‘About your friend,’ Vale said, leaning forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. The cab jolted as it turned a corner. ‘Do you think Silver’s accusations regarding her identity are correct?’
Irene would have liked to meet his eyes and unflinchingly deny it, but she honestly didn’t think it would work. She wondered how much Vale might have deduced about Bradamant, simply from their brief meeting. It was the sort of thing that she would expect him to do. ‘I wish that I knew myself,’ she finally said. ‘I hadn’t thought that she’d been in London,’ or in this alternate, ‘long enough to have done such a thing. And I can’t think why she’d do it!’
‘It is a common enough technique,’ Vale said austerely, ‘to establish a pattern of thefts in order to conceal a single one. If she was planning to steal that book, then she could also have been the perpetrator of those early thefts to camouflage its significance.’
Irene considered that idea. It sounded uncomfortably plausible. ‘But why would Bradamant have needed to hide the theft?’ she said out loud. After all, Bradamant herself could have just left the alternate immediately after stealing the book. But did she want the book for herself, or was she seeking it for the Library? She was here without authorization . . . Irene’s blood went cold. Could Bradamant have turned traitor to the Library?
Kai was only a step behind her. ‘But if she was trying to hide her theft from us as well as the authorities—’ he began.
Vale frowned. He raised a hand to interrupt Kai. ‘A moment, please, Mr Strongrock. Driver!’ He hammered with the head of his cane on the roof of the carriage. ‘Driver! Why are we going this way?’
Irene pulled back the window shade. She couldn’t recognize the buildings going past outside, but they were clearly on a main street. ‘I think we’re going faster,’ she began, then yelped in shock as chaotic power flared across the window. She managed to snatch her fingers back just in time before it could touch them. Across the carriage, Kai flinched back from the window on his side, bumping into Vale.
‘Driver!’ Vale shouted. ‘What is going on?’
The cab jolted as it speeded up again. ‘The name is Alberich,’ a voice called from above, audible over the rattling of the wheels and the creaking of the carriage. ‘I suggest you ask your friends what that means, Mr Vale.’
Irene was conscious that she’d probably gone pale, but she was too busy trying not to shake with sheer terror to spend much time bothering about it. She couldn’t handle this – she couldn’t – her hand was still infected – this was Alberich, the Alberich, the one who had been cast out of the Library, there was no way she could handle this . . .
‘Brace, Miss Winters,’ Vale instructed Kai, then kicked out at the door with a coiled strength that should have burst it open.
It didn’t. The door stayed firmly in position, and the walls of the cab flexed with it as if it was a continuous part of the cab’s structure. Vale recoiled into his seat, thrown back by his own force, and bit back a muffled oath.
‘I’m afraid you Librarians have become an inconvenience,’ the voice called down. Male, Irene noted with the part of her brain that was capable of doing something other than shudder and try to hide. No discernible accent. Precise. Something about the rhythm of it was vaguely familiar, as though she’d heard someone else speak in the same way. ‘I require that book for my own collection. A pity to lose you as well, Mr Vale, but I draw the line at stopping the cab to let you out.’
Someone in the street ahead of them screamed as they dived out of the way of the speeding cab.
‘I think not,’ Vale said coldly. He spun his cane in his hands, and smashed the silver head against the window.
The glass took the blow without breaking or even splintering.
‘He’s sealed the cab.’ Irene forced the words out, nearly shouting against the banging and clattering of the wheels on cobblestones. ‘Chaos magic – he’s somehow bound it into a coherent whole, so nothing can get in or out – you’d have to break the whole thing to break part of it.’
‘Quite accurate,’ the voice said. ‘Though it’s not airtight – or watertight. A logical paradox which I’m afraid you won’t have the time to appreciate.’
‘The river,’ Kai said, barely audibly, and the same knowledge was in Vale’s eyes.
Irene’s thoughts ran round inside her head. There must be something I can do – even if the Language isn’t working reliably for me, could I use it enough to save us? But the cab itself is chaos-contaminated and Alberich too, so maybe it would cancel out any Library powers anyway . . .
‘Adieu,’ Alberich said. The cab rocked again, and speeded up in one last rush towards the river.
‘Together!’ Vale shouted. ‘Enough weight and we can force it over – ’ He threw himself against the side of the cab, and a moment later Irene and Kai joined him, struggling together in the confined space. The cab tilted, regained balance, tilted again –
‘Yes!’ Kai exulted.
– and the cab went over into the river.
The carriage did not sink elegantly into the water like a dying swan: it hit the surface of the river with a rattling crash that threw Irene into Kai, and Kai into Vale, and Vale into the wall of the carriage.
Force equals mass times acceleration, Irene thought dizzily. She should be thinking of a way out of this, but her thoughts cowered like frightened rabbits. She didn’t want to think.