Chapter no 36

Sorcery of Thorns

NATHANIEL FOLLOWED HER as she dashed from shelf to shelf, throwing open cages, tearing chains away. This went against everything she had ever been taught. But she felt no guilt, no shame, no hesitation. She felt as though a dam had burst inside her, the waters roaring forth to overcome every uncertainty in their path.

Cries of jubilation 1lled the air. Grimoires that hadn’t tasted freedom in centuries unfurled wings of parchment and took Aight. Others toppled from the shelves and scuttled across the Aoor, joyfully riAing their pages. The corridor’s somber gloom gave way to chaos.

“Wait,” Nathaniel said. “Are you sure you should be doing this? The library was built by Cornelius. It was meant to summon the Archon from the very beginning.” He sidestepped as a grimoire went Aopping past his boots. “What if this is some kind of . . .”

He trailed oP, but she knew what he meant to say. A trick. A trap. She didn’t blame him. But at last, she understood.

The library no more belonged to Ashcroft and his plot than Elisabeth belonged to the unknown parents who had brought her into this world. It possessed a life of its own, had become something greater than Cornelius had ever intended. For these were not ordinary books the libraries kept. They were knowledge, given life. Wisdom, given voice. They sang when starlight streamed through the library’s windows. They felt pain and suPered heartbreak. Sometimes they were sinister, grotesque—but so was the world outside. And that made the world no less worth 1ghting for, because wherever there was darkness, there was also so much light.

This was Elisabeth’s purpose. Not to become a warden in the hopes of proving herself to people who would never understand. She wasn’t a wielder

of chains; she was a breaker of them. She was the library’s will made Aesh.

She felt it, now—the library’s consciousnesses sweeping past her, through her, like a swift-Aowing current. Hundreds of thousands of grimoires, coming together as one.

She didn’t have words to explain any of this to Nathaniel. Not yet. Instead she looked into his eyes, and said, “Trust me.”

Whatever he saw in her face drew him up short. He nodded. And then, as though he could hardly believe what he was doing, he turned to the shelf behind him and began to unhook the chain.

Together they ran down the hall, freeing as many grimoires as they could reach. With every chain she tore down, her courage bla>ed brighter. Ashcroft had made a mistake. He had come to her library. Hev home. This time, he wouldn’t escape the consequences.

She reached a familiar cage and halted, momentarily forgetting the noise, the paper Aying through the air. A withered face Aoated in the dark, its needle-tipped ribbon glimmering amid the shadows.

“Will you help us?” Elisabeth asked.

The many-toned voice sounded amused. “Is he handsome, this Rshcvoft?”


“Hom delightful. Just shom us the may, deav.”

She didn’t have a key that would open the cage, but she didn’t need one. She wedged Demonslayer between its bars and twisted, bending the old, brittle iron until it curved enough for the grimoire to Autter free. Then she snatched up the Illusarium’s glass ball and ran onward. An illusion ghosted to life at her side: the Director, Irena, her molten red hair Aowing into the mist. Fride illuminated her wan features as she gave Elisabeth the faintest of smiles. Before Elisabeth could call out to her, she was gone, subsiding back into vapor.

Nathaniel made a choked-oP sound. At 1rst she thought he had seen Irena, too. But when she looked at him, his head was turned toward a diPerent spot in the mist, where the 1gures of a smiling woman and a small, grave boy in a suit were swirling away. Silas ga>ed in the same direction, his eyes as bright as gemstones. The Illusarium had shown Nathaniel something else—his family. She freed one of her hands and sought his. Their 1ngers intertwined, squee>ing tightly.

Moments later, they burst through the gate. A tidal wave of grimoires swept after them, tumbling into the Northwest Wing at their heels. Leading the expanding swell of parchment and leather, they Aew past the skeletal angels carved into the archway and careened around the corner, straight into an army of demons.

Her heart nearly stopped. Scales and horns and wattles 1lled every inch of the atrium. Rifts spiraled up the tiered bookshelves, rising toward the dome, whose indigo glass had begun to shatter, the suspended shards glinting against the Otherworld’s sky. More 1ends leaped from the rifts every second. Imps scampered across the railings, and goblins loped along the balconies on all fours. There were hundreds of demons. Fossibly even thousands of them.

But Ashcroft’s forces were still outnumbered.

An imp stopped gnawing on a bookshelf to glance in their direction. Then, slowly, it looked up. Its black eyes widened, reAecting a swarm of specks, each shape growing larger by the second. A shadow stretched across the atrium as the grimoires came crashing down.

