Home > Ash and Quill (The Great Library #3)

Ash and Quill (The Great Library #3)
Author: Rachel Caine

EPHEMERA

Text of a letter from the Archivist Magister, head of the Great Library of Alexandria, to the commander of the High Garda of the Great Library. Not indexed in the Codex. Restricted viewing.

The Welsh army has broken treaty with the Library and shamelessly looted the valuable books located in our daughter library in London. St. Paul’s Serapeum was a monument and sacred space of knowledge for hundreds of years, and now they claim it for their own.

We excused the destruction of our Oxford Serapeum as an accident of war. But this? This is too much. The Welsh king has gone too far and must be shown his mistake.

The king of Wales and England must make immediate reparation for our losses or face the consequences. There are stirrings of rebellion against us on every front, and we must contain and control kingdoms and countries that refuse our authority.

I will allow no further disobedience, whether that comes from foreign kings or our own Scholars.

The penalty for traitors is death.

Handwritten addendum to the Artifex Magnus by the Archivist

I care little for provincial kingdoms and their spats, but London is the last place our troubling band of Scholar-traitors was spotted . . . and near St. Paul’s, too. I know the Welsh have no love for us, but under threat of total war with the High Garda, they’ll hand them over. If they’re still alive.

Handwritten reply from the Artifex Magnus

They were seen inside St. Paul’s by one of the last librarians to flee, so we know that they were, at least, alive then. Whether they escaped in the confusion or are in a mass grave dug by the Welsh remains to be seen. I wouldn’t assume them dead. Christopher Wolfe should have been dead years ago, and none of us has managed to put him in the ground yet.

In regard to your earlier request, I must regretfully recommend that Gregory be appointed to the position of Obscurist Magnus. I know he’s a vile creature, but the only other candidate is Eskander. I had him dragged out of his self-imposed prison to be shown to me, so I could ensure, on your behalf, that he’s still alive and well. Still a lot of fight left in him, no doubt about that, but as he swore so long ago, he’s saying nothing. Not a word. He decided decades ago to make himself useless to us, and I think he’s succeeded all too well. Don’t pin your hopes on him.

He did write a note for you. I took the liberty of reading it, and I’ll just say that he’d like you dead. I suppose he blames you for Keria Morning’s death, the way his son does. I suppose neither of them is particularly wrong, come to that.

Don’t worry about your rogue Scholars. We’ve put a high price on their heads. Their own families will be tempted to sell them soon enough.

EPHEMERA

Text of a paper letter from the Burner leader of London to Willinger Beck, head of the Burner city of Philadelphia. Destroyed upon receipt.

I send you a gift out of the ashes of London: four full Scholars of the Library—a gloriously decorated High Garda captain and two of his soldiers, and . . . best of all . . . an Obscurist! Not a half-wild hedge witch, but a real, Iron Tower–trained Obscurist with power even I’ve never seen.

Not only that—they come bearing their own gifts. It’s said that the Scholars have some secret that might well destroy the Great Library’s power forever. I suppose it’s up to you to find a way to coax that out of them.

Strength and courage, my brother.

CHAPTER ONE

Books burned so easily.

Paper tanned in the fluttering heat, then sparked sullen red at the edges. Flames left fragile curls of ash. Leather bindings smoked and shriveled and blackened, just like burning flesh.

Jess Brightwell watched the fire climb the pyramid of books and willed himself not to flinch as each layer caught. His brain raced with involuntary calculations. One hundred books in five layers. The burning bottom layer: forty-four gone. The second level held another thirty-two, and it was already billowing dull smoke. The next had eighteen more volumes, then five on top of that. The pyramid was capped by one lone book that sat tantalizingly ready for the grabbing. Easy to save as the flames climbed the stack, consuming layer after layer and burning something inside him blacker and colder.

If I could just save one . . .

But he couldn’t save anything. Even himself, at the moment.

Jess’s head hurt fiercely in the glare of the sun. Everything was still a blur. He remembered the chaos of London as the Welsh army descended on it, a battle even he had never imagined the English would lose; he remembered the mesmerizing sight of the dome of St. Paul’s catching fire above them as librarians struggled to save what they could.

He remembered his father and brother, when it counted, turning their backs on him and running.

Most of all, he remembered being forced into the Translation Chamber, and the sickening ripping sensation of being destroyed and created again far, far from London . . . here in the Burner-held city of Philadelphia.

Sent to the rebellious colonies of America.

Jess and his friends hadn’t been granted any time to recover; they’d been dragged, still sick and weak, to what must have once been a sports stadium; in better times, maybe it had been filled with cheering crowds. Now it was half ruined, melted into a misshapen lump on one side of the concrete stands, and instead of a grassy field in the middle there were bare ground and a funeral pyre of books.

Jess couldn’t take his eyes off of them as they burned, because he was thinking, sickly, We’re next.

“Jess,” said Scholar Christopher Wolfe, who was on his knees next to him in the dirt. “They’re not original books. They’re Blanks.” That was true. But Jess didn’t miss the tremors running through the man, either. The shine in Wolfe’s dark eyes was made of pure, unholy rage. He was right: Blanks were just empty paper and bindings provided by the Great Library of Alexandria, vessels to hold words copied on command from originals kept safe within the Library’s archives. These were empty symbols that were burning. In any Library territory, they’d be cheaply and easily replaced, and nothing would be lost at all.

But seeing them destroyed still hurt. He’d been raised to love books, for all that his family had smuggled them, sold them, and profited from them.

Words were sacred things, and this was a particularly awful kind of heresy.

As he watched, the last book shivered in the rising heat, as if it might break free and escape the fire. But then the edges crisped, paper smoked, and it was gone in rising curls of ash.

Scholar Khalila Seif knelt on his left side, as straight and quiet as a statue. She looked perfectly calm; she had her hands resting lightly on her thighs, her head high and her hijab fluttering lightly at the edges in the hot breeze. Beneath the black silk Scholar’s outer robe she wore a still-clean dress, only a little muddy and ashen at the hem from their progress through London. Next to Khalila, Glain Wathen looked as if she were only momentarily frozen in the act of rising—a lithe warrior, all vibrating tension. Beyond her was Thomas Schreiber, then Morgan Hault, then—last and least, in Jess’s thoughts—Dario Santiago. Outcast, even among their little band of exiles.

To Jess’s right was Scholar Wolfe and, beyond him, Captain Santi. That was the entire roll call of their party of prisoners, and not a single useful weapon among them. They’d not had time to make a plan. Jess couldn’t imagine that any of them had much worthwhile to say just now.

There was an audience in the crumbling stands: the good citizens of Philadelphia. A ragged, patchwork crowd of hard men and women and children who’d survived starvation, deprivation of all sorts, and constant attacks. They had no pity for the pampered servants of the Great Library.

What would Wolfe tell them if he had the chance? That the Great Library was still a great and precious thing, something to be saved, not destroyed? That the cancer that had rotted it from within could still be healed? They’d never believe it. Jess took in a deep breath and choked on the stench of burning books. Imaginary Wolfe, he thought, gave crap speeches.

A man dressed in a fine-cut suit of black wool stepped up to block Jess’s view of the pyre. He was a tall, bespectacled fellow, full of the confidence of a man of property; he could have, by appearance, been a banker or a lawyer in a more normal sort of place. The smoke that rose black against the pale blue morning sky seemed to billow right from the crown of his head. His collar-length hair was the same gray as the ash.

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