers,’ Irene said drily. ‘They’re easier to run in.’
Kai turned to face her. ‘Have you ever seen a really bad chaos infestation?’ he asked.
‘No,’ she said quietly. ‘Only mild ones. But I’ve heard things. I knew someone who went into one, once. I saw some of his reports.’
There’s something addictive about it, he’d written. The world itself seems so much more logical and plausible. There’s a feeling that everything makes sense, and I know this is only because the world itself is shaping to fit the gestalt, but you wouldn’t believe how comfortable it makes me feel.
Kai snapped his fingers in front of her face, and she blinked at him. ‘Ahem. You could at least share with me, rather than sit there and brood about it and figure that you’re protecting me or something.’
‘You do rate yourself highly,’ Irene said, trying not to feel irritated. ‘All right. You remember the stages of infestation? Affective, intuitive, assumptive and conglomerative?’
Kai nodded. ‘From what you and Dominic were saying, this world is affective going on intuitive, right? So the theory suggests it’s being warped, and it would then reach the stage where things tend to fall into narrative patterns. So instead of natural order prevailing, events start taking on the kind of rhythm or logic you might find in fiction or fairy tales. Which could be terrifying. But it must be hard to spot, surely, as even in order-based worlds fact can prove stranger than fiction . . . It isn’t fully there yet, is it?’
‘No. And that’s interesting. It makes me think that Dominic’s got a point with his theory that order is being asserted. I wish I understood more of it.’ Irene pushed away from the desk, and began to wander round the room, staring absently at the various glass display cases. ‘Now if a world could be stalled at this point, so it didn’t head further into chaos, it’d be useful to know how it’s done. We don’t know how many worlds there are, so we don’t know how many we lose to chaos. But we lose enough that we do know about. And the dragons aren’t interested in talking to us about how they do whatever it is that they do.’
Kai coughed. ‘Just like we aren’t interested in talking to them about how we do what we do?’
Irene turned to look at him. Witheringly, she hoped. ‘Do you think you’re the first person to have made that argument?’
‘Course not.’ He shrugged. ‘Fact remains, though. We don’t talk.’
‘I met one once,’ Irene said.
‘What did you talk about?’
‘He complimented me on my literary taste.’
Kai blinked. ‘Doesn’t sound like a life-threatening sort of conversation.’
Irene shrugged. ‘Well, he was the one who got the scroll we were both after. You see, there was this—’ She saw him glance away. ‘Oh, never mind.’
There was this room full of fabulous woods and bone, and I’d been escorted there by a couple of servants, and I was honestly afraid that I was going to be killed. I’d trespassed on his private property. I’d negotiated with one of his barons for that scroll without realizing it. I’d been dropped in the deep end and I was sinking fast.