Excerpt: Anywhere but Here
Bookburners: Episode 2
By Brian Francis Slattery, Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, and Mur Lafferty
“Welcome to the Black Archives of the Societas Librorum Occultorum. Come in. The others are waiting.”
Asanti guided Sal and Menchú through the towers of books, talking as she went.
“The library was built in the 1400s—the architecture gives that away, don’t you think?—when the Society’s collection grew a little too large and a little too dangerous to have in broad daylight, or just sitting in some monastery. Take a left. No, the other left. That’s it. We are now in the only central chamber of the library. There are seven chambers radiating off of this one. Each one has a small antechamber, with the larger rooms beyond that. Just in case something gets out in the library, you understand, and we need to seal it in.”
Sal glanced back at the staircase. Now it looked like a strand of DNA, ascending into the gloom until it disappeared in the middle of the ceiling.
“Let me guess,” Sal said. “The antechambers are really small, awkward spaces.”
“That’s right,” Asanti said.
“Like the room at the top of the stairs.”
“Exactly,” Asanti said.
“The idea being that at least some of the things that get out of the books, if they get out, are too big to fit in those spaces.”
Asanti looked back at Menchú. “I see why you brought her on,” she said.
“How often do they get out?” Sal asked.
Asanti and Menchú looked at each other.
“It hasn’t happened yet, on our watch,” Menchú said.
“And before that?” Sal said.
“The last one was centuries ago,” Asanti said. “We’ve learned to take far more precautions now.”
They came to the clearing Sal had seen from the stairs. There was a wide oriental rug on the stone floor. Liam was sitting on a couch. He gave Sal a quick, friendly smile. Grace was standing by a coffee table, her arms folded. An easy chair next to the coffee table was empty. Lamps balanced on stacks of books, which functioned as end tables. At the far end of the rug was a desk, with another wooden chair behind it.
On the desk—besides still more books and a phone that looked about fifty years old with a compact switchboard attached to it, and a small lamp—was a faintly glowing orb, housed in a glass case, hooked up to a contraption of wires, gears, and screens.
“What’s that?” Sal asked.
“Cuts to the chase, doesn’t she?” Liam said.
Grace nodded with approval.
“This,” Asanti said, “is how we get our assignments.”
“What, do you shake it up?” Sal said. “Like a Magic 8 Ball?”
“Unbelievable that I never thought of that before,” Liam said.
Grace and Menchú both looked at Liam.
“What is she talking about?” Grace said.
“It’s this . . .” Liam mimed shaking an 8 Ball.
“What, like a cantaloupe?” Grace said.
“No,” Liam said. “You ask it questions, like you’re using it to tell fortunes.”
“You use a cantaloupe to tell people’s fortunes?” Menchú said.
“No, it’s . . .”
“Can we move on, please?” Grace said. Sal nodded. This woman is speaking my language.
“Yes, let’s,” Asanti said. “We just call it the Orb. It alerts us when a new magical force appears in the world.”
“I don’t follow,” Sal said.
“It could be that some magical event has occurred. It could be that some sort of creature has . . . emerged from wherever they emerge from. Or that someone has cast a powerful spell. Or it could be as simple as someone opening a magic book.”
“Opening a book where?” Sal said.
“Anywhere,” Asanti said. “Anywhere in the world.”