Home > Something Strange and Deadly(17)

Something Strange and Deadly(17)
Author: Susan Dennard

He appeared in my field of view: messy blond hair, bright green eyes, and concern wrinkling down his brow. He and the rest of the library looked exactly as they would without the goggles. Only the armchair remained dark and indistinguishable.

“What is it?” he asked.

“I think... I think...” I dropped my voice to a whisper. “I think the Dead were here.”

Daniel slid the goggles off my face, brushing his fingers along my jawbone in the process. I gasped in surprise. His fingers were rough and warm.

He pressed the lenses to his eyes and whistled softly. “You’re right.”

My heart thumped with a nervous hope. I grabbed at Daniel’s coat sleeve. “Maybe my brother was here,” I breathed. “This was our chair, and... all his letters had energy on them, so maybe Elijah’s covered in residue too and leaving it behind.”

He removed the goggles and stroked his jaw and stared at my hand on his sleeve. Then his eyes shifted to my face. “It’d be possible if he was around it, but... but still, it shouldn’t leave such a strong signal. The magnetic powder is clumpin’ so tight that it’s like a walking corpse is sitting there now. This is a lot of energy, and it’s fresh.”

“Come on then.” I ignored his bark of surprise and hauled him by the coat toward the circular desk. Perhaps someone had seen who had been there.

I asked the same librarian from before. “Did anyone sit in that chair recently?” I pointed back. “The red one near the private collections room.”

Daniel planted his hands on the desk. “Someone within the last two days. And whoever it was would’ve been there awhile.”

She gnawed at her lip. “Yes, I do recall a man there yesterday.”

“What did he look like?” I said.

“He was young. And big.” She tapped her shoulders. “Broad.”

“Bigger than him?” I cocked my head toward Daniel.

The librarian assessed my companion and then flashed him an approving grin. “Oh yes, this man was bigger.” She ran her tongue over her lips. “But you’re taller.”

“Did he have spectacles?” I pressed.

“No. No spectacles.” Her eyes stayed locked on Daniel.

“Is there anything else you remember?” I said urgently.

The woman puffed out her lips and ignored me, clearly flirting with Daniel.

I glanced at Daniel, hoping he would back me up, but all I found was a smug lift to his eyebrow.

“Focus!” I banged the desk with my fist, and they both flinched. Did they not see the importance of this situation? I trembled with anxious energy, and I needed answers. “Was there anything else distinguishing about this man?”

“Well...” Her eyes roamed around, but at last she nodded primly. “Come to think of it, yes. The man was filthy.”

I leaned over the desk. “How filthy?”

She sniffed and curled her lips. “As in, I doubt very much he had bathed in the last year. He was covered in dirt, his suit was abominable, and he stank.”

Daniel and I exchanged a wide-eyed glance. What she described sounded like one of the Dead. A fresh corpse perhaps. Elijah’s? No, no. A big man, she said. Elijah was small. No extra girth like his sister.

“What was he reading?” Daniel asked.

“He took all the information we have on the Centennial Exhibition.”

Daniel’s brows drew together. “Did he ask for it?”

“No. He simply took the books we have laid out for Exhibition visitors. Then he went and sat in that chair.” Her eyes thinned and hardened. “Why are you asking so many questions?”

I didn’t answer, for I had spotted the display of Exhibition books on the desk. “He took those?”

At the woman’s nod, I swept them up and scampered back toward the armchair. The Dead had been here, and we were onto something! I could feel it. We were about to discover some critical piece in all these puzzles. My energy overflowed, and I didn’t care if I looked like a fool frolicking through the library.

Daniel trotted beside me, and when we reached the chair, I tossed the books haphazardly on the seat and inspected their titles. They were all guides to the sights, buildings, and items of the Exhibition.

“So the necromancer wants something at the Exhibition,” I murmured.

When Daniel offered no response, I glanced up to find him rubbing the goggles against his coat and gazing toward the center of the library. I whipped my head that way. The librarian was at the receiving end of his stare.