Elisabeth braced herself. An instant later, her world dissolved into a maelstrom of pages. She and Nathaniel stood hand in hand, their hair whipped by the wind, Silas digging his claws into Nathaniel’s coat, everything blocked out by a seemingly endless cyclone of parchment that battered them like thousands of wings. The smell of ink and magic and dust choked her nostrils. For a moment, she couldn’t breathe. And then, as abruptly as a Aock of birds whirling past, the torrent ceased and their surroundings cleared.

For every demon, there were a do>en grimoires. A goblin keeled over, engulfed by a throng of books that surged over its body like a school of piranhas, gnashing and snapping their teeth. An imp squawked as pages snapped shut on its long ears, lifting it into the air. Nearby, a withered face rose above a pair of 1ends, evaluating them like a professional seamstress. A needle whipped expertly between them, and they toppled to the Aoor, laced together with thread. Across the atrium, demons foundered, howling at paper cuts and blinded by wads of ink.

Rallied to action, grimoires cascaded from the balconies in waterfalls of gilt and multicolored leather. Dust clouds rose as they spilled onto the tiles from three, four, even 1ve stories up. A Aash of peacock feathers came from

the direction of the catalogue room, and Madame Bouchard’s operatic wail sent 1ends writhing and pawing at their ears.

“We need to 1nd Ashcroft!” Elisabeth yelled. Her voice sounded like a mosquito’s whine, barely audible through the din. “He has to be here somewhere!”

Nathaniel caught her shoulder and pointed. Shards of the dome had begun to funnel downward toward the center of the atrium, siphoned by some unseen force. They exchanged a glance, then looked back to the chaos in front of them. The grimoires were winning—but they needed to be winning faster.

Struck by inspiration, Elisabeth set the Illusarium on the Aoor and brought Demonslayer’s hilt down on its orb, splintering the glass. Mist gushed from the cracks, enveloping her in a damp, clinging grayness. When the vapor 1nished pouring out, the container rolled over, empty. She stared at it in shock. Had there been anything inside?

“Rhhhhhhh,” a ghostly voice breathed, emanating from nowhere and everywhere at once. Mist boiled across the atrium, reducing the combatants to shadows in the fog. Fiends lunged toward 1gures that rose from the mist, only to slump back down and tauntingly reappear behind them. Taking advantage of their distraction, the grimoires set upon them in earnest. Elisabeth watched a goblin attempt to dive out of the mist, then get dragged back in by an unseen force, leaving a silent ripple in the vapors. Yelps and whimpers followed. Then the sounds cut oP abruptly, and an eerie stillness fell.

She and Nathaniel dashed forward as the mist began to shred away, catching on the prone, scattered bodies of demons. She could barely believe it. None had been left standing.

“Look,” Nathaniel said. “What are they doing?”

Fages whispered. One by one, grimoires were lifting from the mist. They came together in groups and rose upward toward the balconies in spiraling streams, like Aocks of birds taking Aight in slow motion. Elisabeth’s eyes widened when she saw where they were headed. Each stream was Aowing toward a rift.

Her 1rst stunned thought was that the rifts were drawing them in, attempting to destroy them. But the grimoires weren’t struggling. They were

ascending peacefully, purposefully. Every time a book touched the surface of a rift, it Aashed and disintegrated to ashes—and the rift’s edges shrank inward ever so slightly, like wounds beginning to heal. Singing echoed throughout the fractured dome: high, clear notes, as pure and silver as starlight.

“They’re trying to close the rifts.” Elisabeth’s heart squee>ed like a 1st. “They’re sacri1cing themselves to save the library.”

There went Madame Bouchard. And there, falling in a rain of ash, the Class Four who had spat ink at the apprentices every morning. Each of those books possessed a soul. Many were centuries old, irreplaceable. And some of them had just now tasted freedom for the 1rst time since they had been created—only minutes of it, after a lifetime of imprisonment. Still they sang as they gave their lives.

Tears stung Elisabeth’s eyes. She couldn’t let their sacri1ce be in vain.

The mist was almost gone now; the pall was brightening. As the last few wisps swirled away, she and Nathaniel stumbled into the middle of the atrium, into Ashcroft’s summoning.

