Irene remembered to breathe. ‘Such as?’ she said.
‘Your birth name,’ Alberich said quickly, and she realized this had been his plan all along.
Magic had never been Irene’s field of expertise. It still wasn’t. But she didn’t need to be an expert to know that Alberich’s Fae magic, with knowledge of her true name, could be very bad news for her.
‘Hah!’ Kai said. She suspected he was sneering.
Irene nodded to Alberich, then turned to Kai. As she had thought, he was sneering. ‘Kai,’ she said. ‘I want you to do something very straightforward for me. I want you to go outside and stay outside. I don’t want you setting one foot inside this library.’ How to convey to him I want you to set up that warding you talked about and do it as fast as possible? ‘I’ll handle this.’
Kai blinked at her, totally blindsided. ‘But—’ he started.
‘But me no buts,’ Irene snapped. ‘It’s as Alberich said. You’re not a Librarian and there’s nothing you can do in this situation. You don’t have the Language and you can’t fight him. I’m not going to endanger yet another person. Now are you going to obey my orders and get out,’ she could hear her voice rising, ‘or am I going to have to worry about you as well as Vale here?’
Kai gave her a long stare. It felt like a reproach. It was a reproach. She didn’t want to do this to him, but Alberich wasn’t stupid. The slightest hint of collusion would get Vale killed, and she could only hope that Kai understood that. ‘You know perfectly well there’s nothing I can do if I’m outside these walls,’ he said. Could he have grasped what she wanted? ‘I’m supposed to be your colleague, not your brain-damaged dependent! At least let me stay nearby.’
‘It’s all one to me,’ Alberich said blandly.
Irene jerked her thumb at the door. ‘These are your orders, Kai. Out, and stay outside, and I don’t want to see your face until we’re done.’ She glanced up at the window for a moment. ‘And don’t get any ideas about flying around on the zeppelins.’
Kai’s eyes narrowed fractionally, and she could only hope that he’d grasped the idea. ‘Don’t think I’m happy about this,’ he said, shoulders slumping to the very angle of their first meeting. It had looked better in a leather jacket.
Irene nodded and turned back to Alberich. ‘The door, please.’
‘Your name, please,’ he said, with the same intonation that she had just used.
‘I give you my word that I will give you my birth name the moment Kai stands safely outside that closed door,’ Irene said in the Language.
‘Neat,’ Alberich commented. ‘You think quickly. Room door, open.’
The door swung open, squashing silverfish in its wake, and thudded against the wall. There was nobody in the room beyond – at least, there was nobody alive. Just the huddled mounds of the few unfortunate bodies caught in the silverfish attack. Irene hoped queasily that they were just unconscious, overcome by ultrasonic waves or something like that. She couldn’t handle more deaths.
‘If you hurt her,’ Kai said softly, ‘I swear by my father and his brothers, and by the bones of my grandfathers, that you shall pay for this.’
Alberich regarded him thoughtfully. ‘What a curious way of putting it. I’m sure I’ve heard that somewhere before . . . oh, never mind, I daresay I can dissect you later if it’s absolutely necessary. Out of here now, before I change my mind.’
Irene didn’t say anything, in case Alberich did change his mind. She gestured Kai towards the door, and wondered how long it would take him to set up a barrier. And also how long she had before Alberich was finished with her.
Kai hunched his shoulders angrily and stalked out of the office.
‘Close, room door,’ Alberich said, and it slammed shut with another squelch of splattered silverfish, leaving the three of them alone together.
Irene felt the compulsion of her own oath like a noose around her neck. ‘My parents gave me the name of Ray,’ she said, quickly choosing her words, before it could force out even more detail. The phrasing was more convoluted than it might have been, but it was true enough. ‘I don’t know their birth names, so I can’t give you a family name.’
‘Ray.’ Alberich looked as if he was about to laugh. ‘And did they call you their little ray of sunshine?’
Actually, yes, they had. Irene raised her brows. ‘Is that relevant?’
‘Not particularly, but I have always been a curious man.’ His hand didn’t move, and the knife at Vale’s throat stayed steady. ‘Why don’t you know their birth names?’
There was no way she was telling him they were Librarians too. And now she’d answered, she wasn’t bound and could lie as much as she wanted. ‘They always kept secrets from me,’ she invented. ‘I’m answering your question as best I can.’
Alberich narrowed his eyes, and she suspected with a chill that he didn’t believe her. ‘Relevant questions, then. What precisely has been going on?’
She hadn’t expected that one. ‘Er, in what sort of detail?’
‘There have been far too many people interfering in what might otherwise have been a perfectly straightforward extraction. Believe me, Ray –’
She knew he saw her twitch when he used her name. She couldn’t help it. She hadn’t heard anyone use it to her for years. It was a childhood name and she wasn’t a child any longer.