Paranoia was one of the few habits that was worth keeping.
At eight o’clock the next morning, the doors of the combined British Museum and British Library opened. Irene and Kai joined the crowd of people heading in. Luckily nobody was in the mood for talking at that hour of the morning. People kept their gazes fixed on their boots, stared blankly ahead, or buried themselves ferociously in notebooks.
The Department of Classical Manuscripts was open, but Dominic Aubrey’s office was closed. The door was locked, bolted, and possibly even barred on the inside, for all that Irene could tell. She didn’t remember noticing a bar when she’d been inside, but she might have missed it.
‘Shall I pick the lock?’ Kai asked as they (not for the first time) straightened from peering at it and did their best to imitate hopeful students, just in time to smile at passing staff.
‘I’ll do it,’ Irene said. ‘He may have put some sort of wards up against physical or sorcerous lockpicking, but he can’t ward against the Language.’ She paused. ‘Stand back.’
‘Oh?’ Kai said, doing as she’d told him.
‘Well, wards are one thing, but traps and alarms are something else.’ She ignored Kai’s expression of sudden dismay (really, he should be grateful, he was getting an excellent education) and quickly went down on one knee. There she informed the door in the Language that all seals and bars on it were undone, all locks and bolts opened, and all wards gone.
It swung open quietly when she set her hand on the handle. She beckoned Kai in quickly after her, and closed the door behind him.
The room was just as it had been yesterday. Early morning sunlight came in dimly through the windows, muffled by the fog beyond, and gleamed on the gold leaf and glass cases. The Library door itself was secured by means of a chain and padlock, the chain running through both the door handle and a metal link set into the wall. It would be useless to prevent anyone coming from the other side, as the power of the Library would prevail, but it was efficient enough to stop people trying it from this side.
‘Irene,’ Kai said uneasily.
‘If the door out was bolted from this side, and if the door to the Library was padlocked from this side too, how did anyone leave the room?’
‘A good point,’ Irene said. Encourage useful habits of thought. ‘There must be a secret door here somewhere. Or he left through sorcery.’
‘So can you use the Language to find the secret door?’
Irene sat down on the chair behind the desk. It was clearly Dominic Aubrey’s personal chair. It yielded with the ease of long use with a single graceful creak, and smelled of snuff and coffee. ‘Not exactly. Field exam; tell me why.’
‘Oh, that’s not fair . . .’ Kai started, then looked at her expression and shut his mouth to think. ‘Okay,’ he said a moment later. ‘Sorry. I think I’ve got it. Everything within range of the Language reacts to it unless the command or sentence specifies otherwise, right. So if you just tell everything within range to unlock . . .’
Irene nodded. ‘Then I’ll end up opening the cases, the drawers, the cabinets along the wall there, the padlock on the Library door, and quite possibly my handbag and your wallet and the windows while we’re at it. It’s a reasonable suggestion, but it won’t do unless we have absolutely no other choice. Now tell me why I’m not going to use sorcery.’
Kai thought, then shrugged. ‘Because Dominic may have put wards on any secret door which will blow up when you use sorcery to detect them?’
‘Actually, no.’ Irene leaned her elbows on the desk. ‘It’s because I’m bad at sorcery.’
‘What? But anyone can do sorcery!’
She lifted her eyebrows.
‘Seriously,’ Kai said. ‘You must be joking. Sorcery’s one of the simplest skills around. Even my – my youngest brother could command the simpler spirits and invoke the elements. You’re not telling me that . . .’ He ran out of words mid-sentence, with the uneasy look of someone who’d spotted that he’d said the wrong thing.
Irene had noticed it too. ‘Your youngest brother,’ she repeated softly.
‘If I’d had a family, you told me before.’ She remembered the conversation in the Library, as forgetting was the last thing a fully-trained Librarian should do. Memories were as important as books, and almost as important as proper indexing. ‘Kai, you’ve been lying to me about some things, and hiding others. I know it, and you know it.’ She wished that she could run her hands through her hair in the way that he was doing now, but she was the older Librarian, and he was her apprentice, and she couldn’t afford to show weakness. She had to be in control. She liked him, and she didn’t actually like many people, and she didn’t want to accuse him. She didn’t want to . . . drive him away. ‘Do you want to talk about it?’
He drew himself up and stood in front of her, suddenly appearing very tall and yet somehow fragile. ‘I can’t,’ he said.
‘You can,’ Irene corrected him. ‘But it seems you won’t.’
‘Irene.’ He swallowed. ‘I swear to you that it has nothing to do with the current situation. By my name and my honour and my descent, I swear it.’
Saying as far as you know was the obvious response, but it would have made light of his obvious struggle and sincerity. And he was sincere, Irene was certain of that.