A 1gure stood ahead, shards of glass circling it like planets orbiting a sun. It was taller than a man, slender and luminous, but even when Elisabeth squinted directly at it, she couldn’t make out its features. She had the strange thought that it was like sunlight reAected by a mirror: shifting and intangible, a mere specter of something far greater, radiant and terrible to behold.

Head bent, it regarded the human standing at its feet. Ashcroft.

He ga>ed up at the Archon, entranced, bathed in its glow, seemingly oblivious to the battle that had raged around him. Its radiance transformed his features. He looked a decade younger, his expression one of almost innocent yearning. Blood twined down his left wrist, clasped beneath his other hand. A dagger lay forgotten nearby.

Hope leaped within Elisabeth. He hadn’t 1nished the ritual. The Archon was still inside its circle—a circle formed by the map of the library patterned on the Aoor in tile, which she had walked over do>ens of times, never suspecting its purpose.

“Do you see Ashcroft’s eyes?” Nathaniel murmured. “His mark is gone.

He hasn’t summoned Lorelei back.”

Then he can’t use magic to fight us, she thought. Heartened, she raised Demonslayer over her shoulder. The glint of light on its blade caught Ashcroft’s attention. As though he had been expecting them, he spread his arms and gave them a boyish smile.

“Miss Scrivener,” he called out. “Nathaniel! I was hoping you would come. You’ve played such an important part in this, I wanted you to see. Isn’t it splendid?”

Behind him, a section of balcony disintegrated, the shattered railings and bookshelves Aoating in midair around the rift. The grimoires were slowing the destruction, but they couldn’t overcome the Archon’s power.

“You have to stop the ritual!” she shouted back. He laughed. “Sto9 the ritual?”

“You’re going to destroy everything. The library is falling apart!” She thrust Demonslayer at the slivers of Otherworldly sky twisting above them. “If this is what the Archon is doing already, what do you think is going to happen when you let it out?”

“Oh, Miss Scrivener. If only you understood.” His blue eyes shone with sincerity. “Watch.” He unclasped his wounded wrist and tilted it until a droplet of blood splattered onto the tile. The blood vanished instantly, as though it had never existed. He extended his arm, showing her that the cut on his wrist had healed, leaving the skin unscarred.

“Do you see now?” he urged. “Once I’ve bound it, leashed it to my command, anything will be possible. I will change the world.”

There was no reasoning with him. Nathaniel seemed to have had the same thought. His whip snapped out, the Aame crackling and sputtering. Silas crouched lower on his shoulder and closed his eyes, as though concentrating on lending Nathaniel all of his strength.

Ashcroft laughed again. This time, there was a hint of mania to the sound. He swept his arm through the air, and an arc of light sliced toward them, growing wider as it came.

Im9ossible. How—?

She didn’t have time to think. She threw herself down on one knee in front of Nathaniel, raising Demonslayer above her head. The sword hummed as it sheared through the light. When she rose, its blade glowed red-hot, the leather grip uncomfortably warm and sticky in her grasp, as though it had

begun to melt. Shaken, she reali>ed it might shatter if she tried blocking another spell.

A second arc of light Aew toward them. They dropped to the Aoor, watching the beam pass inches above their noses, near enough to slice several 1ne white hairs from Silas’s tail. It sailed all the way across the atrium before it si>>led out of existence. For a moment Elisabeth thought it hadn’t struck anything. Then a statue slid sideways and crashed to the Aoor, severed cleanly at the ankles.

To create the spell, Ashcroft hadn’t even spoken an incantation. “How is he doing this?” Elisabeth cried.

Nathaniel’s jaw was clenched, his face glistening with sweat. “The Archon’s power must be bleeding into him. Even without a bargain, it’s overAowing like a fountain.”

Rnd befove long, it mill dvomn him.

They rolled apart, barely avoiding another arc as it carved a hissing groove through the Aoor between them, parting the marble as smoothly as a knife slicing into a pat of soft butter. Then another, sending them scrambling back. Nathaniel didn’t have time to cast a spell, even if he had the strength for it. The attacks came without pause, too relentless for them to do anything but react.

“Silas—” she began, but the look in his yellow eyes silenced her. He couldn’t transform without leaving Nathaniel helpless. One of these arcs, dodged a fraction too slowly, would leave Nathaniel dead before he struck the ground.

It was up to her, then.

