Irene set her jaw mulishly. ‘Have I personally broken any laws?’
‘Not yet,’ Vale said. ‘At least, none of which I am aware.’ The tone of his voice made it clear that he suspected she wouldn’t hesitate.
And would she? Well, it would depend on the law. Her body was humming like a high-tension wire, probably the effects of the mingled drugs. ‘I don’t want to harm your world,’ she said quietly, bowing her head. ‘I just want a single book.’
She could feel the weight of Vale’s accusing stare. ‘And so we have to hurry across London, deceiving the pilot and endangering her as well as ourselves, because you must have this book.’
‘Watch what you say,’ Kai said softly.
Vale shrugged. ‘I ask Miss Winters questions to which she should have answers – if such answers exist. If she has none, then perhaps you should consider your own allegiances. What is the point of this Library, if it demands such sacrifices?’
Irene pushed herself to her feet. ‘Thank you, Kai, but you don’t need to defend me. In answer to your questions, Mr Vale, I am going to get this book. Not just because the Library wants it, but also because Alberich wants it, and he is far more dangerous than you seem to think I am.’ She gave him a withering look. ‘Has it occurred to you that besides trying to kill us, he has killed other people? Librarians, people that I know about, even if you don’t – and we have no idea what he may have done in this world? That if I don’t get this book out of here, he will probably kill others? And if I don’t get to the British Library first, then –’ Her brain caught up with what she was saying. ‘– then he is going to kill Bradamant,’ she finished.
Vale snorted. ‘The woman is clearly capable of taking care of herself.’
‘Maybe she is,’ Irene said. ‘But that’s not the point. I am not going to let her just walk in there and . . .’ She thought of Dominic Aubrey, and wondered with a shudder how his skin had ended up in that jar. She would not, could not, let that happen to someone else she knew when there was a chance of stopping it. ‘You may think of me as you wish. I intend to save Bradamant. I refuse to feel guilty for what I’ve just done.’
‘Ah.’ Vale stepped away from the side of the zeppelin, and offered her his hand. ‘Then I believe we can work together, Miss Winters.’
Irene nearly said Huh? – which would have been inappropriate in so many ways. She just stood there limply. ‘But, you were saying . . .’
‘Tch,’ Vale said. ‘Really, madam. I can accept that you are an effective agent, much like your colleague Bradamant. I wanted to be sure that there was more to you than that. If the Library employs persons like yourself, then I suppose there must be something to be said for it after all.’
‘Excuse me,’ Kai began.
‘You were doing your duty in following orders, and no man could ask for more,’ Vale said. ‘But Miss Winters is your commanding officer. The truth needed to come from her.’
Having won the point, Irene felt a curious mix of emotions – including rage. How dare he consider her ethics from such a lofty height? How dare he judge her? She took a deep breath, forcing down the anger with whatever justifications she could bring to mind. He had to make his own decisions. He needed to understand her to do so.
Still, it stung.
She reached out and clasped his hand briefly. ‘Thank you,’ she said. ‘I appreciate that.’
Kai stepped up and laid his hand across their joined hands. ‘Together we shall put Alberich down and rescue Bradamant. Though personally, as she’d so disloyally betrayed—’ He caught Irene’s glare. ‘Still, I am under your orders,’ he said heroically.
Irene disengaged her hand as tactfully as was possible. Heroic fiction had plenty of manly handclasps in it, and she’d read enough of them. But it had never gone into how you retrieved your hand afterwards, and whether there were any relevant squeezes or other manoeuvres. ‘I’ve been trying to think how to deal with Alberich,’ she said, though didn’t add in my copious spare time as she was tempted to, ‘and I’d be interested to know if you have anything to suggest.’
‘Shoot the bounder,’ Vale suggested. ‘That works on vampires or werewolves, and even on Fae under some circumstances.’
Kai flexed his long-fingered hands. He seemed, for once, to be hesitating.
‘Kai?’ Irene prompted.
‘There are certain ways that we – that is, um, my family – ’ which was probably the closest he was going to come to saying the d-word for the moment – ‘can reinforce an area against chaos. Alberich uses chaos, so he must be contaminated by it, so it should work against him too.’
‘How large an area?’ Vale said. ‘And can you make it permanent?’ Clearly he had grand visions of driving the Fae out of his entire world, or at least the British Empire part of it.
Kai shook his head. ‘If we could, then we wouldn’t have this ongoing problem. We could just push them out and keep them out. The best I can do is mark out an area and ward it. And it has to be an area that I can travel around in a set period of time.’ He brightened up. ‘Greater powers like my father or my uncles could guard an entire ocean within a single turning of the sun!’
Irene bit the inside of her cheek hard before she could make any comments about putting a girdle round the world in forty minutes. It probably wasn’t an appropriate moment for Shakespeare, and she didn’t think Kai would find the analogy funny. ‘And yourself?’ she asked.