Home > The Burning Page (The Invisible Library #3)(3)

The Burning Page (The Invisible Library #3)(3)
Author: Genevieve Cogman

Kai strode across to one shuttered window, peering down at the street below through the cracks between shutter and wall. He went still, and even in the dim light Irene could see the tension in his shoulders. ‘Irene, I have some bad news.’

Panic would be wasting vital time and energy, however tempting it might be. And the fire made it extremely tempting. ‘Let me guess,’ Irene said. ‘The National Guard has tracked us here.’

‘Yes,’ Kai said. ‘I can see a dozen of them. They’re pointing at the smoke.’

‘I suppose it would have been too much to hope they wouldn’t notice it.’ Irene tried to think of alternatives. ‘If I can stop the fire—’

‘Possible – unless it’s something to do with the Library or chaos,’ Kai pointed out. ‘That’s stopped you using the Language before. Do you know what caused it?’

‘No.’ Irene joined him at the shutter. There was a squad of twenty men and women out there, and the fact that the house was on fire was probably the only thing that had stopped them coming in for the moment. She forced herself to speak with deliberate calmness, ignoring the clenching fear in her belly. ‘Dear me, we must have annoyed them back there. But I’m surprised they followed us so fast.’

‘I think I recognize that one.’ Kai pointed at one of the soldiers. ‘Wasn’t she the one whom you convinced with the Language that we were officials from Paris?’

Irene squinted, then nodded. ‘I think you’re right. It must have worn off faster than usual. Oh well.’

Inwardly, she felt far more disturbed than she was allowing herself to show. It wasn’t the squad of twenty soldiers outside. She could handle that. Well, she and Kai together could. It was the fact that the attempted gate to the Library had been shut down, and in a way that she didn’t recognize or understand. Her current probation status meant that she was getting dirty work and dangerous jobs, such as this little waltz through a totalitarian republic and into their private vaults, to get a unique copy of The Daughter of Porthos by Dumas. But she should have been warned if there was a problem with reaching the Library from this world. It was a simple matter of common safety. If someone had deliberately sent her out here without telling her . . .

There would be time to settle that later. For the moment, they were in a burning house with angry soldiers outside. Par for the course. ‘Out the back door, then, before the first floor’s impassable,’ she said.

There was a crash behind them.

‘That was the stairs,’ Kai said, deadpan.

CHAPTER TWO

‘Right.’ It was amazing how being cut off by advancing flames focused the mind. And not just in the way that the first cup of coffee in the morning helped one concentrate, but more in the way that a magnifying glass directed all the minor fears into a single laser beam of pure terror. Irene had never particularly liked fire. More than that, the idea of fire getting loose among her books was a particular nightmare. Being caught in a conflagration was near the top of her Top Ten Ways I Don’t Want to Die. ‘We break the shutters on this floor, go out, surrender, and escape later.’

‘Just like that?’

Irene raised an eyebrow. ‘Unless you have a better idea?’

‘Actually, I do.’ Kai sounded half-proud, half-defiant, but overall determined. ‘We don’t need to come back here, so it doesn’t matter what they know. I’ll change form and carry us both out of this world.’

This threw Irene off-balance. It wasn’t something she had remotely expected. Kai hadn’t bothered keeping his heritage as a dragon secret from her – at least, not after she’d found out about it – but he very rarely offered to do anything that would involve using it. And she’d never seen him in full dragon form before. ‘They’ve got rifles,’ she pointed out practically.

Kai snorted. Or perhaps that was the smoke. Which was admittedly getting thicker. Thank heavens there were no books in here to be burned now. She was a Librarian, after all: destruction of any books was loathsome. ‘Rifles are no threat to me, in my proper form.’

Irene nearly said But what about me?, although she managed to shut her mouth before it could get out. It was their only hope right now, after all. ‘Right,’ she said after a moment. ‘Do we have enough space in here?’

‘Outside would be easier,’ Kai said. More smoke was drifting up between the floorboards, and the crackling of flames was getting louder. ‘But there’s just enough room in here. Please stay back against the wall.’

Irene thrust the book inside her coat and stayed beside the window, her back pressed against the wall, as Kai walked out towards the centre of the floor. She did wonder if changing to a dragon was going to involve a loss of clothing, then mentally scolded herself for getting distracted at a moment of crisis. But she didn’t look away.

Kai stopped and raised his arms, his back arching as he went up on his toes. But the movement didn’t end there. The air seemed to thicken in the room, growing denser and more real in a way that outweighed the smoke. The light spilling through the holes in the roof grew heavier, glowing around him as his form shifted. Dazzle stung Irene’s eyes, and she had to blink for a moment, however hard she tried to keep watching.

When she could see clearly again, Kai wasn’t human any more.

Of all the pictures of dragons that Irene had ever seen, he looked the closest to the images in some of the older Chinese works. He lay in a serpentine knot of dark blue coils, his wings folded against the side of his body. Where the light struck him, his scales were the clear dark sapphire of the deep ocean in daylight, and the traceries of scales along his body were like the ripples on the surface of a river. She thought he might be thirty feet or more long, fully outstretched, but it was hard to judge with him coiled up inside the room and in the smoke. His eyes were red as rubies now, with a light that didn’t need the sun to burn, and as he opened his mouth she saw a great many sharp white carnivorous teeth.

   
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