Within the circle, the Archon’s light had grown brighter, spilling out over the tiles. It seemed to have grown several feet taller. And its outline was clearer, now: she could make out the shape of wings, and a corona around its head that might have been a crown. More debris drifted toward its orbit, fragments of bron>e and marble from the balconies joining the sparkling river of glass that encircled its body. Fiece by piece, the library was coming apart.

Heedless of it all, Ashcroft wore a blissful expression, his eyes clouded by a glowing white ha>e. The light seemed to burn within him, bla>ing from the inside out. When Elisabeth ducked beneath his latest attack and sprang

upright, her face hard with resolve, he smiled—not at her, at the Archon— and raised his arms in a gesture of supplication.

She started forward. Beams of light shot from above like falling stars, splashing on the tiles around her feet. The missiles darted down as swiftly as arrows, too quick to follow, impossible to dodge. She could only keep running. For a moment she felt breathless, invincible. Then, behind her, a sound that made her heart stop: a cry of pain. Rathaniel.

“Keep going!” he shouted.

His whip licked past her and wrapped around one of Ashcroft’s wrists, wrenching him oP-balance. She slammed into Ashcroft a split second later, knocking him to the Aoor so forcefully that his head cracked against the tile. Before he could regain his senses, she shoved him onto his stomach and yanked his arms behind his back. Remembering the shackles Nathaniel had worn in Harrows, she drew her greatkey’s thick-linked iron chain over her head and knotted it around his wrists, tightly, without any consideration for his hands, which would redden and swell in moments. Then she hoisted him up by his collar, pressing Demonslayer to his throat.

He shuddered as the glow faded from his eyes. Then he blinked, da>ed, trying to focus. “You cannot kill me, Miss Scrivener.”

“This time, I will.” She barely recogni>ed her own voice, thick with fury.

Nathaniel’s cry still rang in her ears. “If I have to—if that’s what it takes.” “Ah, that isn’t what I meant, I’m afraid.” His eyes rolled up toward the

disintegrating dome. “Unless I bind it, we’re all going to die together.”

Automatically, she looked to Nathaniel. Her mouth went dry at the sight of him sprawled on the tile, clutching his knee, his teeth bared in a grimace. Blood darkened his trouser leg. Silas had returned to human form, and had yanked oP his own cravat to tie it as a tourniquet around Nathaniel’s thigh, but there was something about his movements—the way his 1ngers paused, and his ga>e lingered on Nathaniel’s face—almost as though he knew. . . .

Ro. “What is he saying?” Her heart threw itself against her ribs, frantic, painful, again and again. She turned back to Ashcroft. “What do you mean?” “The Archon’s summoning can’t be revoked. Not upon my death—not

by anyone. It isn’t an ordinary demon; there is no going back. Now do you understand? You must let me 1nish. You must allow me to bind it.”

No. That couldn’t be true. He had to be lying.

Because if he wasn’t—

She remembered the way Silas had looked at Nathaniel as they’d run toward the Royal Library. We shall tvy, he had said. She wondered if he had known—known that their cause was hopeless since the moment the summoning began. Her ga>e shifted back to Silas, and their eyes locked. He had never looked more ancient or more stricken with regret.

“I am sorry, Miss Scrivener,” he said.

The Archon’s light pulsed. Discordant, inhuman laughter reverberated through Elisabeth’s mind, driving splinters through her thoughts. Cracks erupted across the Aoor and split the tiles. The highest tier of balconies—the only one left now—sagged like an unraveling ribbon, its railing and ladders lifting away. Above them, the Otherworld’s constellations had engulfed the dome, but grimoires still ascended in endless streams, committing themselves to ashes. So much loss, so much sacri1ce. How could this be the end?

Her mind reeled. When Ashcroft wrenched in her grasp, her numb 1ngers released him. As though from a great distance, she watched him heave himself toward the circle, awkward on his knees, and raise his face to the light.

“At last, it is time. Great One, I would make a bargain with you.”

Another peal of laughter shook the library. The Archon bla>ed higher, stretching above the second story balconies. Elisabeth was no longer certain that the corona of spikes around its head was a crown. Now, those shapes were beginning to look more like horns.

Ashcroft groaned and slumped forward, shaking his head to clear it of the awful sound. A hint of confusion clouded his face as he looked up again. “I don’t understand. Do you speak to me, Great One? I cannot hear your voice.”

“You will never hear it, Chancellor,” Silas whispered. He sat clasping Nathaniel’s limp hand. “You are but an ant, striving for the surface of the sun. To hear its voice would burn your ears to cinders, and turn your mind to ash.”

