Home > Sorcery of Thorns(9)

Sorcery of Thorns(9)
Author: Margaret Rogerson

And her own time was running out.

An arm swept from the darkness, tossing her through the air like a rag doll. A bright shock of pain sparked through her as her shoulder clipped a tree trunk, sending her spinning through the damp grass. She tasted copper, and when she sat up, gasping for breath, her surroundings blurred in and out. A strap of her nightgown hung loose, torn and bloodied. The Malefict’s dark shape towered over her.

It leaned closer. It had a lumpy head, but no face, no features aside from those countless bulging eyes. “An odd girl, you are. Ahhh . . . there’s something about you . . . a reason why you woke tonight, while the others slept. . . .”

The Director’s sword lay in the grass. Elisabeth snatched it up and held it between them. The blade trembled.

“I could help you,” the monster coaxed. “I see the questions inside your head . . . so many questions, and so few answers . . . but I could tell you secrets—oh, such secrets, secrets you cannot imagine, secrets beyond your strangest dreams. . . .”

As if caught in a whirlpool, her thoughts followed its whispers toward some lightless, hungry place—a place from which she knew her mind would not return. She swallowed thickly. Her hand found the key hanging against her chest, and she imagined the Director slamming the grimoire shut, cutting off the monster’s voice. “You are lying,” she declared.

Guttural laughter filled her head. Blindly, she lashed out. The monster heaved back, and Demonslayer whistled harmlessly through the air. Wood splintered behind her as she scrambled away. The Book of Eyes had struck the tree that had stood behind her a moment before, a blow that would have crushed her like a toy.

She fled, stumbling over fallen apples. Disoriented, she nearly smacked into a pale shape that stood between the trees. Something winged and white, with a sad, solemn face eroded by time. A marble angel.

Hope seized her. The statue marked a cache with supplies that could be used by wardens or townspeople during an emergency. She fumbled in the earthen hollow beneath the pedestal until her fingers bumped against a rain-slicked canister.

The Malefict’s voice pursued her. “I will tell you,” it whispered, “the truth of what happened to the Director. Is that a secret you would like to hear? Someone did this, you know . . . someone released me. . . .”

Elisabeth’s fingers froze as she fumbled the canister open.

“I could tell you who it was—apprentice!”

The air rippled with motion, but she reacted too slowly. Slimy leather closed in on her from all sides, capturing her in a squeezing, stinking grip. The monster had caught her. It raised her up, lifting her feet from the ground, surveying her with eyes so near she could see the hemorrhaged veins that traced through them like scarlet threads. The fist began to tighten. Elisabeth felt her ribs bend inward, and her breath escaped in a thin gasp.

This is not how it will end, she thought, struggling against the dark. She was to be a warden, keeper of books and words. She was their friend. Their steward. Their jailer. And if need be, their destroyer.

Her arm came free, and she flung the canister’s contents into the air. The Malefict gave an agonized howl as a cloud of salt enveloped its body. Its grip loosened, and Elisabeth slid from its grasp to land with a sickening crack against the angel statue. She blinked away stars. For a moment she could not move, couldn’t feel her limbs, and wondered if she had broken her back. Then the feeling in her fingers returned in a prickling wash of agony. Demonslayer’s grip pressed against her skin. She hadn’t let go.

Before the monster’s whispers could sink their claws into her again, she rolled onto her side, where she found herself face to face with a giant, filmy blue eye. It was reddened and watering, quivering in pain as it attempted to remain open long enough to focus on her. Using the last of her strength, she dragged herself upright. She raised the Director’s sword above the monster’s body and drove it downward with all her strength, burying it to the hilt in the monster’s greasy hide.

The eye’s pupil expanded, then contracted. “No,” the Malefict gurgled. “No!”

Gouts of ink bubbled from the wound. She clenched her jaw and twisted the blade. The monster heaved, throwing her aside. Demonslayer remained stuck fast in its body, far from her reach, but she no longer needed it. The eyes twitched wildly and then went still, rolling upward, the lids relaxing. As if aging in rapid time, the leather skin began to turn gray, then crack and peel. A cloudy film spread over the eyes. Chunks of its body collapsed inward, sending up fountains of fiery ashes. As she watched, the Malefict disintegrated on the wind.

She remembered what the Director had told her in the vault. This grimoire had been the only one of its kind. She had been responsible for it, and she had destroyed it. She knew she hadn’t had a choice. But still she thought to herself, What have I done?

Ash swirled around her like snow. A brassy ringing filled the air. At last, far too late, the Great Library’s bell had begun to ring.





“THIS IS MADNESS. The girl has done nothing. You know she is innocent—”

“I do not know that, Master Hargrove,” said Warden Finch. “Only two people handled the Book of Eyes when it arrived in Summershall. Now one of them is dead. Tell me, why was Scrivener out of bed when the Malefict broke free?”

Hargrove wheezed a disbelieving laugh. “Are you truly suggesting that Scrivener had something to do with this? That she sabotaged a Class Eight grimoire? Preposterous. What earthly reason would she have to do such a thing?”

“She was found out of bed, out of bounds, with the Director’s sword.”

“Which the Director left to her in her will, for heaven’s sake! It belongs to Scrivener now—”

Elisabeth’s eyelids fluttered. She lay beneath a thin, scratchy blanket in an unfamiliar bed. Not a bed, a cot. Her toes were cold; her feet stuck off the end. The stone wall she faced didn’t belong to her room, and Finch and Hargrove’s argument didn’t make any sense.

“The Director’s keys were missing from her key ring,” Finch growled, “and we found them at the entrance to the vault. Someone took them. Scrivener was the only one there. The library had been secured for the evening—no one else could have gotten inside.”

“I’m certain there’s another explanation.” She had never heard Hargrove so upset, even after the booklouse incident. Sunk halfway into a dream, she envisioned him gesticulating the way he did during his lectures, his fragile, age-spotted hands waving through the air as though he were conducting an orchestra. “We must investigate,” he said, “speak to Scrivener, employ logic to understand what happened last night.”

“I’ve already sent a report to the Magisterium. A priceless grimoire has been destroyed, and the sorcerers will want someone to answer for it. They’ll get the truth from her, one way or another.”

A long silence followed. “Please, I beg you to reconsider.” Hargrove’s voice sounded muffled, as if he had moved off, intimidated into backing away. “The Director trusted Scrivener, even loved her. We both know she wasn’t one for sentiment. Surely that must count for something.”

“It does. It tells me that the Director loved the wrong person, and the mistake killed her. You’re dismissed, Hargrove.”

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