“I need some air first.” I turned and headed downstairs. Fresh air would steady my nerves and help me think. I pounded down the wooden treads that had been laid over the stone and pushed through the glass doors and into the Old Schools Quadrangle, gulping in the cold, dust-free December air.
Gallowglass emerged from the shadows.
His mere presence told me that something terrible had happened.
His next quiet words confirmed it.
“Benjamin has Matthew.”
“He can’t. I just talked to him.” The silver chain within me swayed.
“That was five hours ago,” Fernando said, checking his watch. “When you spoke, did Matthew say where he was?”
“Only that he was leaving Germany,” I whispered numbly. Stan and Dickie approached, frowns on their faces.
“Gallowglass,” Stan said with a nod.
“Stan,” Gallowglass replied.
“Problem?” Stan asked.
“Matthew’s gone off the grid,” Gallowglass explained. “Benjamin’s got him.”
“Ah.” Stan looked worried. “Benjamin always was a bastard. I don’t imagine he’s improved over the years.”
I thought of my Matthew in the hands of that monster.
I remembered what Benjamin had said about his hope that I would bear a girl.
I saw my daughter’s tiny, fragile finger touch the tip of Matthew’s nose.
“There is no way forward that doesn’t have him in it,” I said.
Anger burned through my veins, followed by a crashing wave of power—fire, air, earth, and water—that swept everything else before it. I felt a strange absence, a hollowness that told me I had lost something essential to my self.
For a moment I wondered if it were Matthew. But I could still feel the chain that bound us. What was essential was still there.
Then I realized it was not something essential I’d lost but something habitual, a burden carried so long that I had become inured to its heaviness.
Now it was gone—just as the goddess had foretold.
I whirled around, blindly seeking the library entrance in the darkness.
“Where are you going, Auntie?” Gallowglass said, holding the door closed so that I couldn’t pass.
“Did you not hear me? We must go after Matthew. There’s no time to lose.”
The thick panels of glass turned to powder, and the brass hinges and handles clanged against the stone threshold. I stepped over the debris and half ran, half flew up the stairs to Duke Humfrey’s.
“Auntie!” Gallowglass shouted.
“Diana Bishop! Have you lost your mind?” Months of reduced cigarette consumption meant that Sarah was making good progress pursuing me.
“No!” I shouted back. “And if I use my magic, I won’t lose Matthew either.”
“Lose Matthew?” Sarah slid on the slick floor on her way into Duke Humfrey’s, where Fernando, Gallowglass, and I were waiting. “Who suggested such a thing?”
“The goddess. She told me I would have to give something up if I wanted Ashmole 782,” I explained. “But it wasn’t Matthew.”
The feeling of absence had been replaced by a blooming sensation of released power that banished any remaining worries.
“Corra, fly!” I spread my arms wide, and my firedrake screeched into the room, zooming around the galleries and down the long aisle that connected the Arts End and the Selden End.
“What was it, then?” Linda asked. She’d taken the stairs at a more sedate pace and arrived in time to watch Corra’s tail pat Thomas Bodley’s helmet.
My mother had warned me of its power, but I had misunderstood, as children often do. I’d thought it was the fear of others that I needed to guard against, but it was my own terror. Because of that misunderstanding, I’d let the fear take root inside me until it clouded my thoughts and affected how I saw the world.
Fear had also choked out any desire to work magic. It had been my crutch and my cloak, keeping me from exercising my power completely. Fear had sheltered me from the curiosity of others and provided an oubliette where I could forget who I really was: a witch. I’d thought I’d left fear behind me months ago when I learned I was a weaver, but I had been clinging to its last vestiges without knowing it.
Corra dropped down on a current of air, extending her talons forward and beating her wings to slow herself. I grabbed the pages from and held them up to her nose. She sniffed.
The firedrake’s roar of outrage filled the room, rattling the stained glass. Though she had spoken to me seldom since our first encounter in Goody Alsop’s house, preferring to communicate in sounds and gestures, Corra chose to speak now.
“Death lies heavy on those pages. Weaving and bloodcraft, too.” She shook her head as if to rid her nostrils of the scent.
“Did she say bloodcraft?” Sarah’s curiosity was evident.
“We’ll ask the beastie questions later,” Gallowglass said, his voice grim.
“These pages come from a book. It’s somewhere in this library. I need to find it.” I focused on Corra rather than the background chatter. “My only hope of getting Matthew back may be inside it.”
“And if I bring you this terrible book, what then?” Corra blinked, her eyes silver and black. I was reminded of the goddess, and of Jack’s rage-filled gaze.
“You want to leave me,” I said with sudden understanding. Corra was a prisoner just as I had been a prisoner, spellbound with no means to escape.
“Like your fear, I cannot go unless you set me free,” Corra said. “I am your familiar. With my help you have learned how to spin what was, weave what is, and knot what must be. You have no more need of me.”
But Corra had been with me for months and, like my fear, I had grown used to relying on her.
“What if I can’t find Matthew without your help?”
“My power will never leave you.” Corra’s scales were brilliantly iridescent, even in the library’s darkness. I thought of the shadow of the firedrake on my lower back and nodded. Like the goddess’s arrow and my weaver’s cords, Corra’s affinity for fire and water would always be within me.
“Where will you go?” I asked.
“To ancient, forgotten places. There I will await those who will come when their weavers release them. You brought the magic back, as it was foretold. Now I will no longer be the last of my kind, but the first.” Corra’s exhale steamed in the air between us.
“Bring me the book, then go with my blessing.” I looked deep into her eyes and saw her yearning to be her own creature. “Thank you, Corra. I may have brought the magic back, but you gave it wings.”
“And now it is time for you to use them,” Corra said. With three beats of her own spangled, webbed appendages, she climbed to the rafters.