A choked yell broke from my mouth, and I launched a book at his chest. “Help me!”

“Oi!” He jerked around. “Watch it! You almost broke my goggles.”

“And you’re wasting time! We have work to do.”

His back stiffened and his face turned pink. “Why are you so ornery all of a sudden? I’ll work in my own sweet—” He broke off midsentence, and the storm vanished from his face. He eyed me knowingly. “I see how it is. Her Majesty is jealous.”

I stamped my foot, ready to declare my exact opinion of that comment, but my words froze, trapped in my throat.

A film of frost was forming on the goggles.

“Spirit,” I tried to say, but the bone-deep cold reached me then, snaking under my gown and stabbing into my flesh.

I stumbled into Daniel and clutched at his shoulders.

“Spirit,” I tried again. “Here.”

His pupils grew, consuming the green of his eyes. He said only one word: “Run.”

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Daniel heaved me back toward the center of the library.

“Dead!” he roared. “The Dead are here! Get out!”

First came whimpers, then shrieks as the people near us flew for the exit. Their feet stampeded on the pine planks.

I yanked free of Daniel and ran to the nearest fire alarm, which dangled on the western wall between two rows of shelves, just out of reach above my head. My eyes caught on a footstool nearby, and I scrambled to it.

“Dead!” Daniel continued bellowing, and then Joseph’s voice joined in.

I dragged the stool to the wall, but a sudden blast of cold surged behind me. I froze midstep and turned my head slowly.

There it was. The bodiless, lightless creature my mother had let loose. It was far worse than I remembered. Blacker, deeper, and radiating death.

I threw myself toward the nearest shelf as splinters exploded. The spirit had smashed into the stool. I bolted out of the aisle and ran for the entrance, where I saw Joseph run and leap into the fountain.

A plaster bust whizzed past my head, missing me by inches. It smashed to the floor and sprayed white dust everywhere.

I didn’t pause, but ran faster toward the front of the library. A sound like agonized fury followed me. It ripped through the air, so high-pitched it barely registered in my ears yet set my skin crawling.

I reached the fountain just as Jie skidded to a halt beside me. Joseph stood as he had the other day, arms extended and eyes squeezed shut. The spirit was nowhere to be seen.

“It moves between the realms,” Joseph said through clenched teeth. “It jumps back and forth. As long as it hovers in the spirit realm, we cannot see or touch it.”

“But how can it do that?” I asked.

“The spirit is strong—stronger than before. The curtain between worlds is no longer a barrier for it.”

“But I can see it,” Daniel said. “With the goggles—I can see it even though it’s in the other world. There!” He pointed back to the circular desk in the center of the library. “It’s there.”

“How do we stop it?” Jie asked.

“I need electricity,” Joseph said. “I can do nothing without a source.”

Daniel yanked off the goggles. “This place ain’t powered. We’ve gotta find something else.”

The black clot formed like a sudden thundercloud over the desk. Daniel shoved me behind him.

Books flew off the desk and hurled toward us. Jie sprang up and intercepted them with fists and flying kicks, and the books pounded to the floor one after the other.

The darkness winked back out.

“It must stay in our realm,” Joseph murmured. Sweat beaded on his brow, and his face was twisted with concentration and effort. “Lure it out or I cannot affect it.”

“Here.” Daniel shoved the goggles in Jie’s hands. “You cover us.” He turned to me. “You look for quartz. Like a prism or part of a small decoration.”

“Quartz?” The word tasted heavy on my tongue—I didn’t see the logic. “Why do you—”

“It’s a power source,” he snapped. “D’you know of any here?”

“N-no.”

“Then you have to look around. Maybe it’s part of a [illegible] or some other bauble.”

“What will you do?” I asked.

“See what other electricity I can find. Now go.” He shoved me toward the western side and darted off toward the east.

I jumped into action, scrambling to the first aisle of shelves, but a quick scan showed only books.