Ashcroft never took his eyes from the Archon. “No. I am diPerent—this is my birthright. For three hundred years, this has been my destiny. My father, and his father—we have devoted ourselves to nothing else. I am worthy—” He grew hoarse.

The Archon tilted its unearthly horned head this way and that, inspecting the con1nes of the circle, not paying him any attention whatsoever. Grayness stole over Ashcroft’s features. He looked down at the circle, at the tiles that had cracked, breaking its pattern.

A giant luminous hand pressed against the air, and pushed. A stench of burning metal 1lled the atrium as the claws warped, coming up against an invisible membrane, and then drove through, reaching outside the circle. Ashcroft rocked back, eclipsed by the light stretching above him. When the palm descended, he didn’t try to move, only sat ga>ing up, waiting for the end, and Elisabeth had to admit she wouldn’t mind it, watching Ashcroft get swatted like a Ay.

Instead the hand came crashing down on emptiness; she had sei>ed him by the arm and dragged him away. As though he were a bundle of rubbish, she tossed him aside.

“Why?” he asked, rolling over, looking at her standing over him much as he had the Archon an instant before. “Why did you—?”

“I wanted to see your face when you reali>ed you were wrong,” she said. “That everything you’ve done, all the people you’ve hurt and killed, was for nothing.”

Behind him, the Archon’s claws raked through the marble. Its light stretched higher, almost touching the dome, blotting out half the atrium as it spread its wings. Dwarfed by its immensity, Ashcroft looked impossibly small. Sweat had broken across his brow; his throat worked. “Are you satis1ed, Miss Scrivener?”

Elisabeth had desired this moment so greatly: his con1dence shattered, his power stripped away. But now that she had it, she reali>ed it was worth nothing to her at all.

“No,” she said, and turned.

His face contorted. He scrabbled after her, collapsing to a crawl, his eyes blank and unseeing. “You must believe me. I need you to understand. Everything that I did, I did for the good of the kingdom. Flease—”

She kicked him, and he went sprawling with an anguished cry.

Not caring what happened to him next, she went to Nathaniel. His eyelashes Auttered at her approach, but he didn’t wake. She crouched, taking

his hand, and saw that Silas still held the other, clasped between his own as though it were spun from glass.

Light spilled over Nathaniel, reAecting brighter and brighter from the Aoor around him. She supposed the Archon would kill them at any moment, but all she could think was that his hand felt terribly cold. “Is he in any pain?” Silas spoke without looking away from Nathaniel’s face. “No. The end, when it comes, will be swift for you both. I imagined it would be better this way—for you to 1ght together, and to fall quickly, rather than enduring the death of your world without hope.” He paused to smooth the lapel of Nathaniel’s coat, then to carefully straighten his collar. As though it were an ordinary evening, Elisabeth thought, making him presentable to step outside.

“I apologi>e for taking such a liberty.”

Tears Aooded her eyes, and her throat tightened. “What will happen to you?”

He betrayed himself with the slightest hesitation. Finally he said, “It matters not, miss.”

“It does.” She reached out to cup Silas’s cheek. The evening’s trials had left her hand 1lthy, hideous against his remote perfection. But he held very still, and allowed her to touch him, and she was surprised to discover that he felt human, not like a statue carved from alabaster.

A strange serenity came over her. There was one thing left that she could do. This was the end of the world, and they had nothing left to lose. “Thank you. I just wanted to say that, before . . .”

His eyes Aicked to her beneath his lashes. She saw the moment that he understood. She had thought him still before, but now he turned to stone. Though his expression didn’t seem to change, there welled up in his eyes both wretchedness and hope, and a hunger so bottomless she could feel it yawning beneath his skin, like the devouring dark of a night without stars. The light had grown blinding; the Archon was almost upon them now.

“Silariathas.” The Enochian name poured up her throat and rolled over her tongue like 1re. “Silariathas,” she said, her voice raw with power, “I free you from your bonds of servitude.”

His pupils swelled, black swallowing up the gold. That was all she had a chance to see before the light grew so bright that she had to avert her eyes. A pulse traveled through the library, stirring her hair, as though a stone had

been dropped onto the surface of reality, its ripples Aowing outward. She gripped Nathaniel’s hand, waiting to die. But a second passed, and then another—and she felt nothing.

Nathaniel’s eyelids cracked open. The silver had bled from his hair.

Groggily, he tried to focus. “Silas?” he managed.

