You’re about to walk right into his arms. Irene could feel tears burning at the corners of her eyes. You’re going to walk in there and you have no idea.
‘I’ll lock the door behind me,’ Bradamant said helpfully. ‘You shouldn’t have any werewolves bursting in on you while you’re helpless.’
I hope they bite your bloody nose off, Irene thought vengefully.
‘Don’t think of me as malicious,’ Bradamant said, then paused. ‘Actually, do think of me as malicious. Think of me as a malicious bitch who’s going to take your mission, your credit, and possibly your apprentice if you haven’t spoiled him too much. Think what you like. But – ’ She leaned forward and patted Irene’s cheek gently.
Irene couldn’t even feel the touch of Bradamant’s hand against her skin.
‘Think of me as a bitch who gets the job done,’ Bradamant said. She walked across to the door. ‘Don’t call me. I’ll call you.’
The door clicked shut behind her.
Irene stared at the bare desk in front of her, sprawled like a doll in the chair. She couldn’t turn her head, and she didn’t have the muscular focus to scream. She tasted bitterness and despair.
Perhaps she had been wrong to bind Bradamant by an oath in the Language, she thought through the confusion. Perhaps this betrayal ultimately came down to her own insult to Bradamant’s integrity.
Or then again, perhaps Bradamant was a back-stabbing bitch.
A nagging twitch of guilt lurked at the back of her mind. Yes, she had to admit it, she had enjoyed working with Vale. It wasn’t just a case of her Great Detective fixation. (She’d always loved the Holmes stories. And the Watson stories. And even the Moriarty stories.) But there was more to Vale than just being a Great Detective. There was the prickly man who’d confessed to his split with his family, but who was still ready to help them when they asked. There was his surprising generosity and courtesy. There was even the humanizing touch that he’d lent Kai his dressing-gown, and she’d found them sitting over breakfast discussing airships.
She wasn’t a child looking for a role. She was a Librarian with a job to do, and sharing information with Vale and Singh had resulted in things getting done.
Letting herself be immobilized by guilt would be as poisonous as Bradamant’s curare, and as harmful.
There was something deeper to this, though. As she struggled to stay alert, as her mind fought not to follow her body into lassitude, she tried to think it through. She had nothing better to do, after all. Librarians didn’t betray other Librarians like this. Bradamant had been playing the part thoroughly but, just once or twice, she’d seen that Bradamant had been afraid. She’d taken up someone else’s mission – something which was, if not actively forbidden, at least a serious breach of convention. She’d already tried and failed once to get the book. Now she’d assaulted Irene and left her in danger in order to reach the book first. Who could have pushed her that far?
Irene felt chilled. Some of the older Librarians had . . . unsavoury reputations. A lifetime among books didn’t cultivate depravity or debauchery, as much as a love of mind games and politics. And those games could turn dark. Even Coppelia could have her own objectives. Look at Kai, for instance. He’d been planted on Irene in the middle of a mission involving Alberich. What precisely was going on there? How many people had guessed the truth about him?
Her mind felt as if it was stuffed with marshmallows, clogged at the edges and fuzzy in the middle. It must be the drug. But she had to think: she had to work this out. She had the facts. She just needed to apply them.
Compared with Coppelia, there were people like Kostchei, Bradamant’s patron. He was reclusive and exacting. Nobody dared argue with his messengers when he ‘requested’ a specific book. Rumour had it that he had a great deal of influence among the older Librarians, when he cared to use it. The fact that he’d chosen Bradamant as a protégée was interesting in itself. The fact that she would assault other Librarians and steal their work in order to avoid disappointing him . . . was even more so.
Irene was abruptly filled with a burning desire to read the damned elusive book, if it was so very important. (She was aware that this sort of logic had landed people in trouble before. Screw logic. She was furious.)
Was that her finger twitching? Please let it be her finger twitching.
She tried to cough. Something resembling coherent noise came out.
She was so going to have Bradamant’s ass for this. Metaphorically speaking.
The door handle rattled. She could hear the murmur of voices outside, but nothing distinct. She struggled to call out intelligibly, but only a ragged gurgle emerged. In desperation she jerked her leg, kicking out at the desk. There was a thud as her shoe banged into the hollow side.
Another brief exchange of conversation. A pause.
The door swung open with a bang. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Vale and Kai standing there, Vale refolding something about the size of a wallet and sliding it into his pocket. Both of them looked mildly battered and unkempt, but not lethally so.
‘Irene!’ Kai exclaimed, rushing into the room. ‘Are you all right?’
No, I’m currently suffering from curare poisoning, she attempted to communicate. A gargle came out of her mouth.
Kai’s eyes went to the scratch on her neck. ‘Heaven and earth!’ he exclaimed. ‘She’s poisoned! Silver must have got here before us! I’m going to kill him—’