A thump and the flap of pages resounded behind me. I whirled around just as a dictionary thudded at my feet. I jerked my gaze up and saw that Jie had stopped it. But only barely. I had to trust her instincts to protect me.

I rushed from that row and on to the next.

“Down!” Jie screamed, and somehow I reacted. I dropped to the floor, and a crash suddenly filled my ears. Shards of plaster and white powder rained down around me.

That figurine would have killed me.

The thought set me moving again. I raced to the next row of shelves and spared a glance across the room. Daniel seemed no better off than I. He was covered in soil as if he’d survived a potted plant attack.

I skittered into the next aisle, but the spirit was already there. Waiting, its shape like a twisting shadow in the hazy light.

I tried to stop, windmilling my arms to keep from tumbling forward.

In that moment as I fought for my balance, time seemed to stop. This couldn’t end here. Not now, not after we’d finally found a clue about the Exhibition guides and the Dead at the library.

I grasped at a shelf, and my eyes lit on a book spine.

The Nature and Presence of Amethyst.

I knew, deep in the back of my mind, that this meant something. But what?

Darkness consumed my vision, and the stench of grave dirt invaded my nose. Time surged back to its racing pace.

Before me, the spirit grew into a hulking, long-armed shadow. It slithered forward. Death. A creature of fear.

Then it clicked into place. Amethyst. Quartz. They are the same. Elijah had taught me that.

I wrenched myself around. I didn’t check to see if Death pursued—I just bolted.

“My earrings!” I screamed. “Amethyst!”

Joseph’s eyes flashed open. My feet drummed on the wooden floor as I hurtled toward him and the fountain.

“Amethyst! Quartz!” My voice broke as I strained to run and scream.

“Squeeze them!” Daniel bellowed from the back of the library. “Squeeze them!”

I reached the fountain. I searched over my shoulder, and though I couldn’t see the spirit, I knew from the chill that it hovered in the spirit world nearby.

“Come out!” I whirled around, thrusting my head forward and my shoulders back. “Come and get me! I’m right here!”

The spirit winked into being directly before me. Piercing cold and corrupt darkness. The high-pitched shriek stabbed at me again, burning into the crevices of my brain.

I faltered, tripping backward. My calves hit the lip of the fountain, and then a hand planted against my back.

Joseph, standing in the fountain, ripped my hair aside and clasped my earring.

Instantly, a ripple like hot, thick oil ran under my skin from my earlobe. My muscles started to twitch, and my heart beat faster and faster. A weak blue light snaked across my vision, filling the air with a crackling pop. The light flashed again—stronger and booming like thunder. It hit the spirit but was sucked in.

Again the blue lightning. Again it was consumed.

I felt as if my veins would burst, as if my brain were too large for my head. The agony bit into my bones so deeply that I thought they would surely snap. And still my heart beat faster.

Another blue crack, but this time it hit the clotted shadow and remained a flowing line of electricity. A thousand veins of blue sizzled over the spirit and down to the floor.

Just as my brain screamed for this hot oil to leave my skin, for my heart to slow, that I could take no more, a howl of pain erupted from Joseph’s mouth. The lines of blue lightning stopped. The darkness was gone.

Joseph and I lay on the floor of the library entrance, leaning against the fountain’s lip. Beneath his legs, a pool of water grew as his trousers dripped dry.

I brushed halfheartedly at the white powder on my gown. It must have come from the plaster bust that had nearly smashed my head in.

“What did you do?” I asked. “With my earring, I mean.”

“I cannot say.” Joseph smiled weakly. “I do not know how it worked, but squeezing your earring gave me a source of electricity, and I used it.”

Daniel knelt before us. “Quartz is piezoelectric. Mechanical stress creates an electric current.”

I reached up and stroked the amethysts. “Oh.” He made it sound so simple.

“Although,” he added, “I never expected that much power. How were you able to magnify it so much, Joseph?”

“I do not know,” Joseph said. “I was also surprised by the strength of the electric source.” He tapped his chin and gazed at me. “I wonder...”

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