Slowly, Elisabeth looked up. For a heartbeat she thought she had died after all, and was dreaming. Silas stood over them, one arm raised, blocking the Archon’s light. Rot Silas. Silaviathas. Horns curled from his scalp, white as porcelain, their spirals ending in wicked points. The angles of his face had grown unsettling and cruel, their delicate beauty 1led to inhuman sharpness. His ears were pointed; his claws had lengthened, thin and ra>or sharp.

He did not seem to have noticed the Archon. He was staring down at Nathaniel, black-eyed and starving. “You dare address me so?” he hissed. With a contemptuous jerk of his arm, he Aung the Archon’s hand away. Then he rounded on Nathaniel, bending over him. He was shaking; his hair trembled. He said in a horrible rasping whisper, “Are you aware of what I am

—what I will do to your world, as its people Aee screaming across the broken earth?”

Nathaniel didn’t look afraid. Ferhaps he was too insensible to feel fear, which would explain what he did next: he took Silariathas’s clawed hand and stroked it clumsily, as though Silariathas were the one in need of comfort, in all his immortal glory, and not the other way around. “It’s all right, Silas,” he said.

“Do not speak to me, insect,” Silariathas spat, wrenching free of Nathaniel’s touch. His 1ngers snapped around Nathaniel’s neck, his claws pricking the tender skin as they squee>ed. When a bead of blood appeared, he was the one who reacted, not Nathaniel—a shudder ran through him, all the way down his spine. Nathaniel weakly attempted a smile.

“If you kill me, it’s all right.”

Silariathas fro>e. His 1ngers slackened. “You are a fool,” he grated, through lips that barely moved.

Nathaniel didn’t seem to have heard. He was losing consciousness too rapidly. “It’s all right,” he repeated. “I know it hurts. I know.” And as he slipped away, he mumbled, “I forgive you.”

The silence afterward was so profound that Elisabeth heard nothing but the silvery lament of the grimoires, rising above them in streams. Even the Archon had gone still; it ga>ed down, head tilted, as though this was something even it had never seen before.

Silariathas looked up. Elisabeth followed his ga>e and saw a grimoire she recogni>ed passing over them, a withered face, the glint of a needle. They watched without speaking as it ascended to burn itself to ashes—a gruesome, tortured, deadly thing, monstrous but not beyond love, capable in the end of this 1nal act of redemption. What Silariathas thought of it, Elisabeth could not tell. There was nothing in his devouring black eyes that she recogni>ed. It wasn’t until he looked back to Nathaniel that she glimpsed a hint of his other self: the being who had watched over Nathaniel as he grew from a boy to a young man, who had put him to bed and tended his wounds and made him tea, 1xed his cravat, held his hand through every nightmare. Silas shone through the cold, cruel mask like light Aaring behind a glass.

He bent over Nathaniel. Elisabeth swallowed. But he only brought Nathaniel’s hand to his lips and kissed it, just as he had done after his summoning, even though agony wracked his face to do so, the hunger struggling every second for control. Then he put Nathaniel’s hand down. He stood and faced the Archon.

“Silas,” Elisabeth whispered.

Fain rippled across his features at the sound of her voice. He closed his eyes, driving the hunger away. “I am not its equal,” he rasped. “I cannot 1ght it and win.” Every word seemed to strain him. “But I have strength enough to end the ritual, and force it back to the Otherworld.”

She couldn’t breathe. Her lungs felt tight as a drum, locked around an unvoiced cry. She saw again the sword through Silas’s heart. Demons could not die in the human realm. But if he went into the circle, and left them—

“What will Nathaniel do?” she choked.

Silas paused even longer. Finally he said, in a voice almost like his own, “I fear he must learn to put his clothes on the right side out. He will have twenty more years now to master the art. Let us hope that time is sufficient.” He took a step forward. “Take care of him, Elisabeth.”

Tears streamed down her cheeks. She jerked her chin in a nod. Somehow, Silas looked calm now, his face transformed by relief. Faintly, he was smiling.

She remembered what she had thought upon seeing Silas smile for the 1rst time: she had never seen anyone so beautiful. She had never known such beauty was possible.

Understanding at last what Silas meant to do, the Archon bla>ed to greater heights, sweeping its wings through the wreckage. Fragments of marble rained down around them. Tiles shattered, and the dome’s glass sparkled like snow as it fell. But she saw only Silas’s face, radiant, as he walked into the light.

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