Home > The Burning Page (The Invisible Library #3)(6)

The Burning Page (The Invisible Library #3)(6)
Author: Genevieve Cogman

That was the diplomatic way of putting it. The Library was neutral and stayed out of the way of both dragons and Fae, unless their interests came into direct conflict – usually over the ownership of a book, or an immediate life-or-death situation. They certainly weren’t going to formally ally themselves with either side. It would be highly inappropriate for a Librarian to be living as a paid dependant of one of the dragon kings.

Irene’s immediate reaction was a bit more visceral. She didn’t object to Li Ming in person. He was always courteous and diplomatic, and while he was here to watch over Kai, he did so very discreetly and didn’t stop Kai going on jobs like the current one. But Irene was absolutely certain that in the long run Li Ming wanted Kai away from the Library and going back to his previous role as dragon princeling, with Irene either installed as a favoured servant or out of the picture. Which was fair enough. But in the end, it was going to be Kai’s choice.

Kai was silent for ten minutes, probably reviewing his strategy. ‘What if I was paying for it?’ he suggested.

‘With money you got from Li Ming? Sorry, that won’t wash.’

‘You’re treating this as a major issue.’ Kai curved downwards: there was enough gravity to make it perceptible as ‘down’ rather than ‘up’, and Irene was grateful for that, since she was having enough trouble as it was in reconciling her perceptions with reality. ‘I just want to protect you. So does Li Ming. So does my uncle. He views you as a suitable friend for me. Why can’t you understand that?’

‘As your friend, I’m grateful for that.’ It would have been too blatant a kick in the teeth to say I don’t need your protection or Last time I was the one protecting you. Plus there was the fact that Kai was the one who’d just rescued her, less than an hour ago. ‘But as a Librarian, I can’t accept it. Not in that way.’

Kai growled, and Irene felt the vibration underneath her, down the length of his body. ‘You aren’t making this easy!’

‘I’m sure I’m not,’ Irene said. ‘Have you asked Vale about any of this?’

The dead silence in response was indicative. Vale was a number of things: he was London’s greatest detective in the alternate world where they were living, and he was a good friend of Kai’s, and – Irene thought – not entirely unattached to Irene herself. He was also very similar to a certain fictional Great Detective, but Irene didn’t like to bring that up in conversation.

‘Is that a “Yes and he said no”?’ Irene enquired. ‘Or just a plain “No”?’

‘Since when did you become so involved in my relationships?’ Kai rumbled, with a deepening undertone of anger.

‘He’s my friend too,’ Irene said.

For a moment Kai was silent. Irene was congratulating herself on having found a conversation-stopper when he suggested, ‘I don’t mind you having a relationship with Vale, you know.’

‘How very open-minded of you,’ Irene muttered.

‘It wouldn’t hinder our friendship, of course,’ Kai went on blithely. ‘Nor would it matter if you were bedding me as well. I know you say that you feel that would be inappropriate, as mentor to student, but among my kind it would be considered quite natural. And if you’d like some suggestions about how to approach Vale . . .’

‘Kai,’ Irene said through gritted teeth. ‘Drop the subject. Please.’

‘We’re almost home in any case.’ The air around them was a deepening blue-green and the air was thicker in Irene’s lungs, almost difficult to breathe. ‘Brace yourself.’

Irene took a firmer hold of the tendrils of mane. ‘Where will we come out?’ she asked.

‘Why, where I choose.’ Kai sounded almost surprised that she needed to ask. ‘But I’ll make it high enough that we don’t have to worry about zeppelins.’

‘Good thinking,’ Irene said faintly. She hadn’t even envisaged the possibility, until he’d mentioned it. She wasn’t used to thinking in terms of air traffic. What she was thinking about was the ongoing struggle between the Fae and the dragons. This ability to choose exactly where they emerged in an alternate world would mean that the dragons could appear in any place they liked – if it wasn’t for the fact that high-chaos worlds were antithetical to them. Kai had been semi-conscious most of the time they’d been in a very high-chaos Venice, and he’d implied that he’d have been in an even worse condition if he’d been in his draconic form. Probably something similar applied to powerful Fae who had ambitions of invading high-order worlds. It explained why most of the fighting took place in the middle areas, in worlds that were somewhere between the two opposites.

Kai folded his wings close to his body, jerking his head and shoulders as if he was fighting against an oncoming tide. But before Irene could get more than mildly panicked, he roared, the sound reverberating through the empty space around them like an echo chamber. As the noise shuddered through the air, a rift split open in front of them, shattering light in all directions, and Kai dived through it.

They came out above the clouds. It was a very long way down, and bitterly cold. For some reason, Irene’s fear of falling from a height like this was much greater than it had been of falling off in the space between worlds, where the fall could presumably have gone on for infinity. She pressed herself tightly against Kai’s back. Perhaps it’s because I knew that he’d catch me if I’d fallen there, while here . . . I might just hit the ground.

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