“Why is Corra flying around up here?” Sarah hissed. “Send her down the conveyor-belt shaft and into the library’s underground storage rooms. That’s where the book is.”
“Stop trying to shape the magic, Sarah.” Goody Alsop had taught me the dangers of thinking you were smarter than your own power. “Corra knows what she’s doing.”
“I hope so,” Gallowglass said, “for Matthew’s sake.”
Corra sang out notes of water and fire, and a low, hushed chattering filled the air.
“Do you hear it?” I asked, looking around for the source. It wasn’t the pages on the guard’s desk, though they were starting to murmur, too.
My aunt shook her head.
Corra circled the oldest part of Duke Humfrey’s. The murmurs grew louder with every beat of her wings.
“I hear it,” Linda said, excited. “A hum of conversation. It’s coming from that direction.”
Fernando hopped over the lattice barrier into the main aisle of Duke Humfrey’s. I followed after him.
“The Book of Life can’t be up here,” Sarah protested. “Someone would have noticed.”
“Not if it’s hiding in plain sight,” I said, pulling priceless books off a nearby shelf, opening them to examine their contents, then sliding each back into place only to grasp another. The voices still cried out, calling to me, begging me to find them.
“Auntie? I think Corra found your book.” Gallowglass pointed.
Corra was perched on the barred cage of the book hold, where the manuscripts were locked away and stored for patrons to use the following day. Her head was inclined as though she were listening to the still-chattering voices. She cooed and clucked in response, her head bobbing up and down.
Fernando had followed the sound to the same place and was standing behind the call desk where Sean spent his days. He was looking up at one of the shelves. There, next to an Oxford University telephone directory, sat a gray cardboard box so ordinary in appearance that it was begging not to be noticed—though it was pretty eye-catching at the moment, with light seeping out from the joins at the corners. Someone had clipped a curling note to it: “Boxed. Return to stacks after inspection.”
“It can’t be.” But every instinct told me it was.
I held up my hand, and the box tipped backward and landed in my palm. I lowered it carefully to the desk. When I took my hands from it, the lid blew off, landing several feet away. Inside, the metal clasps were straining to hold the book closed.
Gently, aware of the many creatures within it, I lifted Ashmole 782 out of its protective carton and laid it down on the wooden surface. I rested my hand flat on the cover. The chattering ceased.
Choose, the many voices said as one.
“I choose you,” I whispered to the book, releasing the clasps on Ashmole 782. Their metal was warm and comforting to the touch. My father, I thought.
Linda thrust the pages that belonged in in my direction.
Slowly, deliberately, I opened the book to the first page. The three stubs that remained from where Edward Kelley had damaged the books were just visible. I fitted the illustration of the chemical wedding into the spine, pressing the edge to its stub. It knit itself together before my eyes, its severed threads joining up once more.
Lines of text raced across the page.
I took up the illumination of the orobouros and the firedrake shedding their blood to create new life and put it in its place.
A strange keening rose from the book. Corra chattered in warning.
Without hesitation and without fear, I slid the final page into Ashmole 782. was once more whole and complete.
A bloodcurdling howl tore what remained of the night in two. A wind rose at my feet, climbing up my body and lifting the hair away from my face and shoulders like strands of fire.
The force of the air turned the pages of the book, flipping them faster and faster. I tried to stop their progress, pressing my fingers against the emerging text so that I could read the words. But there were too many to comprehend. Chris’s student was right. wasn’t simply a text.
It was a vast repository of knowledge: creature names and their stories, births and deaths, curses and spells, miracles wrought by magic and blood.
It was the story of us—weavers and the vampires who carried blood rage in their veins and the extraordinary children who were born to them.
It told me not only of my predecessors going back countless generations. It told me how such a miraculous creation was possible.
I struggled to absorb the tale told as the pages turned.
[FB: Author didn’t want to clutter up these passages with quote marks, which are required for grammar reasons. So I’ve styled each one as 06 Extract 1P. Over to you.]
Here begins the lineage of the ancient tribe known as the Bright Born. Their father was Eternity and their mother Change, and Spirit nurtured them in her womb. . . .
My mind raced, trying to identify the alchemical text that was so similar.
. . . for when the three became one, their power was boundless as the night. . . .
And it came to pass that the absence of children was a burden to the Athanatoi. They sought the daughters. . . .
Whose daughters? I tried to stop the pages, but it was impossible.
. . . discovered that the mystery of bloodcraft was known to the Wise Ones.
What was bloodcraft?
On and on went the words, racing, twining, twisting. Words split in two, formed other words, mutating and reproducing at a furious pace.
There were names, faces, and places torn from nightmares and woven into the sweetest of dreams.
Their love began with absence and desire, two hearts becoming one. . . .
I heard a whisper of longing, a cry of pleasure, as the pages continued to turn.
. . . when fear overcame them, the city was bathed in the blood of the Bright Born.
A howl of terror rose from the page, followed by a child’s frightened whimper.
. . . the witches discovered who among them had lain with the Athanatoi. . . .
I pressed my hands against my ears, wanting to block out the drumbeat litany of names and more names.
[des: nothing in the palette for this. Have styled it 14 Free Style 1 and have left the indents as the author had them. The author says: Each line should be indented one more increment that the others, like this, so they give the
sensation of pages turning and passing by your eyes.]
Lost . . .
Forgotten . . .
Feared . . .
Outcast . . .
[END SPECIAL TYPE FORMATTING]
As the pages flew before my eyes, I could see the intricate weaving that had made the book, the ties that bound each page to lineages whose roots lay in the distant past.
When the last page turned, it was blank.
Then new words began to appear there as though an unseen hand were still writing, her job not yet complete.